Published Jan 19, 2017While Hang — a slickly polished, maximalist orchestral effort — marked a surprising turn for Foxygen, a glam duo who are typically firmly rooted in their DIY origins, it wasn't actually a surprise to the band's obsessive fans. The project's founders and masterminds, Sam France and Jonathan Rado, had been talking about the album for years.
Conceived in 2012 as a "Disney orchestra" album, the duo spent the next few years slowly amassing the means to produce it. Teaming up with Matthew E. White and Trey Pollard of Richmond, VA-based artist collective Spacebomb (at once a record label, house band and recording studio), the arrangers brought Foxygen's grandiose vision to life. As Rado tells Exclaim!, "me and Sam sat down and wrote out a little bible of what we wanted every moment on the album to sound like, what the purpose of the orchestra would be at that moment. And we gave that to them, so it was like: 'this part is gonna sound like old 1930s Hollywood'; 'this one will sound like Count Basie'; 'this one will sound like Star Wars cantina music.'"
But despite the disparate suggestions and influences, the golden age of Hollywood is the thread that runs throughout. Here are four ways that Foxygen go Hollywood on Hang (out now on Jagjaguwar).
1. Part of the album was recorded in a vintage Hollywood studio.
Though France and Rado recorded the orchestral overdubs in Richmond, Hang's rock backbone was recorded at Vox Recording Studios in L.A. Founded in 1936 as Electro-Vox Recording Studios, and considered one of the world's oldest recording studios, the room has played host to countless musical icons, from Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole to Vampire Weekend and Adele.
But merely recording in a vintage space wasn't enough for Foxygen — they used vintage technology, too, recording and mixing the entire record onto two-inch tape, a perfect fit for the outfit, who have always leaned analogue. "I've always worked on tape and shit," Rado says. "And I started on cassette and then I learned how to use GarageBand, but that's really as far as I got with the computer. I just don't like using the computer, it doesn't appeal to me in any way. I don't find that it helps, especially with Foxygen. It doesn't need anything from the computer."
2. The songs were inspired by the glitz and glamour.
It's not just the extravagant instrumentation that recalls the overindulgences of Tinseltown: the songs themselves are filled with references to local landmarks, including boulevards Lankershim and Sunset, and tropes like the relentless sunshine and the plight of many a struggling actor. France and Rado cite two specific, Hollywood-centric works as central to the inspiration behind Hang: Terrence Malick's 2015 film Knight of Cups, about a depressed screenwriter — "it's Sam's favourite movie," says Rado — and Kenneth Anger's tell-all book Hollywood Babylon, which was infamously banned in the United States for a decade due to its largely unauthorized depictions of Hollywood scandals during the first half of the 20th century. "That was inspiration for a lot of the imagery. We had it in the studio, brought it around with us," remembers Rado.
This backdrop calls to mind La La Land, Damien Chazelle's 2016 film that dissects the dreams and delusions of struggling Hollywood entertainers, set to lavishly orchestral musical numbers. The similarity isn't lost on France and Rado; they dream of getting Chazelle to direct the music video for Hang track "Avalon," which shares its name with a landmark Hollywood nightclub. "That would be a perfect collab, I would think," muses Rado.
3. The record features some star-studded guests.
What's an homage to the world of the movie industry without some guest appearances? Joining Foxygen in their California studio were teen prodigies/former child actors Brian and Michael D'Addario of the Lemon Twigs and the Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd. Members of Foxygen appeared on two instalments in the Lips' collaborative cover album series — 2013's Stone Roses tribute and 2014's Beatles homage — while Drozd made an appearance on ...And Star Power, and Rado produced the Twigs' Do Hollywood.
Says Rado, "Brian and Michael are in our backing band in the whole record. They play drums and bass. And then Drozd was there for three days. What we did was have Michael and Steven set up two drum kits facing each other, and so on 'Trauma' and 'Mrs. Adams,' it's Michael from the Lemon Twigs and Steven Drozd playing together, and then Brian on bass and me on piano and Sam was singing live vocals with us."
While the D'Addario's contributions were pretty straightforward, Drozd's contributions are hidden throughout the record. "He played a little harpsichord, played some timpani on 'Trauma,' he did some electric guitar stuff on 'Mrs. Adams,' he did a lot of nice, tiny touches on it," Rado remembers. "He's like the smartest musician, a genius."
4. Their live show will sounds like a "Las Vegas revue."
Foxygen will be hitting the road this spring for a month-long tour of North America, but France and Rado are the only returning faces. Their backing band will feature many of their Spacebomb collaborators, including Pollard, who will serve as bandleader, and a horn section.
Foxygen stopped the hearts of many fans with the announcement of a "Farewell Tour" in 2015, but it turns out that the tour was a send-off to Star Power, the musicians that joined France and Rado for the production and touring of their 2014 noise-punk record, ...And Star Power. As a result, that album's songs won't be played on this upcoming tour. "Star Power was a rock band, it was a punk band. Hang's like Broadway," remarks Rado. "I just felt like that was the band for that type of music. This band [for the Hang tour] is tight, studio musicians. It [the Star Power material] wouldn't be that cool if it's played well."
Regarding their older music, songs from their acclaimed 2013 album We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic will largely pad out the set. And while there are no plans to revive the material from 2012's Take the Kids Off Broadway, France — who, contrary to his on-stage persona, was largely quiet during our chat — pipes in to suggest, "It'd be cool to play Take the Kids Off Broadway stuff, that would actually work [with this band]... but we haven't worked out any of that."