Monique Powell - Vocals
Bill Uechi - Bass
José Castellaños - Trumpet
Eric Zamora - Alto Saxophone
Brian Mashburn - Guitar, Vocals
Evan Kilbourne - Drums
T-Bone Willy - Trombone
"I'm like a raw emotional antenna," says dynamic front-woman Monique Powell. "Every day I'm conscious of the way I feel and how things make me feel and how I react to life." This admission is a bit surprising coming from the sultry vocalist of Save Ferristhe Orange County ska-pop-swing band whose peppy horn blasts, commanding stage presence, electrifying live show and honest lyrics have always made them appear infinitely poised, self-assured, and ready to take on the world.
Chalk it up to an identity crisis. "It's that whole early-20s thing," says soft-spoken guitarist Brian Mashburn. "You start figuring out how things really work, and you start having to realize what's really important in life and what's short-term and kind of false. It's hard."
Add to that the stress of adjusting to normal everyday life after two years of nearly non-stop touring; the pressure of cynics who say "ska is dead" and wonder what you're going to do for an encore; an occasional heartache here ("I went through a rad breakup," says Powell, her honey-drenched voice dripping with sarcasm), a car crash there--not to mention trying to get seven people to agree on anything--and you've got a powder keg on your hands. You've also got the makings of a powerful, diverse and moving album.
Modified, the latest chapter in Save Ferris' coming-of-age saga, is just that. Brimming with kinetic guitar, funky bass, tuneful keyboards, and an endlessly amazing yet always tasteful array of sounds such as vibes, strings and various percussion instruments, Modified shows the natural maturity and development of a band whose talent and promise has always been readily apparent. "I think we've all done a lot of growing up," observes Powell, whose determination saw her through half a lifetime of classical opera training.
The Save Ferris saga began circa 1995 when members of various Orange County third-wave ska bands joined forces. From Los Pantelones came Mashburn, bassist Bill Uechi, saxophone player Eric Zamora and trumpet player José Castellaños. Monique Powell, late of the eclectic OC band Larry was the next recruit, and Knuckle Brothers trombonist T-Bone Willy followed shortly thereafter. Hard-hitting drummer Evan Kilbourne joined the band in early 1998.
Save Ferris quickly got to work releasing their own five-song EP Introducing Introducing Save Ferris, which has sold more than 50,000 copies to date. In 1996 the band returned home from a trip to New York bearing a NARAS Grammy showcase award for best unsigned bandand a contract with Epic Records.It Means Everything, Save Ferris' Epic label debut, was produced by Peter Collins and released in September, 1997. The music conveyed all the frustration, giddiness, anticipation, glee, and naiveté of being a teenager. The band took the road: headlining clubs, opening US tours for Sugar Ray and Reel Big Fish, and in December ’97, making their first trip to Japan with the Offspring. In April ’98, they performed live on HBO's popular music series "Reverb" and saw their song "The World Is New" included in the Tri-Star movie The Big Hit. Save Ferris ap-peared on screen in another movie, Ten Things I Hate About You, a Top Ten box office suc-cess.
It Means Everything was a potent statement of purpose which went on to sell some 325,000 copies in the US alone. In addition, the album spun off three 3 Top Ten hits in both Japan and Mexico. In June '98, Save Ferris signed up as a featured act on the Vans Warped Tour, playing dates all across North America, the UK, and Europe.
But Modified--the bulk of which was written in the winter of '98, while the band were holed up in an Orange County practice studio--takes a much more realistic, measured, and revealing personal look at early adulthood. On "Mistaken," the album's first beautifully explosive single, Save Ferris tackles the disillusionment of discovering someone isn't the person you thought he or she was. "So who are you/I thought I knew/I guess I was mistaken," Powell sings, explaining that "it's about every breakup and every heartache and every experience."
This sense of hard-won wisdom emerges again in "The Only Way to Be," in lines like "Do you like what you see/To live this life of luxury/... It's all about the money/ It's the perfect way to be." This song, says Brian Mashburn, "is a sarcastic dig at people that sell themselves short chasing after fame." On the other side of an identity crisis, however, lies a stronger sense of self: "Your Friend," "I'm Not Crying for You," and "What You See is What You Get" all reveal this empowering sense of self-worth. "Turn It Up," a likely second single, captures the pure adolescent rush of hearing your favorite music on the radio.
The band explores new sonic ground as well, from the trance-hop noire of "One More Try," with its off-time drum loop, to the almost Motown vibe of "Holding On." Perhaps the biggest departure, though, is the plaintive, string-laden "Let Me In"a gorgeous ballad whose strength lies in the vulnerability it lays bare ("All the world is spinning round and round inside my head tonight/I will fall into the darkness and I fear I will never see the light"). Powell repeatedly broke down during recording "just because the words are soI don't know, they just hit a chord," she says.
The actual recording of the album likewise took a different course. To avoid burnout and keep things fresh, producer John Travis (of Kid Rock and Sugar Ray fame) forewent the usual recording regimen: The musicians worked on a different song each day, depending on what they felt like working on. "It was a lot more chaotic and a lot more interesting," offers Mashburn, now that all's said and done.
Also keeping things interesting in the studio were the guest musicians including keyboard play-ers Roger Manning Jr., Brian Kehew, and Jamie Muhoverac. Their distinctive talents can be heard throughout the album, from the new wave flair of "Turn It Up" to the subtle mellotron on "What You See Is What You Get." Steve Ewing of The Urge toasts on "I'm Not Crying for You." "He came down to meet our producer and we put him to work," recalls Mashburn.
The challenge for the band members was to strike that perfect balance between Then and Now: to grow into a new identity without entirely forsaking the old one, to modify without changing.
"You have to develop but you want to still sound like yourself," Brian Mashburn explains. "We wanted to make a record that we were happy with as far as doing new things and keeping it interesting for ourselves, but also keeping it interesting to people that were really into our first record." Or maybe it's even simpler than that: "Songwriting is just another form of communication," he adds. "And if it reaches people, then you're doing your job right."