“New year, new you” goes the old adage. Certainly it’s true in the case of Foxygen, the lauded indie group led by longtime friends and musical collaborators Sam France and Jonathan Rado. The pair have evidently selected 2017 to be the year of their rebirth, a metamorphosis defined by their new record Hang, a wholly triumphant slab of string-heavy crooning that sounds utterly like anything they have ever attempted before.
It’s as good a time as any for a band to redefine itself. After the swirling horror of 2016, it seems like every musical act in the world is pulling up their bootstraps and turning to face the political landscape as it stands, re-establishing their boundaries and retrenching in opposition to a whole host of outside forces.
Indeed, though in conversation France seems keen never to get too specific in terms of Hang’s reference points – he won’t say definitively what he thinks will happen to an America under Trump – he proves willing to talk about the wasted world as he sees it, staying ridiculously, almost startlingly upbeat throughout.
Perhaps that’s to be expected. After all, it’s that selfsame optimism that has gotten the band through its ups and downs: through the murky, troubling periods when a break up seemed as though it were on the horizon, or following the critical sniffing that defined the mainstream media’s approach to …And Star Power. France has always said Foxygen is an escape. On Hang, a jubilant record released during some of the most un-jubilant times in recent memory, that seems more obvious than ever.
Watch: Foxygen – America
Music Feeds: How’s it going over in America at the moment? It seems pretty scary.
Sam France: There’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of fear. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. Some people are really happy. And other people are really fuckin’… I don’t know.
MF: It seems like your new record Hang deals with that explicitly – there’s a song on there called ‘America’, it’s being released on inauguration day…
SF: That’s why I think Trump is going to be good for Foxygen. I just wrote some songs with some general themes and some poetry. But it seems to have produced some songs with some themes that people are relating to and using to help them process their own disillusionment. Which is good, because I always want Foxygen to be a sort of escape for people.
MF: When you’re writing then, do the songs have a single meaning for you, or do they have a range of meanings?
SF: Well, they’re just poems. It’s all poetry. Even the way [Jonathan] Rado writes. It’s all a version of a poem for us … I got into music making with Rado. It’s all part of the same sort of experience: I started writing poetry, he was starting to write, we were making music together. Writing and music were all kind of the one thing happening altogether.
MF: Because you guys have been working together for so long then, you must have a really streamlined way of working.
SF: Yeah, exactly. ‘Streamlined’ is a good word for it … Foxygen is a result of a friendship. So many times we’ll go into [making a record] and it’s just serendipitous. Sure, we’ll go, ‘Check out this record’, or ‘Check out that record’. We used to do more of that when we were younger. But now we have a collective taste. We’re like one person in that way. We don’t talk about things too much.
MF: So at what point did you decide that Hang was going to feature so many strings?
SF: That was just an original concept. Well, that was the concept. It was basically just about the orchestra. The whole album started with that idea: that one kind of image. You know a record like Harry Nilsson’s A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night, or not even that record in particular; not even necessarily music from that… Just the idea of a crooner in front of an orchestra.
We weren’t even directly influenced by any specific records from that time. We just had this idea of this Hollywood image. This old time traditional American feel. I mean for me, Hang is really about pride. It’s about American pride.
MF: It’s funny you say that, because the album does feel very unashamed in its love, and its pride.
SF: Sure. I mean, I love America. And I love LA. And Rado does too. So much of the album, and so much of Foxygen, is Los Angeles. We’ve just soaked it into our blood: the city itself. And Hang is about Los Angeles.
Watch: Foxygen – Follow the Leader
MF: It’s interesting because until recently it seemed very uncool to actually really like stuff. Everyone tried really hard to be cynical.
SF: I know. But we love that stuff. But maybe now because of Trump, maybe what we’re going to start seeing is people wanting to escape. Not just go to the movies and see the world getting blown up or some dark edgy art. Maybe we’ll see a return to musicals.
Well, I mean in some ways, I think we already have. I think that’s been happening for a few years. But maybe we’ll just see that grow. We’ll want more of a wholesome escape. I think Rado and I did. I think that’s why we made this record. We wanted to go to Disneyland, you know? We wanted to just get the fuck out of many different boxes that had been built for us.
MF: Did it feel very freeing to do something so hopeful, then?
SF: I think it’s refreshing. I mean, we all need our apocalyptic art. We need progressive art in our lives to keep us in touch with the times. But again, Foxygen has always been an escapist thing. It’s always been a world that Rado and I escape into. I mean, that’s what we’ve always wanted Foxygen to be about. Just like, providing another world to escape into for ourselves first and foremost and then for fans.
MF: Do you think you’re a naturally optimistic person then?
SF: I think so. Though I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell for America, what to think about what. But I’m optimistic personally. I’m optimistic about it all. [Laughs]. I’m optimistic about life.
‘Hang’ out on January 20, 2017 on Jagjaguwar.