Strange Birds

This Miami band's brand-new EP, Synchromy, plays sort of like the soundtrack to a TV game show featured in a retro-spaghetti sci-fi flick circa 1944. Or is that 2014? "I've always been fascinated by music that confuses me," says Feathers bandleader Eddie Alonso. "When I listen to something and I have no idea where it's coming from but I'm into it, that's the most exhilarating feeling."

Alonso continues, "The most interesting music is the kind that leads in with a big question mark: öI know I like this, but I don't know why.' That has a value over time, as opposed to something that's instantly likable."

Truth is, Synchromy as well as last year's Absolute Noon EP are both instantly likable because of the big question mark wrapped like a fluffy pink cloud around the music. This stuff needs thorough and thoughtful digesting, not a quick chew. For any listener fed up with a static Miami indie scene or numbed by the carbon-copy cutouts on the Billboard charts, Feathers offer a truly clever, often hilarious, and totally unique vision of what rock, jazz, film score, electronica, and theme music can be.

A trio of multi-instrumentalists, Feathers have been around since 2002, when Alonso and percussionist Matt Crum hooked up with bassist Eric Rasco for a recording session with John McEntire, renowned drummer and production guru for postrock heroes Tortoise at his Soma Electronic Music Studios in Chicago. "I was thinking [McEntire] wouldn't do it unless he was into the music, but he runs a commercial studio, so you pay the guy and you work with him," Alsonso says with a laugh. "It was kind of a big expense, but it was worth it because we got to use some pretty unique, amazing equipment."

Prior to collaborating with Crum and McEntire, the Cuban-born Alonso had been working on music alone in his Coconut Grove home studio. His creative process was something like that of a monk illuminating manuscripts solely for the appreciation of his cloistered brethren.

"For a long time, when I was making that stuff in my bedroom, I was like, Is it worth sharing with people?" he says. "I had a difficult time deciding whether I was actually making a musical statement that's worth somebody's attention."

Fortunately around that time he was introduced to Sara Padgett and Adam Heathcott, a married couple in the process of moving their record label to Miami. Feathers and Hometapes — a boutique label specializing in off-kilter postrock, lo-fi, and folktronica — were a perfect match.

"There's a lot of music that comes out that's basically just a response to what other people are doing," Heathcott says over the phone from Boulder, Colorado, where Hometapes relocated this past May. "It's not that our bands don't come without their influences, but they're all attempting to do something new."

"We're just like our artists, except we've done enough and have so much confidence in everybody that we're just happy to show what they're doing," Padgett adds. "It's like we're some old man making a chair in Scandinavia. It's that precise, that cared-for. That's our idealism in this climate of digital downloads."

So what's the sound of an Old World Norwegian monk crafting furniture in 2006 Miami? First of all, it involves a Farfisa organ. And an electric sitar. And steel drums, strings, horns, flute, marimba, piano, bass, guitar, and something called a Hillshire Meerkat, which is an ultrarare, steam-powered synthesizer. Upward of 30 instruments, most played by Alonso, were used on Synchromy, all in service of five tracks with run times averaging three minutes apiece. These were recorded onto analog tape with almost zero digital postproduction ("I'm kind of allergic to computer-generated sounds," says Alonso), lending a strangely timeless feel to Feathers' purely instrumental music.

Alonso cites as a primary influence Ennio Morricone, an Italian composer most famous for his idiosyncratic film scores. Like Morricone's soundtracks, Feathers' music has an ingrained cinematic sweep, providing the sonic outline of a story filled in by the listener.

"Instrumental music, when there isn't something delineating some kind of narrative, it becomes very evocative and listener-definable," Alonso says. Morricone, along with other little-known but extremely collectible composers from past decades, makes up an obscure genre known as library music.

"It's production music, you know, for television, film, stuff like that," Alonso explains. "There's an underground scene for vintage library music of the 1960s and 1970s because there were a lot of well-known composers that made music in that realm but under a different name. It's kind of like diggers' paradise if they find something by Morricone on a library music compilation from some Italian label from the 1960s. A lot of it is really interesting and bizarre."

Those are some of the musical touchstones for Feathers. No wonder nobody has heard from these guys in the four years they've been bubbling below Miami's surface. "I don't go out much and I don't really feel like I'm part of what's happening down here," Alonso says, "not because it's a willful thing but because I don't think anyone cares for what I do."

But with their first shows — at Churchill's this past October 20 and a CMJ Showcase gig in New York this week — Feathers will begin to make their presence on the live music scene. "We always thought it would be impossible to re-create these lavish arrangements live," Alonso says, "but we thought if we could interpret the songs in the spirit of, as opposed to verbatim, we could do something cool as a rock band. That's what's happening now, where we feel like we've got something going that's pretty good."

Still, he's reluctant to believe that Feathers will ever really go big.

"That's definitely not the goal," he says, "and I'd be stupid to think that could happen. But if it happens, that would be great." Such low expectations belie the potential behind the Hometapes/Feathers romance. This is powerful, playful stuff. Even if Alonso doesn't know it, the label does.

"We're not striving to be pop; we're not striving to be the top indie thing in the framework that exists now," Hometapes' Padgett says. "We're trying to influence what is definable as pop, what is definable as what's hip right now as indie. Eddie might not want to talk about his music, but he wants people to hear it. If it's good, it becomes popular. To be really grandiose about it, we're all just trying to really push forward culture in a new way."

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan Zwickel