The Felix Culpa's Marky Hladish talks about signing to No Sleep and writing 7-minute songs

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Courtesy of The Felix Culpa
Since the early 2000s, The Felix Culpa has steadily built a large grassroots following for their blend of post-hardcore, arty indie rock, melody, and dissonance. The Illinois/Wisconsin-based quartet recently signed with the West Coast-based indie label No Sleep Records, which re-released the band's behemoth of a second album, Sever Your Roots. Originally released by the band independently in 2010, Sever Your Roots spans 14 tracks, with some running over the seven minute mark. These aren't bloated prog-rock tunes though; Sever Your Roots is the rare album that feels as though every song needs to be that long to fully develop.

The punk-leaning magazine Alternative Press even featured the album in many of the editors' 2010 year-end Top 10 lists.

The Culpa, as fans affectionately call them, have been busy since signing with No Sleep, releasing a music video and a new companion EP to Sever Your Roots. And soon, they'll be heading out on tour with experimental indie rockers The Dear Hunter, with a stop at the Triple Rock.

In advance of their Twin Cities appearance Friday, Gimme Noise spoke with singer and guitarist Marky Hladish about what they've been up to lately, writing for such a major album, and their recent decision to finally sign with a label.

What have you guys been up to lately? I always assume that you have another whole album of songs ready to go.

[laughs] You know, it's been a weird few months for us. We signed with No Sleep Records back in October, and we completely re-did all the packaging and everything for our last album, which we initially put out independently. We recorded a three-song EP [Bury the Axe] of material that we wrote as a part of the Sever Your Roots collection of songs. That was put out with the re-release of Sever Your Roots, and that was put out in February by No Sleep.

Since then, there's been a lot that we've been doing, but it's mostly been under-the-surface sort of stuff so we haven't seemed like we've been doing anything. We did a video for "Our Holy Ghosts" and that's going to be debuting on Comcast pretty soon. And we've actually been working on another video. We recorded a cover song for a Hum tribute CD on Pop Up Records coming out in September. They're one of my favorite bands of all time, and they're from Champaign, Illinois. It was really, really cool that they asked us to play a track for that. Other than that, we've been doing a lot that I can't talk about too much of right now. We've definitely been working on some stuff, and I'm always writing too.

The Felix Culpa - "Our Holy Ghosts" from Nick Cavalier on Vimeo.

With Sever Your Roots, you've moved on to writing a lot longer songs that don't just have extended instrumentals at the end. It sounds like the song needed to go on for that long to fully develop. How did that come about?

It wasn't a conscious decision to all of a sudden be writing these long, epic songs, it was just a product of where we were. When we started writing material for what turned out to be Sever Your Roots, we actually came out with like 30 songs. They were in all sorts of different places. There was some stuff that was more electronic, some more straight-up pop songs, and then there was more stuff that was darker, and that had more of, I hate to say oppressive, but had more of this epic overtone to it. That darker material is what we gravitated towards as being real to us, especially at that point in time.

When we were putting together that music, the band went through an awful lot, individually in our personal lives. That was the music that actually stuck with us and that we wound up really wanting to record and put out there as ours. Honestly, when we were recording Sever Your Roots, and even when we put it out, we didn't know if we were going to even be a band anymore. We didn't know if this was going to be the last album we did, we didn't even know if it was going to come out at all. It was kind of a dark time, so I guess that music kind of speaks for where we were at that point in time. Suffice to say, we're definitely in a different place now, and the new stuff that you'll hear from us, you can expect it to be a little bit of a different bent.

Sever Your Roots also has a really interesting dynamic balance within the songs as well. They're loud, but that's always counterbalanced by more delicate parts. How do you achieve that balance?

Thanks, it's great that people can notice that choice because it was intentional, whereas the overarching dark, epic feeling wasn't really intentional. Utilizing lots of different textures, sounds, and lots of recording styles and even songwriting techniques was very, very intentional. We took sections of songs that we had initially written as straight-up guitar/bass/drums rock songs and completely replayed them on other instruments, like pipe organs and boxes. You know, literally, boxes. And acoustic guitar. We recorded a bunch of stuff live in the room, just one take with everybody yelling at the same time, that kind of thing. There are a couple of songs that are nothing but me and my laptop, like the song "Roots." There's very little that was done in the studio on that song, you can kind of even hear the hiss of the condenser mic picking up the fan of my laptop [laughs]. That was all very intentional. We wanted to make a very particular album, and that album we wanted was expansive. We wanted to push our boundaries and see what we could make.

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