Is there life on other planets? With the introduction of the hard rockin’ quartet MESSAGE TO VENUS we just may find out. Jandre Nadal, John Feliciano, Edgar Ramos, and JuanMa Font are just beginning to unleash their wrath unto the masses, with a style that’s both melodic and metal, that will no doubt be played loud enough to invoke a visit from the planet next door. So fasten your seatbelts, stow all carry-on items in the overhead compartment (don’t worry no unecessary pat-downs here), and join me as I get the chance to catch up with John Feliciano, M2V’s aspirational axe-man, to get the story behind rock’s next great tympanic treasure.
AWAY-TEAM: I’d first like to congratulate you on the release of your killer E.P. The Envelope, and perhaps even more importantly on the upcoming release of your first full length album Victims and Villains.
JOHN FELICIANO: Thank you so much man!
AWAY-TEAM: I’m excited to hear the whole album. I know there’s not a set release date yet for Victims and Villains, but can you give us an idea as to when we might see it?
JOHN FELICIANO: Well right now, today, the singer is actually in the studio working on another song. We have four songs left to record, and the album is done. Then it will go, of course, to mixing stages and mastering. We’re hoping that the album will be finished by around October of this year. In terms of when it will be released, we are working with management to see what route we will be taking, because we have the option of releasing it independently like we did with The Envelope, but we are also open to the possibility of maybe having a record label involved. Ya know partnering up with them to release that album to maximize it’s release. So we have our options open, but in terms of a release date, we would love to see it released early next year, but there’s no set release date, as of yet.
AWAY-TEAM: Now, how did the band all meet and get started?
JOHN FELICIANO: Well, JuanMa and Edgar, they are the drummer and bassist, they’ve been friends for many, many years. I went to the same University that JuanMa went to; I’ve been involved with bands for about 14 years now, and in the local scene we knew each other. JuanMa and Edgar played in a band together, I played in another band, and Jandre, who is from the west side of Puerto Rico, had a pretty good local following. So we knew each other from the music scene. But basically, in 2003 I started a band with a couple of friends and we needed a bassist, so I called Edgar. Fast forward to 2006, bands change and go through different stages, the drummer that we had at that time quit. So we called JuanMa who I’ve always wanted to play with because he’s a very technical drummer, and he has pretty good chops, and I always wanted to have a project with him. Edgar, being a good friend of JuanMa as well, it made complete sense. So JuanMa joined the project, which wasn’t this band, but we all decided that we wanted to move to the United States in the future, because if we really wanted to pursue this we had to make that jump. Maybe not now, but that would be the ultimate goal. So we decided to go into the studio and record a three song demo with the band. The producer Leo Alvarez tells us, “You know guys, you should really start recording a full length, before you do anything. Because right now you have the means, and that would be really good to have up your sleeve” So we start recording this full length album, but then in the process of recording it the singer that we had at the time; for personal reasons, he’s a really good friend, he decided to leave. So that’s when we got the opportunity to call Jandre to join the project, and work with him in the studio with Leo Alvarez, the producer, to make this record that will be Victims and Villains. So it’s basically an evolution of bands, ya know, and a process of natural selection that we got together. Because in this business, there’s some people that are really good musicians, but they get married, they have kids, and they decide to take another route with their lives. But the four of us, we’ve been very focused and this is what we wanna do. The music was already recorded when Jandre joined the project, and it has been a challenge for him, but so far it’s been great. And being that we already knew each other for at least 5-6 years it’s even better, because you already know the person on a personal level and then to be able to create music with them, it’s good. There’s no surprises in terms of friendship, ya know. We’re friends first, and bandmates second.
