We were lucky enough to catch up with Feelings (aka Simon Berkfinger) to talk monikers, music and intercourse. Here is what he had to say…
First up, Who is ‘Berkfinger’? How did you get this nickname, and what crazy sequence of events led you to be both an onstage performer and backroom producer in the Australian music industry?
Berkfinger was Simon Robert Berckelman in a makeshift studio under his Grandma’s house circa 2001. He was trying to copy his hero, Snakefinger, by playing all the instruments on an album and just generally being weird. Eventually he gave up and started a pretty terrible funk band, where he met MC Bad Genius. The funk band needed to record so they went to the still quite new Bigjesus Burger Studios in Sydney. The recording session confirmed that they were terrible but Simon got offered a job as a sound engineer. After a while he got sick of recording shitty bands and decided he could it better than them, so he and Bad Genius started Philadelphia Grand Jury. Here they met Dan Williams the drummer. Dan got rich and famous playing in Art Vs Science, so he split and eventually so did the band. Now Berkfinger is Simon Berkfinger, who spends his time in his very professional studio in Germany trying to copy his hero Snakefinger with his new band Feelings.
Since the break up of Philadelphia Grand Jury we haven’t heard much from you. How come the Philly Jays came to an end, and what have you been doing for the last 18 months?
I had a studio by the river, I lived on a floor, I had a space in a 1950s East German broadcast foley studio, I lived with an older artist lady, I lived in a grotty sharehouse, I did pushups a lot and ate one meal a day, I found love, I bought a recording studio. The whole time I was writing and recording songs.
Now your back with a new project called Feelings. What made you feel like now was the right time to make a comeback to the frontline and start making your own music again?
I just wanted to collect my next publishing advance. Nah, just kidding. I’ve been trying for a year solid, but I had to convince the whole music industry that I wasn’t washed up and that if they gave me another chance I wouldn’t burn them again! That’s why Feelings has no official, permanent members except me.
As you already have the nickname ‘Berkfinger’. Why did you create the new moniker ‘Feelings’ for your latest project? How many monikers and nicknames can one man have?
It was stupid I know. Berkfinger sounds quite rude, though and it doesn’t suit the music.
What can we expect from Feelings? Has your time with the Philly Jays and helping produce other bands albums (Velociraptor, DZ Deathrays, etc), influenced the sound you’re making with Feelings?
I do like to nick a few ideas from people. I think all of the production work keeps me in the loop. A lot of bands are quite competitive in Australia and I think that is why we have seen a lot of groups fail to make cool follow up albums – they make something good, get popular and then the other bands get mad at them and don’t share their ideas and creative energy. Working with a young guy from NZ named Tom Lark really inspired me to take the quite 90s, Malkmus style guitar riffs I was doing and put them with big, bold beats, for example.
Your debut single ‘One in A Million’ was received pretty well with plenty of airplay and public interest. Did you get nervous about releasing the very first song for Feelings, being a new project and all?
I assumed that it wouldn’t get played on the radio. I was told that it would be viewed as a side project and therefore people would dismiss it. But that song, like a lot of the album I’ve made has a lot of heart in it and I was glad to know that a few people out there could hear that and got behind my music again. When I wrote all of my side of the Philly Jays material I was very alone and has no connections in the music scene. I just wanted to make something I was proud of and assumed no one would hear it. This new stuff was made in a similar bubble here in Germany and I think that’s what makes it also special.
Your latest single is called ‘Intercourse’. What is the story behind this track, and how do you feel about pioneering the ‘sexpop’ genre (and a term you shouldn’t google at work).
This one was quickly written and recorded in a 2 hour jam session with Michael Tomlinson from Yves Klein Blue and Dave Rennick from Dappled Cities. I think we were all in a period of creative and emotional downtime and writing that song was a big inspirational moment for us. I played drums originally and everyone liked it, but in the end I insisted on rerecording with Dan on drums and suddenly it sounded way more SexPop. Also some kudos should go to Lachlan, who went to the service station and got us some beers on that original demo session.
You have recently announced a host of Australian tour dates. How did you come to rope in Dan Sweat (Art vs Science) and Dave Rennick (Dappled Cities) for your touring band last September, and will they be accompanying you again on your latest tour dates?
I have to pay those guys and they’re not cheap. I think they are all down for a bit of moonlighting at the moment and we all get along well musically so it makes sense. Eventually they might leave the nest, but for now I’ve got them.
Given you were renowned for putting on a pretty intense and exciting live show previously, what theatrics and mentality are you going to approach Feelings live shows with?
I feel a lot less macho these days, I realised that there is more than one way of getting people’s attention and breaking stuff is not always healthy. This time around I just want to put on a clean, hygenic and safe concert and be myself. I’m sure people will have fun and still think I’m weird, even if I attempt to be normal. We’re also unbelievably good at our instruments, which helps.
You plan to have a debut album out mid-2013. Why are you going straight to the full length, and give us some buzzwords on how the album is shaping up.
Why not? I own a recording studio and we have recorded 83 songs! This one is going to be viewed as pretty eclectic I imagine. It’s carefully arranged chaos, for the most part. Lots of drum machines and loose guitars. Lots of FX, but often quite minimal. It’s really just whatever I was feeling at the time, with little consideration for what is current or happening in the outside world. It’s from my little world, with a bit of help from my friends.
Finally, given you set up your own recording studio in Berlin last year, what is the long term projection for Feelings? Is it a fun side project for 2013, or does it have the potential to go the distance?
This one goes forever, for better or worse.