Spinning Platters Interview: Monique Powell of Save Ferris

by Dakin Hardwick on March 22, 2017

Photo by Piper Ferguson

Monique Powell of Save Ferris hasn’t performed live in San Francisco since her ill-fated solo show at Bottom Of The Hill in 2003, where the upper deck caught fire, causing that show and a few more shows at the venue to cancel. Spinning Platters had a chance to talk with her about what she’s done in her downtime, how that show affected her as a performer, and about the rise of Incubus and Maroon 5.

Save Ferris will be playing at The Independent in SF on March 23rd, and their new EP, Checkered Past, is available wherever you can find music.

So, I guess the first question is the question you’ve been asked by everybody that’s ever interviewed you in the last few months-

Haha, okay.

Why pick now to resurrect Save Ferris?

Well, in 2013, I was diagnosed with this condition in my neck. It required surgery, and basically, some doctors told me I would have to make some hard decisions if I still wanted to walk, or sing. I thought, if I make it through this surgery, and I can still walk and sing, just coincidentally it happened to be the 10th year anniversary of the last Save Ferris tour, so I was just like, hmm. Maybe I should bring that back, if I make it through this. So it was cool, because it gave me something to look forward to, to get better for, you know? So… That’s why I did it!

So, pardon me asking, but what was the name of the condition you had?

I can’t really tell you the technical name, but it was stenosis with a degeneration of the spinal cord, the cervical spinal cord. So, the degeneration had caused calcification, and was basically chipping away- anyway, it’s a lot. But yeah, so there’s still bone fragments buried in my spinal cord, which doesn’t regenerate, and they basically had to pull everything off of the cord, and take the pressure off, because I was having signs of spinal cord damage. Like, shaking on my right side, and uh, it was kind of bad. It was hard to leave the house, at the end there.

Wow, so how long ago did you have the operation?

So, I was diagnosed in October, of 2012, and the surgery was January, 2013.

So how long until you were on stage after that?

So, January 2013 I had the surgery, and the show was that summer, August?

This was the Universal Amphitheater show with English Beat, right?

Yeah, that was it.

Wow. So that was when you resurrected Save Ferris.

Yeah.

I noticed that you had a tour, I guess it was in 2014 to 2015, where you were supposed to play the Regency, in San Francisco, and it never happened. What happened to cause that tour to not happen?

Well, there were quite a few things, but basically, I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.

So, now that you’re about four years removed from the operation, how’s it feeling on the road now?

It’s good, you know. I have my off days, and I have my good days, and my bad days. Just like, everybody else that does this work professionally. But you know, the thing is, I’m fucking 41 years old, doing it as a lady now. Not as a girl, you know? So I have good days, and bad days, and the thing was that, the surgery I chose for my neck, the reason they don’t typically go through the back, is because the recovery is really gnarly, and you really don’t ever completely recover physically from it. So I have good days, and not-so-good days, but overall, I’m just happy I’m able to do my shit. Walk, sing, run a band, have a business, win a lawsuit, all that stuff.

Let’s talk about that Bottom Of The Hill show in 2003…

It’s interesting that you ask. Wait, are you a San Francisco publication, or a Seattle publication?

San Francisco.

Oh my god, for some reason- I was like, why are you asking about Bottom of the Hill? Cause Austin (Powell’s Publicist) was like, “is it okay if he asks about it?” And I was like, yeah, but why would a Seattle publication give a shit about Bottom of the Hill? Um, I think it’s pretty awesome that you know about it. Were you there?

I wasn’t there, and I was mad. I got sick the day of that show, and had to give up my tickets. And then I found out what happened-

(laughter) Oh my god.

So now, many years removed from it, what did it feel like playing a venue when it was on fire?

(laughter) Well, technically, I wasn’t playing knowing it was on fire, and then, when it was brought to my attention that the level above me was on fire, that was the moment that I quietly, and peacefully ended the show, and asked everybody to exit. It was fun (laughter). It was scary, and it’s interesting because not too long before that, I think, was when that Great White thing happened, and the club burned down on the East Coast, and it fucking freaked me out. I was like, I’m not leaving until everybody is out of this room, because if something happens to somebody at my show, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Yeah, I can’t imagine doing that. What was it like trying to play after that?

