If you’ve ever driven down Ocean Ave or Main St. in Asbury Park, NJ, you’ve likely crossed paths with Matt Fernicola. He’s a staple to the area and a driver of its being. You can find Fern sitting in the back of the venue, having a drink and playing a game of chess on his phone. He’ll make his way around the room to shake hands eventually; but, if there’s anything he’s learned from his years of doing it, the best way to enjoy a show is from the nosebleeds, with “a good drink and good friends–but mainly a good game of chess and great music.”
Matt Fernicola (Fern) loves chess, and he’d even attribute his creative process to the nature of the game. His chess strategy aligns with his diversity in song arrangements and depth in collaborations. He appreciates the rules–speaking to his self-proclaimed identity as a “big-ass music theory nerd.” Fern believes that “when you follow the rules, great things happen;” though, “when you learn how to throw away the rules at the right time, beautiful things happen.” This theory of balanced spontaneity continues to propel Fern’s local presence.
Like chess, Fern is a man of many moving parts. He is the founder and frontman of “The Foes of Fern,” Vice President and Arranger of Telegraph Hill Records, a session musician, a teacher, and an overall great dude. I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Fern at High Voltage Cafe in Asbury Park, NJ. In between his gulps of hot green tea and my sips of drip black coffee, I sought to learn exactly why I’ve heard his name so often for the past half-decade.
The Foes of Fern
The Foes of Fern are a cast of rotating musicians, and that’s just the way Fern likes it. Matt understands that “players change,” and has decided to list that as a pro instead of a con. Each member’s touch combines to create an imaginative, theatrical-yet-rockin’ sound that seems to epitomize the central-Jersey coastline. Nothing in the world can hold The Foes of Fern back– “It’s me. As long as I want to do it, it’ll happen;” but that’s not to say he’s not “extremely grateful for [his] players.”
Victoria Laurence’s tuba playing and stage presence plays a crucial role in the band. “Even though it’s my project… if I didn’t have my Tuba player at every show– I’d lose my identity”. Also contributing to the band’s young identity is “Pom,” or Joseph Pomarico. Pom inspires Fern to “focus more on humor” and to make “people smile when [The Foes of Fern] are playing.” Cheeky lyrics like, “I don’t know where my meaning lies, I say some words and hope that they rhyme… cuz the people at The Inkwell, they have no idea what I’m saying” (April Came With The Rain), reflect Fern’s unique humor, and invite the audience in on the joke.
Other musicians that make The Foes possible include Dave Chiesa (bass), Andrew Oliva (drums), Michael Squillace (clarinet), Steve Heimbuch (saxophone), Matt Honold (trumpet), and Jessie McCormick (ukulele and vocals). Some bandmates that play with the group now and then include Billy McCabe (drums/percussion), Kay Kiatpreecha (drums/percussion), and Owen Flanagan (drums/percussion).
Owen has been “lucky enough to play in various groups (The Foes of Fern, Avery Mandeville, and The Lords of Liechtenstein, etc.) with Fern since late 2015. Whether you’ve been on some of the biggest bills around or have never performed your music publically before, Fern will always treat you with respect and kindness.” Owen is sure that “the local music scene is better because of Fern.”
The Foes of Fern aim to finish their first studio album shortly. In the interim, you can listen to their five recorded singles on all major media platforms. Follow The Foes on Instagram @TheFoesOfFern. You can even find his music on the start-up dating app “Lovappy” and gift it to a friend. Lovappy is an advertiser on Newsweed.com.
The song “Sun Day” by Foes of Fern features a 6/8 swing and a string quartet. The “cellos keep falling lower and lower,” Fern explains, and the violins “keep climbing and higher and higher.” Yet, in the middle register, the violas may “move a step or two in either direction; but, they always come back to that main starting note.” Fern wrote Sun Day in a reflection of his all or nothing attitude. When he’s high (figuratively speaking), he doesn’t “need to sleep. [He] can play seven gigs in a row and record all night.” The high inevitably leads to the low: “the crash sucks, man. [I] get stuck in those Netflix binges, I eat cake… with my hands. No fork, just right to the face. Whatever image you have in your mind is correct.” Sun Day speaks to Ferns’s persistence in finding stability and “trying to find that middle, even if it doesn’t exist yet.”