Friday, 8 August 2014

Barney Interviews Felix Pallas

This article originally appeared on the blog at Songeist.com

More often than not on Songeist, we'll hear the name of our featured acts on the UK live circuit before we ever see their profile on the site. Other times, we'll simply be perusing the list of new, unfamiliar acts that have recently joined and be blown away by the sound that comes out of the speakers. This was the case with Felix Pallas's 'Too Sad For Tea', a massive track that recalls the epic indie-rock of Coldplay and Keane. We found out that this Belgian band have been working on their debut album with renowned producer James Sanger (Keane, Dido) in the Normandy countryside so we caught up with bass-player PJ who gave us the low down.

Felix Pallas

B. It’s tradition on my Songeist interviews to start with the obvious question. Who are Felix Pallas? Please give us a bit of background on the history of the band, how you met and what you’ve done over the past year and a half?

PJ. There's a little bit of history behind Felix Pallas. Basically, at the core of the band there is Simon and I. We are brothers and have been making music together at home with a piano and an acoustic guitar, for a very long time. Simon wanted to start a band at the end of high school and found it necessary to put his 'team' together because he entered a music competition starting the next week. That's where Xavier (Guitarist) and I came in. We called ourselves Breathe The Sound and composed three songs. We quickly learned our voices blended together smoothly and our musical compositions could mean something. A month later we won the competition and had to play in Sweden. After a couple of years of moulding our own sound, we decided to add a drummer, Ziggy, to the band. The configuration of the band still hasn't altered, however we changed the name of the band. That's where the story of Felix Pallas started at the beginning of 2013.

We decided to take our music to a higher level and looked for a producer, Belgian or foreign, it didn't matter, who'd shape our music into a more polished sound. We found the brilliant James Sanger and stayed at his Vibey Studio's for three months. Located in the beautiful countryside of Normandy, this was a place where nobody could distract us from doing the one thing we were there for; creating music, day in, day out. After our French adventure we tried to find a way to perform our songs live. That took us a long time, but it gained the interest of our fans in the meantime. We started off live with a UK tour in different pubs and clubs in London, Brighton, Manchester, Worthing and more.

Right now we're finishing the last bits of an upcoming EP, which we'll be releasing in September.

B. At the moment, you’ve only got a few - admittedly amazing sounding - songs out there including ‘Break The Silence’ and ‘Too Sad For Tea’ on Songeist. How has the reaction been to the material so far?

PJ. It's different for the both songs you mentioned. 'Break The Silence' is a song full of energy and happiness, therefore widely appreciated by many fans. But with Too Sad For Tea, frequently written as 2S4T, there was an instant impact on earlier fans and close friends. While writing it in Normandy, with every step the song evolved, we knew this was a new sound and atmosphere we were really liking. 2S4T, therefore, is a perfect example of what we want our songs to be: mysterious yet melodious, dark yet sweet.

The great part of sharing the new songs with people is not only putting them online, but performing them live. People clearly like the way we sound live, especially because they didn't expect us to play the new songs that way - loyal to the original, yet with more guts.



B. While retaining your own Belgian identity, your sound recalls the indie rock of UK bands such as The Verve and Coldplay. Are you influenced by bands from the UK and if so, which ones? How do you manage to maintain your Belgian individuality while taking influence from bands from different parts of the globe?

PJ. We believe most pop or indie music nowadays doesn't have to be limited by where it comes from. Everybody's making music and in every country there are great bands, singers and instrumentalists. Western music is getting so polished - that's also what we wanted to sound like - and is influenced by so many pioneers of different styles of music, that music is breaking the boundaries of countries and styles. It makes it more difficult to stand out, but the bands who do are 'hot' and 'authentic'.

If our music recalls the great British indie rock, we can only be grateful, because you've really got many talented musicians. I think it's because James Sanger warned us about sounding too American, when it comes to singing. We really tried to sound distinct, whereas other bands who aren't native English speakers all sound similar. That's one way of trying to stand out. At least you've noticed!

