Sam France and Jonathan Rado make up the powerfully creative rock duo Foxygen. With the help of a 40-piece symphony orchestra, the band has just released its theatrical album Hang. Sitting down with Glamcult, lead singer Sam France reveals Foxygen’s psychic tendencies, dreams of a band musical, and why he hates the term ironic. “Everything we do is out of a love and passion for music.”
We understand you already had the idea for Hang back in 2012, so it’s been a long time coming. How does it feel to have finally released it?
It feels great! We took a while off, collected our thoughts and tried to do it properly. It’s hard sometimes to keep the albums separate when we have the ideas early on, but my friendship with [Jonathan] Rado is based on music, so we are always conceptualising. We try to really discipline ourselves to carry out the vision that we have until the end. It’s an agreement we have between the two of us: that we have to make all our visions come forward, and then we will move onto the next thing.
Can you tell us a bit about your creative process? Do you tend to work together a lot or is it quite separate?
We write separately, but our friendship is just this constant babbling of ideas and throwing stuff at each other, so it’s kind of effortless. We have a psychic connection too—a lot of the time we will write the same song and not even know it. It’s just like we are one mind at this point, it’s hard to describe.
You collaborated with The Lemon Twigs for this album. What made you want to work with them specifically?
Rado had produced one of their records so while they were recording that, I would stop by and hang out. I was just extremely blown away by their music and their whole thing, but also their actual skill as musicians was really impressive. So I just said to Rado: “Shall we use them?” And he was like: “Yes! That’s exactly what I wanted.” It was just perfect.
Every song on this album features a 40-musician symphony orchestra. What inspired you to do this and how did it affect the making of the record?
It was really different because we did it in a real recording studio, whereas all our other records have been done in a home studio. The orchestral stuff was really amazing, we teamed up with these guy—Matthew E White and Trey Pollard—and they had a group of musicians called Space Bomb in Virginia. They were able to make the orchestra thing happen, and make the arrangements and everything. It was really a blast, making the album, and it wasn’t incredibly difficult. I think the main reason is that we were very selective with who we used; the peopled we worked with are perfect.
This album sounds very theatrical, especially songs like Rise Up and Avalon. Was that the intended direction from the outset?
Yeah, we wanted it to be like a Broadway musical. Or like a soundtrack to a movie that wasn’t made.
Well, it certainly feels like you’re listening to a musical when you listen to it in its entirety. Are you trying to tell a story?
Yeah, I think there is a rough theme about the entertainment industry—it deals with Los Angeles a lot. I did actually write a script for the liveshow, but we didn’t use it because we wanted to stick to the music and I thought the strength of the album spoke for itself. The musical that I did write was kind of based on my friendship with Rado. It explored our journey through music, living in L.A. and being in the entertainment industry—that’s what really inspired it.
Can you imagine Foxygen writing a musical? If so, what would it be called?
Yeah, definitely! If someone could fund it, I would love to do Broadway. It would be called Hang or Foxygen Musical. [Laughs] I don’t know! I love the idea of doing Broadway though. And doing it every night, that sounds fun.
The sound of …And Star Power and We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is quite similar, but Hang sounds very different. Is this a new identity for Foxygen?
I think all of our albums are pretty different. Each phase of the band is different colours and different things. We’ve just had the pleasure of using strings when we want it, I think that will be hard to shake. We will definitely use these aspects in the future; we’ve been spoiled so now we can’t go back! I’m sure we will sprinkle orchestral stuff on all our records now that we know it’s possible.
I read that the thing you hate the most, is having your music referred to as “ironic”. What is it you dislike so much about this?
I don’t really get it; I don’t really use that term that much. I think the word is thrown around a lot and I get where they are coming from; they are doing their best to put a finger on what Foxygen is because it’s more than a band. There is an air of pretention around it, it is a sort of performance art group, and it’s a very theatrical band.
I think people are trying to make sense of how a band could decide to make a record that is like a show tune or jazz—it’s not cool, and I don’t think people really understand why we would do that. So I think words like “irony” or “joke” come out, but that’s just what we love to do. Everything we do is out of a love and passion for music, but people try and make sense of it.