June 3, 1999
‘Ferris’ Singer’s Day Off
When Spectator caught up with Monique Powell, lead singer of the pop sensation Save Ferris, she was wandering around Anaheim, tired, displaced and searching for food.
But this was no VH1 special in the making. After two years of nonstop global touring in support of her band's two albums, a weary Powell found herself in a state of flux earlier this week -- without a permanent place to call home -- just days away from recording the follow up to Save Ferris' 1997 major label debut, "This Means Everything."
A confection of new wave and lounge, the Epic-released "Everything" rattled off several alternative radio hits -- the up-tempo "The World is New," the self-explanatory "Spam," and "Goodbye," a manic-depressive ska romp articulating the ultimate kiss-off from a jilted ex-lover.
Anticipating her pending studio reunion with the other six members of Save Ferris, a restless Powell spent Memorial Day afternoon driving around in search of an Albertson's. Back at the hotel, Powell feasted on dessert for dinner (angel food cake). But that's out of choice, not necessity, for she's past the days of living off low-rent foodstuffs such as...well, Spam.
Powell is no stranger to fending for herself in unlikely environments. After all, she just returned from touring the world in the company of her all-male band ("A 24-hour job," she calls it). And she was also raised Jewish in Orange County.
"Garden Grove at the time was a pretty Waspy environment when I was growing up there," the 23-year-old says, "And I was...very observant till the age of 12 or 14.
"My mom's family, they're all Moroccan Jews, and they all live in Los Angeles, so every holiday I was surrounded by a large quantity of family...love and tradition."
Powell still maintains "great pride" for her culture: "I was lighting the Shabbat candles every Friday when I had a place to live, but now I'm hotel bound."
When Save Ferris decided to cover the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" for DJs Kevin and Bean's charity compilation, Powell converted the KROQ Christmas staple to Judaism, rewriting the lyrics as Chanukah-centric. While her Fairfax district residency at the time had some influence on her Jewish take on the brassy Yuletide number, Powell says with a laugh, "I couldn't write about Christmas, because I never had one."
With influences ranging from 1980s pop to Aretha and Ella, Powell is content with her band's current low-key fame: "We're not rock stars yet...everything that happened went exactly the way we wanted it to.... It's the perfect place to be before releasing your second major label release." Save Ferris even had enough confidence to record a high-profile cover -- Dexy Midnight Runners' 1983 chart-topper "Come On Eileen" -- which might have ushered doom for any other young band.
Slated for later this year, the next album, Powell promises, will be "more mature, more complex." In the meantime, she is looking forward to playing this weekend's Valley Jewish Festival, where she'll break in new songs off the upcoming disc.
As for any do-or-die expectations riding on its follow-up, Save Ferris won't concern itself with anything beyond cutting a good record.
Even if the album bombs, Powell says that she and her band have what it takes to pick themselves up and move forward. Or, to say it another way, this is a case where it doesn't mean everything.
Save Ferris will perform at the Valley Jewish Festival at CSUN, Sunday, June 6, at 3:00 p.m. For more information, see the cover story.