Jim Carroll

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Archive: Fleet Foxes

With the band due to play Dublin in 2017, here’s an interview from when they were starting out in 2008.

Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold

Tue, Nov 29, 2016, 13:57

   

It’s a big one: Fleet Foxes have announced a show at Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens, the sweetest outdoor venue in the city, for July 15 next. The band haven’t played a show in Ireland since 2011 and not played the capital since 2009. Tickets go on sale on Thursday morning and will be priced €45 (plus TM white winter hymnal fees).

The fact that the band are finally playing live again must signal that a new album, the long awaited third album, will be released sometime before next summer. You can check out the band’s two albums to date, 2008′s self-titled debut and 2011′s “Helplessness Blues”, below. You can also check out an interview with lead Fox Robin Pecknold which was done back in 2008 as he was coming to terms with how well that debut album was doing and how excited he was about Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.

It’s a little strange to hear Robin Pecknold talk about the expectations he and his fellow Fleet Foxes had for their debut album. As the frontman explains, they fully expected the album to do absolutely zilch.

“I thought that it would fail and that would mean we would be able to start the next one almost right away”, he says. “We signed a contract with Sub Pop for two albums and that was kind of security for us. We thought ‘well, this record won’t get any reaction so we will at least get two albums out of this deal’.”

He pauses to gather his thoughts about what has happened since the album was released. “Everything that has happened is just bizarre. I didn’t think it would met with any acceptance at all. I certainly didn’t think all this would happen.”

Pecknold and the band are waking up in Salt Lake City after an overnight drive from Denver. Their year has been full of such treks as more and more people are smitten by their self-titled album and rush out to halls to see the band play. Those halls are increasing in size with every passing month and the band will now be on the road until at least next January plugging that album far and wide. Compared to any conventional stocks or shares, the trade in Fleet Foxes continues to be quite brisk.

The reason for such excitement comes down to a bunch of Seattle twentysomethings making the sort of blissful sounds which don’t appear of this age. The five perform their sun-dappled pastoral folk-pop with charming, easy-go-lucky gusto all wrapped up in harmonies which will send your mind’s eye roaming towards mountains and valleys. Every track on the album is ravishing, every note perfectly placed and every sound wonderfully ethereal.

But when it comes to talking about that music, Pecknold turns reticent. Writing these songs in his basement was easy, but trying to explain those other-worldly images, such as packs running in the snow with scarves of red tied round their throats, seems to be a chore he’d rather skip. He’s not rude about it, more just unwilling to show and tell.

He does admit, though, that there’s a degree of camouflague to his songwriting. “A lot of the lyrics are based on real events, but I have a tendancy to obscure or put a smokescreen over those references and turn them almost into fables. That can be a bad habit, I suppose.”

Perhaps such hesitation comes with the isolation from the wider world which has served Pecknold well to date. While someone like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon escaped to a cabin in the wilds to shoot deer and find his muse, Pecknold just sat at home in Seattle and shunned the world.

“It’s good to isolate yourself when you’re making music”, he believes. “Although I live in the city, I don’t live a city life. We’re not after the sound of the city like Interpol or someone so I couldn’t write songs about partying and going out because that’s not what I do. I’m a fan of nature and outdoors life so I think there’s some nostalgia to what we do at times.”

It’s what their newly found audience wants too. “I think people do respond to that quality in the music. When I meet people outside the venue after the show in whatever city we’re in, the conversation will turn to something like our favourite national park and that’s cool. We’re not the type to have favourite nightclubs.”

Pecknold is happier to talk about other lyricists, citing Leonard Cohen as an example of a craftsman he admires. “It seems that you actually learn something from his songs in a way which doesn’t happen with other songwriters. You can actually take something away from a lot of what he writes.”

When he talks about the likes of Cohen or Bob Dylan, it’s clear that he’s buying into the whole package. “I like to feel that I can believe in the people behind the music becaue that in some way enriches the experience”, Pecknold maintains. “Bob Dylan is a case in point. He’s always stuck to his guns and you admire the music that little bit more because of that. He’s created an ideal and he continues to represent that.

“Music has to be more than how catchy a melody is or how deft a turn of phrase someone can come up with. The music is a mirror of what the artist is.”

Pecknold is beginning to cop on to the power of that relationship in the case of his own band. There’s currently a MP3 doing the rounds of Fleet Foxes and Wilco covering Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” at a show in Oregon earlier this year. Fans can get their hands on the track by simply pledging to vote in the forthcoming US presidental election.

There’s no doubt about which side Pecknold is on in that joust. “We were delighted to be involved in that MP3 project because this could be such an important election. It has been interesting touring around America at this time and keeping up with the debates and twists and turns of the campaigns. Everyone is really enthusiastic about the lead Barack Obama has built up in the polls so if things go according to plan, this will be a landmark election.”

Regardless of who takes over the White House in January, the Fleet Foxes will continue to tour and tour and tour. For someone who values his isolation to think and write, there must be occasions when Pecknold would prefer not to be on the tour bus.

“I enjoy touring now more than I did on the first tour”, he says. “Back then, I was really distraught about not having any time to write music because I had become so used to doing that all the time for the last seven years. Now, I see touring as rewarding.

“But if we kept touring this album any longer, it will get frustrating. I don’t want to keep touring beyond the dates in Australia and New Zealand in January. If we stay on the road, we’d start to lose enthusiasm for the show and that would not be fun to watch.”