Tucson sounds: Feverfew's 'Fake Happy' is a raw & real emotional rollercoaster | Weekend music
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Tucson sounds: Feverfew's 'Fake Happy' is a raw & real emotional rollercoaster

Most art, well, most good art is drawn from human emotion. That’s more or less what creativity is. A way to exorcise one’s self of surplus emotion, whether it’s of the troubling variety or the joyous kind, or the sort of giddy puppy love that no one else can stand unless it’s turned into a catchy romantic ballad.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some art, especially if it’s art of the musical variety, will punch you in the gut and knock the breath out of you and break your heart a little bit along unseen fault lines where your heart was always prone to be broken. Frankly, that’s kind of the point. Those fault lines run deep, and we all have them to some degree. Great artists, musicians, writers and the link are the folks who can’t help but break them open to let their hearts spill out all over their preferred canvas.

The songs on Elliot Smith’s "XO," or John Lennon’s post-primal scream therapy masterpiece "Plastic Ono Band" come to mind. Tracks laced with hazy memory and uncensored pain and joy and longing; raw, real and unsanitized for public consumption. 

But in our current post-millennial culture, cathartic scrapbooks of this kind hit you over the head just a little bit harder in contrast to the seemingly endless stream of positive affirmations and smiling selfies and cute 20-second Instagram video clips. There’s real happiness and then there’s “fake happy” and if you don’t immediately grasp the difference, Feverfew’s Sissy Flowers has an emotional roller coaster to take you on that might just rip you in two.

Sissy Flowers (frontwoman for Feverfew): “'Fake Happy' is my depression over the last several years in music form. My incredibly present and sometimes debilitating depression that most people have no interest in hearing about, and that's totally fine."

"The original title for this record was going to be 'Worst Color of The Year,' both a nod to Pantone's 'best color of the year' award and my own self-deprecating humor, but in the end 'Fake Happy' resonated with me the most." 

 "The next time someone asks you how you are doing, ignore their question with a question. No one notices you didn't answer them. No one cares and no one expects you to be honest and respond with ‘Not great, Susan. I've been missing my dead mom a lot lately.’ Most people just want to chat about themselves and tell me my hair matches my shirt, so I become more or less fake happy."

"A lot of the songs on this album seem like they could be breakup songs, or songs about love but they're all deeply focused on my depression and desire to grow or move on from the shitty experiences or moments I write about. Every song is part of a journey towards self love. I feel like that is most obvious in 'Waiting' where I sing about being tired of waiting around for a partner to make me feel happy and fulfilled, that's something only I can create for myself." 

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"Fake Happy," released this week, is a musically solid and emotionally stunning record, recorded at Midtown Island Studios with the help of Matt Rendon of the Resonars and featuring musical contributions by Resonars alums Nate Guitierrez and Johnnie "Sparkles" Rinehart on bass and drums, respectively. 

Flower’s vocals and guitar tracks are intentionally layered and looped into a fuzzy chorus that sometimes obscures the lyrics and reflects the racing thoughts and conflicting inner voices of heartbreak and grief, depression and self doubt, anger and stubborn self assurance. 

On “Waiting,” Flowers turns the trope of waiting by the phone, pining for a lover’s call into a message of self reliance. “I take myself out for drinks and dinner too/ I don’t need any man to make my dreams come true.” 

“Cats” paints a messy picture of lovers fighting like felines while “My Way” delves into the uncomfortable depths of depression and its alternating self loathing and stubborn need. “Pillow” is an ode to filling the empty spaces with chaos, alcohol and oblivion. 

“Bed of Ash” is the highlight of the album, an untethered elegy reminiscent of Lennon’s “Mama” with vocals that range from a delicate whisper to a buried scream and lyrics that hit you over the head with a hammer “You don’t need a marble tombstone...you can live inside my breath. So if you have a place in Heaven, Mama rest your head, rest your head.” 

From this point, the album devolves into full, unthrottled emotional catharsis, contemplating the precipice of hell with an unwilling loved one in tow on the track “Fire,” regressing to an episode of childhood loss in “Daddy wouldn’t buy me a Bow Wow,” sleeplessness as a backlash to attempts to numb the pain in “Higher.” “Monsoon” describes the tension between self destruction and steadfast love set against a surreal and stormy desert landscape while “Stranded” ends the album with a bittersweet lullaby sung to an unreliable lover.

When asked what she hopes listeners get from the record, Flowers says, with slight irony “A fulfilling sense of dread and a light tingle between their thighs.” 

Feverfew has a few gigs lined up in support of the album. The band, whose live lineup includes bassist Molly Ragan and drummer Bill Barron replacing their studio counterparts, just wound up their first summer tour. 

SF: “Touring was a lot of fun! It wasn't a super long tour and we had more opportunity than usual to just relax with friends. I'm constantly blown away by how well I've been treated by bookers, venues, and fans the few times I've been out. We have yet to play a city where people weren't receptive and excited to just rock out and party.”

TucsonSentinel.com: Do you have any plans to do more touring or work on new recordings any time soon?

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SF: “I would feel silly if the answer to this question was 'no.' I was just thinking the other day how I'm itching to get back in to the studio. 

"The only thing holding me back right now is that my drummer Bill Baron is currently in Colorado for the summer. Johnnie Sparkles played drums on the record and has been filling in while Bill's gone. Johnnie and I keep playing with the idea of a ‘vacation’ tour. Just touring as a two piece and using everything we make to finance that tour specifically and nothing else. I'm talking playing rock and roll every night that we aren't visiting the ‘Magical World of Harry Potter.’"

TS: As we speak, the Flycatcher/Plush bulding is finally being bulldozed to make way for student housing. Any thoughts on what it would take to fill that venue-shaped hole in our music community?

