American indie-rock band Foxing have never been easy to box into a stereotype.
Their 2013 release The Albatross was hailed as an “emo revival success story”, while 2015’s Dealer was bordering on post-rock. Their latest album Nearer My God, released in August 2018, is their most experimental yet. Co-produced by Chris Walla, ex-Death Cab for Cutie guitarist, it’s a sprawling album full of electronic tidbits and soaring choruses. Bagpipes are used alongside guitar solos, and lead singer Conor Murphy’s falsetto drives each song with urgency.
The band is heading to Australia for the first time in March as part of the Farmer & The Owl line up, where they’ll share the stage with the likes of Beach House, Hockey Dad and Snail Mail. Georgia Griffiths spoke with Murphy about Nearer My God and what they’re expecting when they hit down under.
Nearer My God was considered ambitious by many critics, but it seems the risks have paid off. What were your goals for this album?
CM: The number one thing that we really wanted to get accomplished was making a record that we would still like five years from releasing it. Just really being proud of something that we made – that was our big goal.
To do that we knew what we had to do was take a big ol’ leap. Our lofty goal was to make a classic rock record, a record that stands the test of time, and I do not know if we did that at all! By no means am I saying “we tried and accomplished that!”. We really don’t know how it’ll be perceived in the future, but that was a big goal for us, to try as hard as we could to make this big record that could be looked at years from now as something that really made an impression on music. Again, I don’t know or even think that that is the case, that was just our big goal.
At the end of the day, we are extremely proud of what we made with that. It’s our favourite record, it’s our favourite thing that we’ve ever made in general. I think every goal that we had for it, we at least feel like we accomplished.
I wanted to talk about ‘Five Cups’ in particular. It’s such a sprawling and quite beautiful track. What was the process for creating that particular track?
CM: I think that was the most challenging song to make on the record by far, because it took so, so many shapes. At one point there were upbeat drums to it, there was a trap drum sound on it for a while; it was a two-minute song at one point, it was a little interlude at one point. It just took so many different shapes and the whole time we had no idea if we were doing the right thing, if it was ever going to be a song in general. It kept going to the backburner over and over again, and then at one point we just kind of dug into it.
One of the early things was the chorus of the song, just lyrically, it was just going to be “I wanna drive with my eyes closed”. That was the whole thing that encapsulated everything else. The actual lyrics to the verses and everything else were an ever-changing thing, and I never knew whether I’d hit what I was trying to hit. The theme of that song is wanting to communicate with your friends who have passed away and your family members that have passed away, and the idea that in moments of sleep deprivation or drug use maybe being able to communicate with family members and friends who have passed away. That was this whole thing that I was thinking about the whole time, and I just never could make that connection happen with the lyrics in the early times for it.
At a certain point, I sat down with it for a good two days and just really committed to making the lyrics work. In that time I came up with so many that the song kind of kept going, and we kept taking it through different movements, which is why it ended up being nine minutes long. It became kind of like a canvas to just throw these lyrics and vocal parts at. We knew we couldn’t keep the same thing going over and over again, so we took the song through movements to accent how the lyrics change and the way the standards progress in the song.
It’s going to be your first time in Australia when you come and play Farmer and the Owl. What are you looking forward to most in Australia?
CM: I think the biggest thing we’re looking forward to is how we’ve never been there, but we’ve had so many people contact us and say “Come to Australia, why have you never been here?”. It’ll be so cool to play in front of those people, because in our heads if we’ve never been to a place nobody will care, because we have to have been there to have fans. The thing I’m most looking forward to is actually seeing that people in a different part of the world that we’ve never been to could know who we are and sing along with the songs that we’ve made. We’re extremely excited about that. Also the scenery; we’ve all wanted to go to Australia since we were little kids. Seeing movies that take place in Australia, it’s just a dream for any American to go there so we’re very excited.
You guys as a band have been around in some form for quite a while now. How do you think things like streaming have changed the industry or changed the way you make a record?
CM: It’s weird because the first things we released were in the time of torrents and straight-up file sharing was the big thing when we first put out a record. To combat that Radiohead put out In Rainbows a few years before to be the anti-file-sharing type thing, using the pay-as-you-will model. So that was a thing for us at first, using Bandcamp and doing the anti-file-share stuff, but then Spotify and Apple Music came along and just turned everything on its ass. We were really a very small band then, nobody cared about us when that stuff started taking off, which was a real luxury. I think it’s really hard for bands that have been around for longer to adapt to those things. Luckily for us it was when we were just first starting out, so we never really witnessed the CD boom. The vinyl resurgence is a thing, but it’s never really been a big thing. We sell a lot of vinyl records but it’s always such a minimal amount compared to the amount of people who used to buy CDs; I wish people still bought CDs [laughter].
But yeah, we don’t really make songs knowing that they’re going to be streamed. We don’t do anything different, but at the same time we’ve been a band with streaming going on pretty much since the beginning so if we were doing anything different we wouldn’t even know.
Foxing will be playing their first Sydney show on FRI 1 MAR, Factory Floor. Buy tickets here.
Foxing will also be playing Farmer & The Owl Festival at McCabe Park Wollongong on 2 March 2019, as well as a string of sideshows. Farmer & The Owl will bring together international acts like Beach House and Deafheaven with Aussie faves such as Stella Donnelly and Hockey Dad for a day of musical discovery. Tickets and line up information is available here.