James Felice, after honing his craft as a New York subway busker with his guitarist sibling Ian, hit the road 13 years ago as The Felice Brothers. Since then, competition in the concert world has morphed dramatically. Instead of buying show tickets and expensive nightclub drinks and hiring a babysitter, people are finding it easier to stay home and stream the latest Netflix series or “Game of Thrones.” But James politely asks them not to: “Your TV will always be there for you, but touring bands will not,” he says, adding, “because if you don’t come to our show, then we’re not coming back to your town. We can’t afford to.” The band’s new album “Undress” bounces from reverent folk (“Hometown Hero”) to rollicking roadhouse (“TV Mama,” “Salvation Army Girl”).
Groups really have to fight to not be taken for granted these days.
I sometimes take it for granted, too. Every time we come to San Francisco, I think, “Oh, I’ll be back here in a year or two!” But the fact is, this could definitely be our last time in San Francisco. Who the hell knows?
Two years ago, you and Ian nearly did call it quits, though, right?
Yeah. We seriously considered it. And it’s funny about music — it’s your job, your living and your identity, but when it’s the same thing for 11 years and nothing really gives, maybe it can make you feel like you’re at a creative standstill, or that your life is passing you by. So going to S.F. every year and playing the same room for the same people is a beautiful thing in one sense. But in another, it makes us wonder, should we be growing? Changing?
And you guys actually had a serious summit meeting to decide your fate?
We totally did. We asked, “What are we doing?,” “Is it worth it?” and “Are we giving anything to the world with the music?” And the answer was a resounding yes. I’m so glad that we did decide to continue, because we are playing the best shows of our career and putting out the best music we have in a long time. And that’s a life well-lived, right?
But it would all be a pointless exercise if the songs weren’t so great.
Absolutely. My brother Ian, who writes most of the songs, is an artist first, and his concern is always, “Does it feel right? Is this music art?” He will not do something that he doesn’t wholeheartedly believe in. But me? I’m more of a populist hack. He keeps on the straight and narrow.
IF YOU GO
The Felice Brothers
Where: Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. June 19
Tickets: $22 to $25
Contact: (415) 551-5157, www.ticketfly.com