FLEET FOXES: On The Horizon

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

For many young pups like the Seattle-bred quintet Fleet Foxes, who revel in the early success of a blog-buzzed EP, a hefty dose of premature spotlight can just as easily be a career booster as lead to an early grave. Such fledgling bands are often rushed into the studio with but a handful of half-decent material, only to end up with a half-bad debut. That is if they can muster the material together at all.

Fleet Foxes

For many young pups like the Seattle-bred quintet Fleet Foxes, who revel in the early success of a blog-buzzed EP, a hefty dose of premature spotlight can just as easily be a career booster as lead to an early grave. Such fledgling bands are often rushed into the studio with but a handful of half-decent material, only to end up with a half-bad debut. That is if they can muster the material together at all.

In the case of the Foxes, whose limited West Coast release of Sun Giant EP and signing to hometown label Sub Pop earlier this year bought them an opening tour spot with Blitzen Trapper (along with massive critical exposure for their self-titled LP), it’s not so much that they had the savvy to avoid those oft-seen pitfalls. To their benefit, they just stumbled into it all backwards.

“We weren’t signed to the label at all for the recording of the EP or the LP,” says Robin Pecknold, head songwriter and one of the Foxes’ founding members. “We finished the LP first, and we sent it to Sub Pop … but we had a bunch of other songs besides that we hadn’t recorded yet, so [we] wanted to release an EP as soon as possible.”

Much the same, even the songs themselves are said to be created piecemeal, with Pecknold writing song bits to bring to longtime friend Skyler Skjelset and the band—often months apart—for all to decide on how to structure them.

“I’ll bring in these pieces of songs that aren’t really connected, and then we’ll decide how to combine all those little pieces and how they should be fleshed-out,” he says.

That’s all the more apparent on the LP’s opener “Sun It Rises,” which is led off by a disjointed Appalachian-inspired vocal harmony before jaunting into a gentle strum and plucked mandolin for the song’s remainder. Or, such is the case with “He Doesn’t Know Why,” it segues to its tail end—a segue that would, for most artists, suffice as little more than an introduction.

“At one point, we wanted to try the whole rock band four-piece, but for us, we didn’t know how to make that cool,” Pecknold says. “The easiest way for us to make stuff sound interesting was to add tons of harmonies or little acoustic guitar flourishes.”

Even though sought-after engineer Phil Ek—a family friend, and the nimble touch behind labelmates The Shins and Band of Horses—has his name attached to the records, the majority of the recording was done “basement-style,” in the Foxes’ cozy den.

“We didn’t want the production to be a big part of why we were happy with the record,” Pecknold says. “We wanted that to be transparent and to do be able to do it all live without having to strip it down a lot.”

That foresight has played out well on stage, turning their standout track, “White Winter Hymnal,” into a crowd favorite months before its release, due to an untimely leak of an early version of the LP, then titled Ragged Wood. At one Nashville show, Pecknold even swelled with a drastic case of the giggles during the song’s a cappella intro when a few in the crowd burst into applause.

“I can be having the worst day ever, and if someone claps in recognition when we start a song, that’s enough to bring me out of whatever bad mood I was in.”

AGES:
Robin Noel Pecknold: 22
Joshua Michael Tillman: 27
Casey Bert Wescott: 27
Christian Lee Wargo: 32
Skyler Grant Skjelset: 22

HOMETOWN:
Seattle, Washington

FAVORITE SONGWRITERS:

JUDEE SILL
She wrote songs so effortlessly and filled with such feeling, each song is a little gift. Of all the ‘70s singer/songwriter stuff which can sometimes get suffocating, she’s my ultimate favorite and has the lowest tendency to get sappy and egocentric. She’s like some strange Pagan philosopher.

BOB DYLAN
This was the gentleman that made me want to play music, he answered to nobody and followed his heart without hesitation and he wrote some of the greatest songs ever because of it. He might have made some folks mad along the way but I respect so much his artistic drive and desire to never tread water.

ELLIOTT SMITH
As a teenager his records were a godsend to the point where I even played a couple of his songs at a school talent show. My friend Nathan introduced me to him in junior high and it was a window into a whole different world of records and musicians that blew my mind. He’s my sentimental favorite and I’m still sad that I never got to see him play.

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