Sitting down with Save Ferris’ Monique Powell
Save Ferris frontwoman Monique Powell is anything but conventional. And, after 24 successful years making exceptional ska music, she has solidified herself in the ska hall of fame if there ever was one. So, when I had the chance to sit down and chat with Monique shortly following her Day One Back To The Beach Fest set in Huntington Beach, I had to jump on it. Monique had just got off the stage from an insane set. Here's her personal testimony to the event, what's new for the 90s idol and more.
You just command that stage so well, it's amazing!
- Monique: Thank you!
So, I’m curious about new music! I know you released the EP Checkered Past in 2017 and it was awesome! I LOVE the title being old-school.
- Yeah, thank you! I think you might like the title of the new one.
- It’s going to be called The Silence Before The Upbeat.
I like it a lot! So, when are you guys going to have new music out?
- I'm just putting on the finishing touches; we are doing pre-production right now. We're going to start recording in a couple weeks, so that should be done hopefully very soon. It's funny because I asked my manager for the last interview, I was like, “So what's our estimated release date?”
Yeah, you’re like, “Everyone is asking!”
- Yeah, he goes, “Last year.”
That is a perfect answer.
- I was like, you're a manager, that’s a manger-ey thing to say. [Laughs]
Exactly! Well, I know we are all excited for it.
- Yeah, me too. I really am. I can’t wait for this to be over, so,that I can tour behind it and get on the road where I belong.
You really are amazing up there. I actually saw you guys both nights closing Irvine Meadows with Gwen.
- Oh my god, those were great shows!
It was really was. And, I grew up going there.
- Me too.
I know you said your first show was…
- Duran Duran… no, no! I’m sorry, it was the Go-Go’s! My second show was Duran Duran.
Very nice! And, I know you did a lot of Oingo Boingo shows. You went to a lot of those.
- I did, I went to a lot of the Halloween shows.
So, what was it like working with John (John Alva from Oingo Boingo)? Because, you’ve done it a couple of times now.
- It was weird because I had worked with John on the Reel Big Fish record when I did “She Has A Girlfriend Now”. It was their first album or something. And then, like 20 years later, I called him and asked, “Do you remember me?” He’s like, “Of course, I remember you. You know, how could I forget you." It’s just who John is though. He's just a very real, loving, wonderful person. And, working with him, I really felt heard and respected which was very new for me in the studio.
What’s the writing process like for you now compared to before?
- [Sighs] It's always torturous. You know, Brian and I would write together in the past and Brian would also write most of the song. And, so when we did that EP, it was definitely at least a year of me trying to figure out how to do this on my own.
- I just try and come from a very real place. But, also with our fans in mind first. For me, it's like a little bit more methodical or a little bit more calculated. Or, you know, there’s more of an equation to how I write Save Ferris songs. You know, it just comes when it comes. But, I also like collaborating! So, I’ve been collaborating with a couple people on this record. Writing is a very exposed sort of thing for me. I feel really vulnerable. So, I’m a little bit weird about who I write with and stuff like that. I don’t know why... I feel very open when I’m doing that. I have to be around people who understand that.
- Yeah. I have to be able to trust.
Tell me a little bit about how you got involved with Sidewalk Project, the non-profit homeless organization in Los Angeles?
- So, Soma Snakeoil is one of my closest friends, who I love very much and we spend a lot of time together. We've done some political actions together and I'm a huge fan of everything she does. So, it was just natural to jump in on the Sidewalk Project stuff with her because I support everything she does.
It is a great cause.
- It’s incredible what they've done!
In such a short time, too.
- Oh my god! It's catching on like wildfire. These women have done something so incredible. They're changing so many lives.
They definitely are. It’s amazing, a big strong group of women coming together and helping a community like that. It's exactly what we need right now.
- Yeah, It’s just so beautiful. My life has changed so much just by being around these women. I feel loved and supported and heard. And, like I'm a part of this great family. It’s wonderful and I feel so lucky to have found all of them.
Do you think you are going to collaborate with Bad Cop Bad Cop at all?
- Oh my god! I would so love to.
Wouldn’t that be awesome?! You with them!
- I haven’t even thought about that! I mean, we have to. But, I've been talking to Tim Armstrong and Jesse from Operation Ivy; we keep talking about writing songs together. What I really want to write is an anthem and have a bunch of women sing on it with me.
Your Sidewalk Project girls.
- It could great. Right now, I’m figuring out the direction I want to come from. The thing I like about Sidewalk Project it is that it was started by a bunch of women, but it's inclusive. They're very inclusive of everyone and they make everybody feel important. It doesn’t matter who you are. I really like that and I’d like to write a song that does that, as well.
That would be awesome! I just got involved with this project down in San Diego and it’s called Our Unsung Minds.
- Oooh, what’s that?
It’s a photography project on mental health bringing to light mental health, not keeping it under the shadows anymore and the social anxiety that exists for people. So, I hit up some of my bands in the music world and am getting them involved. I'm excited to hit up like Stacey and I'm going to bug you too!
- Yeah, for sure. I've actually been fairly active in that. My friend Derek Hess -- there's a documentary about him called Forced Perspective. He has struggled with mental illness and addiction most of his life. He is a very good friend of mine and I'm actually in the movie for like a second. 'Oh, there she was!' That same filmmaker and I are working together to do a film about me.
- I feel like I’ve grown up around mental illness and I’ve also had my own challenges and I think for women, in particular, there's just more stigma. And, back in the day, if [men] wanted to kill your career, all they had to do is call you crazy. You were done, if you were a woman. I never want to feel like I can’t be my authentic self because I’m afraid of…
... your personality being too big.
- Yeah. And I want to help dispel, like you were saying, the stigma around it. Particularly for women. I think it’s hard for us to come out because we don’t want anyone to think we are weak or fucked up or crazy or unpredictable. You know? Because, if they don’t like you, that’s what they say about you -- 'she’s crazy'. If they don’t like you, 'Oh, dude, she’s whackado.'
Yup, when it’s just passion.
- Yeah, that’s totally it! It’s like, God forbid, we express ourselves. She’s crazy. And, I have really been through it. When I brought the band back in 2013, I got a rash of shit for doing what all the other guys in this scene were doing. I’m the only original member and so are they. And, the first thing they did was go to TMZ and I remember the headline, “Monique Powell has lost her mind. She’s crazy.” I was terrified my career was over before it had started again. Then, I had to hire a publicist and give a response. The response was, “It’s my band now, bitches!”
[Laughing] I LOVE IT!
- I can’t even believe that TMZ posted it. This was before 'Me Too' and stuff. So, it was still really difficult for me to feel supported in any way.
With your fans funding the album, I think you know we got your back, girl!
- Oh yeah, I mean I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t do this if people didn’t want to see Save Ferris. All of these people were writing to me saying, “Please, come back.” And, all these women were like, “We really want you back... We really need you back.” At that point I was like, “Okay, it’s worth the fight.” I could’ve just given up.
Started over as something else.
- But, they really wanted Save Ferris! As long as they want it, I’ll bring it! I’ll fight for you. I’ll fucking fight for you! Like Larry H. Parker, the lawyer on the commercial: “We’ll fight for you!” [Laughs] But, it was all worth it.
Photography by Sean McCracken