Fleet Foxes team with Sub-Pop and come out strong with debut release

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:: Fleet Foxes ::
 :: Oriental Theatre :: October 15 ::

By Cornelia Kane

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Fleet Foxes represent a new breed of rock and roll. The five-piece Seattle band builds tunes around lush vocal harmonies and delicate melodies that are more reminiscent of CSN&Y’s  Déjà Vu (released in 1969) than the Raconteurs’ latest. Don’t let the long hair fool you, though, these guys are not some hippie throwbacks. Rather, they are one of the first bands in a long time to successfully meld harmonies, pastoral imagery and traditional instruments such as mandolins into something that appeals to both hardcore hipsters and their parents.

The band has enjoyed an almost meteoric rise from the time the current lineup (which is less than a year old) signed with renowned Seattle indie label Sub Pop in January, to June when their self-titled debut full-length was released and reached number 83 on the Billboard charts, to today, which finds them in the middle of a seemingly never-ending tour that continues into next year and will take them to at least three continents.

With critically lauded sets at this year’s SXSW and glowing reviews from Pitchfork and other indie-rock bibles under their belt, the men of Fleet Foxes continue to build on the substantial momentum that they’ve already built to an impressive crescendo.

The Marquee recently caught up with the latest addition to the group, drummer Josh Tillman, as the band geared up for yet another gig. Tillman said that a huge part of his decision to take the position in the band was the unique sound of their music. “It’s kind of taking a lot of things, a lot of timbres and sounds that are familiar and appealing in a traditional melodic way, but also turning things on their head a little bit — doing things with traditional structure that sound familiar but at the same time aren’t what people are expecting to hear,” Tillman said. “Then there’s the vocal thing. I think that people can immediately empathize with the human voice.
They immediately identify with it. I feel like we bring some interesting factors that are simple and familiar and comforting but at the same time intriguing enough to keep people listening.”

The members of Fleet Foxes definitely know how to keep people listening. The core of the band, lead singer and guitarist Robin Pecknold and guitarist Skyler Skjelset, began playing together as a two-piece when they were just 13. About two years ago they added keyboardist Casey Wescott and bassist Christian Wargo to the mix, and drummer Tillman joined the band within the last year. If some of these names are familiar, that could be because Wargo and Wescott are also members of well-known Seattle band Crystal Skulls, which is signed to the respected Seattle label Suicide Squeeze (Minus the Bear, Pedro the Lion). Along the way, the band caught the ear of legendary producer and Pecknold family friend Phil Ek (Built To Spill, The Shins), who produced both the full-length album and an EP that came out a few years prior, and helped the band to hone their sound.

“The musical direction of the band is basically a lot of trial and error,” Tillman confessed. “The full-length record, as it is now, came along pretty late in the game. They [Pecknold, Skjelset and Wescott] had already recorded a full album and then basically scrapped it. Robin wrote a bunch of new tunes like ‘White Winter Hymnal’ and ‘Quiet Houses.’ Those songs were kind of the impetus for how the album turned out; more acoustic, more block harmony-based, more minimal.”

The decision to scrap an album’s worth of material, while unusual, has been a boon for Fleet Foxes, as the new songs and sound caught the attention of Sub Pop (best known for breaking arguably the biggest band of the 1990’s, Nirvana), which signed the band after work was already complete on the album. The success of the album after it was released pushed the band into the national spotlight and pushed their sound into the national consciousness. “I think what people like is that everything is so deliberate,” said Tillman. “To me, the music is an example of something being more than the sum of its parts. The instrumentation is pretty traditional as far as like, guitar, bass and drums, barring the inclusion of, say, a mandolin or Rhodes piano.”

The result is anything but traditional, however, as the band blends seamless four- and five-part harmonies and crystalline acoustic guitar melodies but somehow never comes across sounding stuffy or pretentious.

The decision to sign with Sub Pop after being courted by numerous labels, including several majors, Tillman said, was an obvious choice for the band. “It’s a local label and obviously they have a great reputation and some artists that everybody was into,” he said. “Of all the options, it just made the most sense, being that we all sort of came of age musically around Sub Pop records. How do you say no?” The decision seems to have been a good one, as the band joined other acts already signed to the label, such as Iron & Wine and Band of Horses, to become a driving force in the “baroque harmonic pop” revolution.

:: Fleet Foxes ::
:: Oriental Theatre :: October 15 ::

Recommended if you like:
• Iron & Wine
• Beach Boys
• Built to Spill

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