As an actor, Michael Imperioli has made his name playing bad guys. Be it Spider from Goodfellas or Christopher from The Sopranos, he specializes in complex but deadly personalities. Generally, his characters are more interested in rising through the ranks of organized crime than pursuing their artistic interests. Sure, Christopher had pretensions toward a film career, but he also killed his screenwriter friend over a drunken slight. It's hard to imagine that person playing jangly indie-rock.
However, it turns out that Imperioli, the actor, once played in a band closely related to the Feelies.
Appearing on Marc Maron's WTF podcast earlier this week, Imperioli mentioned that he'd played in a series of bands before focusing on acting. Among these, he mentioned Wild Carnation, a North Jersey band that plays densely-layered melodic pop in the vein of early R.E.M. and the Velvet Underground's lighter moments.
"In the 1980s in New York, a lot of people were doing a lot of different things," Imperioli told Maron. "[Jean-Michel] Basquiat had a band. It wasn't unusual. I was playing guitar and singing right around the same time I started working as an actor. The one band I was in, I was singing, and there was a drummer and a guitar player. After I left, they got Brenda Sauter from the Feelies. They formed a band called Wild Carnation. I wrote some of the music."
According to Wild Carnation drummer Chris O'Donovan, Imperioli was indeed the lead singer in an early-1990s version of the band. "Michael came to us because of our Village Voice ad looking for a singer influenced by the Feelies, R.E.M. and probably the dB's," he says. "Michael is a big Feelies fan."
Imperioli stayed long enough to help write first drafts of the band's best-known work, including the "Dodger Blue" EP single and several tracks on the Tricycle CD. Soon enough, however, his acting career took off. "I couldn't do both," he told Maron.
"We were at a loss for a singer, and we needed a bass player," O'Donovan recalled. "The Feelies had just disbanded, so we asked Brenda if she would join. That was one of our luckiest days."
Sauter wrote new lyrics for some of Imperioli's songs, including "Dodger Blue." Wild Carnation is still together. The group's gigging has slowed down now that Sauter is playing with the reformed Feelies, but Wild Carnation remains an essential part of the small constellation of Feelies-related New Jersey and NYC bands, including Speed The Plough, the Trypes, and East of Venus.
Meanwhile, Imperioli has continued to pursue music in between film and television projects. He told Maron that he maintains his own band, which has soundtracked some of his projects. However, he hasn't forgotten his roots.
"I heard from Michael this morning," O'Donovan told RFT Music. "He was happy to know I heard the complete [podcast] interview."
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