By Monica Ng
I discovered musician Jeff Fero of jFEROcious through Instagram. What caught my attention was Jeff’s unique voice, song rhythm and videos. That’s not all – my curiosity was piqued because there seems to be a lot going on with jFEROcious’ feed – not just “straightforward” music video clips. In fact, I didn’t realize he was a musician until one of his most recent video clip posts. The detective in me figured that he is Canadian through his use of hashtags lol. Being Canadian myself, I am really inspired by Canadian musicians and support them whole-heartedly. On top of that, I am a very curious person and wanted to learn more about this mystery man (who has no bio information on his website), so I reached out for an interview. And here we are.
EXCLUSIVE PRE-RELEASE LISTEN
You heard it here first! I am extremely excited that Jeff offered a pre-release listen of his new tune “Our Currrency” for this interview. Click here to take a listen. Our Currency has a really great vibe. Keep your ears out for more new music from jFEROcious…
jFEROcious is based in Kootenay, British Columbia. Jeff is not only a super-talented songwriter, singer and guitar player, but has skills in web/graphic design as well as video/sound editing. According to Jeff, his “broad skill set in digital media, which was [his] main side hustle in the early years, [allowed him to] keep touring, recording, and being a musical fool, ha.” Jeff finished his university degree in marketing at The University of Lethbridge – getting a 4.0 GPA. One smart dude. He “pursued a degree in marketing after about a decade in music, after realizing that 80% of what [he] was doing with touring, promoting, and labels was marketing… 20% of it was music.” Jeff played for many punk rock bands including Live on Brighton, but decided to experiment with a different musical project which involves collaboration with other artists.
jFEROcious’ songs include: Uke, Sound Advice, Never Wait, Won’t be late, 3 days from May, and my personal favourites Hysteria Amplified, First World Tragedy, Close the Distance and Days Gone.
Me: I’m always looking for new music. I remember commenting on your post when I saw your Hysteria Amplified video clip – it’s such a great song. I can’t quite grasp how that song makes me feel, but something like being caught in time in a dark spot – but in a good and interesting way. All of your songs are really solid and catchy.
Jeff, I must say that doing research for this interview was like gathering a bunch of random pieces with rough edges and trying to piece them together into a puzzle. With my sociology, interior design and legal background, I generally like to organize my thoughts and ideas in a way that I can understand them. If I can articulate this properly, watching your video for “Uke” feels taboo – like watching something that I’m not supposed to watch. In the video you are looking intensely directly into the camera so watching you shave your beard seems like something forbidden. Yet, I am oddly compelled to watch. I suppose it is human nature to be curious! BTW – you look great without a beard ?
You mentioned that you are experimenting with a “project” and doing some work with others to get away from your previous punk rock style of music. If you had to “define” your new music style, how would you do so? And what are your thoughts on how your project is progressing?
Jeff: Thanks for all the kind words – they are greatly appreciated! I was really motivated to make “Hysteria Amplified”, because for me, the point of songwriting is to capture a moment in time. At times, I fall into the trap of writing, planning, rewriting, producing, and refining music – which takes time, and can end up removing the moment from the song. This one was done entirely at home during quarantine, with no production, some noticeable flaws, mixed and mastered at home – it’s just a real song from a real moment in time. I don’t often do that any more, and it felt great to make happen. I am really happy when I can look back on a song and it takes me back to an identifiable moment, and I feel this will be one of those songs. Defining the style for me is hard. I’ve been writing a ton of different songs lately – some fall into the darker indie / pop world, some are full on rock tunes, and songs like “Uke” fall somewhere in between. The purpose of jFEROcious for me, is to get away from the music I’ve become really comfortable making, and to force out something new and hopefully somewhat strange. When I first started making songs, they were certainly odd (probably a little too odd), but when I realized that people preferred hearing the refined pop rock stuff we would sometimes make, I fell into that cycle of trying to make songs that sounded a certain way. Songs with formulas and rules. Ultimately, jFEROcious is an outlet to ditch that and make original music. I’m stoked to be getting the positive feedback I have been getting so far, but I’m in a good enough place right now that I have zero concern on making songs sound a certain way, and I am not concerned about appealing to a certain crowd. The marketer in me hates this terrible approach… but songwriting is the passion here. Not a dedication to any one sound or genre.
