The WizBangs perform live in The Sound Room at WEEU, 830 AM in Reading, PA. Set includes “Ship of Fools” at 0:00, “Let’s Get Medicated” at 3:35, and “Need to Know” at 7:17. Band includes Charles Feenstra, Jim Feenstra, JP Feenstra, Erik Johnson.
Music as a source of reuniting and healing
By Don Botch
Make no mistake, the father-and-sons band the WizBangs have gone through some heavy stuff to get to where they are now, with the recent release of their new CD, “Life, Love and Other Mishaps.”
But you’d never know it listening in on the banter during a recent conference call with Jim Feenstra, who was riding out an ice storm in Green Bay, Wis., and brothers J.P. and Charles Feenstra, who dialed in from J.P.’s home in Manayunk.
They poked and jabbed, joshed and joked as they discussed recording their 11-song debut with Grammy-winning producer Will Russell at Electric Wilburland Studio in Newfield, N.Y., just south of Ithaca, where J.P. had worked on some previous projects.
The sons both came up through an outstanding music program at Gov. Mifflin and have been performing their whole lives.
J.P. brings drums, a producer’s ear and, yes, sarcasm to the band, according to the other two, who showed they can hold their own in the sarcasm department, as well. He has played in bands in Philadelphia and New York and as an on-call pit drummer for theaters up and down the East Coast.
Multi-instrumentalist Charles, meanwhile, brings the punk and so much more. The former Reading Symphony Youth Orchestra member attended prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and has been writing songs since age 6 and performing pretty much nonstop ever since.
But for bassist Jim, who relocated to the hometown of his beloved Packers a few years back after retiring from his job as a marketing executive for Penske Corp. in Reading, being in a band is all new. He said it all started when Charles finished a rehab stint and Jim took to writing lyrics — “it could have been therapy for me,” he said — and sharing them with his son.
Soon thereafter, Charles’ girlfriend became ill and they moved in with his parents in Green Bay during her recovery. That’s when, according to Jim, the songwriting took on a life of its own as they would hash out songs together on guitar or piano.
“The creative process was just really fulfilling for me,” he said. “And then, that joy was exponential when we got in the studio, and I’m sitting there singing songs with my two sons and friends. I would say that that’s a unique opportunity for a parent to do that.”
Charles, who lives in Reading, said writing songs, not to mention yoga and meditation — “and kale,” J.P. quipped — has helped him in his recovery. Some of his lyrics are frank depictions of the depths of despair he endured.
The second track, for instance, is called “2:56,” which relates to a moment in time that is etched in his mind when he was at Berklee and using marijuana to excess in the aftermath of a traumatic breakup.
“Literally, I was in my college dorm room and looking at the clock, and it was 2:56, but I was just feeling lonely,” he said.
That loneliness had consumed him, and his coping mechanism left him in what he described as “a constant haze.” He said he has since learned that many addicts struggle with loneliness.
“A lot of what we’re starting to understand just culturally is that the connection with other human beings is the No. 1 thing for happiness, the No. 1 thing for growth, for satisfaction,” Charles said. “So really getting to connect with my brother again, getting to connect with my dad after that kind of period of drug abuse and loneliness — really, it was terribly, terribly lonely — it was immensely helpful, and the songwriting process itself really helps kind of exorcise those demons.”
Coming from such different places musically makes for an interesting sonic landscape on the record. Charles recalled being immersed in classical music as a child and then discovering Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” in eighth grade and being blown away by the lyrics and pop sensibility, so he asked his big brother and father what else he had been missing out on.
Jim introduced him to ’60s rock, while J.P. took a more heavy-handed approach.
“What’s good music? Here’s Tool,” J.P. said, while reliving that moment. “Listen to this. I want a one-page dissertation on why this is good.”
“He gave me a Perfect Circle album,” Charles added, “and he goes, ‘This is like the light stuff.’ And I’m listening to it and going, ‘This is the light stuff? This is terrifying.’ ”
“I’m not wrong, though,” J.P. interjected.
