Fresh off the release of its latest single "Mind Slip Away," the Minneapolis-based metal band Blue Felix will be making its way to Sioux City.
Blue Felix will play alongside Siouxland's own Devour Once Dead at 8 p.m. Friday (Oct. 6) at The Marquee. The Weekender spoke with Blue Felix's lead vocalist Jake “Toxsick” Crooks and bassist Rev. John Wheeler about the band's DIY careers, consistency and what metal provides for both its listeners and those who perform it.
Blue Felix made its national tour debut about 10 years ago. But I imagine you guys have been together longer than that?
Jake: Yeah! I originally started Blue Felix in like 2003 or 2004 just as a young, 20-year-old kid just trying to start a band and having no idea what I was doing. It evolved and went through a handful of members until we finally have the current lineup as of 2015, our final drummer change. Some have stayed a couple years. Some as short as a few months. We were learning as we were going through. It took us damn near 10 or 11 years to finally get exactly what we needed music-wise and find out who we were artist-wise and to have guys that eventually become your best friend circles […] and have turned [Blue Felix] into what it is now.
Is it as DIT (do it yourself) today as it was back in the early days?
Jake: Oh yeah! It definitely is!
John: No matter what you’re doing you’re still riding around in some sort of vehicle you built yourself and your fingers are crossed every time you have to drive 10 hours in some direction. I don’t think anything ever changes for anybody until they’re on a private jet or something. Whether it’s a cargo van or a bus it’s just a bigger death trap now. You’re still stopping at Walmart to get snacks and to take a wiz along the way. It’s all the same highway no matter who you are.
Jake: Definitely still and always has been a struggle, but it’s the passion of it. It’s our therapy.
With that struggle, are you guys able to appreciate the work more and maybe be more proud of it?
Jake: Yeah. It’s two sides of the coin, you know. We love being able to do it. We have an outlet for our love and our passion. But at the same time, at what cost? You’re missing some of the years of your children growing up. Any financial stability you ever thought you were going to have being a damn-near-middle-aged man with no [expletive] fall back plan. You’ve given everything to something that’s all you know. It’s a [expletive] gamble. When you’re laying on your death bed, are you going to be glad you have more [expletive] hours put in or that you actually went and tried this [expletive] and met the people you did and tour where you went. I say “tour” but it’s more “drive somewhere far from your house.” Tour sounds so [expletive] luxurious.
John: (laughs) Touring the countryside and some wineries. The older I get, the more I appreciate. You learn to appreciate where your time is being spent more the older you get. The grass always does seem a little bit greener. […] What’s it like out there being insane? Uh, it’s fun. It’s still fun. I think I would have a really hard time saying, “Screw this! I’m going to settle down!” I would get really antsy and put whoever I was settled down with through worse hell than I put myself probably.
How many shows do you think Blue Felix performs a year?
Jake: It used to be a lot. In 2008 and 2009 through about 2015 we were damn near away from home more than we were at home. Whether that’s going to a show or going to Michigan to record an album. I think the most we were doing was probably about 100 shows a year or a 125 shows a year. When we’re not at home we were in the studio or on the road. Writing, recording, practicing, building a new stage thing, making new outfits, finding out how to make this bus work, building bunks in that bus, getting everything ready for when we go back out. It’s slowed down the past two years. We do the weekend warrior thing.
John: We’re kind of lucky enough to have markets within a couple of days drive from where we live [...] and hit all those around twice a year. We’re trying to get the most out of every place people come to see us. In our more wizened years it’s probably the smarter thing to do. The quality has gone up and the quantity has gone down.
Some mainstream metal bands reach this point where they go soft sonically. Is there ever that fear for you guys?
Jake: Everything grows. Everything in life grows and time changes everything. We’re not the same people we were 10 years ago. I always seem to like the newer stuff a lot. There’s a lot more singing, choruses and a lot more melody. When we were younger, we were just spilling our emotions out. We were performers before we were musicians. People saw us having fun. The passion was there. The live show really took the performance a lot farther. We got a lot of hecklin’. “Oh you guys are covering up your [expletive] talent with bass” and “You [expletive] posers!” We tried to go hard to keep up […] and it wasn’t us. It was like super-fast metal riffs and everything has to be metal all the time and death, murder, Satan, ahhhhhh! But it’s so much more than that.
John: The thing I’ve noticed in your younger days as a musician is you’re trying to be a musician as hard as you can and whatever results from that is your sound. Your sound when you’re young is just you trying as hard as you can to be a musician of some kind. It comes out as whatever. The more you learn about music and the more your tastes widen and the more miles you have under your belt, you realize you can do anything 10 years later. You can write any song you want. So you kind of have to look back and go, “What is my sound? Now I have to think about it.” It used to be whatever would just come out. I like the newer stuff [of Blue Felix] a lot, too, in that we’ve circled back to a more leveled form and making conscious decisions about where we’re going as opposed to pushing as hard against a wall as we possibly can. The wall now has no limit.
How much of your life does the band take over?
John: It swings around pretty wildly depending on what’s going on.
Jake: Between making the clothing and everything we do writing – I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with my notepad. Blue Felix is my art. And my art is my entire life and we definitely live it. I don’t come home off tour and not think about it. There’s no taking a break from music. As far as the band goes, yeah.
John: Yeah music probably takes up about 103 percent of our lives. Blue Felix is always a really big part of that. The reason that the two of us are here today is – I mean, we were already just hanging out in my basement studio. That’s what we were already up to. We all have different things. Jake builds cars and I make music videos and such.
What does metal music provide that other genres can’t?
John: M can either be something like Marilyn Manson or Cannibal Corpse – it’s a pretty wide definition. But I think it definitely, more than anything, is a release. Some music is relaxing and some music is introspective. [Metal] lets you go into a mosh pit and crash around and be an insane warrior child in an environment where it’s OK to do that. It lets you get it out. Sometimes you need a soundtrack to go off the rails a little bit and appreciate the calmer parts of your life later on.
Is it a release for you guys onstage as well?
Jake: Absolutely. We’re up there literally bleeding. I broke my leg onstage swinging from the rafters. In full tears in parts, crying, snot, farmer blows, wah! Just letting it out. You’re literally sweating your entire [expletive] everything out. When people see that they’re like, “Wow…” Whether you’re a fan of the music or not, there are [expletive] into this. There’s a huge thing to be said for that.
John: It does exorcise demons for us in a way that I don’t think we can get anywhere else.