BY BLENDING CATCHY HOOKS WITH PSYCHEDELIC DIRGES AND NOISY FREAKOUTS (ON AND OFF THE STAGE), FOXYGEN HAS BECOME AMERICA’S REALEST ROCK-AND-ROLL BAND
From VMAN 32, Fall 2014
PHOTOGRAPHY HEDI SLIMANE
Last year, when Foxygen released its third album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, the critics went nuts. A decidedly glam update of the psychedelic sounds of the ’60s, imbued with a devil-may-care attitude toward tempos, lyrics, and genre constructs, the album garnered unanimous praise, reached number 76 on the Billboard album charts, and earned lofty comparisons to legends like Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones. But while reviving a sound long deceased, Foxygen also managed to resurrect rock and roll’s penchant for excess and interpersonal melodrama.
“It’s a cliché, of course,” front man Sam France acknowledges, from his home in southern California’s West Lake Village. “We’ve always worked in clichés.” With on- stage diatribes perceived as tantrums, bodily injuries, canceled tours, social media fights, rumored arrests, and passive-aggressively promoted solo releases, France and his bandmates—Jonathan Rado, Shaun Fleming, and Justin Nijssen—earned a devoted audience, but one as eager to see how the plot would twist next as to hear their music. “It was difficult for us,” France explains. “We kind of just got thrown into the indie music circuit. We didn’t know what to do, we felt out of control of our image, we didn’t like the way we were being promoted, we didn’t like the way we were coming off in the press—we felt very out of control. Our own personal relationships were becoming out of control, so things became very meta. It was bizarre becoming those characters and then realizing that we didn’t have to do that anymore.” He breathes a sigh of relief and says, “Things are really great right now.”
The proof is in their fourth full-length LP, …And Star Power. Following an incident at a show in Minneapolis that left him with a broken leg, France retreated to his parents’ house to recover, and found himself healing in more ways than one. “I went through a lot of personal changes and started working on the record with Rado in his house, in Woodland Hills, in the analog studio he put together buying all this crazy old shit,” he says. “We just kind of chipped away at the album, the way you would chip away at a sculpture. We had this big vision, and slowly we made it happen.”
…And Star Power, a double-disc epic consisting of 24 songs, takes its name from an alter-ego punk band France and Rado felt they were sometimes playing in. While the record maintains the much-loved shimmering pop songcraft of their last LP (lead single “How Could You Really” and “Coulda Been My Love”), they also venture further toward anarchy, with freewheeling jam sessions (“Wally’s Farm,” “Cold Winter/Freedom,” “Freedom II”). “We sort of mastered writing our own versions of pop songs,” France says. “I mean, they wouldn’t get into the Top 40, although we’re working on that. It’s never a challenge for us to write catchy melodies. But I wanted to foray into something more visceral, more immediate, more modern, more avant-garde, more punk, and more aggressive.” True to the album title, this Foxygenated elixir of chaos and melody amounts to the type of magic that rock stardom is made of. Maybe the band’s sound has finally caught up with its rambunctious reputation.
“Our live shows can become improvised and sadistic, fucked-up, and weird,” France says. “I wanted to take that energy and put it onto the record, because people just don’t know about us. On our last record, people walked into shows wanting to hear songs like ‘San Francisco’ and then we would play some crazy noise jam for 20 minutes and I’d be screaming about random shit and people were completely freaked. I wanted to actually introduce the listeners to that energy as well.”
When they gave a triumphant performance at Coachella this spring, France sashay- ing and yowling across the stage like Iggy or Mick before him, the crowd was transfixed. “I have a Dionysian philosophy,” he says. “I believe in the hysterical body. You can really only have something entertaining happen if you’re in the heat of that moment of craziness. You have to completely let yourself be enveloped by another energy, it’s the only way anything real is going to happen.” But if fans are afraid of another spontaneous meltdown, they can rest assured. “We’re actually really grateful to be doing what we’re doing,” France says with an air of calm. “We’re so happy to be able to do this music stuff. We were really immature and we didn’t appreciate it. We thought we were selling out or something. We had a really weird view of everything. But now things are better than they’ve ever been.”
…And Star Power is now available on iTunes: here.