Fleet Foxes

Con­tin­u­ing his se­ries fea­tur­ing mod­ern acous­tic bands and play­ers, Stu­art Ryan ex­plores the in­die folk style of Fleet Foxes, from Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton.

Guitar Techniques - - Lesson: Acoustic -

This month we’re delv­ing into the style of Amer­i­can group Fleet Foxes and, in par­tic­u­lar, main song­writer and gui­tarist Robin Pec­knold. As a song­writer, Pec­knold is in­flu­enced by leg­ends such as Bob Dy­lan, Neil Young and Hank Wil­liams, and you can hear that in his gui­tar style. His love of Brian Wil­son and The Beach Boys is ev­i­dent in Fleet Foxes’ amaz­ing vo­cal har­monies, too.

Hail­ing from Seat­tle, Fleet Foxes recorded their first demo in 2006 and came to the at­ten­tion of that city’s leg­endary record la­bel, Sub Pop, who signed them up in Jan­uary 2008 and re­leased a sec­ond EP that April. A heavy tour­ing sched­ule fol­lowed and the re­lease of their self-ti­tled de­but al­bum, emerged later in the year.

For their sec­ond al­bum, Help­less­ness Blues, Pec­knold de­cided to go for a more raw ap­proach, and he also shifted his in­flu­ences to the sounds of Roy Harper and Van Mor­ri­son. Some­times the acous­tic is at the fore while at other times it lays a foun­da­tion over which Chris­tian Wargo weaves elec­tric gui­tar parts. It’s easy to hear the 60s and 70s acous­tic gui­tar sound in Pec­knold’s play­ing, and at times you imag­ine Fleet Foxes be­ing a band that Jimmy Page, Bert Jan­sch and Bob Dy­lan could eas­ily have been a part of.

It must be pointed out that some of Pec­knold’s rhythm parts are them­selves ‘fleet’ and he moves chord shapes up and down the fret­board, some­times us­ing three-fin­ger tri­ads on the first three strings which can fa­cil­i­tate this move­ment more eas­ily than shift­ing barre chords or those in the open po­si­tion. I’ve ex­plored this in this month’s piece and, al­though there shouldn’t be any tricky mo­ments, the slid­ing chords will re­quire fo­cus for tim­ing and ac­cu­racy.

A good knowl­edge of tri­ads is es­sen­tial for any gui­tarist - acous­tic, elec­tric, lead or rhythm. When you put them into an other­wise stan­dard chord pro­gres­sion - es­pee­cially in the con­text of a band - you can add a great deal more move­ment and in­ter­est than sim­ply mov­ing open chords around. An­other ad­van­tage of us­ing tri­ads is that you can use a ‘pedal tone’, typ­i­cally an open string, that re­mains con­sis­tent against all the chords you use. This is great for com­ing up with some unique voic­ings and can make a com­mon pro­gres­sion sound much fresher.

Fi­nally, I’ve used a capo on this track, some­thing that Pec­knold him­self of­ten does – for some people capo us­age puts them into an eas­ier reg­is­ter for singing but from a gui­tar player’s per­spec­tive I find rais­ing the pitch tight­ens and ‘sweet­ens’ the sound. If you play along with my back­ing track just re­mem­ber to place your capo at the 3rd fret.

Pec­knold is in­flu­enced by leg­ends such as Bob Dy­lan, Neil Young, Hank Wil­liams and The Beach Boys.

Robin Pec­knold: note the dou­ble pick­guard on his ‘strum­mer’ Martin

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