In the song “Lions”, The Features’ singer/guitarist Matthew Pelham states that we should “stick together, let’s follow our hearts. Not even lions can tear us apart.” This lyrical bit serves as a testament to the perseverance The Features have shown the world during their first fifteen years together. They have trampled across the worn battlefields of the music industry, rising from the trenches of obscurity to join the ranks among the major labels. They then found themselves up against the major label shills who saw the band more as a potential jingle machine than an opportunity to develop. They emerged from the battle scarred and frustrated, but moved forward on their own. Fellow southerners Kings of Leon released The Features latest record, Some Kind of Salvation, on their own imprint. The Features have found themselves back at the front, and they are not resting on their laurels. They are touring ambitiously and planning on a trip back into the studio early next year. As veterans, they continue to develop, wedding the heavy organ sounds of The Monks to the straightforward, unapologetic rancor of The Replacements.
Rbt. B. Rutherford caught up with Matthew Pelham on a rare day off to discuss their history, their battles, and the hope of salvation.
Dear Denver friends: Don't miss The Features at the Gothic Theatre March 18th!
Rbt. B Rutherford (RBR)– Your trajectory as a band has been interesting, considering how long you have been playing together. You don’t see many bands that are able to stay together that long and last as a unit. I want to know what it feels like to be where you are at now as a band and what keeps you together?
Matthew Pelham (MP) – I’ll give you a fairly brief history. Roger (Dabbs) and I grew up together and played music together in middle and high school. We moved to Murfreesboro and started The Features in 1994. We started playing around Murfreesboro and Nashville and eventually started spreading out from that area. We were on an independent label at that time, called Spongebath Records. We recorded three records with them that were never released. They put out one EP. After six or seven years working with Spongebath, it just felt like a dead end thing that we had going with them and we left right about the time it started to collapse. We lost a couple of members at that point, reformed and recorded another EP. We immediately started working on a full length and the demos from that got us a deal with Universal.
So we did an album for Universal and did a bunch of touring. We met Kings of Leon at our record release party and ended up doing a lot of touring with them in the UK. By the time the touring was done and started working on songs for the second record, Universal just didn’t seem to be on the same page as we were. They seemed reluctant to get us back in to the studio to do another record. Then, about two weeks before we were supposed to go in to the studio, they told us about an ad for a Chase credit card that they wanted us to do. They wanted us to cover “All You Need Is Love”, and that we didn’t really have an option. That was something we really didn’t feel like doing, and since it felt like the whole relationship was going south… they gave us an ultimatum. They said that either we did this or we were off the label. It didn’t seem like a good place for us to be. So that’s how that relationship ended.
During that label mess, we lost another member and replaced him with our current keyboard player. We released another EP almost immediately, just to get it out there and keep the momentum going.
RBR - Is the material on that EP what would have been the second album on Universal?
MP - Yeah. Most of that EP would have probably ended up on the second album. Over that year, we had written 50-60 songs and those five were the newest. To me, you can listen to that EP and kind of tell that we didn’t have our heads in the right place, because in my mind, it’s all over the place. For Some Kind of Salvation, we took some of the other songs that we had been working on for the second record that we felt were a little more cohesive. Most of the stuff that’s on the new one was written for the second record.
RBR - Some Kind of Salvation touches on some really interesting lyrical themes that play well in to your story as a band, your struggles. It seems that there may be some interesting parallels there. There is a lot of hope in the lyrics.
MP - During the year that we were working on these demos for Universal, I’ll admit it was a little frustrating, and I felt like we had reached a point where we were really discouraged about what we were doing as a band. I feel like that translates directly in to what is on the new record.
During that time, I got married and had twin daughters. We had been living in Murfreesboro for 15 years. I think we were really getting tired of that city and really wanted to get out, get a house and some land and just kind of escape that whole thing. The Universal thing created a lot of stress and… I don’t know. It was a really weird time.
I think that is how I look at the record, that it is going to help us save something, save us as a band. I think that is one of the things that has kept us together through all of this. No matter what level of success we are having, we look at the band as a safe haven. We can do this and be happy and not have all of this outside stuff to worry about.
RBR - It must feel liberating to have the experience you did with Universal and then to put out this record and tour behind it.
MP - We feel like we are in a much better place. We are planning on recording in January and we are just as excited as we’ve ever been.
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