Holmdel-raised Matt “Fern” Fernicola and his creative partner in crime, Joe “Pom” Pomarico have been a fixture on the Asbury Park music scene since 2015 with the Berklee College of Music-originated Airacuda, and then Pom’s brainchild, Telegraph Hill Records. A veteran guitarist of such acts as The Burns, Bar/None recording artist Little Hag (aka former Telegraph act Avery Mandeville), and current Telegraph acts Natalie Farrell and Lake Champagne, Fern also now fronts his own mammoth, contagiously fun band The Foes of Fern.
Experience the fun when Foes play The Asbury hotel tomorrow, September 17, with Fake Pockets, Matt Cook, and Couvo, and September 18 with The Extensions and Taylor Tote. You also can see Fern on September 23 at Little Hag’s record release party at The Saint in Asbury and again on October 29 at Convention Hell in Asbury Park’s Convention Hall with Natalie Farrell sharing the spooky bill with Foes. All those shows will include tunes from Foes’ 2019 debut album, Carpe Diem, as well new songs that will be featured on a sophomore LP due from Telegraph on 2/22/22. Like its predecessor, the next album will feature several singles and videos, including another trilogy of themed clips.
Enjoy the following chat with Fern in which he shares why making music with his friends is as much fun as it is a blessing.
How did you meet and become friends with Joe Pomarico and when?
This one time in sixth grade, a young Pom and young Fern played baseball at the pool club. Fast forward to the next day, both our parents told us to never speak to each other again because of a mini fight that happened at the baseball game, so naturally, like Romeo and Juliet, we met in secret throughout the years. We would play Halo and sometimes play music together in the basement. Now, 20 years later, we have our own basement and we just bought an Xbox.
Did Avery Mandeville, aka Little Hag, also go to Holmdel High School and any other friends within the music scene?
A common misconception! Avery did not go to the same high school as us, but she was a part of a beautiful group of people that would spend Wednesdays at Espresso Joe’s open mic in Keyport. Included in that group were my high school bandmates Matt Menges, Justen Steinagle, Brandan Steinagle, Kelsey Lynch, Mike Stapelton, Phul Marphlak, Adel Saafan, Noah Rauchwerk, and Dan Rauchwerk. I learned a lot about music just by performing with those friends and jamming in random basements every weekend. Most of those guys are still doing music now, and I’ve had the pleasure of recording with all them. One day I’ll make a Spotify playlist of all the music we made.
Did you, Joe, and others participate in the Holmdel High School music program? If so, how and why did it inspire you to become a professional musician? What else inspired you?
Pom and I actually never did any music programs in high school. I remember asking about jazz band too late during senior year. Kind of missed that boat, but all my other friends I mentioned were a part of the jazz band or the chorus. They all were such fantastic singers, and it made me want to join them on the microphone one day. I actually had a terrible singing voice back in high school — some say I still do. I didn’t start singing until after college.
What inspired me the most to do music seriously were all the parties, jam sessions, open mics, and shows that were filled with music. My best memories from my younger years are the ones centered around all the shenanigans that we got into while creating music together.
What influence did Berklee College of Music have on your career?
Well, it taught me how to sing! It also strengthened my love for music theory and so many other little technical things, but the biggest influence Berklee had on me was just giving me the opportunity to meet new musicians and learn from them. The best part about a music community is that you are always growing with your peers.
Did Pom also go to Berklee or was his connection with the Berklee band Airacuda?
Pom did not go to Berklee, but he did visit a lot. He became Airacuda’s producer / engineer once we were ready to start tracking our second EP. Toward my later Berklee years, Pom would visit Boston, crash at the Airacuda house, and we’d hit the Berklee studios.
Did you recruit Pom into Airacuda?
Kind of? By Airacuda’s last couple of shows, Pom would be there singing, playing percussion, and jamming with the band. I think he actually sat in on bass once because our bassist at the time – Phul – was too young to get into the Wonder Bar. Pom’s main role in Airacuda is the same role he plays for a lot of bands in the scene today. He was the mastermind behind the recording and handled distribution of the final recordings
Did Airacuda eventually relocate to the Jersey Shore?
