No one's ever going to mistake Modest Mouse leader Isaac Brock for a humble rodent. However, the organic and unpredictable sonic environment created by Feral Children truly does sound like the work of beings both limited and liberated by their lack of conventional structure. Hence, these four young men from Maple Valley could claim to be the most appropriately named Northwest band since the Sonics.
Feral Children, With John Atkins, Jabon. Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9442. 8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 27. $8.
Feral Children's 2007 debut, Second to the Last Frontier (reissued by their current label, Sarathan, in 2008), garnered them critical hosannas, heavy rotation on KEXP, and a fiercely loyal fan base. Their sophomore release, Brand New Blood (released last week), was three years in the making, and bears some of the effects of that success.
"I'd never been in a band that had been on the radio or anything...and that is a big life change," says bassist and vocalist Jim Cotton, in repose in the band's downtown rehearsal space, drawing deeply on an electronic "cigarette," a device that's helped him avoid the real thing for nearly three months.
"I think the last album was written in such a desperate panic," interjects drummer Jeff Keenan. "We had to make something that really grabs people and fucks them up and makes them interested in our band. This time I think we had the attention grabbed, so we didn't have that desperate scrambling."
With a more leisurely timetable and the security of a supportive label, the Children were able to marinate in their ideas a bit longer, producing tender bits such as the shimmering, disarmingly romantic "Universe Design." But the band still maintains its signature rabid edge on darker numbers like "Inside Night," with its descriptions of cutting off body parts for food and an ominous closing refrain: "These people are evil/These people are evil/These people are evil."
"Now that we have your attention, let us show you what else we're capable of," says guitarist Josh Campbell, continuing Keenan's trajectory of thought. Indeed, they are capable of much more than the primal drumming, piercing yelps, and raw, serrated guitars that provided the foundation for their 12-song debut. While a strong undertow of pop sensibility is what ultimately made that record hang together, a gift for pretty melodies and an openness to more complexly orchestrated arrangements is what most dramatically distinguishes Brand New Blood from its predecessor.
The band worked again with local producer Scott Colburn, an in-demand engineer with a highly flexible ear best known for his work with Arcade Fire and Animal Collective. Colburn's Gravel Voice Studio is housed in a Ballard church, an environment the Children find to be a naturally fruitful setting.
"He doesn't have a conventional recording studio, he just sets you up in the vestibule of a church," explains Campbell. "He puts you in the best possible setting and leaves you alone. It's a comfort thing."
Cotton is quick to point out Colburn's shared affection for the strange as the second secret to their successful working relationship. "He's like a weird, eccentric neighbor, but without all the gaudy shit," says Cotton. "It's huge to have a weirdo that's not going to judge you."
Colburn encourages that side of the band, but is wise enough to keep them from heading so far from convention that they lose the listener. "He won't hesitate to bust you, like any good recording engineer," affirms drummer Bill Cole, the group's newest and only non–Maple Valley native member. "But the ideas he has about how things sound are really conducive to the way we all feel about it."
"They are pushing the boundary of music, yet keeping it within the accessibility of your average music consumer," says Colburn, taking a break from tracking Sun City Girls at Gravel Voice. "Feral Children, like Animal Collective, are slowly helping the general music public turn a new ear to new sounds and a new acceptance of interesting sounds compounded into the pop format. It would be my dream that a band like Feral Children could be as popular as Nirvana or Frank Sinatra."
Interestingly enough, everyone in the band would like to pursue formal musical training in the future, except for Cotton, the member who comes across as the most comfortable with the authenticity of the band's collective voice. "Twin Peaks is a series about what weird shit happens in the woods outside of Seattle," he says, pausing to admire a painting of a giraffe adorning the rehearsal-space wall. "And that's where we all grew up. In the same way you'd hear some rapper say he comes from the streets—that this is 'his story,' and you might think that's ridiculous. But maybe it's not ridiculous. Maybe that's the way it is."
Editor's Note: The story originally stated that Phil Cole is the drummer in Feral Childen. Bill Cole is the band's drummer. Apologies.