Saturday, December 12, 2009

Interview: Fenbi International Superstars

Interview with Micheal Phillips of The Fenbi International Superstars by Ron Trembath, CIMTB reader and contributer to music blog

The Fenbi International Superstars never fail to entertain. Their own special brand of world music has become a stock hold for many Portlanders looking for a good time as of recently. Band member Michael Phillips is a true poet and artist. Not to mention a real trooper for dealing with my silly and sometimes rhetorical questions. But, ever the entertainer he pulls through in a big way to let the good people of Fenbi's fair city know they intend to stick around and rock their mismatched socks off. - Ron Trembath

RT: So, if you don't mind, explain what exactly "Fenbi" is?

FIS: Fenbi is a band that started in July of 2004. Originally Orion and I were creating “ethnic” songs that gave us an adrenaline rush and made us laugh until we were blue in the face. Slowly we started writing words, exploring more folk sounds from more and more countries – and before we knew it our band evolved into a passionate display of Irish history and the Balkan gypsy culture.

RT: What would you describe as the "mission statement" of The Fenbi International Superstars?

FIS: Our mission statement is to create fun and funny music, free of the self-righteousness and drama of ‘pop’ and ‘indie’ music. We know we are a niche … but the niche of kids that like our music happens to be the type of people we like to be around.

RT: By now, most of your local fans know about your less than mutual split from your former pop rock group The Young Immortals, and it's been over for quite some time now. But, I have to ask, how has the transition been for you and your new old band?

FIS: It started as a rough transition because when I left The Young Immortals in December of 2007 I found myself couch surfing with nothing to my name, no job, no fall back plan, and absolutely exhausted from a 60-day tour across the country. Bad decisions influenced by desperation were made during this time and these decisions continued to follow me until about April of this year. Trying to launch a career during the exact date many people claim the recession began was a daunting task to say the least. In 2008 I ended up selling my bass gear for 1/3 of the price I bought it for just to pay rent … I sold my bass guitar … it was probably one of the roughest years of my life.
But thanks to the great network of friends and the great people of Portland, I currently find myself resting comfortably in the early phase of what I hope will evolve into a great career. Fenbi has evolved into that beautiful artistic emotional outlet for all involved – and that is what music is all about anyways. We aren’t trying to set any world records or even live off of this band – but we are trying to do this to the best of our ability and we are trying to create fun music with irreverent lyrics that people can sing along to.

RT: Are you happier now?

FIS: I am way happier now. I feel satisfied that I followed my dream of trying to make a career out of rock’n’roll – and I am glad that I fell flat on my face. Failing is a good thing … so many people are obsessed with never making mistakes … but going out on a limb and following your passion only serves to shape you into a better person.
What do you think it is about Fenbi's live performances that set you apart from the thousands of acts right in your hometown?
Portland is full of talented and interesting musicians and bands, but Fenbi offers consistent humor and singalong music – it’s an act that everyone can relate to. Perhaps at first people might think we are weird or overtly enthusiastic – but once they let their walls down and realize that we’re there to have fun, they realize that we are writing music that people can relate to, sing along to, and god forbid Portland, Oregon – dance to?

RT: Would it be safe to say that Fenbi is sort of a, worldly "working man's" group"?

FIS: Yes, we are a world music band without the pony tails and patchouli. When we first started performing we had never heard of Gogol Bordello or Balkan Beat Box or Beirut – but that is the type of music we are trying to create – with the lyricism of the Pogues.

RT: You are recording your debut EP right now. How is it turning out?

FIS: I think our songs are going to turn heads. We are recording three songs initially written in the fall of 2004 and spring of 2005, and will be recording one new song that we have performed live only a handful of times. A team of animators who work at Laika will be working on our video in their spare time. It is a very exciting time for team Fenbi.
After you become super famous when you release your upcoming EP, will Portland show goers still be able to find you at your regular venues (Dublin Pub, Ash St, etc.)?
Yes, we like those people. We are opening up 2010 with an awesome show at the Ash Street Saloon. Opening will be Ugen Flagen, a Swedish metal band from Guam (or so they say). Also performing with us is Sneakin’ Out – and if you haven’t seen them you are missing out big time. They are easily one of the most fun and most musically talented bands in Portland – the percussionist even uses a typewriter at times.

RT: Aside from the first week, what does the rest 2010 have in store for Fenbi?

FIS: We hope to apply for a headlining spot at the NW Folk Life Festival in Seattle. Other than that – it would be nice to get up to open for some worldly bands at the Crystal or Roseland. It’d be nice to get to Vancouver, BC this summer. We often fantasize about performing in Europe … and have even written a Scandinavian National Anthem that we hope will encourage them to bring us over.

RT: Any chance of a full blown tour in the near future?

FIS: We probably wont tour until there is a demand. If there is never a demand, we are content having fun with our pals in the NW.

RT: Before we wrap this up, anything you want to pimp, promote, say to anyone who may be reading this?

I want to remind readers that if they have an interest in Irish/Gypsy music and like bands including Ween, Flogging Molly, Gogol Bordello, The Pogues, and Balkan Beatbox – then come to our show. We wont let you down.


Dr. Something said...

Great interview. The only time I've seen The Fenbi International Superstars is when we both played Pizazz last year, and they're great! I need to see them again soon. I'm a big fan of all these groups drawing on old world modal music in a really balls-out kind of way. Gogol Bordello, Devotchka, Okestar Zirkonium; and locally Underscore Orkestra, Vagabond Opera, Chervona and Fenbi. Probably many more.

Jess Gulbranson said...

This is a great interview, Ron. I'm glad to see us getting more up here for some variety. I have a couple in the works right now. If anyone has ideas for people to interview, or knows some cool local musicians who would like to do it, let us know!

TART said...

Why thank you Jess. But, all thanks goes to Mike, as well as Goldie for dealing with my confusing submission. Interviews are fun. It becomes a much more perosnal way to help get some great bands some well deserved recognition. And Fenbi rocks the shit like the good Dr. stated. My suggestion is for of my favorite groups. I've nicknamed them "Ben's Kids". I don't know why I get this idea that they are the younger version of him. No justification really. All I know is that their latest EP is god damn wonderful!

TART said...

P.S. TART = Tart Productions/Ron Trembath. Not sure how to change that on blogger. Maybe that's why I'm so damn confusing.

Dr. Something said...

If you click on the B icon on the top left-hand corner of this page (or any blogger page) you'll go directly to your dashboard where you can edit your profile (add website/contact info, bio, etc.) and/or change your privacy settings. You can also go to the blogger homepage and log in and edit your stuff.

Ron Trembath said...

I figured it out! I get logged in as TART when I am not logged into Blogger because my main e-mail address is TARTPRODUCTIONS. My blogger account is under my own name. Either way!!!

Rock On Fenbi!!!!!!

Dr. Something said...

Ah, mystery solved! I was wondering why you had two profiles, and one of them was private.

Mike P. said...

Thanks so much mang! Hope to see everyone at the show (it will be an actual show, not a gig)