Collin Hegna has always been good at whistling.
He just never expected the skill would be as useful as it is now, fronting the cinematic Portland-based band Federale, which is known for recreating classic spaghetti Western soundtracks and Serge Gainsbourg-style ’60s pop in a modern context.
Federale comes to Eugene supporting its latest release, No Justice, out now on Jealous Butcher Records. To get a feel for Federale, imagine Ennio Morricone’s immortal theme from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
It has a lonesome whistle coupled with menacing harmonica and percussion mimicking the sound of cattle or horses, all drenched in reverb and evoking the wide-open spaces of both the American West and the American psyche.
While Morricone provides the building blocks for what Federale is about, the band is far from a retro novelty act just sorting through vintage styles with cool detachment.
Take the song “Trouble,” an example of Federale at its very best. Hegna’s crooning baritone sings, “It was 1972 and I knew the time had come for me to make some space from my own misery.”
Later on, the operatic voice of Maria Karlin carries the song to its climactic, heart-in-throat ending, conjuring movies of the French New Wave or the gritty realism of Italian cinema from directors like Pier Paolo Passolini.
Four of Federale’s seven members are University of Oregon alumni, including Hegna and Karlin. Hegna also played bass for ’60s psychedelic rock revivalists The Brian Jonestown Massacre, led by troubled frontman Anton Newcombe, whose struggles with drugs and self-destruciveness appear in the legendary music documentary Dig!
“I do a lot of genre bending,” Hegna tells me. “I try to utilize the tools that exist now. I like how old records sound, but there’s a lot of cool things you can do now that you couldn’t do then. I like to imagine what the folks making music in the ’60s would do with the technology that exists today.”
Federale plays with Eugene’s Ferns 8 pm Saturday, Jan. 18, at WildCraft Cider Works; $8 advance, $10 door, 21-plus.