Who is Felix Rose? It seems no one really knows, maybe not even the man himself. Late last year a demo popped up on my desk. I shrugged, knowing that this model had died out years ago, and 99% of the time I’d toss it in the trash before the first bar broke. I reluctantly hit play. After a few minutes I thought to myself, “is this new?” The songs had a distinctly gutter broke and forsaken vibe, yet were equally raucous and sardonic. I said, “Gutter Broke Blues,” then asked myself, “did I just coin that?” No. He did.
Months later, after several emails back and forth, I’m just outside Sacramento, California, sitting down with Felix Rose in a mostly empty strip mall bar on a hot June afternoon. After downing a tequila, we order chips and salsa and he throws a few quarters in the jukebox. To my surprise, a Grateful Dead song starts playing. “Ah-ha, Californiyahh,” he calls out, following along with the song. A woman playing pool sings along just the same, and they acknowledge each other with a laugh. “It’s the only part we remember.”
Rose talks briefly about his stint in a midwestern cow punk band before the chips arrive and we dig in. He went out west at the end of the 1990s and spent a few years working his music in Los Angeles, leaving him discouraged and broke. He moved to the central valley “to escape all that crazy shit” and never left. “It’s a new kind of shit now,” he says, wiping salsa off his mustache with the back of his hand. “Gets hot up here, write that down.”
Rose reluctantly talks about his new songs when pressed, but ends most sentences with “whatever”. He tells me he spent the last 20 years in musical limbo, writing song fragments and lyrics only now and then. In 2015 Rose was in an indie horror film that was scored by his brother, Matt Drenik. “He heard one of my tapes and asked me to send him some songs…so I finally did.”
Drenik asked Rose to play at a label party in Portland, Oregon late last summer. A few months later, he headed up to the Get Loud studio to record with the house band, The Forgivers. “Matt can turn out the jams,” Rose tells me. “My brother has skill.” Their partnership resulted in a four song extended play, replete with fiery, fuzzed out guitar riffs, pounding bass and drums, and gritty howls and growls that somehow ended up on my desk this past winter.
I tell him the songs really stood out for me because they felt so real. Rose seems preoccupied and starts to sing, “Buddy tip your bottle back and climb aboard the bus, join your brothers in the van.” The woman playing pool shouts out, “Oh, let’s hear that one!” He puts more change in the jukebox and Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’ starts to play. “Now this is real,” he says. “What a jukebox!” Rose begins to dance with the woman at the pool table; they bump against the barstools clumsily but it doesn’t seem to matter.
Suddenly my affinity for his music becomes clear to me. It really is just rock music…or whatever! It doesn’t care what I think of it. The explosive opening bars in ‘Gone Tomorrow’ and solitary dirge blues of ‘Hotel Motel’ aren’t asking for my permission. There is no rhyme or reason for the demented tunnel of ‘Glow Fades’ or the menacing ‘Thinkin’ Man’ and its stops and starts. They are what they are, kicked into my consciousness with a stomp – real, unreal, take it, leave it, let’s party in a palace of gold! And now I am pretty much drunk.
Rose has a few more tequilas before calling it quits. I feel slightly elevated, yet somewhat nauseous, as we head out to the parking lot. I have one more question for him, something I’d been meaning to ask since we sat down together. “So… who is Felix Rose, really?” He considers the question for a moment and then laughs, “I need a ride home. Where’s your car?
– Chris Botts, All Music Glory