It takes a certain artistic fortitude for a band to ignore its fans’ expectations and make an album that strays from the sounds that made them fans in the first place.
But it’s a level (or three) up from that to do what The Felice Brothers — who’ll play in Bend Monday (see “If you go”) — have done on their newest album, “Celebration, Florida.”
After a half-decade as one of the fastest-rising bands in the white-hot modern folk scene, the Catskills, N.Y. quintet turned its back on the old-timey, boot-stompin’ roots music that made them a well-known name.
Instead, “Celebration” is dark and murky, crisscrossed with tape hiss and splattered with ambient noise. Gone (mostly) are the acoustic jams and all-in harmonies, replaced with slinky synths, unnerving clanks and pulsing dancehall beats.
It’s also terrific, though not all the band’s fans agree, James Felice said in an interview earlier this week.
“A lot of fans don’t like it. People come up and are like, ‘Yeah ... I don’t really like (the new album),’” he said. “I just tell ‘em to f--- off.
“I mean, I appreciate and respect that you don’t like it,” he continued, “but I just don’t care. Don’t tell me. Tell the Internet. The Internet cares more than I do.”
Here, Felice hears himself sliding into negativity and shifts a bit.
“But a lot of fans love it. It’s a weird record. It’s not the easiest thing to instantly love, especially if you’re familiar with our older stuff,” he said. “It’s the same group of guys making the music ... it just sounds different.”
But different is good. Too many bands are willing to find a groove and ride it forever, fearful of chipping away at a support base they’ve worked hard to build.
Not these five guys, who wanted the “challenge” of making “something different,” Felice said.
“My brother Ian ... had written songs that (didn’t) fit into the mold of the kind of music we were playing before,” he said. “Instead of trying to form those songs into some phoney old-timey (thing), we said, ‘You know what? Let’s embrace this and explore it and have fun.’
“And we’re the kind of guys that have a sort of devil-may-care attitude about things. We want to ... play the kind of music we want to play, and if we can’t do that we’re not going to play music at all,” Felice said. “Ian is particularly like that. He would rather play by himself in his kitchen than play in front of 1,000 people music he doesn’t believe in.”
Still, it’s a bold move from a band that was included (alongside the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons) in SPIN Magazine’s recent story on the “new stars of Americana” music. Essentially, The Felice Brothers were standing there waiting when the gravy train pulled up, and they chose not to board.
“We didn’t take the money and run ... yet,” Felice said with a laugh. “We might someday, hopefully, if there’s any money left.”