Concert preview: Francesco Ferorelli finds musical freedom in Heaven's Jail

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In August 2013, about a week before Heaven’s Jail departed for the wilds of Connecticut to record its most recent full-length, the dark, searching Ace Called Zero, the NYC band holed up in singer-songwriter Francesco Ferorelli’s Brooklyn apartment and played through the songs that would eventually make up the album.

“We wanted something to listen to before we went in and did the real recording,” said Ferorelli, 33, in a late September phone interview. “So we set up and played through all the songs live.”

Though the track listing and arrangements are identical to the finished product, the resulting demo clocked in nearly five minutes shorter than the album the bandmates recorded alongside producer Matthew Houck (of Phosphorescent), a characteristic Ferorelli attributes to New York’s stereotypically harried pace.

“Being in New York we were amped, but then we got out [of the city] and we could let the music breathe a bit more,” he said. “The studio (a cabin on loan from a friend of the band) … was really pretty and secluded, and we were going for that. We wanted to make something austere and stripped-down with lots of negative space. I think you hear the house in the recordings.”

The band employs these sometimes gorgeous (the lilting, folk-ish “Childrens Song”), sometimes rowdy (the rickety “Mother Mary Madonna”) country-rock backdrops in service of some seriously dark subject matter. Ace is scattered with scenes that could have been culled from cult horror films, Ferorelli singing of body parts jammed in duffel bags and birds picking around discarded children’s shoes. Alternately, there’s a strong focus on religious imagery that bleeds into everything from the band name to the songs themselves, which are dotted with biblical references.

“I’m drawn to religious imagery, and warping it for sinister purposes if need be,” said Ferorelli, who was born to a writer mother and a photo journalist father and got his start playing drums in metal bands at the age of 15. “There’s a lot of beauty in there, and there’s a lot of terror and hope and horror. It’s really fertile territory to explore.”

Though Ferorelli has only been playing with Heaven’s Jail for five years, he actually started writing his first songs at 20 years old after becoming enamored with Johnny Cash (he lovingly refers to the late country singer as “a natural resource”), keeping them from all but his closest friends for nearly a decade before performing at his first open mike.

“If you play your first song for someone at 29 it’s different than when you’re 16 or something,” he said. “I needed to live a lot more, and I didn’t want to present my songs to the world until I felt like they had some identity of their own.”

Photo courtesy of Heaven’s Jail

Café Bourbon St.

9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4

2216 Summit St., Campus