Northwest Passage: Seattle's Fleet Foxes Make Languid, Woodsy Rock
Fleet Foxes, from Seattle, like their timpani, and their echo, love the sound of waves bouncing off walls, dig the high, lonesome wail of falsetto in harmony. They also have an affection for smooth psychedelia, for long, languid songs that seem to float out of the speakers as if carried by a breeze. Their 2008 EP, Sun Giant, was the buzz of the spring, a five-song offering that, despite its northwestern roots, sounds absolutely at home on a drive up Mulholland with the moonroof open. And their full-length debut, Fleet Foxes, out this month on Sub Pop, lives up to that promise. Perhaps it’s those harmonies, which suggest an earthier Beach Boys, like maybe if the Wilsons had been reared on horseback rather than surfboard. Or those guitars, which chase each other like dragonflies along a river, lines wrapping around chords à la Keith Richards and Brian Jones. There’s even a tinge of old British folk that draws on the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention. It’s comfort music for uncomfortable times. And if it feels like some sort of retreat, so be it.
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From many beards comes a new (old) sound.
Another notable feature: Fleet Foxes are one of the first Sub Pop bands to openly draw on the more bloated aspects of prog rock, which might strike some as blasphemous, considering the label was birthed in the American post-punk boom of the 1980s. (Remember the catch phrase? “Touch me, I’m sick.”) Indeed, the Fleet Foxes occasionally seem the embodiment of everything that punk rock sought to destroy. This is complex music made by very able musicians searching for carefree beauty. Can a flutist be too far behind? Sometimes that shit don’t fly in down times, when rock’s grumpier side tends to takes hold. But one of the wonders of the band is that their expansiveness, which in lesser hands might descend into wankery or pretension, feels necessary and perfectly natural. We’re living in tense times — maybe it’s time to head for the cabin.
L.A. Weekly spoke with lead singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold between gigs during a recent British tour. On the phone from Dublin, he explained that the band had played a sold-out show in Nottingham the night before.
L.A. WEEKLY: It seems from the outside that you’re in the middle of this hurricane right now. When the Sun Giant EP came out, Fleet Foxes were on everyone’s lips in L.A. There was a huge buzz. Being a part of it, do you really get that sense?
ROBIN PECKNOLD: It’s strange. On some level, you do. I guess I see it at shows. Like, selling out a show means that X number of people in that town knew about you. But it’s not overwhelming, I guess, because the particulars of your life don’t change. It’s not like because you sell out a show or get a favorable review that you’re all of a sudden partying with Pharrell. It’s not like your life really changes. And so much of it is a product of luck, almost. I think all success, at whatever level, is in some way luck. It was luck for me to meet these guys, it was luck to meet Phil [Ek, who produced the record]. All that stuff is chance, you know? And so you can’t get too self-congratulatory about it. It could have just as easily gone the exact opposite way.
I read an interview in which you said that some of the inspiration for the music you make comes from listening to your parents’ record collection when you were growing up. Did you ever rebel against your parents’ music?
I don’t know. Some of it. Like, Steely Dan I never particularly loved, you know? There are things they listened to that I didn’t like. My tastes generally fall in line with the generic indie-rock guy or whatever, and the later in the ’70s it gets, the less appealing it is. That seems to be the bell curve for most of us generic guys. But for me the thing to rebel against was the Hot Topic punk stuff. When I was in junior high and high school, it just seemed really commodified at that point. It just seemed like you could just go to the mall and buy a punk outfit, call it a day and that’s who you were. I think that, at my age, we’re far enough away from the 1960s stuff for it to be reactionary to rebel against. And I think now we can see the forest for the trees. And also, my parents didn’t really push anything on us. They were accommodating of what we wanted to do. If I decided, ‘I want to play football, football’s going to be so much fun,’ they were fine with it. My dad’s a musician and a worker guy, but he didn’t force us to be artsy kids. He just let us do what we wanted. And I played football for one day and hated it. My parents weren’t strict enough to rebel against.
It’s interesting that you’re saying rebellion for you was not listening to punk music. Punk and post-punk are so engrained in my mind as being the tonic for all that so-called 1970s hippie crap, like Crosby, Stills & Nash.
[The Clash's] London Calling is one of my favorite records. But when you’re dealing with the music of the past, there’s not much consideration for — you can listen to Elvis without needing the perspective of a curmudgeonly ’50s dad. It’s easy for me to separate the bad from the good. I mean, yeah, there is something about Crosby, Stills & Nash that’s slick and alienating — it’s bloated. Something’s wrong with it. And I can see the reason why the music that came after that stuff was reactionary against it. But I can also see the good in it.
Fleet Foxes perform Sat., June 28, at the Echo and Sun., June 29, at Spaceland.
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