Yes! Airacuda began in 2011 under the name Westland Walls. The first version of the band was Roland Greco on drums, Aaron Kessler on guitar, Eddie Ruddick on bass, Matt Menges on vocals, and myself on guitar. There were other members that joined up, like Andrew Ho who filled in on drums when Roland wasn’t around. Phul Marphlack – my old friend back from the Holmdel/Matawan days – played bass when Aaron moved to Nashville. Eddie then switched over to guitars/keys. Kelsey Lynch, also from those Holmdel days, sang with us in the early years, and then we had Berklee friend Ariel Thomas for extra vocals when we were in Boston. In 2015, Eddie, Menges, and myself moved to Jersey. There we played with Andrew Ho for a bit on drums, but eventually we recruited Owen Flanagan – also known as the people’s drummer – for the band’s last five shows.
So that was a long-winded answer but to summarize it – Airacuda started in Berklee. My buddy Menges from Holmdel moved up to Boston to live with us and start the band. Eventually, as life moved on for Roland and Aaron, we brought in some other Jersey people, moved back home in 2015, and played as the Airacuda that people in Asbury Park remember. Eddie was the final person to leave the band when he moved back to London. When Eddie left, too much of what made the band itself was gone so Airacuda ended.
Any plans for another Airacuda reunion?
We did do a reunion show in 2019! Pom orchestrated the most beautiful surprise by having Eddie walk up on stage without anyone knowing. Here’s a link to that moment. Go to 04:15 here:
I think if Eddie ever wanted to do another show then Menges and I would be down, but unless we hear from him, there are no real plans for another reunion show.
That band was so much fun. It taught me a lot, and it was so cool getting to play music with my best friends. That goes back to what I was saying earlier – the antics my friends and I got into during the high school bands, Airacuda, The Burns, Little Hag, Foes, Natalie, Lords were just the best moments of life. I’m lucky enough to be able to continue that with my current projects. I’m excited as always for what the future holds for them.
You and Pom continue to work together on Telegraph Hill Records, the indie label that is home to your band, The Foes of Fern, as well as Natalie Farrell, for whom you are guitarist. Besides being an artist, what is your role with Telegraph and what do you like most about that?
Telegraph has been Pom’s brain child that I have helped him with throughout the years. We technically started the label together in 2015 but really went running with it in 2016/2017. My role has been to introduce Pom to some musicians that I think he would like to work with. I also play guitar, bass and keys for any of the bands that want me to. Pom and I run a few annual events under the Telegraph Hill records banner, as well.
What are the most important goals for Telegraph Hill?
Get the recorded music more viewership! We are very proud of every single song we have put out with every single artist. We want to be a place where people can go to learn about a part of the Asbury music scene and to get to know our favorite local bands. I think the main goal for Telegraph is to just document this moment of music in Asbury Park. Whether a band stays together or breaks up, their vibe and sound will always live and push on.
You share the name Telegraph Hill with Bruce Springsteen who called his home studio in Holmdel that from the mid-seventies to early eighties. Is the label’s name a nod to you and Pom’s hometown, as well as Bruce?
Yes! That’s the street where Pom grew up on. When the world shut down in 2020, we re-opened our first Telegraph basement studio so our bands could work on records during the last year and a half. We tracked Foes, Malibu, Alexander Simone, Des (& the Swagmatics), Lake Champagne, Hell Yeah Babies, Morningside Lanes, Patty C., Natalie (Farrell), Max, Taylor Tote, Flourish, Bobby Mahoney, and other bands in that original basement studio Pom built back in high school. This time around, we have a lot of more toys and knowledge to play with to create the records that hopefully you all are listening to.
Telegraph released your debut album, Carpe Diem, a little more than a year ago. The label will release your next album on 2/22/22. How will the new album compare to the first and why?
