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Felix Rabito: new projects, new performances

| Thursday, September 6, 2018

Lina Domenella

“If you keep your ear to the ground in search of awesome indie music, you probably know him already,” is the way that former Scene writer Owen Lane described Notre Dame student and musician Felix Rabito in an article last spring.

That sentiment, over the last couple of months, has not changed.

Felix is one of the most active acts on Notre Dame’s campus. His WVFI “Office Hours” video that went viral among the Notre Dame community; his highly-attended Legends show last semester; his performance at Carroll Hall’s Lakeside music festival; his work with his band tentatively named the “The Chaps” alongside Notre Dame students Josh Morgenlander, Thomas Weiss and Nicholas Lampson; and his frequenting of SUB’s Acousticafes are only a few of the places and events where he has left his musical footprint on campus.

His success, however, is not just limited to the confines of Notre Dame’s campus. Having amassed over one million collective listens on Spotify for his debut EP titled “Bread” and being featured on Spotify-catered playlists, he’s a musician with quite a significant fan base outside of the Notre Dame and South Bend communities. In fact, according to Spotify, the top five cities that listen to him are Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, New York City and Atlanta — not an exactly predictable pattern for a kid from New Orleans who studies psychology in South Bend.

Rabito emphasizes that these successes are only a result of “how cool and how supportive Notre Dame people are.” He says that without his friends and fellow students putting his songs on their playlists and their telling socials circles about them, his music would never have amassed the number of hits it has and wouldn’t have been included on the Spotify-made playlist “Indie Songs for Slackers” — the playlist that really catapulted his music into the headphones of hundreds of thousands of listeners.

But “Bread,” the EP which Rabito’s friends continue to promote so vigorously, is an EP that was recorded four years ago and released two years ago. Felix was a sophomore in high school with different thoughts about recording and a less mature taste in music.

When Rabito recorded “Bread” in a studio in New Orleans, he was paying to use the space. As a result, he had to record immensely sentimental songs in essentially one take. The red light of recording studios is something, according to Felix, artists need time to acclimate to — but he didn’t have that time.

“I really kind of hate ‘Bread.’ It’s hard for me to listen to,” Rabito said. “I don’t hate it, but hard to listen to would be the wording for me. Because I look at it as a giant missed opportunity. The songs mean a lot to me and in my head they sounded a certain way. I look at it that way because I don’t think the songs met their potential.”

Despite his personal disappointment in “Bread,” however, Rabito has a new project on the way — one on which he has made a conscious effort to make sure he won’t look back on it with regret. His forthcoming 10-to-14-track album “Mammoth” was recorded, almost entirely, in his living room in New Orleans, to purposefully get away from the time restraints and glaring red light that, in a way, ruined “Bread” for him.

“I could just wake up, I could just hit record,” he said on the new recording process. “And I would freak out eventually, but then I could settle into it and on getting the right takes.”

“Mammoth,” however, isn’t an album that is just unique in the manner in which it was recorded. Whereas “Bread” is an almost folk-based EP dominated by piano, guitar and an acoustic appeal, “Mammoth” is a project that is genre-bending in the most explicit sense of the phrase. The album will have tracks that will seem like transplants from their own respective bluegrass, surf rock, soft rock, indie, rockabilly and folk albums. It’s an extremely noticeable departure from his style on “Bread” — a departure that Rabito purposefully took, but one that makes him anxious.

“Anybody that was a fan of my music is gonna be super-duper confused when they hear it,” he said of the new album. “Which makes me nervous because if you liked what I did before, you very much will not like what I’m doing now. But for me it never felt like I was taking a new direction. I’m just showing more of what I listen to and write. Since ‘Bread,’ I’ve written like 140-something songs and they’re all — it covers a wide range. I wrote a song in Portuguese. I don’t even know Portuguese.”

Rabito made it clear, however, that the purpose of “Mammoth” isn’t merely to showcase the breadth of his music interest and the diversity of his genre. The impetus behind the album’s creation is much more poignant — particularly to listeners at Notre Dame and on other collegiate campuses. It’s really an album about the collegiate experience, and the reality that hides behind glamorous smoke and mirrors.

“We’ve developed this sense that we have to fit in and care what people think about us,” Rabito said when asked about the meaning of the album. “And in college, it’s easy to build up these identities for yourself. Basically, ‘Mammoth’ for me is trying to be as vulnerable and as honest as possible about the things that I have struggled with throughout college. One of those things being paralyzing fear about what people think about me. And hopefully be honest about that and hopefully express that and connect to that and let people know that they’re not alone. That’s what ‘Mammoth’ is.”

“Mammoth” is an album that doesn’t have a release date yet other than “sooner rather than later.” Despite this, however, one track from Felix’s new album titled “Kombucha Blues” was released on Spotify within the past week, both to get new content out and appease his friends. (He promised fruit snacks if he did not release new music soon).

“Kombucha Blues” embodies everything Felix wants “Mammoth” to be. It spans a completely different genre than anything on “Bread,” giving off an almost indie-rock vibe, yet at the same time it’s a piercing social commentary.

“All the abstract authors that you read / Also relevant, so interesting / Yet you’re looking to the ground,” isn’t a hollow verse that happens to rhyme and match the cadence of the music. To Felix, “Kombucha Blues” is an “ailment, this looking down on other people” that occurs both on and off of college campuses.

“Kombucha Blues” is a song worth the listen, and “Mammoth” is an album worth the wait.

If you want to catch Felix Rabito live before his album is released, he will be playing on campus with Todd Rundgren and his band both this Thursday at 10 p.m. in the Legends Nightclub and this Friday at 8 p.m. at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Leighton Concert Hall.

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