Interview with Foxygen on August 7, 2014 at Gundlach Bundschu Winery
Following the rampant success of their 2013 sophomore studio album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, L.A.-born Foxygen has become known for psych-rock throwback sounds and raucous live performances. (Raucous—read: falling off speaker towers and breaking limbs). At the group’s core are childhood friends Sam France (vocals) and Jonathan Rado (keys, guitar), both of whom spent time in Queens before returning to the west coast (Olympia and L.A., respectively). The band’s current touring lineup consists of bassist Justin Nijssen—who has contributed to recordings—guitarists Jared Walker and Kevin Basko, drummer Shaun Fleming, and backing vocalists Nina Joly, Jacqueline Cohen, and Emily Panic.
The band has been the topic of copious internet banter—including rumors of breaking up—on its climb to the critical and popular spotlight. But the impending release of Foyxygen’s third studio album …And Star Power, not to mention a relaxed offstage presence and vibrant onstage one, seem to allay immediate fears of demise.
I was able to catch Foxygen at Sonoma’s Gundlach Bundschu winery in August. Sam wasn’t around for the interview, but Rado was happy to oblige after recognizing me from a (brief) show at Lagunitas Brewery earlier that week. If the pattern in the band’s choice of venues doesn’t clue you in on the nature of their live performances, do yourself a favor and go see them for yourself—in fact, do it either way.
Present: Jonathan Rado (keys, guitar), Justin Nijssen (bass), Kevin Basko (guitar), Jared Walker (guitar), Nina Joly (backing vocals). In band but not present: Sam France (lead vocals), Shaun Fleming (drums), Jacqueline Cohen (backing vocals), and Emily Panic (backing vocals)
by Wilson Salls
UPDATE: And Star Power is out now so def. check that out.
How was Woodsist Festival?
Jonathan: Woodsist was…nice. It was a very tame show. The audience didn’t really get up off their blankets to watch us. They just sort of like sat and we were trying to put as much energy out there and they weren’t really having it, but we played well. And I think they enjoyed it. I think they enjoyed the show. It was just a much chiller audience than we’re used to. So it was a little weird for us.
Yeah, certainly on Monday I saw you guys at Lagunitas, and that was a rockin’ show.
Jonathan: That was an intense show, yeah.
Justin: Oh cool, you were there?
Yeah, and that’s actually one of the reasons I came here today, is because I wanted to get more.
Justin: Well we ended that one a little earlier, too.
Jonathan: Yeah, this will be a better one.
You mentioned that Sam had a cold?
Jonathan: Yeah, we’re passing around a sickness in this band. Shaun has it now.
Kevin: I had it two days ago.
Jonathan: Kevin had it two days ago. Justin and Nina got it. I’ve escaped it. Knock on wood.
And you guys are going to Europe afterwards, right?
Is it fun to tour?
Jonathan: It’s fun now, yeah. It was very stressful for a long time, and now it’s a lot easier. I mean we’re playing at a winery. It’s sort of like—it’s beautiful.
You and Sam met in school, right?
Jonathan: Yeah, middle school. I was in a band, he was not in a band and he wanted to start a band, and then we lost the singer of that band. Sam became the singer of the band that I was in and then we just decided to do our own thing because, you know, we had our own ideas, and sort of ventured off on that different path.
And you guys have pretty much been making music every since then?
Jonathan: Yeah, pretty much non-stop. For about ten years.
Was there kind of a pivotal moment when you guys realized you had a chance of making it big?
Jonathan: No, it all just kind of happened…really quickly. There wasn’t really a slow buildup. It was a blast.
And when was that?
Jonathan: After [We Are the] 21st Century [Ambassadors of Peace & Magic]. It just sort of all happened…too quickly.
Well Take the Kids Off Broadway was a pretty well received album too, I guess.
Jonathan: Yeah, it was like what it should have been, like a normal album that came out, like the fan gets a normal amount of attention, and then 21st was like a much bigger thing that we weren’t quite prepared for.
I’m wondering how you guys split the creative song writing process. Is that mostly between you and Sam?
Jonathan: Yeah, it’s all me and Sam. I mean Justin right here contributed a few ideas to Take the Kids Off Broadway.
Jonathan: A few uncredited ideas.
Justin: It’s ok though. It’s minor. But I was there for the recording of some of that.
Jonathan: Justin sings for 21st. He was around for some of that stuff. I mean, a lot of the songs are developed between me and Sam, and then kind of, maybe even recorded with just me and Sam, and then kind of perfected live. I feel like a lot of them come to life live, whereas the records are maybe a little more stripped down or different version of things.
