AN INTERVIEW WITH RFA
When trying to figure out who exactly RFA are, they sum it up best in a single sentence: “We are 4 hawt dudes who play Rock n' Roll & want 2 play Rock n' Roll 4 u :).” A sense of youth and confidence with interests set as “girls and weed” and “alcohol,” RFA have an authenticity that bleeds into their music. The brainchild of Alec Powell (drums), Brendan McHale (bass/vox), Christian Turzo (guitar), and Dan Cousart (vox/guitar), the Philly based band embodies the genuine principles of rock n’ roll. Their guitar laden tracks serve as an honest snapshot of life, love, growing up, and everything inbetween.
WHO ARE YOU GUYS? INDIVIDUALLY, WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU, HOW DID YOU FIND MUSIC, WHAT INSPIRES YOU, AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE?
ALEC: I'm Alec. I don't like apostrophes but I love contractions so I guess I'm a bit of a maverick. I exist in my own world because the real one kinda bites and I never forget that big brother is always watching. I like oranges, grapes, plums, pears, parsnips, sweet potatoes and watching the news (even though it scares me!). I have 3 dogs and drive an SUV. I like to spend time alone but also enjoy partaking in rash behavior with my homies. Conventional is not a word I would use to describe myself, in fact I'm quite weird. I value my privacy, the great outdoors and my drums. I like hiking and camping almost as much as I like music. I've always loved the drums. My therapist said I had to stop hitting people with sticks so I naturally channeled this into the drums. In my past lives I think I must have been a drummer. It's in my bones and I can't stop hearing rhythms in my head. All I wanna do is make people dance. That's the most important thing in my mind. You can go ahead and fill a song with all sorts of tasty melodic accents but if it don't boogie then what's the point??? Music found me, I didn't find it. People who aren't afraid to be who they are inspire me. Also I draw lots of inspiration from nature and everything around me. The world is a fascinating place. Just a word of advice to the folks at home, take a look around once in awhile. Life is dope. Follow your heart and you'll never be lost. Listen to your bones!
BRENDAN: Hello! I’m Brendan McHale, some people call me B, some don’t. I’ve always been a fan of entertainment. It’s one of the most important gifts of our society. To be able to separate yourself mentally from the stresses of reality in the form of art is amazing. Music and theatre have always been essential to my life and to be able to perform is one thing that always makes me happy! The Beatles inspired me first of course but any old rock ‘n roll will do. I just love the idea of music itself no matter what it is. It never fails to fascinate me...
CHRISTIAN: Heya, I am Christian Turzo, some people call me Rockafeller and others call me Young Modulus (After Mike Modulus Senior), but most just call me Crazy. I suppose I found music when I was still a wee little time digging around in the dirt in the garden outside my house in the suburbs. I was digging for gold and frankincense and such but I ended up digging up a huge rock. When I finally pulled the sucker out of the ground, I took my hands off of it for just a second and it immediately began to roll down the hill. Just then in that instant something went off inside my head that sounded like a thousand bass drums and a thousand guitars and a whole bunch of people reeling and rocking and singing out with the pure joy and ecstasy of being alive and I thought, “that’s it! Rock and Roll,” and that was pretty much it. Once the rock started rolling, there was no way to stop it. Also I took a bunch of piano lessons as a kid, hated them, continued them for no reason at all, discovered the Beatles in 6th grade through my parents’ record collection, and pretty much decided that music was what I wanted to do from that point on. I just love music - what it can do for people, how it can make you feel things, think about things in a new way, reflect, shout, scream, laugh, cry, dance, fuck, whatever you wanna do in that particular moment. That’s where the true beauty of rolling rocks lies for me. Also, what the hell else am I going to do with my time? Build dollhouses for hamster children? Inflate beach balls on a street corner for sexual favors? Maybe someday, but for now I just get bored unless my fingers are making some sort of sound come out of them.
DAN: I’m Dan Cousart, I sing, play guitar and write the lyrics for RFA. I found music when I was in sixth grade because I was tired of being picked last for the kickball team and various other athletic and academic related activities. Music has always meant a lot to me and has always been a real outlet for me. It’s something that keeps me company on my daily routine through space. Music is important to me because I really enjoy it and it has been my way to connect with other people and the other creatures of this planet. It gives me a little more of a sense of purpose than just doing school work, having a few drinks, and watching TV.
IN A SINGLE SENTENCE, WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF RFA?
ALEC: Forget about yesterday, this morning or tomorrow; tonight we’re gonna have some fun. BRENDAN: We are rock n roll children who wanna shake your hips for kicks.
