Interview :: Feelings
August 27th 2012
Since the split of Philadelphia Grand Jury last year, lead singer Simon Berkfinger has certainly been keeping himself busy. While working as an indie producer in Germany, Berkfinger developed his own solo project, Feelings. Collaborating with musicians Dan W. Sweat (Art Vs Science) and David Rennick (Dappled Cities), Berkfinger says this new project has taken him out of his “comfort zone” – singing falsetto, playing bass for the first time and touring with a 21-year-old he is convinced will outperform him.
After releasing his first single ‘One In A Million‘ last week, Berkfinger had a chat to FBi about Feelings, life in Germany, and that one stormy night…
FBi: Whats the story behind Feelings?
Simon: Ah well, I used to have a band called Philadelphia Grand Jury, I don’t have that anymore and I decided I’d better get a new band together.
Was Feelings born in Berlin?
Ah yeah, more or less. I was working with a lot of songs pre-Berlin and pre-Philadelphia Grand Jury, but also a lot happened here while I rode my bike down the river.
One in a Million is an excellent track, what can we expect from the rest of the album? More falsetto-indie?
No, not necessarily. The one rule that we had when making this and collaborating with people is that we all wanted to get out of our comfort zone. One in a Million is a great example in that it is me singing falsetto… and me playing drums, which I don’t usually do. All the songs are very different and we don’t even know what will be on the album yet, there are like 70 songs.
What else have you done that’s different or strange for you musically?
Lots and lots of drum machine, synthesisers on some tracks. My studio has a grand piano and a drum machine, lots of a set of drums and weird percussion stuff. So it’s a lot of me playing instruments that I don’t usually. You could liken it to… I don’t know if dance is the right word, I don’t like the word dance… [but] there are a few songs with a solid beat.
So you’re working with Dan W. Sweat from Art Vs Science and David Rennick from Dappled Cities? That’s an exciting mix.
They are both very handsome. Both are much better looking than me [laughs].
How did you find yourself working with them?
Dan was the original Philadelphia Grand Jury drummer and he plays drums on all the popular songs – all the ones that were really great were actually [with] Dan. But he had a lot going on. I (stupidly, from my perspective) produced my friend’s band, which happened to Art vs Science, and they took off! [Laughs] So Dan and I kept in touch over the years, and he’s been here in Germany and we’ve been jamming and it seemed to make sense that he would join the band.
Dave also came over here once when he was based in Paris for a while, and we wrote a song together which I think will be the best song of the album, and I thought, “Damn, I’d better get Dave involved.” Which is also a problem because Dappled Cities is doing a new album and tour… it’s all very complicated!
Is there anything exciting that you have planned for your upcoming performances?
Well, the scariest thing for me is that I’m going to be playing bass guitar, which I’ve never played in a band before. That’s special for me… I don’t know if it’ll be special for the crowd! I can’t really tell you anything solid, there are plans and diagrams being drawn, we are thinking of a way to make it so it isn’t a traditional concert, but that’s all I can tell you about that.
I saw your video [‘Touring The Facilities‘] … hilarious, and answered a lot of questions about your absence. But you left one question hanging, what happened to Philadelphia Grand Jury?
Basically we had been playing in that band for a very long time and I think we felt a bit stuck. We liked everything that we’d written and we liked touring, we liked all the people we were meeting and seeing the world. But when it came to writing a second album we realised we didn’t have much in the tank and I think at the same time, Joel, the other key member, had a lot of stuff going on in his personal life and I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life. And yeah, we just came to the mutual decision that if we couldn’t put something out that we were really proud of in a way that was really positive for all of us, then we should stop it. It was scary and it hurt but also very liberating. But I know we are not against putting out something one day or playing a concert.
Since Philadelphia Grand Jury, you have been producing in Germany. What’s the story behind your recording studio, Golden Retriever?
When I first got here I spent about a month trying to find a studio and eventually found one in an old abandoned radio station. It was East Germany’s answer to the BBC… and I found a big recording studio in there, which used to also be a thing called Planet Rock, which is like where Phoenix did some of their recording, and Sting recorded there. I took over that studio for a while, but it was very expensive and it was in the middle of nowhere so I started looking around for another space. I ended up buying my friends studio and that’s also quite huge and has accommodation and heaps of instruments. It has a fully booked professional sound system which costs a fortune, which was possibly stupid to do but is very exciting!
What exciting things have you been doing there?
The best thing that I’ve found in a while – probably the best thing I’ve ever done – was produce an album for a guy named Tom Lark who is supporting me on this tour of Australia. I don’t think anyone has heard about him yet but he is a crazy genius. He is 21 and he only eats pizza – margarita pizza – and Hungry Jacks, he writes grungy songs with beats, like Nirvana meets Outkast or something. He is totally, totally brilliant and I’m really jealous and nervous about him out-performing me!
You will have to keep his sets really short…
[Laughs] Yeah, I might have to tamper with his equipment, disconnect his speaker.
Is there a story that sums up your experience in Germany?
There was a time when I rode to my old studio and there was a huge thunderstorm. I got so wet I had to take off all my clothes and I couldn’t leave because the storm kept raging all night, so I ended up in the nude writing about three songs. One of them is also probably going to be the next single.
There was talk in your video that you wanted a dog, did you ever get one?
Well we went to get a chocolate Labrador… I wasn’t sure if I felt comfortable about a dog on tour for 6 months in a cage. But people come through and they have dogs and they bring dogs over. We had a bat in here the other day, a bat flew through the window!
WHAT: Feelings East Coast tour
WHERE: Beach Road Hotel, Bondi / Goodgod Small Club, 55 Liverpool St
WHEN: Wednesday 19 September / Friday 21 September
HOW MUCH: Free at Beach Road Hotel, $10 + bf at Goodgod Small Club (moshtix)