Los Angeles – You either shudder or smile when the term “family band” comes to mind. For every Angus/Malcom Young, or Barry/Robin/Maurice Gibb who successfully perform together for decades, there is a mountain of Davies or Gallaghers who never could cope with the intimacy of sibling collaboration. Perhaps what dooms the band is that one member seizes the creative upper hand, never relinquishing it; other times feelings of resentment at one member’s outsized fame from a collaborative project can be the harbinger of a breakup. With that in mind, I prepared to meet power-pop group Ménage’s Ferreira siblings on the front patio of The Hotel Café for a chat before they headlined the hallowed music hall’s moody main room.
The first thing I notice when I meet Basilio Fernando (who goes by his middle name, Fernando) and his sister Bela is that these are two performers who clearly lack any off-putting “rock star” mentality. That mind-set alone is already a check in the right box for Ménage. Secondly, it became readily apparent through speaking to Fernando and Bela that there is clearly no power dynamic between the two “co-front persons.” The two traded off questions in the same graceful manner that they switch between vocals on the uplifting pop punk anthems from their self-titled debut full-length like “Tonight” and “Bury Us Young.”
“So I just wanted – um, I kind of had a name even before we had the band,” said Fernando. “We had the music, we kind of started working on recording without being a band, and I kind of was like…because the music was like all of us, you know kind of, having each other’s input. So ‘Ménage’ was kind of the word I thought made sense because it…alluded to a household. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘ménage.’ And searching online…”
Indeed, it can be advised that when searching for “Ménage” online, it is best to add a “music” or “band” to the end of your search inquiry, lest you be met with some more-risqué results.
Fernando continued: “But yeah, that is kind of where it came from. It’s just the idea of working with family and the household.”
The band’s sound truly has the feel of a partnership between the three sibling musicians – Bela, Fernando and Gabriel – who were inspired by their upbringing in Toronto as well as childhood trips to their land of heritage, the culturally pristine country of Portugal.
“It’s like a really, untampered culture,” Fernando told me. “It has like zero American influence. I think that is really incredible, because it is so ‘out there’ to us.”
The two Ferreira brothers played in bands together throughout their school days as well as in the years that followed their relocation to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Bela experienced her own solo success, even spending some time hosting MTV Portugal after a couple of her tracks found some commercial success abroad. But perhaps the siblings felt the urge to go back to their roots, and when all three found themselves in Los Angeles around 2012, Ménage was born with the addition of guitarist Elliot Boult and bassist Dave Haskett.
To date, Ménage has released one full-length record, one four-song mini-EP, and one stand-alone single. While the band clearly falls into a pop-rock classification, from there it is difficult to suss out a micro-classification. There are elements of old-world Portuguese classical guitar, moments in which the band falls into a radio-friendly pop rock groove, and heavier passages which reach quasi-hardcore-punk buzz.
“I think it’s very – well (the songs) are all kind of day-to-day stories that we write about, they’re biographical,” said Bela when asked about Ménage’s sound. “But also – apart from the lyrics and all that – it’s very live-oriented. When we write songs, especially after having just toured, we are writing more picturing the live show.”
The latest release, straightforwardly enough titled EP, is a bit more cleanly produced that their self-titled full length and skews towards the pop sound – while “To The End” has some screaming in the chorus, it has been buffered to a pleasing sheen and leads into a head-bopping chorus of “La La La, Yeah!” The band’s recently released digital single, “Black and White TV,” features the bass and programming work of Portishead bassist Jim Barr, and is a bit of an oddball track.
“It’s a really, really old song actually, that we had,” Fernando explained. “That didn’t quite suit the full length, didn’t really suit the EPs, so we kind of just have this left-of-center song…It might be our oldest.”
“It is actually just a floating single; it’s not really on any hard copies or CDs,” added Bela. “So we haven’t really decided what we are going to do with that.”
Ménage played a handful of shows in Los Angeles between a stop for South by Southwest in Austin, TX before their appearance at The Hotel Café in Hollywood, CA. They got their Sunset Strip fix after playing at the Viper Room, but find that Los Angeles’ Eastside music scene is much more attuned to their genre – makes sense, considering there is a lyric in the final chorus of “Bury Us Young” that mentions “the sounds of Echo Park.’”
The band recently wrapped up recording its second of four EPs, which will be released in the near future. The band plans to continue touring along the East Coast as well as heading out for a European tour.