When one door closes, another opens, according to the old adage.
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Sometimes, in the music business, one band dissolves and another emerges in its wake.
The members of the band Federale probably never envisioned a run of 15+ years to date recording multiple celebrated albums, touring with impressive live shows, and producing music for motion picture soundtracks based on music that started out as a whim.
As bandleader Collin Hegna tells it, Federale started in 2004 as a fun project devised by some bandmates to fill in the gaps after the Portland band Cocaine Unicorn fell apart. Watching old school spaghetti Westerns like Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” was a shared interest among this group of friends. In particular, the films’ scores resonated deeply with them. They especially revered the genre’s most noted composer, Ennio Morricone.
It didn’t take long for the friends to decide they wanted to try their hand at this dramatic music, based partly in an Italian operatic aesthetic and partly in 1960s and ’70s pop sounds. Soon, Federale was born and they began crafting songs Morricone himself might have found evocative of a sweeping, moody American West.
As early band member and guitarist Colin Sheridan notes, at first, they were playing their version of this music in “backyards and dive bars.”
Nalin Silva, originally an audio engineer for the band and now its bass player, recalls his surprise at their trajectory: “I watched these guys go from this drunken idea of, ‘Oh, we should play spaghetti Western music,’ to playing the Fillmore, to scoring movies, to scoring commercials. It’s been quite the evolution.”
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Sheridan also points out that the band at some point needed a term for the style of music they played. With almost every member of the band hailing from the Pacific Northwest, they eventually came up with the moniker “spaghetti Northwestern.”
For their first few albums, the band’s music largely featured instrumentals. But more recent albums, including their fifth, the 2019 release “No Justice” on Jealous Butcher Records, feature both Hegna’s soulful croon and the soaring operatic vocals of Maria Karlin.
Karlin, like many of her fellow bandmates, studied music at University of Oregon; she intended to pursue opera after graduation. But once she was invited to sing with Federale, another bug bit her: “You know, the little girl who wanted to be a singer had that dream of being on a rock stage. I mean, I love classical music, but it does not fulfill that dream of being a rock star. It just sounded like fun. So I did it.”
Federale is a big, multi-instrumental enterprise. Along with Silva, Sheridan, Karlin and Hegna (on guitar, vocals and “whistling”), the band also includes drummer and Oregon Symphony percussionist Brian Gardiner, who helps arrange and write some of the songs with Hegna; pedal steel player Rick Pedrosa, who also plays percussion and melodica; and Sebastian Bibb-Barrett, who plays trumpet and a wide variety of percussion instruments, including the signature “whip-crack” sound so familiar to fans of spaghetti Western soundtracks.
“Everybody’s got to do a lot in Federale because there’s so many textures and sounds going on to create something that’s cinematic and dynamic. Lots of things have to happen,” Pedrosa said.
Bibb-Barrett also likes the scope of the band’s music: “For me, what I was attracted to is that it’s very dynamic music. There are extreme high points, there are extreme low points. You get to use a whole range of emotions when you’re playing. You go from stories of morbid murder to tender moments of sweetness. Everything that I had studied — playing jazz in college and high school and the music that I was drawn to — really coincided with that.”
Gardiner notes that the first hometown gig after the release of “No Justice” was a major deal for Federale.
“It’s the culmination of a several years of work. When you spend this much time on a project and it’s finally out, it’s like your wedding,” he said, later qualifying the statement in case his wife took issue: “Not that I’m comparing this to our wedding.”
Hegna realized that, with their latest album, the band is now in a place they’d been working toward for years.
“When we first started doing Federale, I had a lot of aspirations for it, but we had no means of achieving them. The records that we were trying to emulate had full orchestral scores and full choirs. We had only guitars and a piano and a trumpet and I would whistle. But over the years we’ve built arrangements up and we’ve had string players from the Oregon Symphony play with us, performers like Edna Vazquez play with us,” Henga said. “So we’ve sort of been able to build the scope of this. I feel like this record really represents how I always wanted it to be, how I’ve always wanted it to sound.”
Editor’s note: Federale band member Nalin Silva is an audio engineer for OPB.
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