Possibly 4th Street, Episode 15: Falcon (a/k/a Songs Ostensibly from a Passed Classmate)
Rob Trucks's "Possibly 4th Street" expositions, in which he invites musicians to perform live and impromptu somewhere in New York City, run intermittently here at Sound of the City.
Falcon plays Rehab (25 Ave B) tonight, July 30.
photos by Rob Trucks
Possibly 4th Street Number 15 (Part One) Falcon
We hardly ever quote from press releases. Hell, we hardly ever read press releases. No, more often than not (way more often) those one-sheets that come like so much wrapping around CD review copies end up alongside out-of-date clothing catalogs, empty envelopes destined for the paper recycler.
But this caught our attention:
"How many bands form with a finite amount of material? Really, think about it. How many bands form knowing, from the start, what the songs already are, and that there will never be another one?"
Good questions. Intriguing ones.
Falcon, formed and led by northern California transplants Shannon Ferguson and Neil Rosen, is named for their former Petaluma Junior High school classmate Jared Falcon who passed away in 1988 at the age of fourteen.
And, as it turns out, Jared was a multi-instrumental whiz kid (count bass guitar and baritone sax for starters) who wrote songs like other kids play video games. Songs his namesake band, now living in Brooklyn, records and performs.
On the surface, at least, the Falcon story is reminiscent of writer Walker Percy's promotion, at the behest of the author's surviving and rumored-to-be overbearing and overprotective mother, of the deceased John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces (though Toole didn't exactly pass from natural causes). Such was Percy's influence and imprint that the novel was soon published by the Louisiana State University Press, and the following year awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Now we're not suggesting an impending medal for Music here, but, coincidentally or not, upon visiting with the members of Falcon we learned that at least part of their press release might deserve a fiction prize as well.
Possibly 4th Street Number 15 (Part Two) Falcon
Shannon Ferguson, Neil Rosen, Jason Molina and Christian Bongers of Falcon (with Ferguson and Rosen on lead interview)
Tuesday, July 1
In front of St. George's Episcopal Church, just off of Stuyvesant Square
Shannon, tell me something you've never ever done.
Shannon: I've never gone skydiving.
Tell me something you've done once and one time only.
Shannon: I rode a freight train.
You rode a freight train?
Neil: He totally did, too.
The name of a book you've read at least twice.
Shannon: Cat's Cradle (by Kurt Vonnegut).
The name of a movie you've seen at least three times.
Shannon: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Do you own a rake?
And your favorite Beatle.
Neil, who's your favorite Beatle?
Shannon: George is the only one that didn't do anything stupid.
Neil: All of George's songs are good. He didn't write as many, but they're good. And he was nice.
So you and Neil and Jared attended Petaluma Junior High in Petaluma, California. How did you get to New York?
Shannon: I moved to New York first. I moved, I think, 11 years ago.
Is this on the freight train?
Shannon: No, this is after that.
Neil: You tried to get to New York on the freight train.
And why New York?
Shannon: I wanted to be in a band that was doing something, and I wasn't in a band that was doing anything in California so I thought I could move to New York and meet some people.
No other suitable bands in that 3000 mile stretch?
Shannon: There wasn't anything going in the Bay Area at that time.
Nothing going on in the Bay Area?
Shannon: I stand by that statement.
All right, tell me about Jared.
Shannon: I met Jared going into the 7th grade, when all our elementary schools in town, you know, got funneled into one junior high, Petaluma Junior High. So we started going to school together in 7th grade, and he was the only guy that I knew at that time that was actually like actively playing in rock bands. They played at local clubs and stuff.
That's a pretty young age to be doing that.
Shannon: That's a really young age.
The press release only mentions that he played bari sax. What else was he playing?
Shannon: He played the bass.
Neil: He played everything.
So were you good friends or was this just like, 'Wow, this guy's playing in a band. I wish I was playing in a band?'
Shannon: No, we were very good friends. We became very fast friends. He knew a lot of shit. He was the first guy I smoked pot with. You know, he just had a window into a different kind of thing. He knew a lot about a lot of rock bands that I didn't know about at that time.
So you knew that he was a prolific songwriter.
Shannon: Yeah, I think that generally when kids start doing something, they're all pretty prolific. And he was definitely prolific.
