Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
Though their Sun Giant EP held the possibility that the full-length would never match its brilliance, that’s luckily not a concern anymore. Easily one of the best releases this year, this is complex music that sounds deceptively simple. Take masterwork "Blue Ridge Mountains,” where the plaintive guitar intro switches perfectly into a booming bass drum beat and considerable reverb. The tempo changes tons of time but the thread that binds it all is the vocals. Robin Pecknold’s pipes are something to behold — especially on the musically bare "Oliver James” — but it’s when the band sings as a whole that Fleet Foxes play their winning hand. "Ragged Wood” is exemplary in its shuffling beat and vocal clarity, and "Quiet Houses” has the ambling quality that lets you close your eyes and drift away in the vocal layers. Not too country, not too folk, not too indie and not too pop, they balance everything in perfect harmony. Even on my 50th listen my heart swells and my eyes water. This is simply magical.

Let’s start with the name. Any special significance to Fleet Foxes, or is it just awesome alliteration?
Singer Robin Pecknold: [Laughs] Definitely the latter. There wasn’t much consideration to any public knowledge of the name when the name was chosen, you know. So I think that it was clearly arbitrary. We were just joking around — not that it’s a joke name — but there was no seriousness put into it.

Also, why the choice of the classical painting on the cover?
Well, I just saw that painting in a book and it just kind of caught my eye. It’s really detailed and when you first see it, it’s pretty and bucolic and the more you look at it, or the bigger version of it, you see the strange stuff inside of it. It kind of looks like Where’s Waldo? [laughs].

Would say that’s an apt metaphor for the album?
I don’t know. When you’re working on a song for months everything about it is obvious to you after a while and people have said that the record is a grower or that it takes time for them to hear it and notice everything. But, we weren’t trying to make a record that required multiple listening.

How old are these songs? Have you been sitting on them for a while?
Nah. We finished the record in November of last year and we started the record in July, so they were all written right before that, so by the time we finished there wasn’t a song that wasn’t more than six months old. They were all written and recorded really quickly.

In terms of putting the songs together, is it collaborative or do you lead the songwriting and everyone else adds their bits to it?
It depends. Certain songs, even if I’m coming to the table with just the chorus and the melody and whatever of a certain part, I think certain choices are base choices or guitar stuff that are just, you know, kind of built in. The appropriate thing to do on those instruments is somewhat ingrained in the basic skeleton. It kind of depends on the songs. I rarely have a full complete idea of what a song should be and everybody helps complete that. So, I’d say that I usually start a song and then we all finish them.

For you, what comes first? The lyrics or the music?
Again, it all depends on the song. I think some of the songs are more lyrics focused and then it comes first and the music is built around the lyrics but then on the songs where we want to do a song that’s musical and has a lot of changes, you can’t have the lyrics done first until you have all the structure of the song worked out. So some of the songs have them first and some come after the music is in place.

Do you know which one you prefer?
Um, I think you have to let go. I think it’s easier to write a complete lyrical song if the lyrics are the first main focus and you do not have to fit it into a structure or fit it into a melody. It’s really dependent on… uh, one isn’t better than the other.

Which one do you feel more comfortable with?
I feel more comfortably lyrically to start with the lyrics and I think it’s more comfortably musically to start with the music.

One thing I love about the record and when you play live are the vocal harmonies. Is there a lot of practice to them or are they intuitive?
I think it’s something we’ve put a lot of work into. Once we were kind of recording it and doing a ton of vocal layers to everything, that made us, in the practices after recording, be like, "Okay, we should spend two hours at this practice on just singing” and then it just continued in that way. We were pretty much writing the record as we were recording it because we were just doing it at home. There was no time pressure or studio pressure, like we weren’t paying hundreds of dollars a day to be in a studio so we could change the songs and add parts and just go straight to recording. There was no real plan to have it be a really vocal heavy record until that ended up being the way it was I guess and it was from there that we hunkered down in the space to get it all done.

What draws you to the heavy vocal-ness? Was it intentional or was it more ‘Hey, this sounds good, let’s add more!’?
We’d written songs in the past that were relying on the lead vocal and it just got boring for us to do full band songs where the music was just a support for a lead singer guy or whatever. So we would try songs like, "Okay, let’s totally forget about that and just have the vocals be part of the music” and have it just be one big sound rather than vamping support for this singer guy. It just ended up being more comfortable and I think we wanted to do kind of a pop record that was more mysterious in a way and having the vocals always be harmonizing as well as being full-blast.

When I saw you play live, I was amazed by how you captured the vocal harmonies so perfectly. Does that take a toll on the band at all?
Playing a show every night is the best practice you can have now. It keeps it interesting to me because touring can get really tedious as playing music every night can make it feel less like music. I think for us the group singing keeps you on your toes every night because it is kind of a variable, like you always have to be listening to everybody else and you can’t really disengage from it when you’re all singing. It’s easy to disengage if you’re just plonking away on the guitar or bass and it’s easy to let your mind wander but if you’re all focusing on singing together it makes you listen hard every night. It takes some of the tedium out of playing live every single night.

I’m interested in the liner notes in both theSun Giant EP and the LP that you wrote under the names of former U.S. presidents. What’s the inspiration behind these confessions of a sort?
I don’t know what it was. I’m always really paranoid about how much of a band’s perception is out of their control and what I wanted to do with the liner notes was just another way to somehow speak directly to people and tell people what you’re about in a way without any filter.

Without having someone like me figure it out for them?
[Laughs] Yeah. I think regardless of the music we make we’re not interested in being mysterious dudes or unreachable or I don’t think mystique is interesting to me anymore. I like music where I can hear the real person behind it, you know. To not write liner notes seemed like, for this band, it would be all about the music and no context. All you would have is the music and what people have read about the music and no other information or context about it.

Keeping with the themes in those liner notes, do you create music for yourself or are you hoping to connect with the listener? Like, on a greater life changing scale?
If you’re trying to be important you’re setting yourself up to be very unimportant. I think the more pandering you do or the more expectation you place on yourself to appeal or to reach or connect to people emotionally the less likely you’ll be able to do that. Somebody asked me, because they were at a show and they saw a couple of people in the crowd crying after a song, "Are you trying to affect people emotionally in that way? Do you want people to cry after your songs?” No. No. I never ever thought about it in that way. I never sat down to write a song and then thought, "Wow, this is going to effect people in this way and that’s going to be so cool.” The music, you have to make for yourself and be happy with it yourself and then if you have the right intentions people will hopefully pick up on that and respond to what you were happy about with the music instead of what you wanted them to be happy about with the music.

What do you think about the description of your music as "pastoral”? Or trying to bring up nature themes? Does that ring true or is it just a play on the band name?
I don’t know. It doesn’t sound like the Strokes, or very urban-sounding music, like LCD Soundsystem. You wouldn’t put it on at a club, or there’s no urban quality to it and I wouldn’t expect people to say something like that about it. There wasn’t any intention to make a pastoral or natural sounding record.

But it does tie into the "hippie” tag that’s you’ve been saddled with.
I don’t think we’re doing anything to encourage that classification but I don’t think it’s also something to rally against. I don’t think we’re putting on airs so it doesn’t matter what people say about us. We’re not trying to be anything that we’re not. We’re not trying to pull the wools over anyone’s eyes so if people want to call us hippies that’s totally fine. (Sub Pop)