The band: Fleet Foxes
Key release: Ragged Wood (June 3, 2008)
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
If the multiple references to rivers, mountains, and woodland creatures on its Sub Pop debut Ragged Wood aren't enough of a tipoff, Fleet Foxes is part of the new movement of roots-based bands embracing the easy-listening aesthetics of '60s folk and antediluvian country, layering breezy campfire harmonies over acoustic instrumentation with nary a distortion pedal in sight. While young whippersnappers aping The Band and namedropping Crosby, Stills And Nash usually raises hackles among those who see the hippie revival as just another hipster pretense, Fleet Foxes has the power to stun knee-jerk naysayers into submission with pure, unassailable beauty: Ragged Wood and their debut EP, Sun Giant, are filled with amber-dripping melodies that sound as old as time, but they're refashioned with inventive arrangements that make predictability their enemy. Comparisons to similar, zoo-minded groups like Grizzly Bear and Sub Pop labelmates Band Of Horses are inevitable but limiting; Fleet Foxes is its own animal, one that critics have been falling over themselves trying to classify.
Singer-guitarist Robin Pecknold on trying to avoid conventional songwriting:
"I think it's still basically pop music in the broadest sense—like how 'Good Vibrations' is a total pop jam, but the structure is pretty unconventional. That's when pop music is most interesting to me, when it doesn't have a big chorus, or a verse/chorus/bridge structure. Even if the parts are cool, that format feels like the blues—like how the blues is just one song, in a way. I have a hard time with music like that. We'll usually just write little parts of songs that are autonomous from each other, not even in the same key or time signature, then combine them later."
On his first introduction to creating vocal harmonies:
"I took some choir, but I was also in a lot of plays when I was a kid. My grandpa was a big musical guy. I was in Annie, Oklahoma!, Snow White And The Seven Dwarves—I played Doc in that one. I was Thorin in The Hobbit. That was my first exposure to music, so a lot of it comes from there."
On his lyrical fascination with nature:
"In Seattle, it's always around you. The environment is such a big part of the city, and it makes its way into the music. And it's easier for me to write songs in a 'fable'-type construct. There's always a personal meaning behind it, but it's easier for me to gussy it up and put it in a different context than to come right out and say it. I hope we don't come across as head-up-your-ass freak folks. [Laughs.] I like some of that stuff—Joanna Newsom seems really from the heart—but most of that just doesn't ring true to me."
On why there seem to be so many new roots-rock bands:
"In some ways, it's cyclical. At the start of the decade, The Strokes were a back-to-basics rock thing, and I think that was appealing to people at a time when everything else was excessive. But everything just gets more excessive, to the point where the music that people like now is bordering on prog. Music builds itself up and then breaks itself down again. I also think it's a confused time. In some ways, pop or rock is culturally irrelevant."
On whether Fleet Foxes is part of the "neo-hippie" movement:
"I don't identify with that cause. That's not because I hate hippies. If you just looked at me, you'd probably think I was a hippie. I don't use deodorant. I have long hair. I have a beard. I love so much hippie music, like Crosby Stills And Nash, Neil Young. It all still sounds vital to me, because it had a social message that had a chance of getting through. 'Heart Of Gold' was a number-one hit—that's crazy. That's an example of a time when you could have a cause aligned with music that was actually popular. That was what gave the hippie movement credence, because they were actually reaching tons of folks, and there was an innocence and a reason behind that message. The problem with being a 'neo-hippie' is, there's no message. It's just a fashion show. I think there needs to be something different—something more realistic—for music to have that impact again."
On whether Fleet Foxes has a message:
"The message in our music is pretty much just broad optimism. There's no direct ideology that we're trying to lock into the music. And if we did have a message, in the way that those anti-war and anti-Vietnam songs from the '60s did… That's what I meant when I said pop and rock is kind of irrelevant: I don't think it would matter. I don't think our music would have the reach to make it socially meaningful. Which is fine. I'd prefer it not be popular. I'd prefer to keep it small-scale in terms of exposure, because I think music gets worse the bigger a band gets."