CHRISTIAN: We are disciples of the sacred Rock and Roll gospel who want nothing more than to share that gospel with the people of the Universe.
DAN: “Booty-shakin’ Rock n’ Roll”
WHAT’S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JANUARY 24TH? WHERE DID THAT SONG COME FROM? WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO KEEP THE UNCUT INTRO?
DAN: “Saturday, January 24th” was really a bit of an experiment, I had never written anything that really told a story before. It was based off of the idea of making an album with some sort of overarching theme, but that really didn’t work out. I sat on the demo for a while and eventually came back to it and it surprisingly still sounded pretty good. The song seemed to still have some sort of weight to it, and we as a band had never really done a song quite like it before, so I decided to bring it to the other guys and we figured out a full band arrangement. The sound effects in the intro were based off an idea of having this character “wake up” to this scene in North Philly and for the listener to be able to hear everything going on. Dan Sniper who engineered our Something New EP did an awesome job with the intro and outro of that song, piecing together fragments of all of us talking and Brendan playing some guitar and such on a little tape player. It really adds to the character of that song, and I’m really glad we stepped out of our comfort zone and got a little out there.
WHAT’S THE PHILLY MUSIC SCENE LIKE? HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED?
DAN: The Philly music scene is huge. There are so many different things going on. There’s a big hip hop scene, a big folk/country scene and there’s a big punk scene which I guess you could say is this city’s biggest export as of right now. Philly’s been great and simultaneously weird for us because we’re one of the few bands playing Rock n’ Roll right now, and most of the venues in the city are 21+.We just all turned 21 so it’s not so much an issue now, but for a while there we either had to put up with a lot of bullshit for being underage or lie about our age, which we had to do a few times because we’ve been playing bars since we were 16. We’ve also played our fair share of basements, which is where you could say we’ve really cut our teeth and really become who we are. Philly is certainly a tough place to break, but because of that I think it’s certainly challenged us to become a much better group and for that I think we’re all very thankful. Places like WXPN and the people at Milkboy have certainly shown us some love too so there are some very great people who have shown us some great support.
RECENTLY YOU PLAYED MAKEOUT REEF IN CHARLESTON. HOW DID YOU LIKE IT? WHAT TYPE OF IMPACT DO YOU THINK THAT HOUSE SHOW CULTURE HAS ON THE MUSIC SCENE?
ALEC: Charleston is a really cool town, Makeout Reef was a great house. We had an awesome time and would love to come back sometime. House shows are a great way to hone your sound as a band and we have really benefited from playing em over the years. It's a space where anything goes most of the time and who doesn't love loud music and gettin lit at a house party? I mean c’mon.
B: It was SA-WEET dude. The house was set up really nice (monitors and everything) and the people were all friendly and wonderful. I am a huge fan of the DIY scene that is flourishing currently. There’s nothing better than people coming together in a non-corporate setting to share in a love for music. Plus, who doesn’t love a good party?
CHRISTIAN: Makeout Reef was positively the nicest Reef of the sort that I have ever set foot inside. The people were super nice and very hospitable (we got to crash on the very floor upon which we played a couple hours before which was glorious), and the town of Charleston itself was really beautiful. We’ve grown up together playing loud rock and roll shows in dirty basements and I think there’s something so unique and special about hearing that music and experiencing that kind of show in a place like that. It’s how rock and roll was meant to be heard. And of course it’s great when all different people can come together and just hang out and drink and party and do whatever it is that gets them going to some cool music.
RECENTLY YOU DID THE SOUNDTRACK FOR A SHORT FILM CALLED THE GIRL WITH THE NOSE RING. WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO GET INVOLVED WITH THIS PROJECT? HOW WAS THE CREATION PROCESS DIFFERENT WHEN TRYING TO MAKE SONGS THAT RELATED TO THE FILM?
ALEC: I like doing different things with music and love film so when we were offered the opportunity I was pretty into it. We kind of took a whatever works approach to writing this. It was less hyper specific than when we compose our own stuff so it was more relaxed. I liked trying to play to a theme and make songs for specific characters. It was fun to play with in a creative setting.
DAN: Brendan actually acted in the film, and we were asked by the crew to do the soundtrack afterwards. We said yes cause we had never really done a soundtrack before. It was a really fun project to do because it was pressure-free. I think it turned out pretty well too for what it was. Dan Sniper recorded this record as well and he did a great job with it.
