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California Nature: An Interview With Ted Feighan

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Outside of Ted Feighan’s windows are palm trees. There are some flowering trees and, if you crane your head in a certain direction, you’ll see the Downtown Los Angeles skyline over Thai Town apartments. The space is bright and warm and is a fitting environment for him to be: it has a great connection with Southern California nature.

“I basically make all of my artwork in the kitchen,” he says, pointing toward a table covered in clippings of men, women, animals, and plants from various cultures and from various eras. Some are arranged in unglued collages while others are piled in thematic movements like purple colored flowers and women in bikinis. There is a distinctly tropical feeling to the pieces.

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In his bedroom you’ll find a different scene but a similar “making” atmosphere. “This is basically where I make all my music,” he says. “There’s a record player and a mixer—it’s everything I have.” There are stacks of records and a collection of books and a desktop computer at the middle of it all: this is where Ted makes all his music as Monster Rally.

The irony in all of this is that—despite Los Angeles being a somewhat warm and tropical environment and one that is very reflective in his art and music—Ted is distinctly not from a tropical world. “I’m from Cleveland, Ohio,” he smiles. “I went to Montessori school for grade school which is how I met my wife Kelley. Then I went to a Catholic high school and was in a band. We got signed right after I graduated and we went on tour and recorded an album. So, I didn’t go to college until I was like twenty, which is when I left the band.”

Ted attended DePaul in Chicago and eventually transferred to Ohio State, graduating in 2012. “I majored in Graphic Design and Fine Art, in Printmaking,” he says. “From there we lived in Columbus and then moved here in August of 2012.”

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“We moved to the Westside and had a sublet in Marina Del Rey for a few months: it was kind of awful,” he laughs. “We hated LA! We lived there for three months and went home for Christmas and didn’t want to come back.

“We almost didn’t,” his wife Kelley interjects.

“It was even the dead in winter in Cleveland and we didn’t want to come back. Then we did get back and it was so nice here that we were like, ‘Oh, never mind: this is totally awesome.’ Then we moved over here and, ever since, we’ve been Eastsiders.”

The move to Los Angeles was much more than something they just “did”: it’s a place that had been appealing for quite a long time. “It was a place I had always been interested in,” he explains. “LA has a bunch of stuff that I was really into and it all came from LA. I was really intrigued by the city because of that. After I graduated from college, we knew we wanted to move somewhere—and it had to be warm. That was basically the only requirement. We were thinking about Austin but obviously Austin doesn’t have as much stuff as LA, especially for doing music and making artwork. I do a lot of freelance stuff so it made sense to be here.”

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“Like everyone will tell you when you move here, it’s a struggle,” he adds. “It was such a weird turn around to come here with mixed feelings and then really loving it.”

Ted doesn’t find that he has been that affected by his new environment—but both his musical and visual work certainly feel more grounded here. He definitely is finding a greater drive to make too. “The city has really motivated me to make more, which I think is the result of being around so many people who are doing things. That’s big. I think it’s had more of a noticeable effect on my music. I’ve been super productive since moving here, which I think is a result of seeing so much artwork and being around so many people who are doing things. The last album I put out—Return To ParadiseOctober versus Beyond The Sea, which I put out in 2012, is really different: the last one was in Columbus and this recent one was in LA. The new one has more drums and is more hip hop heavy and I think that is from being in the city and being around different music—even the radio stations have an effect! Listening to Hot 92.3 and KDAY in the car gets a certain sound in your head. I notice this in comparison to Columbia because it was all NPR all the time when I lived there.”

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“With visual arts, I don’t know why but Los Angeles has made my work sunnier and more colorful. I’ve been doing a lot of colorful things. When I got here, I started doing the flower stuff, which I wasn’t doing before: I definitely think that is the result of seeing so much color here. The vegetation and the foliage is so much different here than where we’re from. Succulents and cacti and desert flowers are still things I think about when I go out.”

Los Angeles has provided an amount of comfort and a great peer pool to work with and learn from. Even in such a big city, he feels he’s carved a unique angle with Monster Rally. “When I play shows, I don’t really see or hear people doing what I’m doing,” he says. “I’ve always felt that way. I think I feel a little more at home here because people are doing more. In Columbus, I was the only one really doing what I was doing—and no one was there to see it. When I play shows, I bring a more lo-fi, simpler production technique. I have a very simple live setup versus guys who have a MIDI controller and laptop and keyboard and all this stuff just to do similar things. With music, I’m bringing something simpler and different.”

“I was doing the tropical thing back in Columbus too,” he adds. “But I feel like it makes more sense here. It fits here. The artwork is a little harder to figure out because I don’t know what I bring.”

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Ted has a lot of plans for the future and it actually, very smartly, ties together all his talents: he’s focusing on a small press label he created called Valley Cruise Press. “I’ve been releasing zines through it,” he says. “I have a zine with work from ten different artists that I’ve recruited that just came out and I have a few more people to do zines in May and June. I want to do something at least every month through that. I’d also like to release music through Valley Cruise as well. This wouldn’t be my own music but other people’s. I’ve always wanted to do that and thought that’d be cool to do.”

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“Musically, I’ve started working with this rapper called Jay Stone who is out of the Bay Area. He was out here a couple of weeks ago and we were hanging out, making music. At SXSW, I did a set and he came out and did two songs with me. I want to do more of that! I want to work with more rapper and singers. I’m going to put out an album with Gold Robot with me and J that will be a twelve inch that is half vocals and half instrumental: it will be half a regular Monster Rally record and half a hip hop album.”

“I’m definitely making a lot of music and a lot of artwork in general,” he says. “Lots more zines and—maybe—a record or two will be out by the end of the year. I definitely want to start collaborating with more people too, especially being in LA where there are so many great artists to connect with.”

For more on Ted and Monster Rally, enjoy his Facebook, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Instagram, Twitter, and his studio website. Learn more about Valley Cruise Press here.

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