Artist Spotlight: FeelFree

When we first initiated the idea of developing a D.C. based publication, one of the driving forces for our intention was the knowledge that our local music community is pulsing with talent, but with few avenues to spotlight that talent, or bring our community to a more tight-knit sphere.

FeelFree, in my opinion, is a perfect example of the sort of gems that the greater Washington D.C. area harbors, and discovering their talent, kinship and carefree approach to an incredible and unique sound, is what led me to approach them for an interview soon after our meeting.

The five-piece stirs the cauldron with a reggae beat, funk-rock sound and a jazzy connotation. Pair that with breezy, soul-churning vocals, multi-instrumental talent… and you have yourself a recipe for a breadth of potential. FeelFree is Evan Hulehan (lead guitar/vocals/production), Andrew Pfeiffer (vocals/ guitar/trombone), Garrett Clausen (bass/vocals/keyboard), Jack Kilby (drums/percussion), and Joe Epstein (trumpet).

They are currently working on their latest studio effort, anticipated to be complete by the end of this year; so this felt like a good time to shine the light on their endeavors. In our interview, we touch upon their backgrounds, their creative process and how it has progressed as they continue to grow as a band.

To learn more about the band and see upcoming shows, please visit their website.

Karina Verlan: If you had to do a tribute night, who would you pick? (It can be a band or an artist.)

Evan Hulehan: We love the jazzy harmonies and textures that Steely Dan was able to squeeze into pop music. The late Walter Becker once said that they (Steely Dan) set out to “Conquer from the margins.” I think a lot of that sentiment is reflected in what we are trying to do as well.

KV: Is there an instrument that you think could supplement your sound, which you would consider adding to the band line up? 

EH: The D.C. sound is rooted in percussion elements. Go Go music is driven by congas and cowbells. Many of the bands that I grew up listening to from the D.C. area have incorporated that vibe into their sound. SOJA, Virginia Coalition, Citizen Cope, Thievery Corporation… We have a few tracks on our upcoming album with major percussion elements, most notably of which were recorded by our friend Eric Rivera, of the band,  Footwerk! We would love to add percussionist full time. Any auxiliary players out there??

KV: When do you anticipate your current studio effort will be complete? What did you learn this time around; what changed the most from the last EP?

EH: Well, you never know, initially we were aiming to have the new album, Define the Free, done by Summer 2017. Things got pushed back a bit, but we are finally getting everything lined up. Currently, we are finishing production on the last few songs, and hoping to have the full album finished by the end of 2017. What has changed the most from our previous EP, is that this time we have all been in the same geographical location throughout the entire process, whereas before, we were all going to different schools across the country. We used to only play shows and record our new material during our summer and winter breaks. I would then take the recordings back to Colorado, where I would finish editing, and mixing the production. Define the Free will be our first body of work since we’ve all been back, living in the same place.  It’s nice to be able work through the whole process together.

KV: You have a hummingbird in your logo, could you tell us the significance of that?

Andrew Pfeiffer: To me our music kinda feels like a hummingbird looks while it hovers or flies… somewhat calm and serene at first impression, but when you pay attention closely, there is a lot of movement and energy at work beneath the surface.

EH: Hummingbirds do whatever they want. Like Andrew said, their movement appears effortless, yet they are working hard. They are free. I think they feel free.

KV: Garrett, I’ve seen you pick up multiple instruments and play them seamlessly. Do you ever play different instruments when you perform? If not, have you ever considered doing that?

Garrett Clausen: I played the sax once at a show, so I could play the horn line in our song “Fishery” off the upcoming album… and I would be down to play keys during a show, if I could get the bass part with my left hand, still working on that.

KV: What is your songwriting process? How has it changed as you’ve grown as a band?

