Forging a new sound with St. Louis punk faves Foxing - WXPN
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Foxing | photo by Rachel Del Sordo

A year or two ago,  you were most likely to see St. Louis DIY scene faves Foxing at basement shows, or perhaps at a particularly good all-ages night at The Fire. Their music was loud and cathartic, lots of screams howls and arcing guitars, interlocking instrumental building up to visceral crescendos. In short, it was capital-E Emo, at least on the surface anyway – and 2014’s The Albatross was the perfect introduction to a band that toured heavily with the likes of The Hotelier and Prawn.

But Foxing always saw itself a little differently – they come from a background that’s equal parts ambient / experimental (Hunter Gatherer) and brash punk rock (Family Might). These days, the five-piece has its sights set comparatively higher, and its sophomore LP Dealer (out now on Triple Crown records) is poised to launch them beyond the scene and into the realm of general listenership. It’s an elegant and atmospheric, like Sigur Ros and GY!BE, but with classic Foxing hooks by frontman Conor Murphy. They’ve already gotten some love from NPR – always a good sign – and this Friday, the band’s run with fellow boundary-pushers The World Is… takes to Union Transfer.

We caught up with bassist and co-songwriter Josh Coll to talk about the band’s progression, its listening habits and how much it still enjoys its first record.

The Key: The Albatross felt more like a classic punk record, while Dealer is definitely a departure. It feels like you started with the sound of “Bloodhound” and took that approach on the whole album. On the songwriting end, what led you to this more expansive sound?

Josh Coll: We started writing The Albatross in early 2012 and then recorded it in late 2012 or early 2013. Then we toured on that record for almost two years. It’s weird playing songs for so long and as a collective we are sort of shifting away from those interests. I think also it was a lot of experimenting, in the sense of just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing if they stick. It took us a long time to write that record, I think it was about 8 or 9 months of writing and about that much in recording as well.

When I listen to that record, I hear a lot of what our other bands sounded like. You know, like our drummer and I came from a strictly instrumental band and Conor, our singer, and our other guitar player, Eric, they both came from a band that wasn’t instrumental, but leaned really heavily on the those kind of aesthetics. So I hear stuff like that, I hear the process of making the record and I hear the time that we spent in the basement of the studio together.

I think after it came out, people kind of pushed us around into different categories or we started playing with certain bands. I guess by the time we started slowing down and started looking towards making another record, it was one of those things where we realized that we wanted to actually make music that represented where we were at currently as people and reflect our interests in music. It’s hard to say what the shift is between those two records, because I see it as a process. I don’t think we’re at that point where we can look at it in hindsight just yet.

TK: I actually didn’t know you were in an instrumental band previously, but it makes total sense – some of the differences I was hearing in the more expansive sound on Dealer almost reminded me of Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky or something post-rock sounding.

JC: Personally, my favorite music is fairly subdued. I listen to a lot of ambient music and drone music. I think that those elements were always there for us. With Dealer we went away and we wrote the record in the span of a month, as opposed to 8 months. It is a lot more immediate and you hear a lot more of our subconscious tendencies as writers. When you are writing for months and months on end you have a lot of time to second guess yourself and tweak things.

We were all really nervous to write the record. We had been touring for about four months straight and we were all really burnt out and had hit a really hard stretch, both as friends and in our personal lives. We knew that we were going write this record but didn’t have anything written. Eric was the last person to join band in 2012, and from that point until we wrote Dealer, we were not able to write. We wrote about two songs in almost two years.

We were just really in our own heads and we weren’t in the environment that we wanted to be in.  We were just really focused on what it meant to be in our band versus what it is when the five of us are together. Once we got in there we were just completely focused and the sounds that can be heard on the record are very much less thought out than on The Albatross. But not in a way that makes it seem like we weren’t aware of what we were doing, just a lot less hyper-focused.

TK: How did your relationship with the stuff from The Albatross change after the two years you were out touring it?

JC: It’s weird, I feel like we toured on that record for a year and a half without actually knowing how to play those songs. It took us a really long time on the road before all of a sudden they clicked. Like, “oh this is the way that we play these songs live” or “this is the way we expand on them” or “this is how the mood shifts from the record to a live performance”.

In that regard, I think you fall in love with your own work multiple times. You go through different iterations of despising it and loving it, and by the end of our touring cycle, you’re definitely burnt out on them to a degree. You have to think of any band that you like that has been around for years and has a deep discography, they may be playing songs from 15 years prior that they probably have absolutely no love for. But I think that we found ways to make our songs more interesting. Recently we have been touring with our friend Emma who did strings on The Albatross and Dealer and she has been on the road for us now playing synth and strings. Something as small as that breathes new life into your work.

TK: How does the relationship between you, the songwriter, and Conor, the voice of the band, work exactly?

JC: In terms of the actually songwriting, we write that as a full band. So, on this record actually Eric, our guitarist, wrote the structures to almost every song on the record. Then we came together and fleshed them and changed them and reworked them.

In terms of lyrics, Conor and I split about 50/50 lyrically. With The Albatross it was a lot of writing separately and bringing our work to each other and editing it. He is the one who is singing it, so he has the voice and is skilled at melody, but as far as the lyrics, it is just something we have always done together.

With Dealer, we wrote a lot of them together in the same room. There are songs where he brought a line or a stanza and he handed off to me and I flushed it from one line into a whole song.  Then I gave it back to him and he edited it and worked melodies for it and what not. There are several songs that I wrote that he didn’t touch a single line of, and vice verse.

I think we each, individually, have a little more confidence in our writing of lyrics. I think he, more so ever, really took the things that I wrote and found the core to them. For instance, there is a song on the record called “Indica” that I wrote – it was a pretty hard song to write and they all encouraged me to continue it. The final draft I gave to Conor had a lot more to it and didn’t even have a chorus, and he took all of that and found the center of it and made it what it was, into an actual song instead of really out-of-shape poem.

It has always been a really collaborative band, but more so than ever, each individual voice is coming on Dealer a lot more than on The Albatross.

Foxing plays Union Transfer with The World Is…, TTNG and Brightside this Friday, December 4th at 7 p.m. Tickets to the all-ages show are available here.

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