Simone Felice says he wrote his first song when he was “around 13, after I had a brain aneurysm.” Last month, the former Felice Brothers drummer, celebrated novelist and member of The Duke and The King released his first solo album, Simone Felice. We asked Felice about his approach to songwriting, Sandy Denny and more.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Joni Mitchell. Leonard Cohen. Neil Young. Sandy Denny. Dylan, of course. Carole King.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
Around 13, after I had a brain aneurysm. Not good at all. I wrote or co-wrote 100 plus songs before anything that could truly be called good began to happen.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
The first one I can recall is a Black Sabbath-inspired number called “Shallow Grave” in E minor. Need I say more?!
What’s your approach to writing lyrics?
Harry Chapin said, “The capturing of whispers is the way to write a song.” I try and follow this vague wisdom, I believe it’s almost as if the song already exists, hiding, waiting somewhere in the ether. It’s our task to listen, then translate.
What percentage of the songs you write are keepers?
Twenty percent. And I finish thirty percent.
Do you have any standards for your songs you try to adhere by when choosing them for an album?
Yes. It’s gotta make me cry, at least once, somewhere in the process: writing, recording it, listening back, mixing… This is not to say it needs to be a sad song, just one worthy of tears, as we all know: there are many types we can shed.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Lost love. Pain. Fear. Joy. Hope. The warped parade that is human existence. But most of all, the riddle of my own heart.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
A new idea called “Chinatown.” “You gave me a fix, I gave you a daughter, I’ll come back this way when the days grow shorter, and we’ll all draw straws in Chinatown…”
What’s a song on your solo album you’re particularly proud of?
“Charade.” Because I feel I hit upon something I’ve been trying to understand all my life… that unless you love, your life will pass you by.
What’s a lyric from the album you’re a fan of?
“…Red tiles, an empty swimming pool, she smiles the way she used to do, shadows fall on the shallow end, they climb that old graffiti wall out to oblivion…”
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
I’d have to say its a little of both. Easier because you’ve honed your craft. Harder because you need to reach ever higher, and as we know, when you get to the summit of a climb, the trees fall away and it’s just you and the wind, nothing to hide behind.
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I’ve recently published my third novel, called Black Jesus. Writing prose and poetry is what first led me to songs, learning to sing in an attempt to bring the stories to life through melody and rhyme.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
“Don’t Wake The Scarecrow,” a Felice Brothers song. The only way I know this is that whenever I sing it live there is the inevitable gasp from the audience at the sound of the first notes of the intro.
What do you consider the perfect song, and why?
“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” by Sandy Denny. If you listen to the demo version you’ll hear, in my opinion, one of the purest songs ever recorded, no filter between her heart’s lament and the microphone…It’s not an act, it’s a plea, a prayer, it’s beyond just a song.