Words by Amanda Roscoe Mayo
Heaven’s Jail borrows their name from an Italian thrash band’s song entitled “Heaven’s Jail.” Frontman, Francesco Ferorelli views the name as more of a re-contextualization that pays homage rather than a literal translation to the bands vision. We spoke by phone in anticipation of their show at Empty Bottle, in Chicago, on October 2, 2014.
Their latest release, Ace Called Zero is the third in their discography and was produced by Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent. It is a beautiful, at times dark, and haunting album backing Francesco Ferorelli’s unique tenor. Heaven’s Jail is not, however, a singer-songwriter project with James Preston on bass and harmonies and Ethan Schmid on drums. When talking about the specific sound of this record, Ferorelli clarified that they, “do country the way the Stones do country, we’re a rock and roll band.” While Ace Called Zero has a touch of country it feels more like a rock album albeit sparse at times. It’s as if it is responding to the bells and whistles that have inundated the music industry.
The name of the album isn’t a reference to anything that exists in the world but Ferorelli explains how it fits into the band’s general mantra, “when does nothing become something? An ace could be 1, or 0, when does 1 arise out of nothing? There’s also this idea that it could reference binary code, everything has been reduced to 1s and 0s.” There are no smoke and mirrors present in Ferorelli’s songwriting, just searching and exploring the cyclical nature of life and death: something to nothing, nothing to something. Carefully timed moments on this record eliminate those 1s and 0s from a listener’s consciousness, while bringing back pure instrumentation and weighted lyrics to a rock and roll record.
Matthew Houck’s (Phosphorescent) production and Ben Greenburg’s (The Men) tracking of Ace Called Zero has a light touch. Ferorelli said Houck, “did a natural sounding job on our record which is deceptively hard to do.” Houck as a producer and friend is a natural choice for Heaven’s Jail. The sound and sentiment fit into the camp of artists exploring various themes through folkier rock, which tends to acknowledge that country exists but relies much more heavily on classic rock and roll of the late 60s and 70s such as Bill Callahan, Kris Kristofferson, Damien Jurado and Bonnie “Prince” Billy among others. For Heaven’s Jail the secret is in the prose. The band has things they are concerned with, “there are the big ones like love and death, and sex, and joy and tragedy. The blending or juxtaposition of heroic and vulgar language. That’s one of the north stars of the voice: the language.” On Ace Called Zero the music guides the emotional response necessary from the listener, but what it really does is grease the wheel for that clever and piercing language to break through.
The arc of Ace Called Zero follows a natural progression opening with the upbeat track “Make A Wish,” a hopeful song about being in the present and being free, featuring guitar parts that sing on a plane beyond Ferorelli’s voice. Following on its heels is “Mother Mary Madonna” where electric guitars carry some of these harder questions the band is exploring into the ether. As Ferorelli crones “Mother Mary Madonna, Jesus Joseph Christ, you’ve been watching over me all my life” conjuring images of a congregation, hope, fear, love, and blame. “Hunter’s Moon” is the longest track on the album and serves as the keystone, or climax for the arc clocking in at an even 7 minutes and as Ferorelli aptly notes, “there’s yelling because that’s what it requires.” Heavy electric guitar mixed with both shimmering and direct percussion builds behind Ferorelli only to be broken through by harmonizing calls.
The arrangement of the music and the vocals seem to have a mind of their own, carrying on separately but existing in the same space aligning at a dramatic end for a powerful effect. From here the album descends into more subtle emotional numbers. Songs like “Long Island Sound” however reference the momentum in the beginning of the album. For Ferorelli this is a space that delves into the inherent nature of their writing style, “I like the idea of an unreliable narrator and a lot of Heaven’s Jail songs are fractured narratives. The center point is eroded and you don’t know if it’s always the same person speaking in the next verse. That just seems like the only way to write that makes sense right now.” It’s true that “Long Island Sound” doesn’t present a cohesive story, but it does offer emotive perspectives as lyrics weave in and out of arrangement and vice versa crafting a space easy to fall into. In a way this writing references literature and great authors like Lawrence Durrell and William Faulkner who present multiple narrators, stream of consciousness, and disjointed perspectives which helps solidify the layers of intellect and exploration on Ace Called Zero and a journey worth taking with Heaven’s Jail.
Heaven’s Jail plays Empty Bottle with Judson Claiborne and Thomas Comerford on Thursday, October 2. For ticket and more information visit Empty Bottle’s website
AMANDA ROSCOE MAYO is an independent curator and music critic based in Chicago, previously of San Francisco exhibiting nationally and published internationally. She received her Master’s in Curatorial Practice from California College of the Arts. The exhibitions she produces are critically curated to engage a multi-generational dialogue with a focus on emerging artists. In addition to her numerous curatorial projects she is a regular contributing music, arts, and film writer for KQED Arts, San Francisco Arts Quarterly, and Mosshouse.
Recent projects include curating with Beta Pictoris Gallery at the 2013 ArtPadSF art fair, as well as an exhibit at Needles & Pens, Something At Every Moment, featuring the work of Elizabeth Bernstein, Robin Juan, Gui Komel and James Scheuren. The exhibit opened August 16th and ran through September 10th.
Mayo’s last music review cab be seen here: Basic Cable – I’m Good to Drive, Pressing Reset on Grundge
Pressed Flowers: Collections and Their Keepers is a series for mosshouse in which Mayo visits collections and interviews the collectors or those who manage the collections in depth.
Read the 1st article here