Feral Children: Rain, Small Towns, and Fistfights

Making the sounds of the Northwest.

"And by the way, fuck you for throwing a bass at my head, you dick," says Feral Children drummer Bill Cole to his bandmate, bassist/vocalist Jim Cotton, as the band crams in to a corner booth at Capitol Hill watering hole Redwood, where Cotton has just finished his shift working in the kitchen. It was at the recent CD release show for their debut full-length, Second to the Last Frontier, at the Crocodile that Cotton pitched a bass over his head without a backward glance, narrowly missing Cole. This is a volatile bunch, and they make no secret of it onstage, in their music, or throughout the course of our conversation:

Josh Gamble, guitarist: "The first thing Bill Cole said to me was if you put me in the hospital, I'll put you in the hospital."

Jeff Keenan, vocals/multi-instrumentalist: "[Jim] called me a fucking idiot probably 12 times in a row. And so I said, 'Don't call me an idiot.' I punched him in the face, and Jim clocked me right on the top of the head."

Cole: "The first practice we ever went to together, we were waiting for the No. 8 bus to Queen Anne and Jim just hauls off and cracks Jeff on the shoulder."

Sergey Posrednikov, keyboards: "[Josh] made fun of my mom once in the car—and I slapped him across the face."

Feral Children are a Northwest band and proud of it. Of their debut, they boast that it "sounds like it belongs here," noting the number of Seattle bands playing "fucking California pop," "classic rock cover[s]," and "shitty indie pop." If you detect a little saltiness in them and their music, there's a reason. They all grew up in rural Washington—Maple Valley, to be exact—and have fought to keep the band together and to be heard in this city.

They first began playing together in their hometown nearly a decade ago as Blood Alley, a band Cotton describes as entirely derivative of fellow Northwest bands Built to Spill and Modest Mouse, the latter of which they're often compared to, thanks in part to their backwoods roots. After spending two years scattered throughout the Northwest and beyond, they all moved to Seattle and reunited to form Feral Children, which is when things finally began to gel.

"Honestly, you have to be in Seattle to do anything," says Cotton. "I mean everyone talks about Modest Mouse being from Issaquah, but really they were only there for a year and then they came to Seattle. The media seem to play it up, where they're from. And it worked for them. I guess its working for us, too."

So far it has. The band managed to convince local producer Scott Colburn (whose credits include heavies like Animal Collective and Arcade Fire) to sign on for the creation of Second to the Last Frontier, which is a gleaming, dark, and angsty effort that combines rock and roll with pop elements, stringing them out into complex, sometimes linear, song structures with yelps, screams, buzzing guitars, intense keys, and an underlying tone of conflict and rage.

Tracks like album opener "Spy/Glass House" begin and end in completely different places; others contain traditional verse/chorus alternation at times, like "Billionaires vs. Millionaires," a song reminiscent of early Mouse, with its hurried delivery petering out into meandering guitars and mumbling that wouldn't sound out of place on Lonesome Crowded West. Though they often paint a disconnected terrain, this is a record replete with hooks—whether it's the ethereal chorus of "woo"s strung throughout "Jaundice Giraffe," the distorted keyboards and screams on "Me, Me, Just Me," or the warbly guitar harmonics of "Baby Joseph Stalin." Their songs pack just enough sugar rush to counter the cloudy ambience they create. Their songs, they say, are a product of their environment.

"It's about people fighting and being frustrated with not being in control of things," says Gamble.

"It's about being poor and being frustrated," adds Cotton. "It actually sounds like the first Northwest record that I've heard in 10 years."


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