Yeah, you get a little more energy probably with the whole band, kind of feeding back.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. And we encourage people to sort of like, you know, bring their own thing to the band, you know.
I’ve read about a lot of drama that’s happened in the band in the past, maybe in 2013. Was that hyped? Do you feel like that was overplayed a little bit?
Jonathan: It was overplayed. I mean, I think people were just looking, you know. Bands have drama, but not a lot of people care about a lot of people in bands, so it doesn’t matter if someone breaks up with someone else in a band, no one gives a crap because it’s just a band but I think because we were kind of a strong personality—or Sam is a strong personality—people were looking, and so it became a newsworthy thing even though it totally wasn’t. It was just personal things that happen, and that became news for a stupid reason, you know?
Yeah, yeah. So, there were things going on it sounds like, though, still—are those things mostly boiled over now?
Jonathan: Yeah yeah. Totally.
It seems like you guys are going strong now.
Jonathan: Yeah, I mean they were never as bad as, you know, you read something on Pitchfork and it seems like the end of the world, but it’s not, you know, it never is. It’s just the internet. And, you know, what people tweet or comment on that article or whatever, you know.
Yeah, you get this like strip of, strand of comments.
Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, someone says one thing and
that just gets blown up, and, you know, all of the sudden Foxygen’s breaking up, you know?
Right. Which is something I read and was like, you guys are putting out a new album, so it doesn’t seem to be the case…
Jonathan: Yeah, right, yeah, no, we were never breaking up.
Justin: “Foxygen is dead” though!
Jonathan: Foxygen is dead. We did make these shirts as like a play on that. Kevin, right now…
Oh, wow. You selling those at the show by any chance?
Kevin: That was at the Halloween show, right?
Jonathan: Yeah, we had some at the Halloween show. I think we’re sold out, but they say “Foxygen is dead.”
For Halloween, that’s fitting, yeah. And I understand—I watched one interview that you said you hated cheese.
Jonathan: Don’t like cheese.
Do you like pizza?
Jonathan: I do like pizza. Certain types of pizza.
Kevin: That’s not cheese. Not cheese.
Nina: Don’t you not like hot cheese? Or you don’t like cold cheese, or one of them?
Jonathan: I don’t like really any type of cheese. I don’t like cold pizza. I like hot pizza. I don’t know, it’s just—mozzarella’s a very mild cheese and you can ignore it, you know. Especially, I don’t really eat cheese pizza. I’ll eat pizza with meat on it. I’ll eat like pepperoni pizza and I guess like focus on something else. But yeah, I think it’s, uh, I don’t do cheese for the most part.
What about you guys?
Jonathan: Everyone else loves cheese.
Nina: I’m a cheese-aholic.
Justin: I love cheese. Well Kevin actually…
Jonathan: Kevin’s lactose intolerant.
Ah, not by choice.
Kevin: No, not by choice. But, I still, I enjoy it and then have to wreak the punishment afterwards.
Yeah, kind of mitigate afterwards, maybe it’s worth it. So according to the internet, you guys don’t relate well to modern music, I think you said, something along those lines. Maybe hence some of the sound that we hear on 21st.
Jonathan: Yeah, I mean I think that might have also been blown a bit out of proportion. I think there’s a lot of modern bands that we like. But I mean for the most part, I mean, I think I listen to mostly older music just when I’m sitting around at home, but I definitely appreciate a lot of modern music.
What are some of your favorites then and now, would you say? Who do you listen to most?
Jonathan: Then, I could go on for hours. I mean, lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Graham Parsons, and John Phillips, and just like LA country, kind of. Lately, modern music, I guess like, you know we love Ty Segall and White Fence and that whole thing. Saw the War on Drugs the other day. They were great. Justin’s band, Holy Komodo. Justin and Nina’s band, Holy Komodo, is great. I’ve been pretty obsessed with their thing right now.
Justin: Kind of, in certain ways. Also, Holy Komodo a long time ago did a tour backing up Foxygen.
Jonathan: Yeah. Sam used to be in Holy Komodo.
Justin: Sam used to be in it too. So, that’s kind of how I actually met (Jonathan) Rado.
Jonathan: Yeah. And they’re…
amazing, so. I’m sure you’ll hear some of that stuff soon.
Based on that comment I read on the internet do you see yourselves outside modern music?
