When a singer’s claims to fame consists of being picked to perform on “American Idol” and having a close, personal friendship with Fred Durst, the term “down-to-earth” doesn’t exactly come to mind. To be honest, the phrase “true talent” doesn’t necessarily pop up either. However, singer-songwriter Ferras Alquasi, who goes by Ferras, has an impressive pedigree that includes a degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music and an album set to drop on April 1. The California native, whose career is the definition of an up-and-coming talent, recently sat down with Artsweek to talk about his life, his work and everything in between.
Artsweek: How did you get started in the music business? What was your big break?
Ferras: Basically, I was 17 and decided that this is what I wanted to do, and I saw all of the teen pop bands, Britney and *NSYNC, and I said I could do that. So I found their management, and I called and said, “Hi, I live in Illinois and I can sing,” so I sent them a demo, and they told me to come out to Florida. I found myself in Florida, working with these pop-manager people, got a manager, moved out to L.A., and wound up doing the reality show “Performing As…” playing Elton John. The vocal coach was friends with Fred Durst and [he] told [Durst] about me. So I met with Fred, played for him and he signed me. For the next three years, Fred was taking me to different labels trying to get me signed, but nothing ever happened. I went to the Boston’s Berklee School of Music and came back. In the summer, Fred had a meeting set up with Capitol Records. I played them songs and got signed.
When did you know you wanted to be a singer?
When I was five, in Illinois, we had these Christmas show musicals. In the concert, my teacher gave me the part of Rudolph, I sang a New Kids on the Block Christmas song, dressed in my costume and holding the microphone in my hand, I knew it was never going to leave my hands. Everyone knew. I even remember I cut out a piece of yellow construction paper as a star, wrote my name on it and put it in my room.
What inspires you to write your music? Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I am inspired by the emotional highs and lows existing: love, relationships, life, belonging, every emotion as a human, those extremes. I write to feel certain things, if someone fucks me over, or I’m love with someone. I’m not the kind of writer who analyzes other people; everything I write about is something that happens to me or is something I wish happened. The first song I wrote was for my mom, when I was five, on a keyboard. My father kidnapped me and took me to Jordan, and before we left, we went to Wal-Mart and he got me a keyboard. I missed my mom and my family, and I channeled those emotions into a song, just on my keyboard. There were no words, just music.
You and Fred Durst met through your vocal coach. That seems like an unlikely match; does he have a lot of influence on your music?
He has a good sense of music. It’s really interesting living in Hollywood; you never think you would be friends with certain people, and then you meet those people and you are like, OK, you’re cool. He is a visionary, and he gets music and is good at what he does. We stay in contact, but now he is letting me do my own thing.
Who are your musical influences? If you could choose anyone to do a duet with, who would it be?
My mom is my number one supporter; she is the biggest encouragement. Every time I wrote a song, my mom was right there next to me. I am a huge fan of good pop music, I love soul and R&B and lately, I have been getting into rock. But I just love pop music. Some of my influences are Elton John, Queen, the Beatles, David Bowie, Tori Amos; the people [who] are all great storytellers, people who see the world in a unique way. Wow. Who would I do a duet with? Good question… Wow… (laughs) I mean, there are so many great people I want to work with, but yeah, I would say probably Elton John.
What is your goal for the next year, in reference to your music?
I think to just get out there and hopefully show people the depth of what I do. I mean, I did the “American Idol” finale song, but I just want to show people that this is a small part of what I do. I want to get out there and play music and play shows, get established and just continue to write. I am already looking forward to the next album, and I am just really getting started with this one. So much music is always going on in my head.