Putting together a band is hard. That's a fact. Putting together an orchestra? I'd be willing to bet that's a bit of a struggle, too. Now, I'm not talking about an orchestra you go to see in a big theatre with a conductor and all those bells and whistles, but a non-traditional folk or rock orchestra that plays small clubs and venues to keep going. For those of us who have had the pleasure of seeing The Polyphonic Spree, Typhoon, and the like live, the result is extremely pleasurable and fun to watch (in my humble opinion). There is something amazing about a huge group of musicians stuck together on a cramped stage in a dank club - still able to play their complicated, intricate, and enjoyable music. Not to mention how they manage to integrate instruments like a cello or flute into rock or folk.
The Noise Revival Orchestra are helmed by Nathan Felix and hail from the musically potent Austin, Texas. The nine-piece acoustic pop orchestra is coming through Shanghai to play two shows on the 18th (as part of the X is Y CD release party) and 20th, to provide all of you music lovers the unique opportunity to see this kind of setup. Don't you want to go just to see how nine people fit on the stage at Yuyintang? It'll be worth it. We caught up with Nathan Felix to ask him about the difficulties of managing a band of this magnitude, South By Southwest, and the integration of film into their art.
S247: You started as a four-piece. How and why did it become this huge monster of a band? Was that your intention all along? Is space on stages sometimes a problem for you? You ever played a gig where you all simply didn't fit on stage? What's it like organizing tours, rehearsals and recordings for all those people?
Felix: After years of touring the US as a four-piece, I really wanted to go after some bigger ideas I had in my head. I had fallen in love with orchestral arrangements and realized that it was the perfect time to start dabbling in larger arrangements. On our tours, I’d listen to orchestral music whilst driving our van at night when the rest of the band would be sleeping. In the back of my head, the goal was to eventually start writing music for a full symphony orchestra... which I actually did in New York this year!
Space is always a problem for the venues, but never for us - we can fit on the smallest of stages! I knew it would be an issue for venues when they saw that we were a large group, so we prepared by rehearsing in tiny rooms. There have been a few venues that we haven't been able to fit, so some of the strings or horns will simply jump in the crowd and play. We like to feel as though we have a unity with the crowd.
Organizing rehearsals are fun, because we do it at my home studio and it becomes a bit of a hang out. Recordings and tours are more challenging, but it all comes down to the dedication of the band members. We all love being a part of something greater than ourselves.
S247: Your music videos are extremely artistic and creative, and it seems that you all are big into film and photography, is that true? What has spawned some of the videos that you have made yourselves?
Felix: We are always looking for a way to show the unity we feel in the band. Of course we all have different interests and backgrounds, but that only gives us more options and opinions to explore. In some ways we’re an easy group to work with for filmmakers, because it's uncommon to have the opportunity to work with such a large avant-garde group. Our videos are a collaboration of our ideas and the filmmakers’ ideas.
We did a narrative for ‘Crushin On You’, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and then at the same time did a performance video on a gorgeous rooftop in downtown Austin - both vibes worked well with that song. For our ‘Songs of Forgiveness’ video, we really wanted to evoke an emotion of forgiveness and unity, and I think the filmmaker, David Schulte, worked really hard to explore different backdrops around the world that connected with our vision.
The Noise Revival Orchestra - Crushin On You
The Noise Revival Orchestra - Songs of Forgiveness
S247: You guys have been all over the world and back again, but it's your first time to China. What are your expectations?
Felix: It's very exciting for us to play music in a country we have yet to visit. We are also excited to learn about the culture and experience new impressions. We want to share our music with as many people and absorb as much of the Chinese music scene as we can, so we can come back to Austin and tell all our friends and fans about it.
S247:Do you remember any standout gigs? Are there any places you haven't been that you'd really like to play and see?
Felix: We played an amazing show in a country called the Faroe Islands. The kids were so hungry for music and their appreciation and support made us feel like we were in the clouds! Next year we hope to venture into France, Italy, Japan, and hopefully China again!
S247: Being from Austin, I imagine you guys play SXSW whenever you are in town. Do you involve yourselves into other aspects of the festival, do you help organize? Also, did you see some of our local Chinese bands who managed to make it over there this year?
Felix: Since I was a kid, I've been to SXSW, you can't avoid it! I have friends from all over the world because of SXSW. Every year I help these friends in international bands to get extra shows and help them with a place to stay. I've also produced some shows as well. Over the years, I've learned about a lot of Chinese bands; in particular I remember walking past a venue and randomly hearing Carsick Cars ripping it up a few years back! It's an amazing experience for bands, fans, writers, bloggers, and more!
Catch the Noise Revival Orchestra live this Friday at Yuyintang (18th) and Sunday at the Melting Pot (20th).
WORDS: ANDREW BYRNE / NATHAN FELIX