For Foxygen — the songwriting duo of Sam France and Jonathan Rado — 2012 was a year rife with experimentation, sound explorations and a ton of time logged either on their computers or at the studio. Though the feather-haired pair has been writing songs together since the age of 14, Foxygen released their official full-length debut on Jagjagjuwar back in July with Take The Kids Off Broadway, a heady, fuzzed-out meditation that was predominantly recorded in their respective bedrooms and apartments. We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, their sophomore record due out in January, couldn’t be a more drastic follow-up: its cooing harmonies, emphatic piano strains, blues riffs and sunny choruses sound as though they were yanked from the crates of vinyl they found in their parents attic, as opposed to their own musical psyches. “It’s a lot more straightforward,” Rado says of Peace & Magic, which was produced by Richard Swift of The Shins. “Instead of spending six or seven months recording it as we had with Take The Kids Off Broadway, we recorded the new record over the course of just seven days and didn’t overthink anything, and it’s a lot more raw.”
As Foxygen hone their performative chops while supporting Of Montreal on their latest North American tour, Rado, in particular, feels strongly about the stride they’ve hit in perfecting the fabric of Peace & Magic in a live setting. Foxygen is unclassifiable in that they speak to the shoegazing set while whetting a psych rock palette, but this grey area isn’t something the band’s concerned about for the time being. Given that they’ve dropped two full-length records in a six-month period, they’re capitalizing on their momentum while morphing into a marathon man of a band — and though 2012 was a productive, formative year for the pair, they’ve made it clear that 2013 is about to get real busy. We caught up with Rado before Foxygen sets down at Webster Hall tomorrow night.
So, I’ve seen a few adjectives thrown around when it comes to describing your sound. What’s the weirdest genre you’ve been pegged with?
I’ve seen a couple of people say we’re a lounge pop act or something, like, lounge jazz [laughs]. Somebody tweeted last night that we were “literally psychedelic” and I really like that! I think that’s a great genre for us, to be a literally psychedelic band.
How has your understanding of genre changed as you’ve grown and changed as a musician?
Very, very early on, Sam and I were into Beck and the Flaming Lips. We were into spacey music with hip-hop elements. We’re constantly wanting to make new records that sound like different things, and I can see the progression of how we’ve changed, but I really don’t know where it’ll go. I think it’ll be pretty amazing.
Sounds rad to me. How’s it going with Of Montreal so far?
We’ve only been at it for one day, and yesterday, we played the biggest room we’ve ever played. We didn’t really know what to do with our bodies, being so far apart on that stage! [laughs] We’re a bit tighter and the lineup’s a little bit different. We’ve just gotten a lot tighter and better.
The last time I saw you, it was definitely more than just you and Sam onstage — I think you guys had something like five or six people up there.
There are five of us. It’s hard. We have a kind of a wander-y band, we sort of disappear … everyone always shows up for show time, though. It’s sort of a miracle that we’ve never missed a show. We almost did once. It’s quite difficult. [laughs]
What’s been the biggest change for you and Sam, adjusting to a touring schedule that’s more demanding while working with a bigger band?
We’re the best when we’re writing, and we’ve been writing records forever, but we’re getting good at playing live now. I know that bands have to pay their dues or whatever by playing live. I think that we definitely did that, but we just wrote a lot. When it comes to collaborating together, what do you think are the more complimentary traits you two share as songwriters?
I think that Sam writes really beautiful songs, kind of raw, Lennon-y sort of ideas. I hate to compare us to Lennon and McCartney, but I think that Sam has this raw aspect to him, and I like all this ragtime, big band stuff. I think that’s sort of what our sound is, a mix of the two, a little bit, and our different qualities work together very well. We very, very rarely disagree. When it comes to what we’re listening to, we don’t even really need to talk about it — we live in different places, Sam’s in Connecticut and I live in New York — and we’re always listening to the same record without talking to each other. Having known each other for so long and worked with each other, we know what the other person wants.
It sounds like you’ve got this weird secret musical twin language going on, or something.
Yeah! It really is. [laughs]
Even if they weren’t necessarily frustrations pertaining to each other, did you hit any hurdles while working on Broadway and Peace & Magic?
With Broadway, I think Sam and I had this really grand vision for it –I still think there’s stuff there that isn’t complete, that we want on there that never made it the cut. With Peace & Magic, we made it pretty much exactly the way we wanted to. It sounded exactly like I thought it would in my head.
What’s the takeaway from Broadway and Peace & Magic? What would you say you’ve learned from releasing these two records?
I don’t know — they were such different processes. I think we learned how to work efficiently and make a record with Broadway the way we wanted to. We made the records that we wanted to make, and Peace & Magic was a completely new experience, where we worked with a producer that we really loved.
What would you say is the biggest musical risk you took in 2012?
I think training ourselves to be a live band was a big hurdle. We wanted our live set to be like the record. We realized that getting the sound that close was kind of impossible, and through that we created something new. Our live thing is completely different from the record, and that’s something we didn’t expect.
Looking back on the year you’ve had and the one ahead, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment to date?
I think that Peace & Magic was a big moment for us. Working with Richard Swift — who’s a hero of mine, and Sam — that was pretty mindblowing for us. We made a pop record, almost, which is an achievement, making something that we wanted that’s still kind of commercial and good. I think that’s maybe the biggest moment for us.