By Brian F. Johnson
Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado has the next 20 years of his band’s discography planned out to a T.
Rado might be on tour for the group’s most recent release, late-2014’s … And Star Power, but he’s thinking decades into the future about where the band will be, and what their legacy will look like.
“The next one is going to be a really clean — like Eagles seventies production — with a full orchestra, and then maybe we’ll do a hip-hop record after that,” Rado said during a recent interview with The Marquee. “Then we’ll do like a country record, kind of a Gram Parsons record or something, which would be kind of fun. Then 10 years from now, when we’re all strung out, we’ll try to re-create the magic of our 21st Century album, but it will be a total failure — a complete critical failure that everyone hates. Then, maybe Sam will quit the band and at that point I’ll get a new singer and make three of the worst albums you’ve ever heard. Then Sam will come back, and it will be this big thing like when Brian Wilson came back to the Beach Boys, but we’ll be older and it won’t be as fun. And then we’ll just fade into obscurity.”
Rado’s humorous, jaded look inside Foxygen’s crystal ball may or may not actually come to fruition, but whether it does or not, Rado certainly seems adaptable to any of the circumstances that the universe might hurl his way.
Foxygen, was officially born in 2005 by long-time musical friends and collaborators Rado and Sam France, when they were both only 15 years old.
In addition to tons of experimental EPs and recordings, many of which were never officially released, they’ve put forth three proper studio albums; 2012’s Take The Kids Off Broadway, 2013’s critically heralded We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic and 2014’s …And Star Power.
The latest — a massive 24-track double-album that mixes ’60s and ’70s classic rock, with experimental psych rock, has received mixed reviews, to put it lightly. Pitchfork said … And Star Power was a “long, bumpy ride.” The LA Times called it a mess, “silly and mostly inconsequential.” But A.V. Club referred to it as a 21st century version of The Beatles’ White Album.
Rado — with the big picture in mind — doesn’t put much stock in the less flattering reviews, though. To him … And Star Power was a necessity. “We had to do this. This is what we had to do to save our band — not that there was ever a problem with us like breaking up or anything — but if we didn’t do this, we would have regreted not doing it forever, and I think that’s worse than getting a seven on Pitchfork. It’s also an album that when you look at the entire Foxygen discography in 20 years, you’ll look back on it and be like, ‘Oh that was a pretty interesting record.’ Its not that we set out to make it weird or modeled it after these failed, kind of weird records. We were just making what we wanted to make at the time. But it is a double album that was made in my garage, so it’s a grower, for sure.”
The lo-fi spirit of the album, which includes guest appearances by Of Montreal, The Flaming Lips, White Fence and Bleached, was recorded in a variety of locations, but the vast majority of it was done in Rado’s Dream Star Studios, also known as his garage. The one-and-a-half car garage/studio, Rado explained, is wall to wall equipment, no windows and “decorations that look like they could be from a Mexican restaurant.” “You can’t really walk in it. It’s kind of a clutter. If there’s more than three people in there, it starts feeling really cramped,” he laughed, before commenting “I’m not selling it really well.”
That space though, and the recording of … And Star Power, also served as Rado’s recording grad school, of sorts, where he completely re-learned how to record music. “We spent the album budget on equipment to record, but then I realized that I didn’t really know how to work all of the equipment. So the album is me figuring out how to use a lot of that stuff. When I listen to the album it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s when I discovered you can do this with a compressor or whatever. I recorded music a certain way up until that point, and then I changed it for that album.”
Alongside Rado’s self-pursued development, vocalist Sam France has gone through an evolution as well. The lanky singer has never been known to be still while performing — in 2013, he fell off a stage while dancing and broke his leg. But for this latest chapter of Foxygen his theatrical stage presence is through the roof. When Foxygen’s over-the-top nine-piece played David Letterman, France’s mesmerizing dancing seemed like a 25-year-old Mick Jagger, whacked out on Adderall; bouncing off of every part of the stage.
“Our shows have never been about us just standing around, playing things,” Rado pointed out. “It’s always been a performance for us.”
Go If You Dig:
- The Flaming Lips
- Of Montreal
- Tame Impala