The legend of Ferras
Tue. September 16, 2014 by Gregg Shapiro
I think in terms of gay and straight fans, people who are attracted to my music can see beyond all those things.
GS: (Gregg Shapiro) Ferras, I first interviewed you in 2008, around the time you released your first album Aliens & Rainbows, just before you performed at Lollapalooza. Do you recall what the experience of performing at Lollapalooza was like for you?
F: (Ferras) It was one of my first festivals, outdoor kind of things. It was pretty frightening [laughs], at first. I'm much more of a night person, so when you throw me out in the middle day [laughs], I'm kind of like, "What's going on?" But it was definitely a great experience, of course. Then I played a bunch of outdoor day festivals after that and it became easy. But yes [laughs], I was scared.
GS: Would you mind saying a few words about your relationship with Katy Perry, whose Capitol Records debut album was released around the same time yours was in 2008?
F: Katy and I became friends in 2007 when we both got signed to the same record label at the same time. We were working with the same people at the label. They said, "Hey! There's this girl that we just signed. Her name's Katy Perry. She's amazingly talented. We think you guys could be friends." They introduced us and we hit it off. We became best friends. We never really worked together until we did (at duet at) SXSW. Our friendship continued to grow and here we are today.
GS: You are the first artist signed to Katy's Metamorphosis Music imprint. What does that mean to you?
F: It's amazing! I never would have guessed in a million years that I would be signed to (a label founded by) one of my best friends', somebody that I've known for so long. Katy is a visionary, in a way. When she decides she wants to do something, she goes out and gets it and doesn't take no for an answer. It doesn't surprise me, but I never would have put it all together that it would happen this way. It's an amazing opportunity and I think she's giving me a second chance, in a way. I'm grateful for that.
GS: What was involved in writing and selecting the five songs for your new self-titled EP?
F: Since my first record deal fizzled out in 2008, I started writing songs for other artists. I decided that I wanted to be a songwriter for a while. I did that and then I'd be in the studio writing songs for other people, and I'd think, "I want to sing that song!" When you're an artist, you never really give up the dream of singing your own material. I was writing the whole time, changing direction and sound multiple times. Finally, when I signed with Katy, she helped to hone it a little bit. I had so many songs that I had been writing for year. She helped to A&R it, pick out the ones she thought were the best. It was interesting because we have the same ideas in terms of direction. I don't have fight for things. She gets it. When you're a songwriter, you often feel like your best material is happening at that moment. Things that I thought were going to be on record for the last three years are no longer on it because my most recent material moved to the forefront. I'm very inspired by what's happening currently. I'm that kind of writer. I don't look back on past experiences and write about them. I write about what's happening in my life currently. These songs are a reflection of the most current state of my life. Whether that's good or bad [laughs], I don't know.
GS: I'm glad you mentioned that because the song "King of Sabotage" has some harsh words for the royalty of the title.
F: The song is about me. I wear the crown. I'm one of those people who feels more comfortable when things are chaotic. When everything is going well, I'm almost waiting for the moment for things to fall apart. If it doesn't fall apart naturally, I find a way to fuck things up. I'm getting better about that now. I've been in therapy for the last year. I go once a week and I'm learning to take things a day at a time, not to worry, not to have so much fear of the future. The future doesn't exist and you can't change the past. It's about being in the moment.
I haven't been the king of sabotage that much lately.
GS: It's good to hear you've retired your crown.
GS: Katy joins you for a duet on the song "Legends Never Die."
F: Katy is my friend and I've known her for so many years. I know her so well. I love doing a song with a talented friend of mine. To everyone else she's a superstar; the biggest star on the planet. I think she really believes in me and respects me as an artist. There is a mutual respect that we have for each other. It's very natural. She's a wicked musician and she really brought the song to life. I liked the song before [laughs], but when she added her voice to it, it came to life in a beautiful way. I love doing music with her. It's an honor. It's a special moment on the EP for me.
GS: You will be on the road with Katy's Prismatic World Tour through the early fall. How has that experience been for you?
F: It's amazing and mind-blowing! I still can't get over it. I don't want it to end. I feel like a Dorothy with my ruby slippers. I don't ever want to go home. The energy that's in a place like that is so vibrant and palpable. Hearing people screaming and feeling like that…I'm sure every other performer who plays those kinds of venues feels the same thing. It's intense. You feel a connection with people. Katy's stage is so cool. It goes down into a V formation, with a point going out into the audience which I take full advantage of. I walk down it and get into the crowd in the middle of the arena. It feels really good to feel the massiveness of it and also have the intimacy of being close to people, if you want to.
GS: As an out artist, do you feel like you are connecting with both your queer and straight fans?
F: It's interesting that you ask that. The answer I'm going to give you goes beyond sexuality. I sometimes say, "I don't know what's actually happening right now. Am I connecting with people? Are people loving this?" I think when you are in tour mode, you're in the middle of backstages and then you perform. You don't really have a gage of what's happening beyond your immediate world every day. It's kind of like Groundhog Day, you wake up and do the same thing. It's hard to see the scale of what's occurring beyond that moment. I think in terms of gay and straight fans, people who are attracted to my music can see beyond all those things. I have a lot of kids who come up to me at my meet and greets and tell me that I've helped them get through hard time. I don't know how I've done it. I had this girl who had extreme anxiety issues, who couldn't go anywhere, tell me that she listened to my music and now she's getting better. I've had gay kids tell me that I helped them come out. Any time that I hear that I have made a difference in someone's life, that gives me incredible strength and inspiration to keep doing what I do, to write songs. I really feel that bond with my fans. It's a special relationship. That's one of my favorite parts of doing shows every night; going out and meeting people who respond and who have been waiting in a meet and greet line for an hour just to talk to me. That means the world to me. I hope I'm connecting with everybody [laughs].
GS: It sounds like you are. Have you started working on a full-length album, and if so, will it include the songs on the EP?
F: I am working on a full-length (album). I have a few songs that didn't make the EP because there wasn't enough space for them. I'm probably going to go back into the studio and get them recorded. They're really awesome. I'm going to back into the studio in New York and continue chipping away at the record. I feel like I've got things I want to say now. Being away from writing and from being in my head for the last month has given me a lot of inspiration. There is a full-length in the works. I don't know if all of the songs from the EP will be on there. That's more of a technical record label decision. If it was up to me, I would do a whole new record of all new songs [laughs]. I have so many and I just want to get them all out.
Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.