Well, obviously, we didn’t play the Bottom of the Hill that night (laughter). We moved on to the next city. But yeah, I mean, listen —when you see a lot of stuff go on, you hear stories of fires, and shootings, and all the shit happening at shows, you really look at the safety of your audience very differently. I’ll never walk into a show the same way again. I’m constantly looking for emergency exits, and permits, and making sure everybody’s safe. The best I can, you know? You don’t really recover from something like that.

Yeah, and I guess it’s really all you can do.

It is. It’s all you can do.

Okay. Well, let’s move on to something way lighter. How have the crowds been at this current crop of shows? I know I’m personally really, really stoked, because It Means Everything meant a lot to me when I was 16. But, what’s it like going out and seeing people at these shows? Are the crowds just people that listened to you when you were kids? Are you seeing younger people in the crowd? What’s happening?

It’s interesting, we were just talking about this the other day. The demographic has tripled in age. Previously, it was just a lot of kids in our own age range, and younger. Now, it’s adults that are still in our same age range, but we still have a younger demographic coming out, which is interesting. It’s a trip. You look out there, and I can’t believe it.

So how do you feel about the state of ska right now?

I’ve been saying this thing on stage to the audiences, because a lot of people asked why we came back, and our guitar player coined this term, ska now more than ever. And basically, what we decided is that we need ska now more than ever because for me, remembering what it was like as a fan, and as a young person going to ska shows, it gave me a reprieve, you know? From my life, and from the state of the world for a little while. And that’s basically what we’re trying to do now. Ska now more than ever means, ska now more than ever. So, as long as people want to see us, we’re gonna be bringing them shows, and we’re going to be bringing them shows that, hopefully, just kind of take them out of themselves for a bit.

Ah, yeah, I’m super stoked about this. I know that I have also aged since then, and I dislocated my knee, so I’m sad that I can’t attempt skanking again, but…

(laughter) I love us. I don’t know how old you are, but I die every night at how old I am, and the fact that I’m still doing what I’m doing. When you see the show, you’re going to freak out, like these people are crazy. I can’t believe what they’re doing every night. It’s pretty funny, I can’t believe it. You get to a certain age, and you tell people your age, and then they start responding with, “wow, you look really good for your age.” That’s when you know you’ve hit a certain age, like there’s no going back, you know? It’s pretty… neat. And weird.

Well people will perpetually keep saying you look good for your age, because your age will keep progressing, and your body will age at the same rate.

Yeah, it’s true. People will progressively keep saying, “god, you look good for your age.” I should probably not tell people how old I am all the time, but it’s become a theme in my life, like “don’t tell me what to do, I’m a goddamn 41-year-old woman!”

Yeah, I’m 37, so I’m not that far behind you.

Oh gosh, baby. I could have had you when I was five!

Gosh, I really hope you weren’t pregnant at five, that sounds like a story we’re missing completely in this interview if that happened.

(so many laughters) Oh, that’s great.

I think the last time I saw your band was when I saw you guys at the Warfield with Incubus and Goldfinger, and Incubus were first. And I keep flashing back to that, like, “yeah, yeah, I saw Save Ferris when Incubus was opening, and the lead singer was not the attractive man you know him as today.”

(Laughter) That’s funny, yeah, I liked them a lot. They were sort of from around where we were. I mean, they’re from Southern California. I thought they were a really good band, like, let’s take them on the road! Little did I know, they would grow up to be the people they became. Same with Kara’s Flowers, we took them out too, they became Maroon 5.

That’s right!

Isn’t that funny? I didn’t realize that about Incubus, too.

Yeah, you kept around a lot of bands that eventually started playing these sheds every summer.

Yeah, which is really cool. It’s funny because the band that we chose to take on this tour with us, on like half of the tour, they’re called Baby Baby, they’re from Atlanta?

Mmm-hmm.

They’re fucking amazing, and I was saying- we just had our last show with them, and I was saying, you guys, I don’t know, I have a good picker, I suspect that within the next 5-10 years, you guys are gonna be playing sets.

Yeah, just hand them an Incubus CD, and a Maroon 5 CD, and tell them, “just wait, it’ll happen.”

(laughter) That’s a great idea. “This could be you!” Ha, no, they’re brilliant. They’re gonna do great.

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