The industrial area just south of Mississippi is still as a ghost town, and walking down the center of the empty street, the air hangs heavy with a sense of anticipation. The scene seems a single lonely whistle away from a showdown. As I wait by what I think is the right door, a man emerges from around the corner and waves. It’s almost a surprise that he’s not wearing a ten gallon hat. The man is Colin Hegna, founder and frontman of Federale, the Portland ensemble whose Spaghetti Western aesthetic has made them a singular group on the scene. Hegna, who also happens to be an owner of the recently relocated Revolver Studios, as well as the longtime bassist for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, invites me to follow him around the corner and upstairs, into a warehouse that looks part studio space, part warehouse, part saloon. We sit down in the control room and talk music, movies, the upcoming Federale album, No Justice, and more. Check it out below:
Eleven: So Colin, as the founding member of Federale, can you talk about what sparked the idea for the project?
Colin Hegna: Yeah, so me and a bunch of friends had a band, this was in the early to mid aughts, it was called Cocaine Unicorn. It was sort of a Velvet Underground inspired rock and roll band, and that band did pretty well. We played Music Fest NW, and had some pretty good press and a bit of a buzz going, but Cocaine Unicorn broke up basically due to some inner strife and drug usage in the band (laughs). Who saw that coming? But from the ashes of that band, me and some of the guys were watching some Spaghetti Western movies, and since our band had just broken up, we thought it would be fun to start playing a different kind of music, and we really liked the soundtracks to those movies, so we started playing stuff that sounded like that instead.
11: So out of that fascination came La Rayar, your first album, which is kinda a concept album, where it’s the soundtrack to a movie that’s not actually a real movie.
CH: Yeah, that came out of our watching all those movies and figuring out how to make a project out of it. I thought it would be useful to have a story arc, and some characters, so we wrote a basic synopsis with a plot, and a few characters, and we would create a theme for each character, and then we attempted to write a soundtrack to this story, which in our mind was a movie, but of course the movie didn’t actually exist. The concept helped us have something extra-musical to grab onto, and to use as direction, because we’d never done anything like that before.
11: You re-released that album last year, which involved re-mixing and re-mastering, and even partially re-recorded. I know people have different relationships with their old work, but how did you approach the return to that album, figuring out what to re-work and what to leave?
CH: Well, you don’t wanna ruin what’s good about it. But I thought there were a lot of things that could be improved. I had all the raw files, so I tried to keep everything that I thought was good, and I only replaced things that I thought really stuck out as needing it. Then I gave the mix a bit of a face-lift. I always thought the songs on that record were good, but I thought the production could have been better, so I wanted to do it justice.
11: Speaking of Justice, you’ve got the new album, “No Justice,” coming out on November 8th, which has some really impressive production. You described it in another interview as your “least Western” album yet. To me it sounds the most like a band making an album, as opposed to your earlier soundtrack style. Would you say that’s right?
CH: Yeah. On our third record we started having songs in a more traditional sense, with lyrics and stuff, there would be a couple mixed in with the instrumental music. On our fourth record that shifted even further into having more lyrical songs–I think there’s only three or four instrumental songs on that record–and then on “No Justice” there’s only two instrumentals. But I feel like having been an instrumental band for so long, I can still bring that arrangement into these more lyrical vocal driven songs, and can really enhance that kind of music in a way that I don’t think a lot of rock bands do.
11: Pivoting a little bit, I wanted to talk about visuals as well. The relationship between film and music is obviously something this project is very concerned with, and since your debut, where you did the soundtrack to an imaginary movie, you’ve gotten a lot of your songs put in actual movies. Can you talk a bit about your relationship with Ana Lily Amirpour, how you guys met and started working together?
CH: Yeah! I met her randomly backstage at a show with my other band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and I knew she was a director, I knew she was a writer, and I knew she had a movie that she was working on, and she and I talked and really hit it off, we have a lot of common interests in film and film music, and so she sent me the script of her first feature film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, before anything had been shot, and I started sending her music, stuff that I was inspired to write by the script, and we’ve continued to collaborate since then. We had a song off our last record in her movie The Bad Batch, and we also worked on a National Geographic special, I did the music for it and she directed it, and she actually has a new film coming out and we’ve been working on some things for that as well.
11: And some of your music videos are cut together shots from those films?
CH: Yeah! The title track from our last record, “All The Colors Of The Dark,” is featured in The Bad Batch in its entirety, it’s a montage sequence in the middle of the movie, and when I saw that, I thought, all we have to do is add a title card and it’s a music video! (laughs) She said yeah, totally, let’s just do that! So now I’ve got this music video that has Jim Carey in it, and super high hollywood production value, and that’s great because it’s something I could have never done! (laughs)
11: I also wanted to talk about the Portland Film Fest. Last Wednesday you were playing the afterparty of the PFF, and you had music in Fire On The Hill, the film about the cowboys from Compton that ended up winning for best documentary. Can you talk about that project?
CH: Yeah, I think we have seven songs in that movie, and I wrote a song called “Fire On The Hill,” which is on the new record, and that plays over the closing credits of the film. The director, Brett, contacted me because he had used a bunch of Ennio Morricone temp tracks when he was editing the film, and he was looking for something to replace those, and obviously we have a lot of inspiration from Ennio, so he started using our music instead. The story is amazing, he sent me some clips and it’s super well shot, it’s really compelling and interesting, so I was really happy to be involved. I wrote some things specifically for him, and there were some old songs that we did some edits on to make them fit better in the film. What’s been great about that movie is that the folks who are in that movie, who used to have this stable, which has now since gone, they’ve gone on to create a nonprofit, and they’re building an equestrian area in South Central Los Angeles, where community members can come and work with horses, and learn how to ride, it’s been a really positive thing.
11: Definitely a film to check out! So for that afterparty you were doing a solo set, which I was going to use as a segue into asking about your live performances. You’re clearly a studio guy, but how do you go about translating these recordings, taking this stuff you’re doing in the studio and bringing it to a live audience?
CH: Yeah, that’s a good question. I try to bring along as many of the things as make sense. All of us in the band are really experienced live performers, both in the rock and the classical world, and the jazz world, so I don’t want to lose the spontaneity of the live performance by trying to hang onto the things that the seven of us can’t do. We do have some strings, and we do some stuff with the keyboard, but I don’t want to get hung up on every bell and whistle that’s in the recording. I want to play the songs in a way that brings the emotion to life.
And the album release show for the album is as Mississippi Studios?
CH: Yeah! November 23rd, with Roselit Bone, at Mississippi Studios!
Get tickets to the album release show for No Justice here.