Interview from the ladies’ room with The Felix Culpa

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114003813210613.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jonathon Hicks’, ‘The Felix Culpa performed before 350 crazed fans in the basement of Emmanuel Lutheran Church Feb. 10.’);

Editor’s note: The following is part one of a series documenting The Rock River Times’ hour-long interview with local band The Felix Culpa. The photo banner above this story was created by Jonathan Hicks.

By Jonathan Hicks

Staff Writer

It was a night where nothing seemed to go according to plan. Even this story seemed in doubt at times. It was a night that was more than a year in the making. Hometown boys were making a triumphant return. It was a night that was eagerly anticipated by 500 fans; 150 of them would leave disappointed.

But it also was a night that was so important and so special, that a year from now, kids will lie to their friends about having been there.

Friday, Feb. 10, The Felix Culpa returned home to Rockford, a full year since their last show here, and for the first time since the release of their DVD/EP ThoughtControl. Emmanuel Lutheran Church’s Basement—The ELB—played host to the event and was filled to its capacity. In fact, not only was the venue filled to the brim with excited fans, there were an additional 150 outside who were turned away at the door.

Those who made it in were not disappointed. After a solid start courtesy of openers El Oso, Inspector Owl and The Killer Apathy, members of The Felix Culpa took their places at the center of the room. Literally surrounding the band, the mostly teenage fans clamored for space, climbing on tables and chairs to gain better vantage points.

After a blistering hour and 15-minute set came to a close with only the band’s second encore ever, the crowd dispersed, still wearing the smiles and sweat that had made their faces glisten all night.

As The ELB emptied , the spotlights were switched off and the music faded, leaving only the steady drone of still ringing ears. It was then, just after midnight, that Mark Hladish, Tristan Hammond and Joel Coan sat down to talk about their band, where they’ve been for the last 12 months and their thoughts on the Rockford music scene.

We would spend the next hour together in the relative quiet of the incredibly well-furnished ladies’ restroom, deeply involved in what the band would later call “The most in-depth interview we’ve ever done.” The band members showed both their propensity for honesty and sincerity, as well as their unique senses of humor…hence the interview from perhaps the most exquisite ladies’ restroom one could imagine.

In a church basement, that is.

Jonathan Hicks, The Rock River Times (TRRT): This was your first show in Rockford in a year. Why the long wait?

Mark Hladish (MH): The lack of a venue, to be honest with you.

Tristan Hammond (TH): A good venue, anyway.

MH: Minglewood was around for a while…. There’s Kryptonite, but we obviously can’t do all-ages shows there.

TH: And we’re not exactly a bar band, either.

TRRT: Obviously, Rockford doesn’t exactly have a lot of places to do all-ages shows, but how would you describe the music scene here?

Joel Coan (JC): It’s improving.

TH: It’s really flourishing, but it’s just needing somewhere to play. I think the kids in the bands from this area—nothing will kill them…because Rockford certainly has tried. I’ve seen more venues in the Rockford and Loves Park area shut down over the last three or four years than I’ve seen start up.

MH: It’s definitely thanks to people like Steve (Kess) and Lucio (Aldana) at this place that go out of their way. They clean up here and put a whole lot of their own time and effort to make sure that stuff like this happens. Rockford needs places like this. I think an actual all-ages venue would do really well. It’s obvious that people would come out, because 500 kids were here tonight.

TRRT: Do you think that the near lack of a scene—albeit an improving one—and the lack of venues makes it harder for Rockford bands to get recognized outside of here?

TH: If you’re from an area, you need a home, you need a base of operation. And if that can’t happen, I can understand it being very hard to get a push or get a foot in the door other places. But at the same time, there are so many ways you can go about the business aspect of being in a band.

MH: It’s kind of hard to start a groundswell following when there’s not a venue for that to start at; when there’s not an actual place for you to draw kids to. We consider Milwaukee, Chicago, DeKalb, which are all hour-plus drives—we consider them as “local.”

TRRT: What is the best part about being home to play a show?

TH: More familiar faces. It’s very nice to play places and see people that are familiar with you and what you’re doing and know you as more than just “the guy in the band.” It’s also nice seeing new faces, but for me, that’s the best part of being home.

JC: Ironically though, there’s actually more pressure playing at home than it is on the road. At home, there is a level expected of you already, whereas on the road, usually people are just finding out about you.

MH: Tonight really surprised me. You go out and you play all over the country, and there are always a couple of kids that have heard your music before and might know a couple of the words. But you come back home, and tonight it surprised me that during one of our songs how many kids were singing along.

JC: Over the music even!

TH: That was just so humbling and so energizing.

MH: That’s definitely one of the best parts about playing a hometown show—having that much support and that much love is just great.

JC: It makes it more intimate. It makes it more personal.

TH: Especially at a place like this where there’s no stage, and you’re just face to face with the kids—I love feeling that.

TRRT: What’s the best part about being away from home on tour?

TH: It’s like we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s a feeling of being content.

JC: We actually function the best as a band when we’re on tour. You would think in those conditions, away from home, we would be at each other’s throats, but…

MH: You kind of pull it together…and do what you need to do.

Read next week’s issue of The Rock River Times for part two of our interview with The Felix Culpa.

From the Feb. 15-21, 2006, issue

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