AP: I typically bring a song skeleton that I have been working through on my own, which usually has the chords, lyrics and vocal melody figured out. Then we will work through the form and add different layers, as we each get more familiar and comfortable with the song… because Ev, Garrett, and I are multi-instrumentalists, it’s been really fun to explore the many different textures that each one of us will bring to the table when working out a new song. I’m really excited for people to hear the new album.

EH: I think we each have a slightly different process of bringing a song together. For me, after I come up with the main riff, or chord progression, I like to hash it out on the computer. I’ll get a loop going of the basic drum vibe that I’m feeling for that particular song, then I’ll start layering in different instruments. I like to present a basic demo of the song to the guys so they can get a clear idea of what it is that I’m going for. Quite often, I will have one main idea, but I’ll be missing a “B” section, or a good transition. One of the guys will come up with something that will help complement my initial progression.

KV: Andrew, when did you first begin singing? Did you ever take lessons for it?

AP: I began singing for my high school band Jamchylde in 11th grade, my junior year after our initial singer had graduated. I’ve never had formal singing lessons but was in my college gospel choir for 1 year and have sang in bands ever since high school.

KV: You all work so well together on and off the stage; what do you love most about performing together, being in a band together?

EH: What I enjoy most about being in a band together, is that I get to play music and travel with my best friends. We would all be chillin together, band or no band. Even the previous members, those are our best friends. We all get into trouble together, we all enjoy the same stuff and come from the same place. Its natural.

GC: Tis a brotherhood…

AP: We’ve known each other for so long already having been friends since middle school. We grew up playing music and sports together and chasing this dream of music together. Some members have come and gone but Evan and I have been jamming together since 2004 when we started our first rock band Viewer Disgretion and Garrett’s been integral to the mix since 2010…we have no intention of stopping. Being on a team with your best friends, people you trust and love and enjoy is crucial to persevering in this wild west music industry.

KV: Do you have a favorite D.C venue? What is your dream venue in or outside of D.C. that you wish to play at?

EH: I’d say my favorite D.C. venue is Gypsy Sally’s. Gypsy’s is a gem in the DC scene. It has this Dead-head vibe in the heart of Georgetown, which is somewhat of an oxymoron. They are really doing a lot to fertilize the local scene, especially now, after they recently adopted “Gordon Sterling’s Jam night.” Jam night is where people from all over the D.C. area can get on stage and play with a randomly selected line up of musicians. It’s the place to be on Tuesday night. It has been a breeding ground for new bands. Gypsy Sally’s is somewhat of a newer venue, so hopefully they continue to grow and become a staple of the DC music scene.

GC: Favorite DC venue is probably 9:30 Club. Our favorite venue that we’ve headlined at though is Gypsy Sally’s.

AP: Amen to what Ev said! much love to the Gypsy’s crew. Red Rocks is my dream venue to play outside of D.C. 

KV: What is the funniest band story to date, either from travel, practice or performance?

AP: We survived hurricane Larry while lost on the beach in Wilmington North Carolina… and staying at a stranger named Pat’s house. 

EH: Yeah, the legend of Hurricane Larry started as a trip to the beach on a day off from tour in Wilmington North Carolina. What started as a beautiful day, quickly turned into a ferocious storm. We weren’t going to let Larry ruin our trip, so we decided to ride it out on the beach under some umbrellas. It was one of the more intense storms I have ever been in, but we made it through. The storm passed and left us with Wrightsville Beach all to ourselves, one of the most beautiful scenes you could ever begin to fathom.

Thank you to FeelFree for taking the time to speak with us!

About the author

Karina Verlan

Karina Verlan studied Creative Writing at the University of Mary Washington, and Professional Writing at Old Dominion University. Her writing career has been steadily progressing in recent years, with contributions for publications such as The Connection Newspapers of Northern Virginia, and The Poke Around. Karina is currently the Director of Marketing at a high-end photography studio in Fairfax, VA. On weekends, you will find her chasing favorite bands throughout the states; or somewhere out in the mountains hiking, canoeing, or skiing. Her passions include writing, travel, photography and cooking.