Jonathan: I mean I definitely think we’re a modern band. I don’t think we’re in the 60s. However, I do think, you know, our live shows can tend to be, like sounding a little bit older, just because maybe of the, I mean, just based purely on the energy and the equipment that we’re using is all old, you know, so maybe if you put it in that context it’ll sound kind of old or something, but I mean, we’re still a band playing in 2014, so I don’t think you can really be like we’re a 60s band. You know, I think that would be like a stupid thing to say. But it’s fun to pretend.
I’m curious about the new album …And Star Power, you know, wondering about first of all the name. I understand it’s the name of the album; is it also the name of Foxygen And Star Power, is that the new band name?
Jonathan: Yeah, I mean that’s our live band, is Star Power. Also, just this fake band that we invented for the album. I mean me and Sam recorded most of it ourselves but a lot of people played on the album. And so it was sort of—it was the first time that we’d really ever—I mean because other than like Justin and my girlfriend Jackie no one really has been on Foxygen records besides me and Sam. And on this record there’s a lot of other people, you know, not maybe playing as a band; it wasn’t really recorded live, but, I mean a few tracks were, but I think it’s just the first time we’ve sort of incorporated other people, and it’s sort of this fake band that exists within the universe of the album. But yeah, it’s a double album. It’s really long and it goes through a lot of different phases and sides and feelings and stuff.
Are the two separated by some difference in songs, or are they more or less just an extension?
Jonathan: Each side is different. So the first side’s like kind of pop songs, the second side’s, like, paranoid folk music, and the third side’s like kind of really noisy, experimental jam side of the record, and then the fourth side is almost, it’s just like kind of one big song. And they all sort of feel different. That’s the idea.
What’s next after this album? You guys planning to switch over to Star Power completely?
Jonathan: No, I think it’s the last Star Power album. I think the next one is called, next one’s called Hang, and we’re recording it hopefully soon. It’s already pretty much written, you know it’s going to be kind of an orchestral record. We’re gonna do it with a big orchestra, do it in a nice studio and stuff. Kind of expand a little bit.
I heard about Hang and also Nightmare Man—is that coming out after this, still planned?
Jonathan: Nightmare Man, yeah, Nightmare Man we’re still kind of conceiving. Nightmare Man was like a, kind of started out as like this 80s pop album and it might end up just being like a hip-hop record. So, I don’t know—it’ll probably end up falling somewhere between those two. But it will definitely be like and electronic record, of some sort.
Well that’s exciting. Will you guys be rapping if it does end up being a rap album.
Jonathan: Sam can rap, man. Sam put out a rap album a long time ago. Under the name V T the Orphan. None of it’s online, I don’t think you can find it, but it’s really great.
If you know how to get me a copy of it…
Jonathan: I don’t even have it. I don’t even know where it is. There’s probably like two people in the world that have it. But it is great. I found it on an iPod somewhere. Maybe I’ll leak it. I don’t know, it’s great, yeah.
Excellent. And so, was that more reminiscent, that album, of the sounds of Jurassic Exxplosion Phillipic? Kind of like, sporadic, spastic…
Jonathan: The rap album? Yeah, I mean, yeah. It’s closer—there’s an album in between Jurassic and Take the Kids Off Broadway called Kill Art and it was sort of around that time so I’d say production wise it’s closer to that, but there’s definitely rapping on Jurassic Exxplosion and, I mean, that was always kind of a big part of Foxygen growing up, just because it was fun for Sam to like write a bunch of random words and say them quickly, you know, but…
Justin: It’s rap music.
Jonathan: Yeah, that was rap music. It was just like Beck type rap music. It was just like, you know, “opium band with the rap—” you know, “ratchet, and the hand” you know, whatever. That—that was terrible. Cut that part out of the radio. That was—
I can’t guarantee I’ll do that. That’s art in its purest form.
Jonathan: That was me trying to freestyle. That was my—that was me trying to freestyle. Opium, ratchet, hand. That was great.
That was raw. Thank you for that.
Jonathan: Yeah. But I’ve been listening to a lot of Kendrick. And so…yeah. I just discovered it. I’m pretty late to the game on Kendrick.
I have yet to discover him myself. You know, a little bit, but not much.
Jonathan: Go! Go for it. Go for it, man. It’s so good. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. It’s great. You gotta hear this guy. I just discovered him.
Justin: Rado recommended. Kendrick Lamar.
Jonathan: Rado recommended. Kendrick Lamar. Add that to my list of modern music.
Well, thanks so much for interviewing, and for playing here and playing two shows for me this week, I’m pretty stoked about that.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for coming to both of them.