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Before a Legends show, an interview with band ‘Felix Rabito’

| Friday, March 2, 2018

Dominique DeMoe | The Observer

Felix Rabito is a sophomore in Keenan. He is a gregarious, energetic dude from New Orleans with a good sense of humor who is still figuring out his major. But Felix is also the frontman of one of the most active and important bands in the Notre Dame music scene. Notre Dame students may recognize Felix from his lively, instrumentally-diverse WVFI “Office Hours” video, his performance at Carroll Hall’s Lakeside music festival or from his recent Acousticafe performance with his group now collectively known as “Felix Rabito.” Or maybe you know Felix from your Spotify account. His songs “Anna Muse” and “Bread” off his 2016 EP “Bread” have over 450,000 and 250,000 listens, respectively. Or maybe you know Felix from his role in The Shifties, the Notre Dame punk band that opened for The Wombats a few weeks ago. The point is, if you keep your ear to the ground in search of awesome indie music, you probably know him already. I caught up with Felix and “Felix Rabito” bassist and vocalist Josh Morgenlander to talk about the upcoming show, past endeavors and what fans can expect in the future. 

Owen Lane (OL): So Felix, you’re a sophomore from New Orleans in Keenan. To finish the typical Notre Dame introduction, what’s your major?

Felix Rabito (FR): I’m majoring in some combination of psych, theo and pre-med. Question marks. Still figuring it out, I didn’t come here to play school.

[Felix and Josh both laugh]

Josh Morgenlander (JM): Yeah, you did.

FR: Yeah, I did, I totally did.

OL: Could you tell me a little more about your musical background growing up? I know you’ve said New Orleans interested you.

FR: Oh, for sure. More specifically, growing up in New Orleans there were a lot of creative outlets, but I think I was really more influenced by individual people who encouraged me. For instance, there’s this one girl named MC Cunningham who’s now in Nashville. She’s in a few different bands. I just met her one day on vacation in Florida with my family, and I was just looking for a bathroom to get barbecue sauce off my hands when I came across this girl playing mandolin really intensely. It was super dope. And at the time I was listening to a lot of Punch Brothers, a lot of bluegrass. I knew very little about it, but she kinda opened that world up to me. I remember I played “White Blank Page” by Mumford and Sons and she was like, “You should sing.” So I remember singing for the first time, and at the time I sucked, obviously.

OL: How old were you at the time?

FR: I was 14 at the time and she was 18, and it was really cool that she took the time, you know, that she cared enough to talk to me. She also encouraged me to start writing music. So as far as people go, that was the biggest shift in my mindset from feeling like someone who likes to play music to feeling an imperative to create and contribute.

OL: Josh, can you tell me a little more about your role in the band?

JM: I met Felix last year in the spring. He didn’t have a group or a band. He didn’t have a cohesive unit to create with. The guy who played drums at Lakeside, Thomas Weiss, plays drums with us now. But there was some communication between me, Felix, Thomas and Nicholas Lampson [the band’s cello, piano and auxiliary percussion] over the summer, sending potential song ideas around with voice memos. And then we got back in the fall and we became better friends and we started hanging out. Then generally we were up too late and supposed to be asleep or doing homework, we just started making music, talking about ideas and writing stuff. I sing bass in Halftime, so Felix just asked me, “Do you want to play bass and sing in the band?”

OL: How do you like being in the band?

JM: I love it. It’s been really fun and interesting. Playing Acousticafe last week was like the first time I sang into a mic while playing bass. So, we’re learning as we go.

OL: How do you like “Felix Rabito” as an opportunity to perform here at ND?

JM: If you sing and you’re not in a formal group, or you’re a songwriter, Acousticafe is like the only opportunity you have to perform. I don’t think there’s a lot of well-known opportunities to go to places in South Bend and perform. We might actually be looking into that in the future, though.

OL: Felix, what instruments did you play growing up?

JM: [laughs] What instruments didn’t you play?

FR: I played piano and guitar to start. Cajon and drums. I started a nerd club called ‘The Odd Instruments Orchestra’ that was basically for every instrument not in a normal band. Someone brought in an accordion, and I learned how to play banjo and ukulele. I learned mandolin a little bit, mostly from [Cunningham] teaching me a few chords. Also the fife. For a while, my goal was to go to UVA and be in a Revolutionary War band. I was really into American history. But mostly it was piano, guitar and ukulele.

