Foxygen's Sam France: "We Were Never Gonna Break Up"
Jonathan Rado (left) and Sam France of Foxygen.
Photo by Cara Robbins
Sam France doesn't want to talk about any “rebound record.”
“It’s not a rebound. Stuff was never that bad.”
France doesn't sound particularly hostile, or even mildly annoyed. If anything, he sounds like a teenager explaining to the teacher why his homework isn't done.
“We both were young, certainly,” he admits. “But people were writing things about us for their own motives.”
France and childhood friend Jonathan Rado are the two horns on the rampaging bull that is the psych-rock duo Foxygen.
The band blossomed onto the scene in 2005 while they were still in high school, dropping a whole slew of EPs before being snatched up by Indiana-based indie label Jagjaguwar (also home to Sharon Van Etten and Bon Iver) in 2012. Their second LP — We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic — was released last year, kicking off a sudden burst of critical acclaim. The then-24-year-old pair from Westlake Village were hailed as one of Fuse’s “Must See Artists of 2013” and snagged “Best New Music” over at Pitchfork.
Then the sort-of trouble started...sort of.
“It definitely wasn't as dramatic as people said,” points out France. “We were never, y’know, fighting, we were never gonna break up. We missed some shows but it’s not because of like… band drama. Plus I got injured. I broke my leg last year. So.”
The broken leg came at the worst possible time — during the first song of the first show of a tour meant to placate fans after the band had canceled a bigger chunk of dates for the far sketchier reason of “creative health.” Rumors began popping up of discord between France and the more sedate Rado, of blow-ups with fans, of a possible break-up.
All the while the duo was also feverishly listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk while churning out material for what would become the band’s latest effort, ...And Star Power.
Some reviews call it a concept album, but from Foxygen's perspective, the concept’s rigidity seems to ebb and flow depending on the interview and how France and Rado are feeling. Most accounts point to some variation of: The band begins the album as Foxygen, gets gradually taken over by the frenetic Star Power (providing a handy excuse for track-assists from Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes and the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne), then settles back into being Foxygen again.
“There’s no concept, really,” according to France. He seems to consider for a second before offering, "The word star has many different meanings. It also links to like… the scene of space. Also to pagan or witch themes.” He eventually laughs, the vocal equivalent of throwing up his hands. “The whole album is just eerie I guess.”
The “50 to 60” songs France and Rado initially tinkered with have been shaved back to a solid two dozen, separated into five separate “parts,” each with its own theme. These run from “Part One: The Hits” into “Part Three: The Paranoia Side” before descending into trippy madness with “Part Four: Scream/The Journey Through Hell” and surfacing again with “Part Five: Hang on to Love.”
France says he wanted to “write really vague songs” that sounded “like general soap operas.”
“I just wanted the words to sound cheesy because of the '70s rock,” he laughs, before admitting that he thinks he “subconsciously" writes about himself.
How you feel about the LP seems to depend on how well you can deal with the double LP’s sprawl — and with the band’s experimental, shotgun-blast nature. Critics have championed it as “beauty in excess” and panned it as “a waste of time” — all reviews seem to veer wildly between two stars and five.
When asked if Star Power was impacted by the duo’s roller coaster of a year, France is — at least initially — certain.
“Oh yeah! Definitely. It’s about a person going insane.” He stops for a second. “Or an entire band in general.” He stops again. “Or just, y’know… a general protagonist character.”
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