BRENDAN: Yes I did have a small part in the film, what fun! I would add that there was definitely pressure to create something to help tell the story of the film, however, it was fun because we got to explore different sounds that RFA wouldn’t have really toyed with before. It was an opportunity to stretch our boundaries a bit in terms of instrumentation.
CHRISTIAN: Aye Aye, it was really a great experience for the band and it led to a whole lot of growth as musicians individually and as a group. It definitely made us look at the whole process of recording in a different way than we had before. It felt a lot more natural in some ways, because we had the opportunity to experiment and try new things without being on any sort of strict time constraint (we had about a week in the studio over a holiday break). It also felt unnatural in a lot of ways because the arrangements were so different than stuff we had worked on before, but it really was a healthy, beautiful experience in the end. We jammed a bit more freely than we have in the past, and I think that kind of “not overthinking it” mindset really helped us grow a bit and become more comfortable with our craft.
“SUZIE LEE” CAME AFTER YOU GUYS HAD A PRETTY SOLID GAP IN RELEASES. WHAT WAS GOING ON AT THE TIME? HOW WAS THAT SONG A CHANGE AND WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
DAN: We’ve actually been playing “Suzie Lee” for a long time. We originally recorded it and released it in 2014, and have been playing it ever since. The song itself ended up changing a lot since then, and we felt that the original recording didn’t do the song much justice, so we decided to re-record it at Milkboy Studios with a recording prize we won. This recording is going to be on a record that is in the works, and I think we all really like this version a lot better. It has been a while since the Something New EP has come out, but we’ve had so much going on between live dates, losing a manager and writing a bunch. We’ve had a lot on our plates, but I think we’ve got an exciting couple months ahead of us for sure.
YOUR FIRST RELEASE WAS IN 2013. HOW DID YOU FORM AND HOW HAVE YOU EVOLVED?
DAN: Christian, Alec and I formed the band back in sophomore year in high school at the lunch table. We were originally a three piece that played old garage rock stuff like the Sonics, Black Keys, and old Elvis stuff, and I originally played bass. Things changed when we brought my friend Steve in to play bass, and then I picked up the guitar as well and started bringing some originals to the group. Steve left to go to college in Boston, and we all went to high school with Brendan and knew he was a good singer and musician, so we asked him to play bass for us when we started college. It ended up working out and we have changed so much and will hopefully continue to change.
BRENDAN: Yes, I hadn’t played bass before but I played guitar and sang in band with Christian before joining RFA. That’s really how I got to know the other guys. Now I love playing the bass, it’s my favorite instrument.
CHRISTIAN: The other guys kind of already said this, but I love this story so I’ll put my own spin on it real quick. All four of us had met each other freshman year of high school in some way or another and we all were at least aware of each other's musical talents and ambitions. A couple of us played together in one of the school bands at various different points in various formations, but it wasn’t until sophomore year that Dan, Alec, and I started this project after a lunch table conversation about Elvis and Little Richard and the Stones and other stuff like that. Alec didn’t really play drums at the time, but Dan and I knew he was a great musician and a great dude so we asked if he’d like to play, he said “yea, sure” or something like that, and that was pretty much it. Brendan and I were in another band at the time, and we kind of kept the projects separate, recording very different music and playing shows in different scenes, etc. But when that other project fizzled out and we all ended up living in Philly together after high school (minus our old bass player who had left to go to college up in Boston), we got Mr. Branzino Jones in on bass and immediately all felt like we had found the missing link in the chain. The coming of Branzino was a momentous occasion. We still celebrate it every September by drinking forties at an abandoned house in West Philly called Halfpipe Hill.
ALEC: I don't need to say anything else. The other guy got it. We've been together for 7 years. There have been many phases of this group. I personally have gotten a lot more proficient in my playing and working in a studio. I love the feeling of improving every day, every practice and every show. It's been a long road so far but there's no end in sight, only choice is to keep on chuggin. I wanna find the end of the rainbow and god dammit I'm gonna get there if it kills me.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU REALLY WANTED TO SHOWCASE ON SOMETHING NEW FROM RFA? WHAT ARE SOME IDEAS AND STYLISTIC THINGS YOU REALLY WANTED PEOPLE TO PAY ATTENTION TO AND CONNECT WITH?
DAN: We wanted to put out some good songs to add to our live set, to show people we knew more of what we were doing in the studio and as a group, and to show that we have the ability to do more sonically than we initially gave off with our first few EPs. Now many of the songs are very uptempo, but we wanted to show that we could bring the pace down with songs like “Saturday” and to show that we had real dynamics with songs like “What’s Your Name” and to show that the actual songwriting itself was expanding with songs like “Indigo”. On these sessions, we recorded things pretty much how we played them live as opposed to the way that our other recordings were made, which was very dry and did not really show off our real sound as a group. I think we’re all very happy with the Something New EP and hope that the next recordings will keep that same sort of aesthetic.