OL: How would you describe Notre Dame as an environment for student musicians, practically speaking. Like for booking shows — was it easy for you to book the Legends show? Did you think, since you’re playing in a band now you might as well hit up Legends?

FR: I always felt, not like I deserved it, but that if I had a manager and didn’t go to Notre Dame I could potentially play at Legends. But it definitely wouldn’t have happened if not for Josh.

JM: I love going to Legends shows, I think it’s such a big opportunity to see music on campus. I think it’s under-utilized. Cause there’s great bands that come through, but people don’t go because they have a formal or they have a party in their dorm and they miss out on some great music, which is astounding to me.

FR: Some bands that I saw play at Legends for like 15 people, I later saw at Lollapalooza in front of like thousands of people. Legends shows are definitely an underutilized resource. Some of the moments that best bonded us together [as a friend group] have been at Legends shows. So if you want good friends, go to Legends shows!

JM: It’ll be an opportunity to let people in to the music that Felix and the rest of us have created. There will be a few dispersed covers for the crowd to get into. And with [sophomore rapper and musician Briana Connor] Ladibree opening, I think it will be an awesome opportunity to showcase more than one on-campus artist.

FR: And that was kinda the whole goal. To get people hyped and excited about music culture on campus.

OL: I think it’s gonna do a great job of that. Since you guys brought up the covers, what kind of songs can people expect to hear on Friday? Some of your older stuff as well as new tracks?

FR: It’s gonna be a nice, multi-course meal. A real treat. Some old ones.

JM: There’ll be some “Bread.”

FR: We’ll start with some “Bread,” but there’ll be a little more butter on the bread this time. I actually started almost crying in the chapel the other day playing some stuff from “Bread.”

OL: Tell me more about “Bread.”

FR: Yeah, I can’t really listen to it now because I look at it as a gigantic missed opportunity, kind of.

OL: How so?

FR: Going into it I had these grandiose songs in my head that would capture certain feelings, do certain things. And I just kinda fell short on every single one of them. What I had in my head and what I imagined just couldn’t happen on the record. And when I released it, I was still in high school. The reason I did it was because I didn’t think anyone was gonna listen to it. It was just gonna be a cool little project that I did in high school and I could say, ‘Now that’s done, so I can do my college thing.’ And then people started listening to it, which has been one of the greatest blessings for me.

OL: How did that take off?

FR: Yeah, so it was [Spotify’s] “Discover Weekly” and this [Spotify] playlist called “Indie Songs for Slackers.” The funny thing was that the night I found out [Rabito’s song “Anna Muse”] was on that playlist, I was up at like 2 a.m. studying organic chemistry. I got a text like, “Yo, you’re on this playlist!” I think it was Adam Turner, who worked for WVFI in the past. I looked at the playlist description and it said, “Songs for people who care about music but not much else,” and in that moment I was just like, “What? Do I?”  People do listen to “Bread,” and people do love the songs. Someone got a tattoo of the lyrics.

OL: Wow. Someone you know?

FR: No.

OL: So, what’s in store for new music? What are you thinking as you write new songs and record new music?

FR: I’ve recently been listening to this band called The Districts. Tom, the drummer, showed me this band. They tapped into the angst-y edge that I had when I was younger, but in a completely rediscovered way. And it made me pick up my electric guitar for the first time in like forever. And it felt right in some way. “Bread” is basically about my faith story in high school. Fun fact. The new album, the idea of “Storm,” is to paint a similar story, but of my experience in college. So it’s weird exploring these new stories musically and lyrically while trying to stay true to who I am. And I think I put an undue amount of pressure on myself, which is why it’s cool playing with other people, because they snap me back into reality. This is like fun. I think after this next album, “Felix Rabito” as I have thought about it is probably gonna be on hiatus to start a band with a different name. Cause I think that would be the coolest experience ever. Name’s still to come, so if you or anybody has any band name suggestions, feel free to email them to me at [email protected].

OL: Hopefully our Scene readers take you up on that. Have you guys recorded any of the stuff for “Storm” yet?

JM: We’ve kinda put recording on a hold because we’d rather have bulletproof songs to record rather than going to the studio where we have to spend someone’s money and take someone’s time and then say, “Let’s figure out what we wanna do here.”

FR: [Right now] it’s just about having an inspired moment and recording it.

JM: But the storm EP will hopefully be recorded …

FR: … Before the end of the year. Before we leave for summer.

OL: We’re looking forward to it. Make sure to let us at Scene know when it drops. Is there anything else you wanna get out there to the fans?

FR: Look out for the band.

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