Bill Cummings 17/07/2005
I meet up with The Features song writer/frontman Matt Pelham backstage at the Cardiff International arena. A sweet, humble, southern man who hides his shy face behind his locks, its hard to believe that in just twenty minutes time he will front a band that blast out pop rock gems like 'Blow it Out' and the glam punk of new single 'That's The Way It's Meant To Be' in front of thousands of fans mainly there to catch headliners kings of Leon. Hailing from the south of America, The Features met and "grew up together" in the dusty mountainous ranges of Sparta, Tennessee, later moving to Murfreesboro "To go to college together" it was there according to Matt, that they "started playing music out loud, eventually I met Rollum our drummer and we've been playing together since 98."
Forming at high school the band naturally crafted and honed their sound around bands that inspired them, but contrary to their website biography, Matt says that back then they were not a covers band: "We weren't necessarily a covers band, just like any other band especially when your young, we learned our instruments together as we were trying to be a band, because of that process we ended up playing some of other people's songs until we got enough of our own material."
Crafting their sound and working on their live show meant demos escaped to all quarters and eventually they were picked up in 2003 by well respected UK indie label Fierce Panda: “We recorded an EP and not long after we released it ourselves, we played South-by-South West music festival in Austin in Texas. We met our publicist from the UK, well she wasn't at the time but she became our publicist. She brought our EP back played it to different people and Fierce Panda liked it and offered us an EP deal and distribution deal.” That EP entitled aptly 'The Beginning' led to The Features signing with Universal.
This is the second tour The Features have done in the UK supporting the kings of Leon who they “get on with really well” according to reports they like The Features too; dubbing them their “new favourite band”. Matt notes that: “the first time we toured the UK it was intimidating playing smaller venues.” This time round they have played to packed out arenas in Nottingham and Cardiff, whilst selling out two nights in other smaller venues. Matt thinks it's a good opportunity to get the Features heard in the UK: “It's different playing in front of that many people; hopefully we are gaining a few fans through it.”
I wondered given that The Features have been compared in the press to UK acts like The Jam, The Buzzcocks and Led Zepplin whether UK music was a big influence on the bands sound? “Quite a bit. I can't say it's anymore than American music. But definitely some of my favourite bands are from the UK, whether it be the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.”
'Exhibit A' is a album that straddles the gamut of sounds whether it's the more accessible tunes like 'Blow It Out' right through to the gothic southern tinges of 'Exorcising Demons' or the sweetness of 'The Idea of Growing old'. “Hard working” and “constantly writing whether it's on the road or at home”, the diversity in their sound comes according to Matt from being “big music fans so it just naturally comes out in our music.”
Due to this the UK music press have struggled to pigeon-hole The Features. Some have dubbed them “America's answer to the Kaiser Chiefs”, others have put them in the bracket of classic retro rock sound of kings of Leon, The Hives et al. Matt thinks this attempt to categorise his band is futile: “We don't pay much attention to that it gets a little bit silly, I understand why people have to do that. People might enjoy music more if they quit worrying about whether it sounds like this or that and just worry about whether its good or not.”
The Features recorded their new album with no preconceived ideas of how they wanted to sound, they generally go with the ethos that what pleases them musically will hopefully please their fans. Matt notes that: “when a new song's brought into the rehearsal space it is what it is. But if we don't like the end result we won't play it. We are just trying to make music we personally like.”
The South of America seems have been a breeding ground for great music for years, Matt thinks that where he's from there is a “very good music scene” but he doesn't see The Kings or The Features as part of any kind of scene emerging from the South: “Nashville has a strong reputation for being associated with Country and Western and it over shadows a lot of the rock music from there.” I wondered if the Country sensibility affects rock bands growing up in the Country scene? “Where you grow up is a big part of who you are so those influences are going to seep in. But I think REM are more European than The Rolling Stones. I grew up listening to a lot of UK music and not so much country. I think location is another thing that if people stopped worrying about and they would probably enjoy things more.”
With their new single coming out soon Matt thinks "someone can definitely get the wrong impression from the singles.”
Another question another biography mistake reading that a number of the songs on the new record had been inspired by his twin daughters I ask Matt if this is true? “In fact there's only one and that's the new single (That's The Way It's Meant To Be) our first EP was very much influenced by them. I'm married and there are songs about my wife.”
The Features plan to go back home after this tour and start work on their next record: “We've got quite a bit ready but we'd like to polish those and work on some new ones." And with that I'm ushered away to watch the show, amidst a packed and sweaty audience. The Features are a refreshing band, and contain a modest, front man who seems to be driven to see his band's music cross over to a wide audience. A thirst for hard work and song writing has gained them respect, a record deal, a following and a tour with the Kings of Leon.