Sounding Belgian isn't a real label, I guess. We're just sounding the way we do, because every individual of the band has a different background, varying ideas and distinct tastes. We just didn't want to 'sound' Belgian, because then we'd be limited.

B. In the video for ‘Break The Silence’ you’re seen playing live in London and you’ve also completed a UK tour and been back several times. You guys sing in English and are getting support from Amazing Radio among others. Do you see the UK as a big potential market for Felix Pallas? How was the reaction at the Islington 02 Academy show you played?

PJ. The UK scene was a real eye-opener for us. We've never anything like that before. You guys are spoiled when it comes to venues and opportunities fornew bands to play. Also the vibe in those venues, pubs and clubs is very positive as if everybody in London, for instance, is looking for new talent and enjoying live music. It's different than in Belgium. So yes, the UK obviously is a big potential market. But we don't think it's any easier for the fact that there are more opportunities. However, it keeps the good vibes up.

The show in the O2 Academy was booked slightly after our first UK tour. We had a blast. We came over from Belgium in the afternoon, so we didn't have to find a sleeping spot the night before. Xavier and I drove together, but we were delayed. It was a race against time: we just parked our car somewhere outdoors, rushed in, tuned our gear and started the set exactly on time, without sound-checking. Luckily the rest of the band and had set up all our gear and instruments. It was an amazing evening and we established some good local contacts.



B. In the same video, you’re heard doing a stunning live acoustic take of the track. You also mix acoustic sets in with full-band sets across your live outings. Do you feel that playing stripped-down is a good proving ground for the quality of musicians and vocalists, especially in these days of backing tracks and pop miming?

PJ. Generally, we love playing with a backing track. Not because it's safe and keeps you in time - which is an advantage for sure - but because the sound we want to deliver to the audience has to be the full sound that we believe the songs should consist of. Otherwise it's like playing a Brian May solo on a glockenspiel. Then again, we loved busking on the streets of Notting Hill and Guildford. We just want to play our songs to as many people as possible. We want to be heard. I think that's the best possible answer to your question.



B. How has the port city of Antwerp shaped the sound and ethos of Felix Pallas? Does the city’s melting pot of Dutch, Belgian and French influences make its way into the sound of the band?

PJ. As mentioned above, we don't think the location nor the melting pot of languages has a direct influence on the music we make. Of course, we can't deny that living in the beautiful city of Antwerp - with it's typical habits, language, food, people, industries, atmosphere etc. - must have had some underlying affect on the music we create. We really like to see ourselves as a band from Antwerp. We all live and create here and went to school in the suburbs. Antwerpians tend to have a really close bond with the city. If there's one city we would make a song about, it would be Antwerp, definitely.

But more than Antwerp, Normandy's countryside and it’s wet and ice-cold winter days, has given us the atmosphere in which the songs are drenched.

B. We’ve heard about a forthcoming EP from Felix Pallas. Who have you recorded it with, how is it sounding and when is it coming out?

PJ. It's coming out very soon. We recorded it at James Sanger's Vibey Studios, apart from for some extra stems we did at home. Colm Ennis, who was an assistant in Normandy, and thus lived with us for three months, did the final mixes. We are mastering it at Metropolis Studios, where we know Alex Robinson, another assistant who worked for three months with us in Normandy. We felt that they understood how we wanted the music to sound.


B. Are there any other great Belgian or mainland European bands we’re missing out on in the UK that you think are worth us checking out?

PJ. I think the biggest revelation this year must be Stromae, the bilingual producer / artist / dancer from Brussels. He is probably the most authentic musician we've seen growing in Belgium and beyond and is a sort of a modern version of Jacques Brel. We are also liking Balthazar and Netsky.

B. What’s coming up over the next year for Felix Pallas?

PJ. Only time will tell. We hope that we can convince many people of our sound and songs. Hopefully Songeist will give the first kick-start. We are grateful to anyone who's putting in effort - no matter how small it might be - to believe in our music. Thank you so much for featuring us!

You can stream and purchase tracks by Felix Pallas on Songeist HERE.