JOHN FELICIANO: The name of the band comes from a song that Jandre was writing, lyrics that he was writing, in that song he was talking about life on another planet. Possibility of life, and we are not alone or whatever, in a part of the song he mentioned “Message to Venus”. The song never worked, as a song, but he always found that phrase very interesting, because it’s kind of open to interpretation. People might say “Message to Venus” is a message to the women, or it’s a message to another world, or it’s something out of this world. So we incorporated it as the band name because we felt that it’s a name that allows us to explore, in the musical aspect. We can be heavy, we can be subtle, and the lyrics of the songs are like short stories. We have a beginning, an end, a climax and you can hear that in the songs. If you really listen to the songs, they have characters. Like for example, in “Cold and Grey” you have this person that basically is a psychopath, and is obsessed with this woman, and he’s basically telling her “If I don’t have you, no one will.” That’s why it’s called “Cold and Grey”, if someone else is gonna have you, he’s gonna have you “Cold and Grey”, ya know. It’s kinda harsh, but it is what it is. So you have characters, you have the psychopath, and in a part of the song you have this girl screaming “Let me go”; and in the songs, that’s how Jandre, and Edgar go about creating lyrics, they’re basically short films. So that’s the story behind the name, we’re comfortable with it because it allows us to explore with our music, and gives us the flexibility.
AWAY-TEAM: Now, Puerto Rico is not typically a place that you associate with Hard Rock music. Usually when you think Puerto Rico, you think Salsa, or Merengue, or Reggaeton, anything but Rock music…
JOHN FELICIANO: Ricky Martin! (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: Yeah. (laughs) …is that just a misconception? Or are we missing out on alot of great bands? What’s the Rock scene like in Puerto Rico?
JOHN FELICIANO: In terms of an industry, and let’s talk about the local scene first. You have the full spectrum of rock, over in Puerto Rico, you have from the very light alternative, pop band, to the very heavy death metal. But in terms of a local scene, and a business, the island doesn’t support it. I think it’s a mixture of cultural, and size. If you play in San Juan, how many times are you gonna play in San Juan? You know what I mean? So it’s really not the ideal environment, for a local scene to develop, and bands to be able to be successful. Because you can measure success in many ways, but for this example let’s measure success by a band that is able to meet their means by playing music. Unfortunately, at least that’s my personal opinion, the conditions are not there in terms of the business aspect. But of course, you have many, many talented bands in Puerto Rico that… ya know, we have really good friends in all the genres. You asked if we’re missing out, and I think the world is missing out on the talent that is there. There’s some really, really good bands from the island.
AWAY-TEAM: Well maybe you’ll help shine a light on that!
JOHN FELICIANO: Hopefully! We really hope to make it! We’re doing the part that is our responsibility, that is we’re working hard, and it makes us feel proud because we’re working hard for what we really love. Another thing I was gonna tell you, in Puerto Rico there’s many rockers. Iron Maiden was there a couple of months ago, 30 Seconds to Mars was there like a month ago, and Van Halen sold out show, Paul McCartney sold out show. Ya know, there’s many people that like rock music, but those bands are already established, they have already gone mainstream. They have been fortunate enough to have the means of letting themselves be known, but for a band that is starting, and starting in Puerto Rico the conditions are not there, for the reasons that I already explained to you, to be successful, measuring success as financial success.
AWAY-TEAM: So how did you first get started plating guitar? And what was the first song you ever learned to play?
JOHN FELICIANO: Wow… I got an interest in music when I was around 15, I had a friend that had a guitar, you know I think it’s always like that, that’s the cliche! I had a friend that had a guitar and he knew how to play a couple of things, and I was like “Wow, I really would like to play guitar!” So then for Christams, I asked for, and received a guitar. I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to tune the guitar, what to do with it, but I played with it. Even though I was doing nothing that made sense, but I played with it for hours. Then I moved schools, and I made friends with a guy that knew how to play guitar. He taught me a couple of chords, what to do with the guitar, how to tune it. And that’s how I started playing something that actually made sense. I don’t remember exactly the first song, but I think it was “About A Girl” by Nirvana. That was the first song that I could play, put two chords together, E-minor with G-major. I never took classes, never. I would just spend hours, and hours, and hours playing. And at that time, we’re talking about maybe 1995, the internet was really a blessing, because you were able to download these tablatures, and everything. So you could basically go home for hours, and learn a song by reading tablature. Really early on, like maybe a year into playing guitar, I knew I wanted to make my own stuff. I just felt it pretty quickly, I put learning to play other people’s songs to the side and starting writing my own things. Of course this was a long time ago, it’s not really what we write today, but I had that urge really early on.