“But I’d listened to Mozart my whole life,” Charles countered, laughing.
All of those influences and more come through on the CD. The mellow, acoustical “2:56,” for instance, leads into the jazzy, wordy “Let’s Get Medicated,” which yields to the crunchy, frenetic “Common Enemy,” in which Charles delivers a spoken-word rhyme culminating in the first of the album’s expletives, sandwiched between repetitive choruses of “You’re sick and you know it/You might as well own it.”
For the father, moments like this took him beyond his comfort zone, but he said he learned to embrace them after taking off his “dad hat” and accepting that his son needed to express himself.
“One thing that Charlie became through the entire process is very open about his feelings and what’s going on,” Jim said. “It’s not always comfortable, but it was very helpful in the process of creating the album. We actually have a stockpile of songs we haven’t even gotten to yet, so I think what you hear in some of this album is a little bit cathartic for the family.
“Hopefully I bring some happy songs to the album. But it’s been an interesting and wonderful journey as we, I guess, got serious as a family and friends to make this music happen.”
From their website:
Family bands have a longstanding history of success in the music industry, and that’s one tradition The WizBangs intend on following. This father/son group officially joined together in 2014, but father Jim Feenstra has enjoyed a lifetime of watching his sons flourish in music. He says, “I’ve enjoyed watching them play in bands and recitals. I always wanted to share music as part of a band, not a solo artist. Watching them perform and compose music over time, it was quite natural to join in.”
Jim’s parents were barbershop quartet singers, so he grew up listening to four-part harmonies as far back as he can remember. He picked up his first guitar when he was 9, and taught himself piano and vocals so he could perform in a church band, which he continued to do into adulthood. Between holding a position as a Chief Marketing Officer at an international company and raising a family, Jim’s passion for music was placed on the back burner. After twenty-plus years of work, he’s retired, and his greatest thrill yet has been making music with his sons. “Forgetting they’re my sons, it was intimidating to be the “newbie” with the group,” Jim says, “But I admit my eyes welled up when we listened to our first track in the studio.”
His oldest son, J.P., quickly realized that drums were his talent. Often taking on the producer role in the studio, J.P. is not only a great percussionist, but has a fantastic feel for how a song should sound. “We like so many styles and artists, it drives us to be creative…we live in different cities, so we might not see each other for months, but we get in the studio and in no time, it’s like we’ve never been apart.”
Younger brother, Charles, began playing the violin at age 9, and after a standing ovation at a school recital, he knew music was his destiny. He later picked up saxophone, guitar, and piano, which he plays with The Wizbangs. Charles attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston for Music Composition and brings his strong writing skills to the band. “We’re telling personal stories running the gamut of emotions,” Charles says, “It’s not hard to understand what I’m feeling in my songs.”
During the recording of their debut album, LIFE, LOVE AND OTHER MISHAPS, The WizBangs recruited other band mates that were a revolving team of very talented close friends who add their own style and voice to each song. “The majority of us have played together since I can remember,” says drummer J.P.
The album was produced by Grammy winner Will Russell at his studio Electric Wilburland in Upstate NY. Russell has worked with artists like Rusted Root, The Sim Redmond Band, and recorded a Grammy winning album for world musician Mamadou Diabate. Jim says, “Will gets us to the end game without adding more stress. Oh, and there’s a Grammy trophy in the room, so you know it’s time to focus on the task at hand!”
The WizBangs are focused on sharing their music online, recording videos for several songs and ultimately streaming live shows. Jim explains, “We’d rather do streaming shows to a wider audience. But if the demand is there to hit the road, we’ll load up a bus and go.” Taking full advantage of today’s social media technology, they look forward to reaching as may people as possible and inspiring with their own personal stories.
With plans for their second album already in the works, The WizBangs are simply a group of family and friends who love playing and creating together. “At the end of the day,” says Jim, “I’m making music with my sons. How cool is that?!”