by Harlin Anderson
Lyric Leak is a monthly column in which Harlin Anderson highlights the lyrics from a local band's song. In it, we'll try to get down to the gnitty-gritty of what the artist(s) was going for when they wrote the song. This month, we spoke with Tony Ferraro of the infamous Tony Ferraro and the Satans of Soft Rock.
We recently hit the patio at Dan’s Silverleaf for a beer and some story swapping with the irrepressible Tony Ferraro. Amidst the rumbling of thunder clouds and the rattling of trains across the nearby tracks, talk turned to his band – Tony Ferraro and the Satans of Soft Rock – and a song that won’t stop spinning on the turntable in our brains, “Children in Fur Coats.” Sweetheart that he is, Tony was kind enough to pull back the curtain and sneak us a peek at how he do what he do.
Where did you come up with the name “Children in Fur Coats?”
TF: [Laughing] I worked at a book store for a couple of years. We had all kinds of goofy ephemera and silly bookmarks and calendars. One of them was a dog calendar that said: Your pets are like children in fur coats. I was like, isn’t that fucking weird?
What about that phrase appealed to you?
I’ve always been fascinated with royalty, religion, and the ways of old. The ways of yore. Just imagining children in fur coats. Of course, you’ve got the dog metaphor, but also my mind was like, what’s the other one? Actual children – young human children – in fur coats. It seemed silly to me at the time. Maybe not as much now. Rich people are always of interest because they’re usually pretty bratty. And…like animals in a lot of ways. They get tested, and they become, in a way, less human. So I thought what’s less human than a child wearing a fucking dead animal on their fucking shoulders? How can I tie that into the song?
So it’s a commentary of sorts?
You could say that. The interpretation is always and forever completely up to the listener. I don’t ever want to tell anybody the one thing that my song is about. I find it cheapening – as a music fan – to have an artist tell me exactly when, where, and why a song was written.
Do you enjoy sitting down and trying to unravel the mysteries of specific songs?
I really do. I’ll write out my interpretations. I’ll write out what I think is happening in between each line. I’ve written songs that are what I think the characters are saying in between the lines of an already recorded song by my favorite artists. It’s just a big fucking game. And I feel like I get to play on this playground with these dudes even though I don’t know them.
There’s a line from the song that stuck with me. “No one will ever know your first name.”
It’s kind of a weird thing. Imagine if someone said that to you. Your identity gets kind of stripped away. You know what I mean? Like animals. They may be aware of who their mother is through very basic instinctual shit. But they don’t know names. I think that line is a play on the meaning of the names we give to things. Which are just symbols of how we feel.
How does that quality serve you as a songwriter?
Words are just words, man. Songs are great because you can do anything in them. You can do anything in art. Anything at all. Some topics are scary to people, and that’s the stuff that’s fun to talk about. The stuff that cuts. The stuff that hurts. Most of the love songs are about heartbreak. They’re not even about the good stuff that comes from love. You know? [trails into laughter]
Who are your songwriting influences?
Obviously, the shit I grew up on. The Beatles. Tom Petty. Billy Joel. But also a lot of hip hop. I love Kool Keith. He’s a big, big, big one for me – even though his catalog is so wildly hit or miss. His ethic un-fucking-stoppable. And while he doesn’t always put out great records, he doesn’t stop. He says crazy wild things, and that makes me feel like I can do anything. It’s like the fucking possibilities are, in fact, endless. And that’s an empowering feeling.
Tell me about the line: “you don’t have to fight for your right to be free.”
How difficult is that to achieve?
Well, that lines not really about freedom, is it? I mean, not to me. If I could step outside of it, I would say it’s about the right to be free. Yes, we’re Americans. That right to things is stuck in us. So it’s an interesting concept to play with. Having a vague line like that leaves if more open to interpretation. It’s more of a mystery to me, which is why I wanted to put it down. But if I had to hit it like an English major, I’d say it’s not about freedom necessarily. It’s about whether you have to fight for it or not. Take the kids in fur coats. They don’t have to fight for shit. They’re given everything. It gives a grandiose, romantic image to freedom – and your right to it. But it’s also saying you don’t have to fight for this. We’re going to hand this to you. Just be quiet. Don’t drink out of the toilet. You’ll always have a home because I chose you.
Do you consider yourself free?
Of course. Yes.
Have you had to sacrifice certain things to maintain that freedom?
We all do. Every one of us has to.
What do you think working a 9 to 5 job would do to your creativity and freedom?
A 9 to 5? Insurance. Definitely insurance. I don’t know. I just consider myself wildly lucky that I get to do this, and it’s only gotten better over the last few years. The last time I worked a 9 to 5 was right before I started making records. I ditched that and went back to easy fast cash, so I could have time to work on this. I get by. Sometimes the shows give me food. Sometimes they give me beer. Sometimes they help me pay my phone bill. You know?
If you could sit down with any songwriter from any generation, who would it be?
Oh my god. That is the worst question ever. You son of a bitch. [Laughing] Fuck you, man. [More laughing.] Elvis Costello is the easy choice, but if I really have to answer that – Billy Joel. We’d probably write a song. It’d probably take us three hours. Six hours, maybe. I don’t know. We’d be drunk. We would get drunk. But we’d start somewhere strong. Then maybe keep emailing each other over a couple weeks. Be like, ah, I wrote a fucking coda! I don’t know. I love him because of my childhood. I recognize his powerful lameness in the grand scheme of his career, but I would still love to just hang out with him. He reminds me a lot of my father – my father’s a New York guy. Let’s go with Billy Joel. You know it, I know it, anyone reading this is gonna know that I love Billy Joel.
As it has so many times before, the broaching of Billy Joel in a Denton bar – along with the raining of cats and dogs – signaled the end of the evening’s festivities. Keep your ears on and your eyes out for the next appearance of Tony Ferraro and the Satans of Soft Rock. It’s a helluva a show, and your absence will not be excused.
“Children in Fur Coats”
Children in fur coats
How to kill two birds
Pass us the olives
No, no Peeps now
I’m watching my stories
No that is not a fountain
No you don’t have to fight for your
Right to be free
No one will ever
Know your first names/I am not joking
Children in fur coats
You need to know
That you will always have a home here
You don’t have to fight for your right to be free
You will always have a home here
You don’t have to fight for your right to be free
Harlin Anderson is the underground BBQ champion of Denton, Texas. When he's not digging through crates of vinyl at Recycled Books or Mad World Records, he can be found manning the smoker on the back patio at Dan's Silver Leaf - or wherever there are hungry musicians. His lives with his wife, Ashley, and their three furry children: Earl, Jake, and Nanette the Pocket Beagle. He prefers to stay comfortably within the Denton city limits at all times.
Tony Ferraro, Ryan Thomas Becker, Justin Collins, Chris Gomez, & formerly Dave Howard are The Satans of Soft Rock.
You can check out Satans of Soft Rock here.