In terms of how the project is progressing, the relative success of the song “Uke” was a major push in the right direction. The other three songs on the initial release (Songs That Were New) were not a far stretch from my former alt rock self. But “Uke” was the first real effort to create a song without a guitar – and unexpectedly, it got more positive feedback than anything I’ve written. I even signed music over to a major record label in 2012, but there was something about “Uke” that people were liking in a way I had not experienced before. That made me a lot more comfortable in my pursuit of doing something different. In the summer of 2019, I started another four songs, and did so with zero guitar (at least in the writing stage). Making the conscious decision to do this resulted in something that feels truly unique to me. Reverse ukulele riffs, vocal basslines, pen clicks, and a pile of other experimental things found their way on to these songs. I don’t even care to divulge the full scope of weirdness. I am not doing it to come across as weird, but sometimes a pen click is a better snare sound than a snare… and you never know until you try. And you’ll never try if you’re just making music that “needs” to fit a certain mould.
Me: So, in my opinion, you were successful in conveying your message through your song Hysteria Amplified – as I mentioned, when I listen to it I feel like I am caught in time – oddly comfortable in a dark spot.
The first part of your band name is obvious, but how did you decide on the second part of the name, jFEROcious?
Jeff: I have long wanted to establish a “solo” musical identity. Certain bands come and go, and then songwriters like me are back at square on trying to form a band and build a new following etc. jFEROcious is me wanting to put music out as individual… but as an individual not brave enough to use his legal name ha. Largely, the name can be attributed to auto correct. Fero is my last name, and whenever you type it into a phone, the phone really wants you to type the word Ferocious. And j for Jeff. Bam jFEROcious.
Me: That’s a good point about bands coming and going and needing to start from scratch again if they break up. I am happy that you are brave enough to venture out on your own. The music you have created is really original and fresh.
At what age did you pick up your first guitar? And at what point did you decide to pursue music?
Jeff: I honestly didn’t touch a guitar until I was 18. My friend forced me to play bass so he could have a band, and the rest is history. At 20, I dropped out of University to pursue music. At 23, I moved to Kelowna to go to a sound school. Learning music theory and how to properly record were major goals of mine, and helped me out tons. Being surrounded by various musicians was a huge help… almost all of which were far better and more experienced than I. It was non-stop music for a long time. A few bands, touring, labels… but I honestly don’t think I was very good until…. 27ish. It took me about 10 years to feel comfortable and confident in my abilities.
Me: Do you have any other hidden talents?
Jeff: None that I can express publicly no.
Me: You are so hilarious! Maybe you’ll disclose them in a subsequent interview?
I ask this of every musician/band I interview because I think it would be helpful for budding musicians to know –any tips or advice for anyone considering becoming a musician or being in a band?
Jeff: Don’t make music for other people. There will always be bands and labels trying to build / replicate a certain sound. Making something that actually represents your personal creativity is way more rewarding, and holds greater potential to stand out. Don’t be Dbag. Objective talent only goes so far. If you want to book shows or festivals beyond your Instagram feed, you need other bands, artists, and venue owners to have your back. Fans too. Assuming of course that you already know how to write good music, and know where/how to deliver it – being a good person matters. Thank someone who compliments you. Watch the other bands set. Be gracious for every chance live opportunity you get. Learn covers you would never otherwise learn – and play them the way the songwriter did. Not for your shows, but to learn. For years I did pop punk covers of every hit song I liked. It was easy. When I actually sat down and learned how to play something the way the original writer did, it was hard, but vastly expanded my ability to write. Learn marketing. If you’re trying to make ground in your music… spend time marketing – as opposed to re-writing and changing songs so they fit some other mould. Don’t pay for streams, don’t pay for PR if you’re in a indie band or artist – but do learn basic marketing skills. YouTube is a great place to learn. Legit representation is hard to find, learn how to do it yourself.
