Going Back-to-Back with Kid Felix

Ready to go. Where’s the singer? He’d stand out more if the bass player wasn’t so imposing. Let’s tune a little longer, like we’re not anticipating playing the first notes. Another sip of water. Oh there he is. Casually off the stage. Talking to a girl. Hiding excitement in little jumps and ballistic stretches. Oh shit, the quarter inch cable is knotted. Let’s wait another minute. “Microphone check.”

Photographer: Matt LaRoche

The first time I saw Kid Felix, I was impressed. Not so much because they were playing their best show, but there was so much potential. The lead singer, if believable, seemed meek and almost not yet in full control of his voice. Or better yet, not at full realization. It was almost as if he was slightly scared of singing as loud and as well as he knew he could.

This should open with the full band, in a blink. A total onslaught on the stage.  Fuller strums.  Tom hits.  And a vocal shrill, all under the comforting, precious cloak of darkness. “Kill some of these lights.” Exactly. Set the mood. This band’s too good. Electric keys, like a church organ filling the air. Single notes played and bent on the guitar. Double bass drum hits; Bump, bump. A confident sharp voice cutting through the instruments, as they fall into the background, “So you cover your eyes…This ends tonight. Whether win, lose, or draw we all know that somebody dies…It’s all been for nothing?”

All at once the sound comes in…”So you cover your eyes!!!!”

Not too long ago I met up with the band. I ventured through a vast, arborous wasteland known as New Jersey. It was a humid summer night, with lightning and light rain decorating the sky. There was an almost epic feeling in the air. It was fitting because the band has such a presence in their songs; the perfect amount of sound in the background to set the tone. A good bit of credit goes towards the keys, played by Ken Baxter.  Baxter is deliberate in his approach, setting moods, highlighting vocal lines, and appropriately filling in the quieter moments. At times the rest of the band has to push him to do more. “Along with the keys, I run Logic through my Mac. I’m trying for something epic, something spacey.”

When I met the guys, they were fresh off of a recent Warped Tour show. This spot was earned with the rising wave of support that has been swelling recently for Kid Felix. They were entered into a contest at 95.9 The Rat by Maria Mar, with fifty other bands. They made the second cut down to the final ten. They then proceeded to pull in over 53,000 votes. Yes 53,000, in a week. The guys laughed when they told me the number, not arrogantly, but more so because they realized how crazy it actually is.

But they didn’t just approach the Warped Tour as happy tourists. They got off stage and engaged the people who had just watched them, many for the first time, at their merch table. They were greeted by people asking them to sign CD’s, posters, shoes, and even body parts. Body parts come with the territory. But shoes? Most people wear them more than once. You don’t let someone you kind of think is alright sign your shoe.

Photographer: Matt LaRoche

“It’s surreal that we’re making money off of merch and signing autographs,” drummer John Szachewicz. Despite the newness of the moment, they are still thinking bigger picture.

“Don’t get me wrong, we want to be famous. We want to be the most famous band in the world. Timing is good sound-wise, for what’s going on and what we’re doing,” guitarist Brett Hagen.

One thing that really resonated with me when we were talking was how the current band members all came together to form Kid Felix. Like most musicians, this isn’t everyone’s first band. We all start somewhere else. But the transition to Kid Felix really shaped the current place the band is in. Hagen, Baxter, and bassist Julian Ungerer, were in what could be called the earliest inception of the band. They all knew each other from Sterling High School; actually all of the current members went to Sterling. They persuaded lead guitarist John Ambrutis to join, despite him being a few years younger.  Even though there’s an age difference, don’t think he sounds out of place on stage.

They also knew of a singer that was in another band. Jake Falana eventually split from his old band, searching for a more fulfilling challenge.  His old schoolmates reached out to him.  Things started moving quickly and they played their first show soon after.  Falana was going about it like most people would. He was the new guy and wanted to go along with the flow of the band. The dynamic of the lead singer is always a slippery slope. The rest of the band wants everything you have left on the stage, but they tend to want it their way. On the way to their first show, Falana was getting into the backseat of the car. But something happened. Hagen went back and grabbed him. He told him this was his band now. He wanted him to sit in the front seat. He wanted him to know that they had his back from that point on; they were going to ride with him. This initial backing from the band seems to have empowered Falana. He has grown into a true presence onstage.

Prior to the interview, I kicked around questions in my head. There was one that I had been stuck on for a little bit.  I was unsure if I should ask it, I didn’t want someone who doesn’t know me to chalk me up as some Kid Felix ‘fan boy’. It’s not a question I’d ever ask lightly. As the conversation evolved it felt appropriate.

“Are you guys aware of some similarities you have with the early stages of Pearl Jam?” For those of you who don’t know the band played as “Andre the Giant,” but changed it to avoid copyright issues. Falana himself has been building a reputation as a climber, assaulting stage trussing at different venues.  He also recently went for a swim as the band finished its set at a recent show.  But even more that all of that, the band has a sound that reaches past certain genre barriers and grabs the ears of unsuspecting listeners. The question was answered with a bit of a laugh. But there were also a few smirks like they probably all had the thought before, whether out loud together, or individually. This question also brought up a story from Ungerer. He mentioned how he and Falana were watching an old Pearl Jam concert and Eddie Vedder proceeded to climb up into the birds nest. Ungerer leaned over and said, “You see this? Inspiring.”

So what’s next for Kid Felix? Well the next few months are pretty busy.  There is an EP in mix-down phase slated for a late September early October release.  There are whispers of an ensuing record release at the TLA.  Also, WMMR has recently announced Kid Felix as Artist of the Month for August. Their feature show will be the headlining spot at the Liberty Music Festival at The Legendary Dobbs, Saturday August 18th. Don’t assume that WMMR just put them in headline spot either. They entered on their own. They were voted on just like each of the 100 or so other bands that entered. They were also the only band to get a perfect score from the voting panel. You read that right, perfect score. They are looking forward to it.

“We feel like Dobbs is our home-stage. No matter what happens, we’ll always feel that way. The fact that you’re playing Dobbs, with all its history, actually legitimizes what you’re doing,” says Falana.

There’s a bit of anticipation surrounding their upcoming EP. Fans are looking forward to hearing something new from the band. They already know all the words from the first EP, “Head Above Water.” I get the impression that industry people are interested too. In addition to winning the WRAT radio contest, being named WMMR August Artist of the Month & headlining Liberty Fest, Kid Felix recently won Bamboozle’s Break contest. Bamboozle is an annual music festival in Asbury Park. It was headlined by bands such as Foo Fighters, Incubus, and My Chemical Romance.  The Break contest was a four rounder that wound down to a winner-take-all show at The Stone Pony.  So it would be hard to think they are still flying under the radar.

Most importantly the band is anticipating the forthcoming EP.

“We’re going where we want to go. This is first true Kid Felix EP. We do this for ourselves.” This EP will fully be the creation of the current Kid Felix line-up, along with the input and guidance of manager Zac Tait.  It’s also been completely funded by money the band has made off of shows, merchandise, and their own pockets.  The recording process has truly been indicative of where the guy’s minds are.

“We don’t really have an ego when we write,” says Ungerer.

Falana handles a majority of the writing but the rest of the band contributes, “We don’t force anything. But we realize we need to be a unit, a machine, regardless if someone’s bored.”

The idea behind band’s usual set closer “Once Upon a Ghengis” is truly a story of where they came from. Coming from different musical places, disenfranchised with what they had previously been a part of.  They all wanted something bigger, something greater.

“We want to walk off stage knowing that people can see that we really mean it.  Really want it,” says Falana.  They have put their stories together, too. Now they just have to tell us.

By: John Dempsey

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