Well, I’m trying to let go of how much control I had the first time around. For Album Two I want to give my players and Pom more freedom to play the parts and mix the songs the way they see fit. On top of that, I feel like this is the first time The Foes of Fern has had a steady lineup of the same-ish players, and I’m very excited to have the band that plays live be the ones that record on the album.
Will you be releasing a series of themed videos like you did with Carpe Diem? If so, will they relate to the new album’s first two videos and how?
Yessss?! We are in the middle of filming our “Ocean” music video and it will be one of many videos for the second album. This next video will be a chance for me go to videographers to highlight what they do and have their individual styles crash on top of each other to create one fun project.
For Carpe Diem, there were three songs that told the same story between “Carpe,” “Bike Song,” and “Ghosts.” This time around, I do have a similar three-song story with “Time Management,” “Rerun,” and “Day That We Die” (working title for the last one), but I’m not sure how I want to approach the videos for them yet.
Who makes up the core of The Foes of Fern, how did you come to play with them, and what do you enjoy most about that?
Such a tough question. Basically, I met all of these people somewhere in Asbury Park or Highlands, NJ. They all just started to show up to shows and then eventually to practice. Now we have a super-tight group of musicians that I absolutely love. I think what I enjoy the most about these players is everyone shows up to what they want to show up to, so the energy is always good. If someone had a long day, they can feel comfortable with not going to a practice or missing a show. This means that every time we play, everyone is there and it is all because it’s what we all want to do. That collective energy is what allows us all to have so much fun on stage and perform honestly to all of our friends, family and fans.
Current roster is:
Andrew Oliva – Drums
Owen Flanagan – Drums/Percussion
Matt Raspanti – Bass
Jessie McCormick – Ukulele/Vocals
Joe Pomarico – Acoustic/Vox
Adel Saafan – Vox
Harley Cunha – Vox
Carina Duffy – Vox
Andrew Ludewig – Trombone/Acoustic
Steve Heimbuch – Saxophone
Kyle Thompson – Trumpet
Matt Honold – Trumpet
Victoria Laurence -Tuba
Elizabeth Gordon – Synth
Victoria Romano – Violin
Matt Fernicola – Guitar/Vox.
What else do you enjoy most about The Foes and why?
We are a huge group of friends just enjoying each day as much as possible. It’s CRAZY how so many people show up to sing my songs. I’m so grateful for each and every one of them. We get to create one sound together and every chance we have to create those sounds is a blessing.
Besides Natalie Farrell, with what other artists do you currently perform and record?
Little Hag, Lake Champagne. I played a show with Rory D’Lasnow the other day and tracked on a couple Keith Egan tunes last week, too.
Did you appear on Little Hag’s Bar/None debut?
Yes! And I still play with Little Hag. New album out on September 23!
What do you enjoy most about performing with other artists that you might not be able to enjoy as much as the leader of your own band?
I love just sitting in the back and adding a little bit of flare here and there. Creating music with people is my favorite form of communication. Every time I play with someone new, I start to play my instrument differently. It lets me create and feel like I’m an artist, and it absolutely rules just showing up to a gig and not having to run everything.
How did it make you and Pom feel for a Telegraph artist to be picked up by a larger indie?
So good! All we want is for people to grow naturally and get their music heard. I’m so lucky to be able to continue playing with Little Hag. We have a show tonight actually.
If the Foes were offered a deal by a larger label, would they take it or remain with Telegraph to help it grow?
Well, I think Pom and I would make that decision together, but any chance one of our artists has to better their career is always something we will support. It helps us grow too when people get big opportunities. I don’t believe in one person’s success taking away from others.
Where can folks see you perform with Foes, Natalie, Little Hag, and anyone else?
Shows are always being added! Please check out our individual pages for a full schedule, but here are some highlights: Foes, Sept. 17 and 18, The Asbury hotel; Avery, Sept. 23, album release party, and Oct. 1, Asbury Park Yacht Club. Oct. 29, Foes and Natalie are doing this year’s Convention Hell.
YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE FOES OF FERN AND ALL OF MATT FERNICOLA’S PROJECTS BY VISITING HIS FACEBOOK!