A.V. Club Milwaukee – Fever Marlene Feature
Fever Marlene finds new life with Medicated Friends
April 8, 2013
Fever Marlene singer Scott Starr can’t wait for the release of his band’s latest album, Medicated Friends, an album he says “seems like a debut album.” For a band that has been around for a decade, released multiple records, and opened for bands like The Flaming Lips, that statement might not make much sense. But for Starr—who has teamed with drummer Kevin Dunphy for much of the past decade as a duo—Medicated Friends feels like a rebirth, a full realization of his vision for the band and its optimal sound.
“It’s kind of a new beginning,” Starr says during an interview prior to Fever Marlene’s release show on April 11 at the Oriental Theatre.
It’s a new beginning that has been a long time in the works. Starr and Dunphy never intended to be a duo, but most attempts to add members felt forced and unnatural. To fill out their sound, Starr multitasked by playing bass and synth parts with his Moog Taurus pedals in addition to playing guitar and singing.
All that changed through random chance. Between scattered concerts and recordings, Starr and Dunphy would spend their free time checking out other area bands and becoming friends with other musicians. They quickly became close with three in particular—Dan Mahony (bass), Ryan Gardiner (synth, organs), and Christian Hansen (guitar)—and started playing casually. After a while, it was evident how well these three fit in with the band’s pre-existing pop-rock sound. Fever Marlene became a five-piece.
“It just came natural, and it felt organic and not forced,” Starr says. “It wasn’t anything where we decided that we were going to be a five-piece. It happened like we had wanted it to happen for the last 10 years, just very organic and natural. Dan and Ryan and Christian all fell into their spots pretty naturally over a long period of time.”
Starr says everyone quickly became absorbed in the recording of the new album, and understood the sound they were getting into. “They had something to look back on and say, ‘We all understand what you guys sound like,’ so we were on the same page right away,” Starr says. “Sometimes a band gets together and has to figure out who they are and what they sound like. That first half was already taken care of with just Kevin and me. Then it was just a matter of adding in the individual personalities of the guys into a sound that was pretty much already there.”
For Hansen, it was a totally different sound from the harder rock he was used to. “Before joining, I knew of the band and knew it was a poppier direction than anything I’d done,” he says. “That intrigued me to take what styles I have with guitar and blend it into a sound that I hadn’t had the opportunity to dabble with.”
Medicated Friends features a collection of new songs, older songs that haven’t appeared on an album, and a few songs from the band’s first two albums, Civil War and White China. “We basically did Medicated Friends to take some of the songs we’d done in the past and actually record them the way we wanted to,” Starr says. “The goal has been to get these songs on a record for a long time. Finally, we can play the songs live and people can take them home.”
With more members for Starr to bounce ideas off, and others contributing songs, he feels his writing has improved with each new song. “Not only is there more music being created, but my writing is better and songs are better because there are more ears on it,” he says. “We’re able to all be on the same page and all work on one thing, rather than Kevin waiting for me to finish a song and then go rehearse and record it.”
For any songs Starr had uncertainties about—like “Better,” for instance—he could show it to the band and they’d come back with their parts written, ready to record. “That was the first song that everybody got in the studio in one night and finished,” Starr says. “It was kind of the ground-breaker that told us it’s possible to write a song in two days and finish and record it and mix it. We just have to keep doing that. It takes a lot out of you to do all that in a small amount of time, but once it’s done, it’s really gratifying.”
In the case of “How Do You Love,” a song originally off of White China, the group turned a song Starr wishes he never recorded (originally at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City) into one of his favorite songs on the album. “It was a good feeling because someone else took what I did and put it in a different format,” he says. “Now I was excited to have it on a record again. I think it’s one of my favorite tunes on the record.”
Unlike past albums, the members of Fever Marlene did everything themselves, from writing and recording to mastering and mixing. Starr thinks Medicated Friends is the sound of Fever Marlene in control of everything—unlike Civil War, where there was a stricter recording schedule, and White China, where it was constrained by the environment. “If Kevin and I had been recording and producing ourselves 10 years ago, I think this is what our music would have sounded like,” Starr says. “We were never really able to achieve that because we weren’t doing things ourselves. We were trusting other people to record our music and other people to produce our music. That was fine, but we never really felt like it was capturing us as a band on record. It wasn’t sounding like what we were supposed to sound like. It feels good to listen back to something and say, ‘It might not be perfect, but this is us from A to B to C to Z. It’s all us.’”
The extra members have also allowed Starr freedom to move around during shows. “Now that we have Ryan playing synths, he’s covering most of that stuff on his end,” Starr says. “As cool as those Moog pedals were, it was never fun for me to play them because I couldn’t move on stage. I had to stay in one spot and concentrate on three different things. Now I have the freedom to enjoy the live performance a little more. It’s the same sounds, it’s just not being played by my feet.”
Starr will have plenty of reason to strut about stage for Fever Marlene’s album release show, as the band is playing the first concert at the Oriental Theatre in over a decade. The group will join a long list of big names that have played at the theater—at one time known more for live music than movies—including Iggy Pop, R.E.M., Tears For Fears, and the Violent Femmes. The theater’s history certainly fits the “funky” and unique location Starr and the band were looking for, and while it proved a challenge to book a show at a non-music theater, Starr thinks it’ll be worth the effort they put into the album.
“We’ve been working on it for such a long time that we felt, ‘Let’s make this a special event and do something totally off the wall and cool,’” he says. “It’s a special moment that we’re finally releasing a vinyl record. Let’s make it a memorable evening and a big party, because we’ll probably only do that once.”