Me: While it may seem unoriginal for a band or musician to play covers, it makes sense the way you put it. I heard Al Capo of Stuck on Planet Earth say the same thing on a live stream. Jeff, you mentioned that you played with the band Live on Brighton for 5 years and performed many live shows with other bands. Do you have plans to play live as jFEROcious?
Jeff: Live on Brighton was definitely the epitome of my touring life. We covered Canada coast to coast and some parts of America too. That shit is hard. My reality right now is songwriting – it is far and away my favorite part of “The Biz”. I ran away from the scene and big cities to live in mountains, and I am happy to never return. There has been a bit of pressure to perform as jFEROcious, but I’ve handily talked my way out of it thus far. And well, COVID… so no immediate plans. My concern on playing live is that I have a bit of a vision for it – and that vision includes visuals and lighting etc. If it happens, it will be work – but we will cross that bridge if we get there.
Me: What is it like working with a producer for your song Days Gone, who as you mentioned has Taylor Swift as a recording credit? And do you plan to release an album?
Jeff: Yea, I had reach out with more than an ask on some of these new songs… I had to use a bank account too, haha. I have a studio network in the alt rock world, but it has been hard for me to find people in different genres and with different tastes. So for the song “Days Gone” I hired Matt Tryba – a fellow Canadian, who has album credits galore. Not gonna lie, it was a shock for me. He took that song in a WAY different direction than I had recorded the demo. I had to fight my urge to undo all his work, but in the end, I just trusted his choices and put it out. For the song “Sound Advice” I hired another pro, Cooper Anderson from New York, who has a grammy for his work with “FUN.” I really liked working with him, and that process was more of a collaboration with a lot of back and forth. It was a great experience, something I will likely make happen again. As mentioned, I started four songs last year, with the idea of releasing another EP. However, the way social media and Spotify have changed the game, releasing as singles give you a way better chance of being picked up on playlists and the algorithmic stuff as well. There is something so satisfying about dropping an album or even an EP – but at this stage in the game, singles are a better move for me.
Me: What aspect do you find the most challenging about your career as a musician and self-managing yourself?
Jeff: Knowing where to direct my energy, and my budget. Spotify has changed the game in a big way. The early era of Facebook, and everyone just ripping music off the internet – circa 2008 – I think was good for indie bands. If you had a good song and worked hard, you had a chance. You knew you were not going to make any money off your music, but you could find fans easier than ever before, and you could learn the right places to play and find the right bands to play with. Shows and touring were a great bet. Now though – I think people prefer headphones to live music. While Spotify still holds potential for indie music discovery, I do think it’s a return to the days of big record labels running the show. Major playlists are controlled, and you are fed whatever Spotify decides. Apple Music and YouTube are very similar. People (and algorithms) like to see big stream numbers. For a while, finding the next new thing was a trend – Not sure that is still a thing. With that said, my career management is probably easier than most, because this time around I’ve made the deliberate decision to focus on songwriting and showcasing. So there is a lot of reliance on social media. The hardest part of this approach for me is getting people to actually listen to the songs. Lots of people see/hear the song in part, and click like or share, but that doesn’t mean they are actually listening – and if they do, it doesn’t mean they will listen more than once. You need to get them to see your track, listen to it, like it in real life (not a social like), then search and save/buy it. Social media interaction is often so superficial that it’s hard to tell who is a fan, or who just wants you to go like their stuff.
Me: I totally agree with your comments about “social likes”. The world is a totally different place now and you can’t tell who is really interested in your posts or following you just for the hell of it. The most annoying thing for me is getting tagged in advertising. For me, Milka brand has been tagging me – when I am vegan!!! Since a lot can be done online and through social media these days, how has COVID-19 impacted your daily life and music?
