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“You can imagine the tension that gets created in the creative process when you’re dealing with three brothers and plenty of testosterone.”
Filligar has been wading near the mainstream for ten years, drifting slowly from 13-year-old unknowns to local legends in the Chicago area. Looking for a change of scenery, the family folk rockers Pete, Ted and Johnny Mathias – along with childhood friend Casey Gibson – spent last winter holed up in a shed in the Vermont woods while composing their latest album The Nerve. “Some of the darker stuff came out there,” says Gibson, the group’s keyboardist.
Sounds intense, but the important question isn’t how to stay sane while cooped up in a shack, it’s how to stay sane after ten years of recording, touring, and generally being in the same room as one another every day. Keeping it in the family can be fun (see Hanson), but not always (see Oasis), and these guys have been doing it since before they could shave.
“You can imagine the tension that gets created in the creative process when you’re dealing with three brothers and plenty of testosterone in the room,” says Gibson, Filligar’s honorary Mathias brother. “We’re trying to come up with good music that we can all get behind, and everybody’s got their own opinions. But at the end of the day, there’s almost always that moment when we realize, ‘Oh, we’ve hit it now.’”
Gibson says there has never been any problem drastic enough to jeopardize the future of the band. “We’re always under the same roof, we’re always at the dinner table together, and we’re always doing everything together, so any problems that we have are generally short-lived,” he states. “We all want to do this. We are all in it for the long haul.”
It’s already been a long haul. After ten years and eight studio albums (three under the name Flipside), it’s safe to say that Filligar have found the key to longevity. Not only have they managed to survive, but they seem to be gaining momentum, catching more press and selling out venues such as Lincoln Hall in Chicago, The Bowery in New York City and The Troubadour in Los Angeles during their recent “The Nerve Tour.” What’s more impressive – they self-booked the entire thing.
Filligar are down with DIY. So much, in fact, that they started their own music and film production company, Three-One-Two Productions, in response to their band’s success. The company, which includes several family members and close friends, handles every aspect of Filligar’s music, including promotion, booking and filmmaking. Last winter they released Far, a series of eight Filligar music videos shot by various directors from around the country.
“We, over the last decade, have been producing ourselves,” says Pete Mathias, drummer. “We believe our best bet in realizing the ambitious goals we have is by working hard to keep our creative freedom.”
Personally overseeing everything holds Filligar directly accountable to themselves, a practice they say is crucial to their success. “When we book a tour ourselves, we have a pretty large stake in it. It really puts the pressure on us to promote the gigs and put on the best show possible,” says Gibson. “There can’t be any finger pointing, because it all just leads back to us.”
The band says this level of involvement guarantees they remain completely engaged, something not every band can attest to. “We don’t ever want to be in a situation where we don’t feel like we have got anything at stake,” says Ted. “A lot of bands would rather have someone tell them where their next show is and have everything laid out for them.”
After a decade of active recording and performing, Filligar’s avid self-promotion seems to have been hardwired into their brains. They say even a day or two of inactivity tends to make them anxious. “[Promoting] isn’t just a means of getting somewhere, or a means of getting people to come to the shows,” says Ted. “We just really want to be out there. It’s a lot of fun to be out on the streets, meeting people and seeing what kinds of things come our way.”
It’s also necessary, as the guys have learned over the years. “You really have to get out there, and you have to be there in the flesh,” says Ted. “You can’t be on MySpace saying ‘Hey, check out this link.’ I don’t believe that anyone, even in this day and age, is going to really buy into that. We like being out there.”
When compared to fellow Chicago natives Wilco, Filligar seem to welcome the association. “We’re a Chicago band, and we’re certainly informed by where we come from,” says Ted. “You are always influenced by your contemporaries, but we tend to not be as conscious of it. You don’t want to feel like you are ripping off Kings of Leon, or Wilco, or whoever.” He pauses briefly. “Well, Wilco is a little different.”
Consciously or not, Filligar’s sound is maturing into a style more honed than their previous efforts. The Nerve sees them relying less on the folk/pop/rock variety in favor of thicker blues and roots rock. Hi-fi and heavy, it’s an album that was “written to be performed.”
“That unbelievable feeling [on stage] makes it worth it when you are driving through West Texas and your van starts breaking down, and you begin to wonder what you are doing there,” says Gibson.
After ten years, Filligar have experienced more than a few van breakdowns. At this point, they are more excited to talk about their positive tour experiences. “Driving down the interstate leaving Portland, we got an e-mail from a guy saying ‘Hey man, I’m traveling with you. I’m behind you in the big truck. If you want to get a new fan, pull over and give me a CD.’ We figured it was someone in a pickup, but it turns out it was this big rig,” says Ted. “We pulled over to the side of the road with this guy on the freeway and started talking to this dude while traffic was zooming by. We gave him the CD, he really dug it, and we kept e-mailing back and forth the next couple days.”
Encounters like this are the reason Filligar keep on trucking. Ten years may seem like a lifetime in the music industry – or half a lifetime, in Filligar’s case – but they’re still fresh out of college, a time when many bands are just reaching their formative years.
“We would love to tour 365 days a year,” says Ted. “Or, maybe not 365, but long enough that…we…”
“360, maybe,” adds Gibson.
“Yeah, 360,” says Ted. “Maybe get Christmas off.”