A conversation with Foxygen
We caught up with Jonathan Rado of Foxygen to talk about We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Richard Swift, the perils of touring, the hype surrounding the band and the follow-up to their new album.
Thanks for talking to us at The 405, Rado. I'd like to start by saying congratulations on getting that Jansport email. You have indeed arrived. I heard someone puked on your gear?
Hey thanks. That means a lot (laughing). Yeah, someone puked on our gear at a show but we know who it was. It was...
[I am given the top secret assailants name and swear this information to secrecy]
I'll skip the bits about former bands like The Fionas or The Boscos and fast forward a bit to what Foxygen is about and up to.
You've come a long way since '04-'05 – what do you think was the big catalyst or game changer?
I think doing Take the Kids off Broadway was the catalyst. I mean, before that we were making records, and even if we didn't do Take the Kids off Broadway we'd be making records. That's just what we do. It's kinda what we've always done. We were 15-year-old kids just making records in bedrooms and I mean, they were good, for like 15-year-olds making music, but doing Take the Kids off Broadway was different. For us that was a big moment.
So, the new record is titled We are the 21'st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic?
Yup, that's right.
Was that a nod to The Rolling Stones' 67 record Their Satanic Majesties Request style of titling given the common psych thread?
Well that record is a favourite of mine and I'd definitely take inspiration from it. But it wasn't any direct kind of reference or anything, but I get why you might think that.
So, where is HQ now? Where are you mostly basing out of?
Well, I'm in California and Sam is up in Olympia, Washington. We kind of flop around, we're everywhere these days, New York, LA, Olympia. We're both from up there and go back and forth all the time. We're not really based out of any one place per say.
I see you've linked up with Richard Swift again for the new record, so you must have been happy with how Take the Kids off Broadway went. Did anything change in the approach for We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic?
Well, Richard only really mixed Take the Kids off Broadway, we'd already done it. We produced it ourselves and then he picked up on the mixing. We'd produced everything ourselves up until We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, but we're both huge Richard Swift fans. He's my favourite musician so that was really huge.
What is the inspiration for the direction of this record? Did you draw from the same inspirations, the same "sound-well", as Take the Kids off Broadway or did you pull inspiration from different directions?
I think the new one is a completely different record. It's a lot simpler in structure and it doesn't jump around as much. We've settled down. The stuff influencing us on Take the Kids off Broadway was a lot of different 70s glam rock type style and We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is much more 60s. Yeah, definitely more from the 60s this time.
Were you listening to any Euros Childs when you were writing the track 'Shuggie' by any chance?
No, I hadn't heard of him but I'll check him out.
Who came up with the concepts for the recent 'Shuggie' and 'San Francisco' videos?
'Shuggie' was Swift. It was all him. He came up with the idea, the concept and just did it. It's great... and Sam came up with the idea for the 'San Francisco' video. He was like "Let's have me, or us rather, in a forest and then in a room just playing." Sam came up with the look, the feel of it. Then we met with Cameron Dutra [video director] and we sort of fleshed it out. He brought a lot to it as well.
Do you know how many views each has at the moment?
No, no, not a clue. How many?
At the minute, 'Shuggie' just broke 50,000 hits and 'San Francisco' just tipped past the 88,000 views mark, which, I think, is more than all of the Take the Kids off Broadway clips combined.
Wow, that's kinda creepy, to think that that many people have seen something you've done. I mean... pshbshh, it's great but... wow.
We have a laugh about how he had no idea that the videos were gaining that kind of momentum. He's a bit stunned and overwhelmed as the videos have only been out for a short time. There's a grounded softness to him and it comes through in his calm, almost measured tones of response. There's no self hype or ego-centricity in his answers. The conversation moves toward the upcoming tour and the impending gruelling schedule.
How many of the band are you taking over for the European dates?
Who's in the tour line-up?
Me and Sam, Justin (Nijssen - bass), Shaun (Fleming - drums) and Lizzie. Lizzie'll be coming and I think Jackie (Cohen) might be coming too. They're both in the band when they're free.
So I have to give you a bit of shit, not too much, but a bit, for not coming to Dublin on your tour. It's a great place to start or finish. What gives, huh? How can you do me like that?
(Laughing) Hey man, c'mon... Look, to be honest my life has become this thing where people say 'Go over here' and I go. I just go. I'll look into it. It sounds like a great city.
Do it. Moving swiftly onward... Where are you most looking forward to going and playing on the tour? Is there one stop or city that you're excited about?
Umm, I can tell you what I'm definitely not looking forward to, like, the downside. The downside is I don't get to really see any of these places, these cities. You get to see the venue, and the street that the venue is on, maybe a restaurant on that street and the hotel. Then you're moving again. You never really get to go out and see a city when you're on tour. You don't have the time. But the positive is that I'm looking forward to meeting the audience and the people in each city, that's always cool. The shows will be cool.
What are you going do to stave the boredom of travelling? How do you fill the hours during the less glamorous rides between cities to keep from going mad with the repetition of the travel routine?
(Laughing) We do go crazy. We do. We haven't quite learned how not to. We all go a bit crazy and get angry at each other and fight. Yeah, we do.
Will you fill the time on twitter? You're not shy to retweet the hate that comes in but is there any style of dissing that you simply can't abide?
No, I mean, look, we're in the public eye and some people are just gonna hate it. That's OK. But sometimes they say the most ridiculous things...
He shares a few stories behind some recent tweets involving people criticizing the name of the band, someone wanting to punch the band and all involved but it all rolls off him. He takes it all in a very light-hearted stride.
Who are you listening to right now?
White Fences out of L.A., they're my favourite band at the moment. They're amazing musicians.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be and why?
Oh, it'd have to be White Fences, again, yeah, I'm just really really into it.
Any hints at what the plans are for the second half of the year? What will the end of 2013 bring after this upcoming monster tour winds down?
We're going in to record again. We've pretty much got the next record written so we just need the time to go in and do the recording.
Care to talk about what we can expect?
Sure, I'd say don't get too attached to We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic or any of the other records. It's not gonna sound anything like that. I guess that might alienate some of the hardcore Take the Kids off Broadway fans, but people should be more open. We're not gonna do the same record again.
Who would be your supergroup line-up?
Ooh, like my dream band?
Yeah, you can have anyone. Give me vocals, drums, lead and I'll even accept anything "other" from xylophone to glockenspiel.
OK. My dream band... I would clone ourselves, me and Sam, and put me and Sam on every instrument and Richard Swift on drums [pause] yeah.
We chat a little bit about what we like about Richard Swift and I ask him about the possibility of seeing Foxygen cameo for the Shins or even vice versa now that Richard Swift is in with the Mercer fronted outfit, but he shrugs it off saying that "No, I don't really think it's the same. The Shins can sell out football arenas and we can sell out, like, clubs. It's not really the same thing, maybe in like 10 years."
Foxygen will be touring with Unknown Mortal Orchestra across Europe and North America from the 2nd of February. For full tour dates head here.
Purchase and listen
At this point, you'll be wondering if Foxygen making another album is less likely than The Smiths reuniting. [read more]