Jeff: Well, I was enjoying Mexico when the borders were shutdown… so that was fun. But we all got home, and made it to quarantine. I live in a very quiet area, so COVID has really just been something I see in the news. That said, our local shops are being pummeled, but that’s a conversation for another day. Oddly enough, I had a bunch of music scheduled for release between March and July – so the timing was good as I had time to work on some video/visual pieces. A big part of luring people into that first listen is a good visual. I think everyone being at home helped the song releases get more attention than normal. But (unfortunately) people have been bored and scrolling social media more than ever. So for me… I guess the timing was right. But honestly, watching bars like The Hideout in Toronto close their doors forever – among many others – is concerning. Venue owners labour for the love of it… not the profit. I think the Canadian live music landscape is in trouble. We’ve got a huge country, that is very hard to tour at the best of times. Without those venues in the small cities that most people haven’t been to, there will be a lot less up and comers getting the chance to hone their skill and build a fan base.
Me: Yes, it is looking like a grim future for some music venues. But hopefully, music supporters will be quick to return to venues after all this is over. To name three – which musicians or bands would you say had the most influence on your music?
Jeff: I grew up on Green Day – and sure, I can brag about listening to their earliest music as an elementary kid, but the American Idiot album is a course in songwriting unto itself. Can’t even say I listen to them much anymore, but influence is there and it’s permanent. AWOLNATION had a huge impact on me. I watched their front man Aaron play in a few bands and grow spectacularly as a songwriter. From grunge punk rock into whatever they are now. I think he’s as legit a songwriter as they come. And the bands ability to take that highly produced music into an incredible live show is impressive. Fall Out Boy was, perhaps to my detriment, the band I always tried to check my songwriting against in my rock days. I learned a lot of structure and format from the production in their music. But the biggest thing is vocal pattern and singing style. I can’t sing half the stuff their front man Patrick does, but if I’m ever stuck on a vocal melody, I will crank a few Fall Out Boy tunes for inspiration.
Me: Interesting – I will have to check out AWOLNATION. Never heard of them before.
I finished my entire first draft of my novel manuscript back in April but decided to re-work the entire format. It’s a bit of a frustrating process and I find it hard to focus at times. How do you deal with re-working your music? Have you ever spent a lot of time working on a piece and scrap it at the end?
Jeff: Well that’s super cool. I always though writing a novel would be an incredible feat. Not that I want to do it… but the time and effort, impressive! The first time I noticeably took the time to do that was in “Uke”. I finished the demo, and the bridge was straight up boring. Usually, I would just go into the studio and spice it up with instruments and background sounds, but that can be a total cop-out. So I cut it out in full and made a new one. It is way better, and part of the reason song has been well received. As far as full songs being scrapped – that has definitely happened too. However, I don’t think any of them ever go fully to the graveyard. Instead they live on a hard-drive waiting to be revived one day. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Me: You posted about SOCAN royalties and asked people to guess how much you have made from royalties, and if someone guessed you would give them the money. I can relate to your comments about micro-pennies from my own experience with my blog site. Since I began my blog about a year and a half ago – despite having thousands of views, I have made a whopping $0.57! There’s no retirement with these funds. Lucky for me, sharing my writing is not my day job. So, will you now reveal the answer?
Jeff: I coooooulllld reveal the answer, but you know…. “Mystery Man”. Kidding, it was $0.98. I think the most I’ve ever made from SOCAN was about $600 in a year – and that was from full scale touring and some FM radio play. In the streaming world, most royalty payments come right from your music distributer these days, so I’m not actually sure why SOCAN paid me at all. Last year I probably made about $150 off about 16,000 streams/purchases. This year is looking better, but ya… streaming music isn’t the best choice of day job.
Me: Actually, it’s really funny, because by the time I drafted and posted this interview, I made $0.99 from my site. Jeff, this interview has been a great opportunity to learn more about you, your music and the finicky music industry. Thank you again so much for agreeing to this interview.
Everyone – if you haven’t already, check out jFEROcious’ music. Help Jeff increase his “micro-penny royalties”! I have been helping while enjoying great tunes. Jeff, any last thoughts that you would like to share with your existing fans and new ones?
Jeff: Beyond “THANK YOU” I should probably wrap this up! Though – I really would like to know what other artists or bands I sound like. It is a question I often get and don’t really know how to answer. So if you do listen, drop me a line with what you think!
Thanks for everything Monica!