To say The Features have been at it a long time implies national acclaim is something that, in its 15 years of existence, the band is not attaining at a speed that indie rock society deems acceptable.
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Last year’s self-released Some Kind of Salvation proved that as long as The Features want to make music, we will listen. Having been in the game for 15 years, the Tennessee rock band are somewhat of an anomaly. While speaking with Matt Pelham, the band’s singer and primary writer, we discussed the distance between the Features and mainstream success, as well as the various hoops in between. Matt was neither supercilious of industry fickleness, nor eager to jump through our hoop (it’s OK, we like that); his band the Features play SXSW for their fourth time. Don’t expect to see Matt at the after parties.
Thanks for calling on your lunch break.
What kind of work do you do outside the band?
How has it been touring with Kings of Leon?
When we were touring it was always pretty good. When we first started as a band we were used to playing smaller venues and then Kings of Leon started jumping up and so we went from 400 person venues to 7000 people arenas.
So they’ve been cool to you guys?
They’ve been very cool.
How did you guys meet? Did they hear your music or were you friends before, seeing as how both the Features and Kings of Leon are from middle Tennessee?
We’d never met them before. We were playing a CD release show and their sound guy…used to be our sound guy [laughs]… and so he told them about us, they came to the CD release show and liked our music.
I’ve often heard it expressed that The Features deserve more acclaim. Is it ever appropriate to feel entitled to more success?
Yeah, I mean I think, I don’t know, I don’t think we deserve more than anybody else — it’s all a matter of, well, luck, and it sort of depends on how good you are as a band and how hard you work. It depends on what you want to accomplish. We’re not very outgoing with interviews and, I mean, certain bands seem to have every aspect of being in a band down — doing interviews, looking sexy and all that. Some bands don’t have all those things in the eyes of publicity, and it can hold you back. But if you’re not like that, and I feel like we are not, you just do what you do because you like it. Because I think we’d all be uncomfortable doing that.
Are you guys still in contact with Matt Mahaffey, the guy who used to front the band Self and produce The Features, and now plays guitar for Beck?
Yeah, we see Matt once every year and a half. Last time was in L.A. and we played his birthday party.
That’s cool. Was Beck there?
No, he wasn’t there. Some of his band mates were but didn’t see Beck.
As the singer are you also the band’s primary writer?
Would you say you follow a songwriting formula?
I do in the sense that I bang out chords until I find something I like and something that has a decent melody and then lyrics always come last. I really dreads lyrics and don’t like writing them at all. I have tapes and tapes of chords matched with melodies sitting around.
As a songwriter, are your “receptors” always turned on or is it something you deliberately control and are able to turn off?
It depends whether I’m in the mood. If I’m not thinking about writing a song, I’m completely detached ,but if I do have an idea in my head or it’s something I keep thinking about and it bugs me so I have to write it down, that’s usually when I write.
I was thinking of the movie Dancer in the Dark where Bjork is constantly daydreaming at work due to a preoccupation with her song ideas…
Yeah, I’ve seen that. It is funny because I end up doing a lot of it at work as far as coming up with lyrics. I just tune out and do that at work because when I get home I don’t usually want to.
A lot of songs have some sort of bigger story to them not fully communicated in the song — do you have a favorite story for how one of your own songs came to be?
One that is often misinterpreted is “Temporary Blues” off the new album. It was actually written about an experience as a temp employee at Pillsbury here in Murfreesboro. I worked as a temp and what I did was make “toaster strudels.” I started writing it while I was working there.
Whereas the Pillsbury dough boy often giggles, you were definitely not?
I was not.
How many times have the Features played SXSW?
I think this year will be our fourth time.
Any bands you’re excited about seeing?
I haven’t seen the program but every time we’ve been I’ve actually never seen another band. I’m like that in Tennessee too — I kind of don’t get out at all.
* Check out their American Songspace profile here and listen to a few songs!