BRENDAN: We had a lot more time in the studio with Something New from RFA than we did recording Freaking Out, our previous EP. That helped because it gave us time to try certain things out and see what worked and what didn’t. We also had a lot more experience with each other so we had a more cohesive sense of how we wanted the record to sound.
CHRISTIAN: Ditto to my compatriots. It was a more relaxed experience than we were used to at the time. Not having to rush around trying to cram all of our ideas into the songs in a couple of days was really valuable. We did a bit more of this one live, which was a pretty cool experience. Also, we worked with our old pal the super talented Dan Siper, which is always a joy, so that made it a very very fun friendly experience. He understood what we were going for and how to get us there.
ALEC: I just wanted to try and show off honestly. I pushed myself to write the most difficult and creative drum parts I could. I keep doing this because I don't see a point in just being a boring drummer. I want people to pay attention to the drums in the music like I do and I put my heart and soul into these parts in hopes of getting their attention. I just wanted to make some head groovin music and I think we accomplished that. I drew a lot from the musical stylings of players like Matt Helders, Ronnie Vannucci Jr., and Ginger Baker.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CREATIVE ENVIRONMENT OF THE 21ST CENTURY? HOW IS IT RESTRICTING AND HOW IS IT FREEING?
DAN: It’s restrictive because we’re playing Rock n’ Roll which is a genre that has been extensively covered over the last 50-60 years. Most of what can be done has been done already, so the most we can do is make songs that we really like and hopefully others will like as well. This new musical environment is great though in many ways too. We don’t need a label to give people our songs, and we can listen to any kind of music anytime we want with apps like Spotify and Bandcamp. The future looks pretty cool, and hopefully, in an ideal future, people will end up compensating artists properly for the work they do.
BRENDAN: Creativity is everywhere, man! Which is a blessing and a curse. It’s restrictive in the sense that while we are attempting to write original music we are seemingly insignificant in a world where arguably everything has already been done. But overall, I feel that if we love what we’re doing that’s all that matters, that’s what keeps us going.
CHRISTIAN: It’s definitely a double-edged sword. There’s so many different bands and groups and artists making music right now, it’s easy to feel like you don’t exist or that it’s impossible to really get your music heard above the buzz, but the other side of that same phenomenon is that it forces you to work a little bit harder. I think it’s a good thing that artists should have to give it everything they’ve got in order to really prove themselves and carve out a niche for their work. Sure, anybody with a laptop and internet access can upload a shitty album to Bandcamp and pretend they’re Daniel Johnston, but that just means that the real Daniel Johnston can too and will have to write better songs to stand out above the rest. I don’t know, we could all talk about this all day really. There’s good stuff and bad stuff about it, but that’s life. Take the good with the bad! I personally find it kind of freeing that Rock and Roll has been around for so long. We’re just trying to make songs that we like and that make us happy so that hopefully they make someone else happy too.
ALEC: I think it's good and bad like Christian said. I like that music is everywhere and easily accessible but that makes it harder to be heard as an up and coming band and kind of devalues recorded music. I think it's better now than it is worse and we are in a period of transition. Things will level out. I love not having to be on a label to release music because it opens the market to more people but conversely it means that indie artists have to do all the legwork in terms of recording, marketing, and booking. That's not exactly a bad thing. I’m cool with it. I like a challenge.
IF SOMEONE HAD NEVER HEARD YOUR BAND BEFORE, WHAT’S THE FIRST SONG YOU’D PLAY THEM? WHY?
DAN: Probably “Suzie Lee” or “Indigo” because people seem to noticeably respond to them more than most of our songs live. People in towns who know us sing those songs back to us, so those would be my picks.
BRENDAN: Yeah I agree with Dan. “Suzie Lee” would be my first choice then maybe “Teenage Love Song.”
CHRISTIAN: I’d probably say “Indigo” or “Suzie” I suppose. “I’m Not Telling You” is my personal favorite to play though, so maybe that one. I don’t know, as the Magna Carta says, “All songs are created equally, but some are more equal than others.”
DAN: I’d tell them to wait for our first record that's coming out in the spring sometime. If they are impatient I'd tell them to listen to just put our Spotify on shuffle and find something that floats their boat. I love “Indigo.” That'd be my pick if i had to pick just one.