Jesse Valencia discusses Federale’s latest album All the Colours of the Dark and has an exclusive interview with Collin Hegna.
The music of Portland, Oregon’s Federale, led by longtime Brian Jonestown Massacre bassist Collin Hegna, is a cinematic blend of sounds hearkening back to ’60s and ’70s film scores, psychedelic drone rock, and outlaw Americana. With a healthy dose of fuzz and reverb, the group’s records often display sweeping strings, horns, and Spaghetti Western operatic vocals, and their songs have made it onto the soundtracks for films as diverse as The Lego Movie to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
Now gearing up for their first big tour through the American West, Federale have taken all the smokin’ gun, whip-crackin’, yippee-ki-yay spaghetti (Western) sauce they cooked up with their last record, 2012’s The Blood Flowed Like Wine, and serve it up with extra kick on All the Colours of the Dark, their first for Death Waltz Records.
(“Juarez Wedding” from the album The Blood Flowed Like Wine)
Listening to this record is like taking a stroll through a Sergio Leone film. It’s easy to play it out in your head, shot by shot. Blue dusk. Coyotes howling in the distance. Desert breeze through the saguaros. It’s tough. It’s cinematic. The world created by this record is that believable. Though the title says “dark,” the sounds on this record couldn’t be brighter. From the thumping, pre-gunfight kick drum driving “Almería” to the Mariachi-style horns on “Run, Man, Run” and beyond, the styles, as they hit my ears, drift blissfully from Far Eastern to old West and back again. I spoke with Collin this past week about Federale’s forthcoming record and tour.
(sneak preview of “Almería” from Federale’s new record All the Colours of the Dark)
JESSE: I am beyond excited that Federale is embarking on what is, to my knowledge, your first big tour in the Western U.S., and you have a limited edition vinyl of your new record, All the Colours of the Dark, that you’ll have available for purchase at the shows. What else do you have in store for fans?
COLLIN: The primary thing we’ll be bringing is our rather intricate live show. We’ve got quite a few instruments on stage that you don’t generally see in a rock band setting. Pedal steel, whistling, trumpet, operatic vocals, and an army of percussion instruments. We’ve arranged all these songs so that parts interweave and pop in and out of the sonic forefront. It’s a pretty immersive live music experience. Also, we will have in tow a bunch of new and exciting merch. Including the special edition vinyl you mentioned. Which is only available at our merch table.
J: All the Colours of the Dark is your first record out on Death Waltz, a label known mostly for soundtracks. With Federale’s music being so cinematic, so far as even being featured in soundtracks like The Lego Movie and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, did it just feel right to go more with a soundtrack label than a label more geared towards bands?
C: We haven’t had a lot of luck with traditional “rock” labels as we’re not really a “rock” band (though there are elements of that). Death Waltz released the Girl [A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night] soundtrack which featured five of our songs. And we flew to Austin to play their SXSW Film showcase. We’ve had a great relationship ever since and the idea of our new record being released by them was born from this. It seemed like a perfect match for us and we’ve been really happy with the partnership.
J: How would you describe the evolution of sound from The Blood Flowed Like Wine to now All the Colours of the Dark? For me, The Blood Flowed Like Wine seemed more like a series of vignettes, where All the Colours of the Dark has a more cohesive sound throughout, and seems to be much more of a “band” record.
C: The primary change of focus was to include more traditionally sung “songs” with lyrics, etc., as opposed to primarily instrumental tracks. Another change was to move away from a guitar-focused arrangement and to bring in more strings, horns, pedal steel, autoharp, classical guitar, and such. This creates a more nuanced arrangement. And takes us further away from the traditional guitar-based, rock-band format. Though, having said that, there are some really neat electric guitar moments.
J: I am interested in the idea of the narrative baritone-style singing of Lee Hazlewood, Scott Walker, and Nick Cave influencing the new record. Are there any specific records you’d cite by those artists as being particularly impactful? The first song on the record, the title song, with the back and forth duet reminds me of “Some Velvet Morning” from Nancy & Lee.
C: Yes, those guys are a huge influence in what we are doing. Here’s a few of my favorites by those artists. Lee Hazelwood – Forty; Scott Walker – Scott 3; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Let Love In. The title track “All the Colours of the Dark” was most certainly influenced by the wonderful Nancy and Lee duets. But, imagined as if Ennio Morricone had done a string arrangement for one of those songs.
J: Federale has been described as having Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone as significant influences. Who would you say are some other films, filmmakers, and film composers who have influenced the group’s sound? For me, when I listen to the first couple of songs on The Blood Flowed Like Wine, and then for a lot of this new record, Jodorowsky’s El Topo is one that comes to mind.
C: Our love of Ennio and Sergio was the genesis of this band to be sure. With this album, we’ve tried to bring in some of the elements that you might find in ’70s European cinema. Specifically, the Italian “Giallo” genre. Some great directors of this genre are Sergio Martino and Dario Argento. Though, there are many more. Ennio worked in this style as well as his more well known “spaghetti westerns.” But you also find many other fantastic composers and bands. Bruno Nicolai, Luis Bacalov, and the prog rock/horror soundtrack group Goblin also come to mind.
J: With each record having its own story arc, is each record a chapter in a larger epic yet to be revealed?
C: If it is, it has yet to reveal itself.
J: What are the band’s plans after tour?
C: There are two music videos in the works. One should be available very soon and the other in the following month. We’re excited about this as we’ve never explored the narrative video storytelling angle. Also, look for the “Colours” title track in Girl director Ana Lily Amirpour’s new film The Bad Batch which is hitting the festival circuit as we speak!
Federale On Tour:
Sep 16, 2016 – Salt Lake City, UT | Garage On Beck | Federale
Sep 17, 2016 – Denver, CO | The Hi Dive | Federale w/ Palehorse/Palerider
Sep 18, 2016 – Durango, CO | El Rancho | Federale
Sep 20, 2016 – Bisbee, AZ | The Quarry | Federale
Sep 21, 2016 – Tuscon, AZ | La Cocina | Federale w/ The Myrrors, La Cerca
Sep 22, 2016 – San Diego, CA | The Casbah | Federale w/ Bit Maps
Sep 23, 2016 – Los Angeles, CA | Cafe Nela | Federale w/ Spindrift, Insect Surfers
Sep 24, 2016 – Joshua Tree, CA | Pappy & Harriet’s | Desert Stars Festival W/ Dinosaur Jr., And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Sebadoh, Moon Duo, and more
Sep 25, 2016 – San Francisco, CA | The Elbo Room | Federale w/ The Asteroid No. 4, Dirty Denim, The Spiral Electric