AWAY-TEAM: So what was your parent’s reaction when you told them you were moving to Miami to become a rock star?
JOHN FELICIANO: (laughs) Well, in Puerto Rico I think we tend to be a little bit more conservative about those things. But, I really have their support, my dad and my mom support us all the way. And we are fortunate that the rest of the band has parents that are the same way. Their really supportive, and they really believe that you have to make life what you want it to be. One of the worst things that I think can happen to a human being is getting to the last phases of their life and looking back and saying “Gee, I never tried it. Maybe I had a shot!” I prefer to fail, but at least I tried. Because if I don’t know, I think I would go crazy, I would go completely nuts! Wondering what could’ve been, what if… that would drive me crazy!
AWAY-TEAM: So why Miami? What made you choose Miami over an L.A. or a New York?
JOHN FELICIANO: You know I had a… you know like any person, we have to work, and it basically fell in my lap. I had the opportunity to relocate, and I didn’t even think about it. I had my girlfriend back in Puerto Rico, who is now my wife, and I thought “This is the chance, this is it! I’m moving, I’m taking this step.” I was given the opportunity on Friday, and by Sunday I was already in Miami. It was super fast. I said “This is what I have to do.” I told my girlfriend, not to worry, we’re gonna make it, I’ll find a way; and now look, a couple of years later we’re here and settled, we got married. I think if there’s a will there’s a way, ya know what I mean? We hadn’t even finished tracking the album yet when I moved, so I flew back to Puerto Rico and finished my part of the album in one weekend, three days of like 16 hours apiece. Basically, the opportunity came in Miami, and it’s pretty strategic in terms of it being on the east coast, and you can get to Puerto Rico pretty easily, and to other parts of the nation.
JOHN FELICIANO: (laughs) Ha! Oh my God… Yeah, you know, the company is a human resource recruiting firm, and they were doing a story on illegal immigration, and illegal immigrants working in the United States. It was a hot topic. You know there’s a lot of federal agencies that go into Puerto Rico to find talent, especially bilingual talent, because Puerto Rico mainly speaks Spanish, but educated people are bilingual. They wanted to do a story on companies going to Puerto Rico, and why it would be good for a company to look at Puerto Rico as a good source of talent, etc. etc. And since I’m in that business, I don’t know why someone referred me because I’m Puerto Rican, and they were talking about Puerto Ricans, but… I live in Miami, and CNN in Miami called me to do an interview with CNN en Espanol. So I went there and did that. It’s crazy because you see the studios and you think that they’re very big, it’s not. It’s like a closet. You’re in a closet with a camera there, and no one else with you. The reporter is in like Atlanta, and that’s it. It’s just you inside a closet with that camera. It’s pretty funny.
AWAY-TEAM: The Envelope contains a really great cover of the Depeche Mode classic “Stripped”. Who were some of your strongest influences growing up?
JOHN FELICIANO: I would have to say that one of my main influences is Tool. I love how they evolved, you listen to the first E.P. Opiate, and you listen to the last one 10,000 Days and it’s great. It has technical, musical value, and it also is entertaining. I could hear a band that makes something difficult, but I don’t like difficult music just for the sake of being difficult. I like technical music, that might be pretty challenging to play, but it has to be entertaining, it has to catch my attention and I have to be entertained. I have to feel that there’s some sentiment being transmitted through that song, and I feel that with Tool. Of course, you can branch out to A Perfect Circle, in which you have a different set of musicians. You have a great drummer, great guitar player, bassist, and of course Maynard from Tool. Another band that I was really into, at the time, was Nirvana. That was like my favorite band, at that time, like in 1994-95. What I liked about Nirvana was their energy, you know the music was simple in terms of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-interlude-chorus, but it was powerful, entertaining, and straight to the point. I think my biggest influence has to be Tool, but if you want to include other bands I would say, from my early years I would say Nirvana, and right now I listen to alot of music. I like heavy stuff, I like 36 Crazyfists, I like Pierce the Veil, I like Nonpoint, Puya, Pantera, all of that.
