ARCHIVES: Felix Sarco brings counterculture music to the Scranton Cultural Center
“Only in Scranton” is all I can think when I’m watching the psychedelic funk rock quintet known as Felix Sarco’s Polar Power Manifesto Magnet Supernova as they scream, writhe, dance, thrash, and just generally rock their way through a tune called “Once Upon a Mountain Top,” which is written from the perspective of a god of fire.
In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, these guys easily stand out in a sea of uninspired cover bands playing karaoke favorites in every set at the local dive bar of your preference. I had the pleasure of meeting the self-proclaimed Supernova (who, for memory’s sake, simply go by Felix Sarco) in the early stages of their career, just a few short years ago through a friend-of-a-friend. The drummer was the first to make my acquaintance, a fellow Marywood student by the name of Ryan Placko.
Usually found sporting jeans, a hoodie, and a Yankees cap, one would not assume in passing that he would take part in a band whose primary mission is to bring about the death of rock ‘n’ roll. But once he takes the stage with a psycho named C.C. Psychotica on synthesizer, fashion-savvy guitarist Justin Kraky, shockingly quiet but extremely dexterous bassist Jeff Franklin, and a singer calling himself Captain Cromley Legussa, your snap judgment snaps directly back into your face.
I decided to sit down with Placko and try to unravel the mystery of this band of misfits while trying to get closer to the inevitable question – who the hell is this mysterious sixth member known only as “Felix Sarco?”
NEPA SCENE: What kind of music did you play previously to Felix Sarco? What made you want to partake in this crazy musical journey?
RYAN PLACKO: My three major projects prior to Felix Sarco were a progressive metal band, a speed-funk quartet, and a jazz/funk trio called Whisper Not. I was actually scouted at a Whisper Not show by Gavin Robb (the former singer of the band and our current recording engineer and manager). Felix was looking for a drummer who was dexterous in both heavy rock and jazz, and those were the main influences on my style at the time. The band had been playing in Wisconsin before I joined, and moved to Scranton after rumors started to float around in Wisconsin about Felix’s true identity. I was the last member to be found after Gavin got Captain Cromley Legussa to replace him on vocals and Justin Kraky for guitar.
NS: How did you guys come together and decide on your very distinct sound?
RP: Our music has evolved quite a bit since I joined the band. When I started to play with them, their sound became much more dynamic and intense. Then about six months after I joined, Felix brought in a synth player, C.C. Psychotica (who joined and is still playing because of a debt he owes to Felix). His use of electronics has made the band about as unique as anything you’ll hear.
NS: So Felix Sarco has started a war to bring down rock ‘n’ roll. Why does rock need to bite the big one, and do you see any hope for the future of music?
RP: Well, the rock ‘n’ roll destruction was Felix’s idea, but I think we all sincerely believe in the cause now based on the proverbial nosedive music has taken since we’ve been playing together. Cromley puts it best when he calls rock ‘n’ roll a gold-shitting Terri Schiavo. It’s something that people want to keep around not for the sake of what it is or its functional capability, but as a tool for future brainwashing down the road. For the easily offended, new rock music is like taking a Polaroid of a mediocre picture and making tons of money off of it. I don’t know if anyone in the band believes in our cause more than I do, as I generally hate rock music, save for a few great bands here and there or a band that helps me achieve as a musician. I believe that rock music has whittled away little by little at American music and will continue to do so until everything sounds like Nickelback. So, in conclusion, we fight rock ‘n’ roll with our own bastardized version of rock ‘n’ roll.
As far as music’s future, it’s not looking so good. Realistically, killing rock really won’t fix all of music and entertainment’s problems. I also shudder to think at what would happen if people started to try to emulate us.
NS: Not to give away trade secrets then, but what is the songwriting process like for the band? Do you all have an equal say in what the songs develop into?
RP: It depends on the song really. Sometimes Cromley writes lyrics and that influences how a song develops, but other times it will be a riff from somebody or a beat from me. Some of our songs take months to write. The second song off of our new album, “Q&A,” took us about six months of writing until we were satisfied with it. Others we have together in a few practices.
NS: What do you hope people take away from a Felix Sarco performance? Are there certain messages within the lyrics you hope audiences grasp or is it all left up to personal interpretation?
RP: You’d probably get five different answers if you asked everyone in the band. Personally, I just hope people leave feeling a little better about life. So much of music and popular culture now focuses on how shitty life is and apparently the only way to improve that is to put on a sweater and whine about the girl that left you for the jock. We have two “self-help” sessions in most of our sets that are the polar opposite of that. “Self Image” and “Multifaceted Super Sexy Beast” both promote self-confidence in a sarcastic, in-your-face kind of way. In general, we like when people get more out of a show than just the music or the on-stage antics. But if you just dig the music or the transgender frontman, that’s cool too.
As far as most of the lyrics go, Cromley doesn’t even really know what he’s talking about half of the time, so it’s up to the listener for their interpretation.
NS: How has the local music scene reacted to the band?
RP: We always laughingly operate on the assumption that all of the local bands hate us, but there are lots of people from local bands that are doing really good things for area music and support us every show. There is a small contingent of unconventional bands right now that really seem to be doing something different in the area, and people are really about it. To name a few, Alien Red, the Reigning Toads, and Tevis are all doing very creative things and attracting a lot of attention. As always, though, there are lots of scenesters who ruin everything. Those are the same bands whose fans are stabbing each other and shutting down great local venues.
