Foxes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

mis­quot­ing and sen­sa­tion­al­is­ing some­thing he’d said in a in­ter­view) pre­ceded a 4/10 pan­ning from the mag­a­zine a week later.

“Who’s to say if it’s even con­nected? I’m just happy that I’m on record as say­ing that mag­a­zine is a joke be­fore that re­view came out, so they know it’s not just sour grapes,” a clearly amused Pec­knold chuck­les. “I don’t know, they’re kind of a weird mag­a­zine. Part of their brand or their im­age, or what­ever, hinges on be­ing al­ter­na­tive – but the stuff they pro­mote is gen­er­ally via these ma­jor-la­bel chan­nels. And they’re sold on ev­ery news­stand. I mean, I def­i­nitely read re­views, but I just don’t know to what de­gree they mat­ter to me. We’ve been lucky to get some good re­views, but you can’t ven­ture as to why some­one likes or dis­likes some­thing, other than it aligns with their tastes.”

Pec­knold shook up his song­writ­ing ap­proach for the new al­bum. While many tracks from Fleet Foxes told tales in the third per­son, much of the new al­bum deals with the singer’s per­sonal prob­lems. The tem­po­rary break­down of his long-term re­la­tion­ship – largely due to his ob­ses­sion with the record – played a big role, al­though he’s some­what re­luc­tant to dis­cuss the de­tails.

“Some of these songs are go­ing to be un­com­fort­able to sing,” he ad­mits. “But I think it’s a lit­tle more up­front. The em­pha­sis on the first al­bum was def­i­nitely on the mu­sic, but I think even the next record will be dif­fer­ent to this one. I wanted to give peo­ple a bit more per­son­al­ity, in terms of the lyrics – more of the per­son that I don’t think came across on the first record. I don’t think we’ll go deeper into the ‘woe is me’ ter­ri­tory from here, though, but we’ll see what hap­pens.”

That shift in lyri­cal per­spec­tive isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the Fleet Foxes camp. The ad­di­tion of a sixth mem­ber, multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Mor­gan Hen­der­son, as well as an ar­ray of new in­stru­ments, has seen the band evolve in more sub­tle ways. If there has been a crit­i­cism of Help­less­ness Blues, how­ever, it’s that it doesn’t stray too far from the ter­ri­tory charted on their de­but. Nonethe­less, it dis­plays a band whose dis­tinc­tive multi-part har­monies have be­come even more pre­cise, and whose am­bi­tion – as heard on songs such as the epic The Shrine/An Ar­gu­ment – grows ever more in­sa­tiable.

“If you were to hand me both records and I had never heard ei­ther be­fore, I think this is the one that I would pre­fer, just in the sense that it’s aligned more with my point of view on this kind of mu­sic right now,” he says. “I feel like this record re­flects a change, in terms of a more in­formed ap­proach to this style of mu­sic. If we were to have rad­i­cally changed the genre un­der­pin­nings, we would have been go­ing into [the record­ing process] less in­formed. In the mu­sic I lis­ten to, I’m not re­ally ex­pect­ing the guys to be chang­ing up the style dra­mat­i­cally – like ‘Oh, why didn’t Will Old­ham make a disco al­bum?’ or some­thing,” he laughs. “You just want to hear new songs. I’m just along for the ride as a fan, like when Ra­dio­head changed things up. But if they hadn’t, I’d be along for the ride, too.”

Pec­knold spent much of the past two years in­form­ing him­self by ab­sorb­ing the back cat­a­logues of artists such as Pete Seeger, Judee Sill and The Byrds. Bedouin Dress’s ref­er­ence to the WB Yeats poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree isn’t the only Ir­ish con­nec­tion, ei­ther; Van Mor­ri­son’s As­tral Weeks was highly in­flu­en­tial.

“It’s not like you sit down and say ‘I’m gonna make an As­tral Weeks 2’, or a record any­where near as good; it was more about hav­ing the vo­cal per­for­mances sound sim­i­lar,” he ex­plains. “We did most of the vo­cals for this al­bum in one go. As­tral Weeks, and records like it, was one of the rea­sons we didn’t use a click-track on the drums. We recorded the drums live and the gui­tars live. You have to stop your­self from shav­ing the im­per­fec­tions, be­cause they add char­ac­ter to the mu­sic in a way that stu­dio equip­ment can’t.”

Pec­knold’s def­er­ence to the past is ad­mirable, but the re­spon­si­bil­ity of hav­ing to write an al­bum that sounds fresh and dy­namic in 2011 in­du­bitably re­quires skill. The ge­n­e­sis of Help­less­ness Blues lay in songs he had writ­ten for solo sup­port dates with Joanna New­som last year – three of which he re­leased for free down­load – while he’s also got a num­ber of side projects bub­bling away, in­clud­ing one with his sis­ter (and man­ager) Aja and new band­mate Hen­der­son.

It seems re­mark­ably pro­lific for a man who’s still just 25 years old, but re­cently un­earthed YouTube footage of an im­pres­sive teenage Pec­knold singing Si­mon & Gar­funkel tunes re­vealed some­one who was des­tined for in­ter­na­tional re­pute.

He re­cently spoke of how the al­bum’s ti­tle cor­re­lates with its themes of how some­times, you’re the only per­son hold­ing your­self back from ful­fill­ing your goals. Now that he’s sur­mounted the chal­lenge of the ‘dif­fi­cult sec­ond al­bum’ and has got his life a lit­tle more back in or­der, does he feel like he’s closer to re­al­is­ing his full po­ten­tial?

“Shit,” he says with a half-sigh and an­other of those long pauses. “I don’t re­ally know what the an­swer is. It de­pends on how you de­fine ‘po­ten­tial’ as a per­son, which ev­ery­body thinks about. Where would you have to be, to die happy? I guess it boils down to stuff like hav­ing a solid fam­ily and a solid re­la­tion­ship, or hav­ing ac­com­plished some­thing that you’re proud of, or what­ever. I still don’t re­ally know. Maybe I never will. But, y’know, I’m okay with that, too.”

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