"Do you ever practice?" – An Interview with Foxygen

When I first arrived at the Solid Sound Festival, which was organized by Wilco, everywhere I went, I was surrounded by stylish, alt dads and Kombucha and Kefir stands, and it all seemed to make sense, until I went to see Foxygen play their set. Mid-song, I watched Sam France, the lead vocalist, climb the scaffolding of the stage. He was eventually forced back down by security. Jonathan Rado (the other half of Foxygen) and Sam France radiated a wild, careless energy that distinctly stood out in the land of probiotic Kefir and hip parents. The audience, even amidst murmurs of disbelief that France broke his microphone after violently throwing it down, clearly enjoyed the show.

    I waited for Rado and France after the show, and up close, I noticed there was a bruised imprint of a microphone on Sam France’s forehead. When I asked him about it, he told me he had gotten it the night before, at the Firefly Festival in Delaware. Then I saw he had scrawled, “Call Mom” on his left hand. I headed over to a gallery inside MASS MoCa with Foxygen, and conducted the interview there.  – Julia Edelman

THE BELIEVER: What’s the most interesting show you’ve ever played?

JONATHAN RADO: The Etsy showcase. Our amp blew out immediately, so we had no guitar for the whole show, and it was a complete catastrophe. The crowd was pumped and kept cheering us on, even though it was just bass drums and singing.  

BLVR: So they were still into it?

SAM FRANCE: I mean, they were into it because they saw how much we were suffering. We’ve played some bad shows, and people were still kind of into it.

BLVR: That’s great. So could you talk about how you started out as a band?

JR: Sam and I started making music when we were fifteen, and we were just recording a lot in my bedroom, in our bedroom (we had lived together at my house) and then I don’t know, we kept doing it, and now we’re at Solid Sound.

BLVR: And how would you say your music has evolved since then?

JR: It has turned into real songs. Before it was like, we’d just jam for five minutes and then cut it up into a form of a song, and just sort of piece it together. There was no chorus or verse, just random 45-second rap songs and sampling. Now there’s more song writing.

BLVR: What’s the writing process like?

SF: Well, we live in separate places, so we both have ideas that float around in our head for however long we’re apart, and when we get together we have an excess of ideas, so it’s pretty easy to combine them to make music.

BLVR: Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?

SF: I’ve always been playing music. I think there was a point when we started doing Foxygen, where I thought, “Oh, I’m going to be a musician professionally,” but I never thought I’d stop playing music, I just never knew it would be my professional career. It’s not a stable career, but I don’t have any other jobs.

BLVR: Did you work at other interesting jobs while trying to support yourself as a musician?   

SF: Yeah, I mean, I was a clown. It was harsh. I did it in Los Angeles, and I also was a lot of different characters in mascot outfits. I did balloon animals, and so I went to birthday parties.

BLVR: Were you a silent clown?

SF: No, no, no, I worked for an entertainment birthday party company, and did magic tricks and balloon animals and parachute games, and you know, told jokes. I couldn’t make too many balloon animals.

BLVR: So you were a bad clown?

SF: Yeah, yeah, that was my thing. I sucked, and it was just funny. I liked making giraffes. Making a giraffe and a dog is the same exact thing – You just have to make the neck longer for the giraffe.   

JR: I worked at the YMCA, but I got fired because I told a girl to shut up, or no, I told her to stop being an idiot. She was on the table and saying she was a princess, and I told her it was fine that she was a princess, but it was clean up time. She wouldn’t get off the table, so I told her to stop being an idiot. They never fired me officially, they just gave me less and less hours until I stopped coming. 

SF: I can’t believe you worked with children. That’s so unbelievable.  

BLVR: There’s a carefree humor to your music. Do you try not to take yourselves too seriously, or on some level, do you still strive for a sense of artistic perfection?

SF: I don’t think that we take it too seriously.

JR: We didn’t practice once for the show today.  

BLVR: Do you ever practice?

SF: Nope, not really. It’s more exciting when we don’t know what’s going on.

JR: We talk about practicing a lot.

BLVR: Sam, I saw in an interview with Pitchfork that you try to impersonate David Byrne when you sing, and Foxygen’s music is very much focused on sounding like it is from the sixties and seventies.  

SF: I am a little bit over the sixties stuff. I love it, but we’re definitely going to make way different, darker music from now on.

BLVR: What made you want to make this change?

SF: We just have to do something new.

JR: I mean, all the Foxygen albums have been very different from one another.

BLVR: But overall, your music is generally very nostalgic. Do you find that you’re nostalgic in other ways? 

SF: Oh yeah, all the time. Every moment, I’m hit with weird vibes of nostalgia from my childhood, and I’m always striving for something like that. I think it’s a very special feeling. It’s intense.

BLVR: Do you ever find that this feeling of nostalgia is confining when you’re making music? 

SF: Perhaps, yeah, I think that’s why we’re more into developing our own sound now that’s not a complete homage to older music, which our music always will be somewhat, I think, but not as much as the last album.  

See Foxygen’s video for “San Francisco” here.

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