AWAY-TEAM: It’s funny, I knew you were gonna say Tool, because I hear quite a bit of Tool in “Change”. The guitar work on that is very Tool.
JOHN FELICIANO: Yeah, it’s got that oriental scale.
AWAY-TEAM: “Universal You” debuted on Music Choice yesterday, and “Cold and Grey” is being played on Sirius XM’s Octane. I understand that Jose Mangin of Sirius XM said that you guys were the first band from Puerto Rico to be played on Octane…
JOHN FELICIANO: Yeah, I don’t know if it was Jose Mangin, the DJ at that time, but the DJ that was on shift said that was the first band coming out of Puerto Rico to be played on Sirius XM Octane which was very flattering for us, ya know. We are very proud, but at the same time we feel very humbled, because it’s a big weight to carry on your shoulders to be the first one.
AWAY-TEAM: Yeah, that kinda makes you guys like the godfather’s of the Puerto Rican rock scene. (laughs)
JOHN FELICIANO: Yeah, at least in the Active Rock/ Hard Rock scene. Because you have Nonpoint which has it’s roots or beginnings in Puerto Rico, and I’m not talking bad about them I love that band, that’s one of my favorite bands, but they really were made here in South Florida. It started over there, but the people that were the original ones from Puerto Rico are no longer with the band. The original, original member is Robb Rivera the drummer. So I think that’s what they were talking about, a band that was formed in Puerto Rico, and coming straight out of Puerto Rico. And we feel very proud about that.
AWAY-TEAM: You guys have played alongside many great bands, Anthrax, Puya, Ill Nino to name a few. What was the most memorable of those shows?
JOHN FELICIANO: Just to be clear, that was from our personal experiences in other bands. It wasn’t with MESSAGE TO VENUS. For me the most memorable one, is when we played a show with three great bands in one night. It was Ill Nino, Ankla, and Nonpoint. That was the bill, and then us with the band that I had at that time. That was a great experience to play in front of many thousands of people, and people that don’t know you that were like “Wow, you guys played great! I really loved your band.” That was amazing.
AWAY-TEAM: I think I know the answer to this, but if you could make anyone live or dead a fifth member of the band, who would it be and why?
JOHN FELICIANO: Alive or dead… ya know, I would really love to have Tool’s guitar player Adam Jones. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: That’s where I thought you were going with it. (laughs)
JOHN FELICIANO: I would really love to be able to collaborate with that guy. He has a certain style of playing, which is kind of dark, but at the same time it doesn’t go to that point of no return. It’s still energetic, it’s still listenable. It’s not simple, in terms of being easy, but he makes music that’s not complicated for the sense of being complicated. It flows, you know what I mean? The patterns might be odd, but it flows as a composition, as a whole, as a song, as a story. It would be amazing to be able to drink from that fountain of knowledge.
AWAY-TEAM: With Victims and Villains on the horizon, what new song do you most look forward to playing live?
JOHN FELICIANO: There’s this song called “The Unknown”, the reason I look forward to playing that song is, not only that I live the song, but in the middle of the song when it’s in it’s climax there is a chorus of people. We brought 20 of our closest friends into the studio to sing a part, they sing ‘We are not alone.’ So I really look forward to playing that song and getting that reaction from the crowd, having the crowd sing that part. You’ll be able to hear that part on the album, but being able to hear the crowd sing that part back to you, that would be amazing.
AWAY-TEAM: So last, but not least… Captain Morgan or Bacardi?
JOHN FELICIANO: For me it’s Bacardi. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: John, I wanna thank you for your time. Best of luck to you, I know you’re probably not gonna need it, you guys are solid as they come. I know you’re destined for great things. Hopefully next time we talk, we’ll be talking major label release.
JOHN FELICIANO: Hopefully! Thank you so much.
AWAY-TEAM: Talk to you soon buddy.
JOHN FELICIANO: Definitely, we’ll talk soon. Bye.
Special thanks go to John Feliciano for so graciously giving me his time.