On a cold San Francisco night inside a humid Bottom of the Hill on June 23, 2011, The Ferocious Few walks up to the stage in front of a sold-out crowd of about 250 people. They are opening for the venerable Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs.
Francisco Fernandez, frontman and founder of The Ferocious Few, is dressed in black from neck to toes and hair slicked back like Ricky Nelson. He picks up his black acoustic guitar and signals his sit-in drummer for the first tune. The lights dim and Francisco aggressively strikes an acoustic chord. They ferociously rip through their 45-minute set with a series of rapid strumming, drumming, and various tales of the devil and heartbreak.
The crowd woos and applauds with sincere excitement in between songs. Francisco ends his set alone with a moving dedication to San Francisco, a ballad called “The San Francisco Song.” The crowd cheers after he finishes the song, the lights brighten and the house DJ cues up his playlist.
Fast forward to spring 2016. Fernandez retreats to Los Angeles to recuperate from failed personal and business relationships in the Bay Area. Following an eight-month stay in Berlin and a brief visit in Oakland, Fernandez moved to Austin, Texas in January 2017 with a newfound determination to reinvigorate his music career.
“I went through every possible mistake you can make,” said Fernandez. “I feel more prepared to start all over again.”
Fernandez puts his coffee down on the table and gathers his thoughts. It’s a gloomy day outside Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors, a small cafe located in East Austin. He is wearing a cream-colored nudie suit, a design less flashy than the one Gram Parsons wore. Fernandez’s hair is slicked back as usual and he is wearing eyeglasses with a thick black frame.
The Ferocious Few was established in 2005 in Oakland. Fernandez, 21 years old at the time, aspired to create a politically-charged rock band in the style of Rage Against the Machine, but has since evolved into a distinctive blend of Richie Havens-meets-Motörhead. Do512, a website dedicated to Austin’s entertainment scene, describes The Ferocious Few as “a twist of punk and a bit of rockabilly.”
Booking concerts in the Bay Area was challenging during the formative years of The Ferocious Few—they were fairly inexperienced musicians and new to the area. It wasn’t long before members of The Ferocious Few dwindled from a quartet to a duo.
“I realized how hard it was to manage different personalities,” said Fernandez in regards to the downsizing of the band.
Fernandez recruited his friend Dan Aguilar on drums—together they developed their act by busking in the streets of San Francisco.
Acoustic guitars are typically fingerpicked or strummed with moderate intensity, but Fernandez sweeps through his acoustic guitar with mesmerizing speed, aggression and accuracy. Combined with his gravelly vocals and Aguilar’s equally powerful drumming abilities, an irresistible showcase of musical talent is presented.
“There was a time, years ago now, when Francisco and Daniel played on the streets here in San Francisco often,” said Richard Woodul, longtime fan and friend of The Ferocious Few. “Although I played several instruments when [I was] younger, I did not pursue a career in music, so their drive and passion for their music is admirable to me.”
It wasn’t long before passersby started recording The Ferocious Few and posting videos of their street performances on YouTube. Concert promoters and local musicians started noticing their videos online, which led to bookings not only in the Bay Area, but throughout the country.
In 2009, The Ferocious Few signed to Birdman Records, an independent record label based in San Francisco and owned by David Katznelson, former A&R vice president of Warner Bros. Records. The following year, they released their debut album Juices and promptly hit the road.
“One of my fondest memories with The Ferocious Few is from a few years back,” said Maria Scott, former merchandise hand for The Ferocious Few. “They were opening for Cyndi Lauper in Oklahoma to a packed venue… not a lot of people knew who The Ferocious Few were and so they weren’t paying much attention at first, but by the second or third song, the whole place was up on their feet hooting and hollering for more!”
At this point in their career, pressure is beginning to apply to the band, partly because of contractual obligations to recoup their expenses. Aguilar left The Ferocious Few in 2011, because he wasn’t willing to commit to the high demands and insufficient pay of touring. Shortly after Aguilar’s resignation, Fernandez collaborated with new musicians and signed to a management deal.
That “toxic” management relationship “went sour fast,” said Fernandez.
Balancing the business side of music while being an artist was awfully frustrating to Fernandez. The demands of leading new musicians and complying with management obligations took a mental toll on him that ultimately led to abandoning his own project and management team. The one good thing to come out of this experience was a polished self-titled album that was officially released in 2016—many years later due to contractual reasons.
The years 2013-2017 proved to be a wandering period for Fernandez. In 2013, he briefly relocated to Martinez, a city in the East Bay, before traveling through Texas and up to New York, where he laid low until summoning up the enthusiasm to perform at SXSW in March 2014. Immediately after SXSW, Fernandez travelled to Los Angeles—he formed a new band under The Ferocious Few and it wasn’t long before they toured up and down California, including a stop at Coachella. Later that year, Fernandez settled with a woman in Oakland—he stayed put until the relationship ended in October 2015. Shortly after their separation, Fernandez made his way back down to Los Angeles to not only recover, but to spend more time with his sister. In May 2016, he packed up his belongings and moved to Berlin. He performed at various gigs throughout Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland for the next eight months.
Fernandez recorded and self-released an album entitled Ousted in October 2016, which is about “the push of the creatives out of their preferred habitats and the pushing of gentrification,” he said. “It is also about my personal life.”
That December, Fernandez moved back to Oakland, where he discovered that a number of his friends had passed away in the infamous Ghost Ship fire. This tragedy triggered Fernandez to plot his next move in life, for it is unpredictable and transitory. In January 2017, he packed up his belongings once again and moved to Austin. Eventually, Fernandez found a home in East Austin and jobs delivering groceries as well as remodeling houses.
Austin is famous for its lively music scene, which constantly attracts aspiring musicians from all over the world. As with most metropolitan cities, the high concentration of artists in one area creates a tremendous challenge to break through the underground threshold, especially in the internet age. Despite the hurdles Fernandez continues to face, he remains positive and hopeful.
“I don’t know if any place is my place—playing music is my place. When I feel empowered to do that, where sustainability is working despite capitalism; where you can get fairly compensated for your work; you have a safe, clean place to sleep; you can provide a service that people want, then move to the next situation—that sounds like more of a happy place for me.”
With upcoming gigs and two albums to plug, The Ferocious Few shows no signs of calling it quits anytime soon.