INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ANDREW PFEIFFER
Many movies have inspired many people to take action and do something with their lives in one way or another. Perhaps Rudy inspired you to play football, even if you were smaller than other players on the team? Maybe Almost Famous made you want to pursue a career in music journalism? Whatever the case might be, movies can change the course of history and even create bands, and such was the case of the Alexandria, Va. reggae group FEELFREE. The foundation of FEELFREE was formed while some of the band members were still in middle school, but their friendship and passion for creating music has bound them together since then. The seven-member band includes lead guitarist/vocalist Evan Hulehan, guitarist/vocalist/trombone player Andrew Pfeiffer, drummer Bryan Frank, bassist Garrett Clausen, trumpet player Colin “Cloud” Cantfil, keyboardist Davey Hoen, and percussionist Jack “King” Kilby. We spoke with Pfeiffer, Frank, and Hoen to discuss their most recent album The Ebb Tide and their upcoming album, the lore of how the band started, as well as how they handle dealing with seven members at a time.
On your most recent EP, The Ebb Tide, your music balances jazz harmonies with reggae rhythms. Were the songs on this album intentionally made to mimic the ebb and flow of these genres within each track?
Andrew: The name of the album actually came from this dinky motel called The Ebb Tide Motel where we stayed on our first east coast tour two summers ago in the Outer Banks, N.C. That’s an interesting parallel, but it wasn’t in the intention of the name.
Did you have a specific concept for the album going into the studio?
Andrew: Not really. It wasn’t too thematic.
What is the significance of the hummingbird in your logo?
Andrew: That’s something that we began [using for] branding ourselves in the past six months. That’s kind of become our thing. I think our sound is very vibrant because it has a lot of instruments, and it has many distinct influences. But it still puts off a serene notion, so it’s kind of like a hummingbird. When you see it, it looks like it’s not even moving, but when you actually look really close, there’s a lot of shit going on.
Can you tell me about how you guys formed the band?
Bryan: Me, Andrew, our other guitar player, and [our] singer Evan started playing together back in middle school. I think we all went and saw the movie School of Rock together, and came home after that in sixth or seventh grade and assigned everybody instruments. That’s how it initially started. Toward the end of high school to early college, we added Garrett Clausen on the bass, and then our buddy Colin Cantfil on the trumpet. It kind of formed the initial stages of FEELFREE, and then this past summer, we rounded out our sound by bringing on Davey Hoen on the keys.
How did each of you initially get into playing jazz and reggae music?
Andrew: Me, Jack, and the trumpet player have been playing jazz since middle school. I played guitar and trombone. We’ve been in the school system jazz bands. I also studied on the guitar, and the other guitarist, he also studied a lot of jazz at [University of Colorado Denver]. Where does the jazz come from, Davey?
Davey: I am a guitar player turned keyboardist, and there was a time where I felt like I plateaued on the guitar. So I started to learn jazz guitar, and I carried that over on the keyboard.
With seven members, I assume things can get chaotic at times. Does any one person assume leadership most of the time, or is it more of a group effort in keeping things under control?
Andrew: It’s a group effort keeping things under control.
Davey: It is an effort for sure (laughs).
Andrew: It’s generally Evan, who is also the guitarist and lead singer, and I who are handling the booking and organizing things, but people take on different projects on their own as well.
Are you all originally from the Washington, D.C. area?
Andrew: Born and bred. All of us were born and raised in Alexandria, Va.
Your band’s biography starts off with the sentence, “A sound we all can call home.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Andrew: It’s a bit corny, but I think we pride ourselves on the fact that when you go to our shows, there’s usually a lot of different demographics represented — age, gender, race — it’s not too specific to any genre. The music is not too polarizing, so we’ve found that our fans in the D.C. area are a lot of different kinds of people coming out to our shows over and over again. That’s kind of what we meant by that.
Andrew: I think it should, and it will be. But probably not for another 30 or 40 years on the federal level. We’re all pretty happy that it is becoming decriminalized.
Other than yourselves, who is your favorite reggae band or solo artist from either Virginia or D.C.?
Andrew: Gotta go with SOJA on that one. We’ve loved SOJA since probably 2007-2006. They’ve been a big inspiration.
Andrew: We love Cope, and we’ve seen a bunch of [DAVE MATTHEWS BAND] shows at Merriweather [Post Pavilion].
You have a few local shows coming up at the end of January 2015, including Grog & Tankard in Stafford and Jammin’ Java in Vienna. What can your audience expect to see from your performances at each show?
Andrew: At the Grog & Tankard show, we’ll be playing all the new songs that we plan on recording in early March at Inner Ear Studios with Don Zientara.
Will that be an EP or a full-length?
Andew: It looks like it’s gonna shape out to about eight songs, so somewhere in between.
Do you guys have any tours lined up?
Andrew: We are planning on doing a northeast tour in March and a southeast tour in April. We got new music coming summer 2015, and we’re on Spotify, iTunes, and CD Baby.