Interview: Monique Powell of Save Ferris

It’s been 18 years since their last release, but Orange County ska punk band Save Ferris are back on the road supporting this year’s Checkered Past EP, and have a sold out show coming up at Seattle’s Tractor Tavern. We hopped on the phone with lead vocalist Monique Powell, somewhere between Toronto and Pittsburgh, to chat about the band’s comeback, some of her favorite music, and a bit of memory lane.

Seattle Music News: On behalf of everyone who grew up with you, we’re glad to see you back on tour.
Monique Powell: Aww, thank you. It’s great to be back.

SMN: Awesome. You probably get this all the time. Your band name’s probably in my top 10 favorite band names of all time. Who came up with Save Ferris?
MP: I can’t really take credit for the name. It was one of the ex-members of the band. I’m not sure which one but it is a brilliant name.

SMN: It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, one of my favorite characters of all time. I think that you embody the spirit of Ferris Bueller in the music.
MP: Thank you very much. I am a huge fan of the movie as well. Just John Hughes films in general.

SMN: I know. You went away for a little while and now you’re back.
MP: Yeah.

SMN: Being in a band, there’s a bunch of ebbs and flows that go along with it. Relationships begin, end, all that kind of stuff. The title of your new EP, Checkered Past, is that a tribute to your past?
MP: It kind of is, yeah. I feel like I have a little bit of a naughty girl reputation. Kind of a dirty mouth and all that stuff.

SMN: We’ll use the word eccentric.
MP: Yeah. That’s a nice way to put it. It is sort of a nod to all that other stuff. I’m sort of an open book. Because I feel like honesty is the best policy.

SMN: Alright so you came up through the So-Cal ska punk scene. Ska was huge in the 90s. Your voice, it’s pretty agile. I’ve heard you do your ska punk thing but on your new stuff here, it’s a little different. I guess out of all the music genres, what drew you to ska?
MP: I was a teenager going to college and studying music. I was just in the middle of the scene. I was going to Cal State Fullerton. And all my friends from high school were in ska bands. Somehow I started listening to the music and loving the music. Then I got into an all girl ska band called The Shanties.

SMN: The Shanties. That’s a good name, too.
MP: Yeah, we were awesome. I just found a picture recently online. One of the girls posted a photo of us. It seems like a dream. It was such a cute photo. So I got into The Shanties and then I got involved in some other bands, with some other people from other ska bands from the scene. The band that I was in wasn’t a ska band. After The Shanties it was a band called Larry. I really wanted to be in a ska band.

SMN: What kind of music was Larry, if you can describe it.
MP: The band was more experimental maybe. Very like Frank Zappa influence.
SMN: Like prog rock?
MP: Kind of, yeah. Music major music.
SMN: Like you’re trying to create your own genre just trying to mesh a bunch of stuff together.
MP: Yeah. We had garnered a little bit of a following in Orange County. There there was a band called Los Pantelones that was opening for Larry.

SMN: All these great names.
MP: Yeah. Then they started a band called Save Ferris. They called me and I was like, “Well I want to be in a ska band, so I may come and check you guys out.” I did and it was pretty cool. It was like we’ll do some Los Pantelones songs and then we’ll write some new songs together and see how it goes from there. I managed the band and booked the band for the first year or so, something like that. Brought in a couple new players. It was all uphill from there.

SMN: The rest is history. Thank you to Los Pantelones and to Larry and to The Shanties for getting you to Save Ferris. You’ve been doing this for a while now but I love to hear about pre-show rituals. Has it stayed the same for you or has it evolved throughout the years?
MP: It’s definitely  evolved because my hair and makeup is a lot more involved now. It takes a lot longer because I wear wigs. Whereas before I just had red hair. Now I’m a platinum blonde and I’d like to stay platinum blonde for a little while.

The image that I’m going for is very pinup, like 50s pinup. It’s a lot of makeup and eyelashes and stuff. My pre-show ritual has a lot to do with makeup and hair. Some people knit. I set my wigs.

SMN: What’s the weirdest venue you’ve ever played with Save Ferris?
MP: We played a presidential fundraiser for Clinton in Los Angeles. My nipple rings set off the metal detector.
SMN: Wait, this is for Hillary I guess, yeah? It would be for Hillary.
MP: No, that was for Bill.
SMN: Oh so for Bill in ’96?
MP: Yeah, a long time ago.
SMN: Did you raise a lot of money?
MP: Actually what happened was my nipple rings set off the metal detectors. It was hilarious. I don’t have them anymore obviously. Then they had us quit after two songs ‘cause they said we were too loud.
SMN: If you’re too loud, you’re too old.
MP: I agree.

SMN: Do you have a favorite city?
MP: That’s hard. I do have to say, and I’m not kidding, I’m not just saying this, but Seattle and D.C. are probably my two favorite cities. It was San Francisco, but the music scenes in Seattle and D.C. are just so historic. You still have a scene.

SMN: If you’re just walking through the city, you’ve got some headphones on, what album or what artist is playing?
MP: Oh wow. That’s hard. I was just listening to some music this morning. I can’t really get that out of my head. You know, Aretha Franklin “Rock Steady.” Some Sharon Jones.
SMN: Those two ladies belt it and those are fine choices.
MP: Oh yeah, I love them.

SMN: Let’s say you have been marooned on a desert island and while you’re escaping your sinking ship, you can only take one album, one book and one movie for the rest of your days on the island. What do you take?
MP: One album. That is hard. Let me think. Maybe Jeff Buckley Grace.
SMN: Oh my gosh. Okay that’s a great choice.
MP: Yeah I mean, I feel like I should choose something a little more upbeat but I just know that album is so complex that it would actually make time pass much more quickly because I’d be just completely absorbed into the album.
SMN: It’s a great, great album.
MP: Yeah, it’s a great album. Probably a David Sedaris book. Yeah, Me Talk Pretty Someday.
SMN: One of my favorites. It would balance out the Jeff Buckley.
MP: Yes. So a movie. I mean, okay. I’m just gonna go with a movie that is tried and true for me. That would be The Jerk. Because that movie keeps your spirits up.

SMN: That is awesome. Great choices there. I listened to your new single, “New Sound,” and it’s great. You now incorporate a lot of dub and some reggae to go along with the ska type of energy. I can still hear that in the background there. Tell me about how you’ve evolved in sound with this new incarnation of Save Ferris.
MP: It’s really interesting. It just sort of took on its own life. I’ll be honest with you. After such a long hiatus, I didn’t know what fans were gonna want. I tried to create an EP that embodied the spirit of what I thought different personalities of Save Ferris were over the years. Each song had its own personality and “New Sound” obviously represents the possibility of the future for Save Ferris and the new sound. It just honestly took on its own life in the studio with John Avila.

SMN: That’s awesome. Its cool to hear an optimistic point of view when it comes to that because comebacks, they happen often but it’s one of those thing where some people do it out of necessity but some people do it out of want. After hearing this sound here, it seems to be a creative want for you. I dig that a lot. I’m sure the fans will too.
MP: Thank you. It is. It was sort of a deal that I made with myself before I had surgery in 2013. If I came out of the surgery kicking, that I was gonna bring Save Ferris back. The next deal that I made with myself was that if the fans want to hear Save Ferris then we’re gonna bring it to them. That’s what they say, whenever they say, “Come back to our town.” If you guys want us, we’ll be back.

SMN: The world’s a better place for it and we appreciate you making the effort to do so. I really do appreciate the time you take today, especially when you’re under the weather, to give the fans of Seattle a little insight into your life, into your past as well. We look forward to the show.
MP: Thank you. I do too. I’m so excited to come back.

Interview by Phillip Johnson