Jeff Keenan â€“ vocals/percussion/guitar
Jim Cotton â€“ vocals/bass
Josh Gamble â€“ guitar
Sergey Posrednikov â€“ keyboards
Bill Cole - drums
There are only a handful of historically documented cases of feral children â€“ wild spawn raised by animals on the outskirts of societyâ€™s rigid structure. And while many are pure folklore, thereâ€™s no disputing the Northwestâ€™s claim to their own. These Feral Childrenâ€™s seeds were sewn over ten years ago in the rural woods of Maple Valley Wash., under overcast skies. This David Lynchian setting was where bassist/vocalist Jim Cotton was shipped as an adolescent from South Boston via Greyhound to live with his extended family, after being deemed too wild for his mother to handle. Before long, and despite extreme culture shock, Jim found a friend in now bandmate, Jeff Keenan.
â€œWe played grunge on acoustic guitars, to the horse on the farm next door,â€ Keenan recalls of the day he and Cotton first met.
You know youâ€™re backwoods when the first concert you play is to a horse. And thatâ€™s exactly what happened. The two, like most skeptical junior high kids, were quite wary of one another at first, but bonded fast â€“ both frustrated with familial and environmental circumstances beyond their control. In music, they found an outlet from the constricting confines of isolation. Eventually they brought friends Josh Gamble and Sergey Posrednikov into the fold to form their first band Blood Alley Accident, a now self-professed homage to seminal Northwest bands like Built to Spill and Modest Mouse.
Between band practice and pranks that involved rearranging the letters on church reader boards and hurling turkeys and pumpkins into town pubs on respective holidays, the displaced band of ruffians navigated the rocky, evergreen edged terrain through high school, until parting ways (temporarily): Keenan to Olympia, Cotton to Alaska, Gamble to Ohio, and the classically trained Posrednikov to intensive piano lessons.
It was Cotton who first made the pilgrimage to Seattle, the city that spawned his heroes like 764-HEROâ€™s John Atkins, Murder City Devils and the Fastbacks. He worked various jobs from a baggage handler at SeaTac airport to cleaning fish guts from buckets on a ship. The others followed soon after, and with the addition of drummer Bill Cole, Feral Children were born â€“ a new incarnation cut from the same cloth of their tumultuous, backwoods roots.
The band struggled and sweated to gain a foothold in one of musicâ€™s seasoned epicenters, elbowing their way through the teaming masses of those attempting to do the same. But their howls in the dark were not unheeded for long.
Producer heavy Scott Colburn, whoâ€™s credits include the likes of Animal Collective and Arcade Fire, signed on to work on their full length, convinced by the â€œamazing live energyâ€ that came through during a show at Seattle club S.S. Marie Antoinette. Itâ€™s clear why: the energy is electric and evokes a visceral response. Dualities in drummers (Cole behind the kit and Keenan, standing and flailing behind his) and vocalists â€“ Cotton and Keenan trade duties, their distinctly versatile, yet different styles bringing a dynamic, ever-shifting element â€“ combine, and the force hits hard, from all sides. A live Feral Children show would be unsettling if it ended without bloodshed, an instrument or three destroyed, or thrown at each other onstage. Yet, thereâ€™s a succinct order to the chaos as this group of untamed creatures attempt to communicate with the world through primal percussion, pop melodies and screaming vocals.
Itâ€™s this incendiary live show that caught the attention of influential Seattle-based radio station KEXP who has championed the band with major airplay and a high-profile slot on their holiday show alongside Yeasayer and Dead Confederate. Thereâ€™s been no shortage of local press with the Seattle Weekly heralding the record as a â€œfascinating, beautifully narrated workâ€ and The Stranger proclaiming the live show to be â€œburning and manic.â€
Translated to tape, Second to the Last Frontier, recorded last spring in six days at Colburnâ€™s Gravel Voice studio, retains the live energy, writhing and glistening with yelps, screams, buzzing guitars, dual drummers, intense keys, resonant melodies and an underlying tone of conflict and frustration. Itâ€™s an urgent and angsty effort that combines basement rock with pop and classical elements, stringing them out into complex, often manic song structures.
Tracks like album opener "Spy/Glass House" begin and end in completely different places, with Keenanâ€™s haunting, hymnal pop style vocals imparting interludes like â€œWhen Iâ€™m alone/I put make-up on the wallâ€. Traditional verse/chorus alternation appears at times, such as "Billionaires vs. Millionaires," whoâ€™s casually delivered, addictive chorus rewards the listener multiple times before fading out from pounding keyboards to meandering guitars and mumbling.
Though the journey is one of dark detours, this is a record replete with magnetic hooks â€” whether itâ€™s the driving syncopated rhythms, melodic distorted keyboards and screams on "Me, Me, Just Me," or the warbly harmonic chorus of "Baby Joseph Stalin." The expanse they create is ominously overcast, yet there are just enough shining sun breaks to pierce the dense cloud cover.
â€œIt's about being poor and being frustrated," says Cotton. â€œBut I think the thing Iâ€™m most proud of, is that it actually sounds like the first Northwest record that Iâ€™ve heard in ten years. I really love this place. We all grew up here. It actually sounds like it belongs here.â€