Was Jared obsessive? I don't mean, 'Did he have a handwashing compulsion?' But anybody who wrote 336 songs in a year's time has got to be a little driven.
Shannon: Yeah, he was obsessive. Sure.
And what kind of music did he listen to?
Shannon: At that time, you know, he liked heavier stuff. He took me to my first concerts, and the first concert that I went to was to see Primus. His band opened up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That was in '87.
And he was 13 at the time?
Shannon: 12, I think. So he was obviously really good. I mean, the other guys in the band, most of them were in high school. Yeah, he was definitely a talented musician. I know the bio doesn't really go into that as much. It wasn't like a surprise to anybody that he was talented. He was very talented.
So you know that the songs, or you suspect that the songs, are somewhere when you're helping his mom go through her storage space.
Shannon: Yeah, exactly. It wasn't like a secret or surprise. I mean, like Neil's definitely on some of those tapes. We knew about them.
Were you looking for them? I mean, the bio makes it sound like Geraldo trying to find Al Capote's vault.
Shannon: The bio definitely oversimplifies things.
Neil: The bio was written by a friend of ours. It wasn't like we had to go find them and discover like the Holy Grail. I think there was like a literary extension of how we ended up with the tapes really.
And you believe you have access to all of Jared's songs or you know that you have access to all of Jared's songs?
Shannon: I don't know. I have no idea about that.
Neil: I find stuff that I did that I don't remember doing.
Shannon: Yeah, he wasn't the only one making tapes.
But 336 is fairly specific number.
Shannon: I don't think that's right. That's an exaggeration.
We're looking back at the bio and trying to make it more about . . . like things like 336 is definitely something that Nick, the guy who wrote the bio, I think he just kind of put that in there. That's something that he thought was important, but I don't think it is important, you know what I mean?
However many songs there are, you're starting with a five-song EP of Jared's material. This is like a little taste. This is like a little pink spoon sampler from the gelato store. But why these five? I think most people assume that you would pick the five best songs, which, by definition, would make everything after this downhill. Kind of like after you turn 40.
Neil: Think of it as a cover band. Like you can have a great Tom Petty song or something, and you try to cover it and sing it yourself and it sucks, you know. And maybe there's a Skid Row song that sucks but you can make it into something good. And I think it's really hard until you work up material to know if it's going to be good or not. You have to make it your own.
In the end it becomes our own song because we work it up into like a big band thing. I mean, even doing this today. It's almost a great example of like what you're dealing with. And that's why we weren't going to play 'The Sandfighter.' Because, you know, it's a very dynamic song, but when we play it like with an acoustic thing it loses some of its gravity.
It's hard to capture the swell, I guess.
Neil: Yeah. Exactly.
Shannon: It's almost how you would present any song. There's a lot of ideas there and we work them up, and the ones that work out the best . . . you know, we record the best and those are the ones you come to first.
So it really is downhill from here.
Neil: No, because it's so much . . . Well yeah, it's all downhill. Is that what you're trying to say?
I think that's what I said.
How many songs did you record in this session that ended up being the EP?
Shannon: In total I think we've recorded 15 Falcon songs, for sure. And they're all pretty good. I'm not even sure the EP is the best stuff. This is just the first official release. We definitely had like another EP.
Jared also played the baritone sax, which is a very unique instrument. And assuming that's not a complete fabrication like 336 . . .
Is there any bari sax on any of the tapes?
Neil: I don't know. Is there sax on them?
Shannon: Yeah, and then there's clarinet. He started playing clarinet because Woody Allen played clarinet. But like, you know, he played everything.
Have you worked up any of the songs that have non-standard instrumentation? Songs that have either clarinet or saxophone?
Shannon: Not at all. He had . . . some of it's rap. We're not getting involved with that, you know (laughs).
So the two of you left Petaluma for New York hoping for careers in music. If Jared had lived, would he have made the trip as well?
Shannon: I don't think that music would've been his focus. I think that he was really into going to school, and eventually being a student. So I don't know where he would've gone, but he definitely wanted to go to college and stuff.
Falcon the EP dropped last Tuesday, July 22 and the band plays Rehab (25 Ave B) tonight, Wednesday, July 30.
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