NS: What is your opinion of the scene in general? Has it helped or hindered the progress of the band?
RP: The area scene has been really good to us for the most part. There are a lot of area venues that are afraid of bringing us in, but we don’t really like to overload one area with our presence anyway. The infrequency with which we play in Scranton makes the shows we do play even better, and I think our fans appreciate that. We haven’t played in the area in a while, and our CD release show at the Scranton Cultural Center on March 11 should be great.
NS: We’ll definitely get to that in a little bit. As you mentioned, you guys have quite the cult following, but there’s got to be those people who just “don’t get it.” What do you say to them and those who may be intimidated by the unconventional performances you’ve become known for?
RP: We are really fortunate to have the great fan base that we do. I wish we could have more shows for the under 21 people, but there aren’t many all-age venues around any more. (Refer to my comment about the stabbings.) In general, people all over are cool and are entertained by what we do. It takes some of them a few shows to get the hang of what’s really going on and the fact that we’re not serious about anything, but it’s rarely an issue. Every now and then, Johnny Meathead asks Cromley why he’s in a dress, but that same guy usually ends up in a pool of his own vomit by the end of the night.
As far as the people that are “intimidated,” I guess I’d just tell them to read some books or maybe disconnect the cable TV for a while. Of course, C.C.’s daughter did punt her newborn baby into the crowd at our Halloween show. I guess that’s intimidating.
NS: Apparently not to Marywood. You have quite a few fans from there. Has it surprised you that you were so well-received on campus?
RP: The response has been shockingly good. We are consistently the second biggest draw for a SAC event at Marywood. Second only to bingo, I think, but they give away money. All we’ve got is dudes in dresses and loud noises. A decent amount of those people aren’t Marywood students, though, so I’d like to see more MU people come out. When Cromley and I toured the campus in the fall to promote a show, we had people tell us that they were going to check their Myspace instead of coming to a free show. When the revolution comes and it’s time to recruit brick-throwers, those people won’t be first on the list. Nonetheless, a huge portion of our loyal following is Marywood students or graduates, and their support is extremely appreciated.
NS: You’re one of the less… let’s just say “obvious” members of the band when it comes to the spectacle that is Sarco. Does that give you a greater advantage onstage when you let loose during your solos, for example?
RP: Not really. I play like everybody is watching me even if we’re playing a small venue where I’m virtually invisible. Our new stage setup puts Cromley away from me so the crowd can see what I’m up to, and just being able to see them helps me play better (or maybe just more enthusiastically). A lot of our new music features the drums, so we’ve adjusted to that, I guess. I do have a big obnoxious drum solo coming at the CD release show, though, which I am looking forward to. I find them to really help my on-stage confidence. I think people enjoy them a lot too.
NS: You being the drummer means that you get the hottest groupies, I assume?
RP: Actually, Fandango the Bandana is the ladies man in the group. He’s a substitute for Kraky when he can’t make a show. Chicks dig guys who make up their own language and communicate through a plush devil toy that hangs out of the front of their shorts.
NS: I don’t think I have a possible segway there, so let’s just talk about that show. I’m sure there’s a lot of excitement over putting out a new album. How does it compare to your previous release, and what makes this self-titled album special?
RP: There’s a lot of excitement because we really feel this album gives people an idea of what we do. We also did the recording, mixing, and mastering ourselves. The last album didn’t have C.C. on it, it wasn’t well recorded, and it has a whole bunch of songs that we don’t play anymore because our new material has surpassed them. The first album came off as way too serious too. There’s really no question about the feel of this album. We have a song called “One for the Earth Girls” that is the Sarco equivalent of a sugar pop song about a hormonally overextended astronaut that’s spent to much time away from home. “Self-Image” also advocates urinating on people because you are better than them.
NS: What are your plans for the CD release party, and what do you see in the band’s future?
RP: The CD release show will be at the Scranton Cultural Center on March 11, also known as Parade Day in Scranton. We will be selling copies of the album for $2. The cost doesn’t reflect the quality, though. We just think it makes more sense for a band at our level to get the music out to as many people as possible and not worry about making a profit. Our music is really why we’re all here. After everyone has graduated from their respective colleges by the fall of ’06, we’re expanding our operation quite a bit. We may move out of the area so trips to the Philadelphia area are shorter, but we won’t be deserting Scranton. We’ll definitely be back for shows.
NS: While we’re thinking big here, this “Felix Sarco” guy is really Michael Jackson, isn’t he?
RP: I hope so. Either Michael or James Brown or George Clinton. I’ve never met or even talked to Felix, so I’m open to any ideas. Your idea makes sense since Felix requested that Cromley say “shamone” at the end of every line. I thought that was a bit odd.
If you go, be sure to open your mind first and leave your inhibitions waiting at the door. And don’t try looking for this “Sarco” character. Believe me, I’ve tried. He never seems to show up… unless he’s hiding behind the curtain somewhere…
Felix Sarco CD release show
with Heavens to Metroid from Baltimore, Maryland
Location: Scranton Cultural Center (420 N. Washington Ave., Scranton)
Date: Saturday, March 11
Time: Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m.