SF: “It would take a downtown property owner actually caring about the music scene and venues. It seems like every building owners main goal is to maximize profits, and why shouldn't they? Capitalism is one of the biggest driving forces making America America. Woo hoo?"

"It sucks. Cans Deli could have easily filled that void but I hear their rent cost was insane. They genuinely had the best sound and the most fun bar in the area."

TS: Thoughts on Tucson music at this moment?

SF: “Well I'm a giant dork and I'm still stuck on the Chicago music scene, but I think that's partially because the entire Tucson scene just seemed decimated by the time I moved back here. At least Lenguas Largas and the Pork Torta are still holding strong so not all is lost from before. There are a few new bands I'm really excited to finally catch, like Mesquite, Anchorbaby, and Moontrax. They're on my ‘I hope we play a show together’ list. We're actually playing with Anchorbaby later this month!”

TS: When do you play live next?

SF: “Our next show is Saturday, July 20, at Wooden Tooth Records with Jason Paul & The Know It Alls from San Pedro, California. Then Saturday, July 27, we have a show at Johnny's Warehouse with Anchorbaby and a couple of California bands - Weird Knight from Fullerton and the Shutups from Oakland.

TS: Anything I forgot to mention?

SF: “You forgot to ask if I dye my hair to match my shirt every day and if [a certain color-depositing hair conditioner company] was sponsoring me yet."

TS: I think our readers always assumed you dyed your shirts to match your hair, which seems equally legit.

Feverfew plays Wooden Tooth Records this Saturday night, July 20 with Jason Paul and the Know It Alls. Show starts at 8 p.m.

Regrettes without apologies

It turns out Tucson isn't the only town hosting unfairly good teenaged rock and roll musicians these days. Case in point, Lydia Night of L.A. based indie band the Regrettes. The 18-year-old writes whip smart, no-fucks-given punky anthems with more than a hint of classic power pop influence, no doubt bequeathed to her in part by her father, veteran Los Angeles DJ and club owner Morgan Higby Night, who weaned her on bands like the Ramones, the Replacements and the Plimsouls.

In a quick telephone interview a couple of weeks back, your friendly neighborhood reporter asked Night if she had any tips for success to give our own homegrown batch of rock and punk wunderkinds as they begin to explore careers in music beyond our cactusy urban borders.

Lydia Night: "There's a tendency to say 'yes' to everything you're offered, especially as you're trying to break into the industry. But not every opportunity is a good opportunity."

"If something isn't matching up with what you want and what you hope to accomplish, and if you're gut is telling you that it's not the right idea, then it's not the right idea. Other chances will come if you work hard, so I think remembering that you can say no is the best advice I can offer."

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Night's own music has begun to evolve and mature as the band tours in anticipation of a new album set for release later this year. 

The Regrette's catchy girl-group meets modern pop-punk songs winkingly lampoon the the flirty, bubblegum made-for-radio hits that proliferate corporate radio while taking cues from the genre's catchy and carefree nature. 

Check them out this Saturday at 7 p.m. at 191 Toole along with Hot Flash Heat and Tucson based DIY band the Great Citizens.

Ex-Cowboy rides again

Tucson band Ex-Cowboy rarely plays live these days, but local audiences once again have a chance to witness the ghostly dark cabaret meets alt-country noir act this weekend as the band opens for Portland's Roselit Bone.

According to violinist Mariah McCammond, the two bands are long time friends and collaborators and you can expect a night featuring "some pretty stellar musi, some pretty stellar people and a night of "Cowboy Noir and Wild West Psychedelia for your dusty summer soul." 

Ex-Cowboy and Roselit Bone take over Exo Bar at 9 p.m. on Thursday July 25

Check your local listings...

Friday, July 19

  • Shrimp Chaperone and Silver Cloud Express - 7 p.m. Crave Coffee Bar
  • Natalie Pohanic - 9:30 p.m. La Cocina
  • Miss Olivia & The Interlopers w/ Divy - 8 p.m. Boxyard
  • Nanami Ozone, Lenguas Largas, Mute Swan, Soft Sweater - 8 p.m. Club Congress

Saturday, July 20

  • Rio Wiley, Beyond the Firewall Noise Field, Junk James - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
  • The Regrettes w/ Hot Flash Heat Wave, and the Great Citizens - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Día de las Luchas w Shrimp Chaperone - 7 p.m. Rialto Theatre
  • Ted Riviera's Gunrunners - 8 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern

Sunday, July 21

  • Just Najima and Mattea - 7 p.m. Che’s

Monday, July 22

  • Max Frost - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Happy Times Sad Times, Suzie True, Taco Sauce - 7 p.m. Club Congress

Tuesday, July 23

  • Gabby's World, Bellows, Friend PR - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Outer Spaces ,Radiator Hospital, Jess Matsen, Rough Draft - 8 p.m. Wooden Tooth Records

Wednesday, July 24

  • Appice Brothers - 7 p.m. Encore Tucson
  • The Switch  - 8 p.m. Hotel Congress
  • Moontrax w/ Flor de Nopal - 8:30 p.m.  Brodie's 

Thursday, July 25

  • Roselit Bone w/ Ex-Cowboy - 9 p.m. Exo
  • Naim Amor - 8:30 p.m. Tap and Bottle
  • FST - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Genie Walker - 6 p.m. Wilhelm Vineyards
  • Wooden Tooth DJ night - 8 p.m. Che's Lounge

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources. If you've got a gig coming up and you'd like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at arts@tucsonsentinel.com.

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Courtesy Sissy Flowers via Facebook

Sissy Flowers of Feverfew

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