Let’s not begin with the usual FOXYGEN soap-opera spiel of squabble and pending disbandment that has dominated the smoke of hype-factory chimneys in the past twelve months. Rather, let’s embark on our journey armed with nothing but the sweet fact that this pair of musical magicians have successfully created one of the most fascinating records of the year. A sprawling double LP, …And Star Power is an ambitious and wonderfully warped adventure through constellations of intergalactic pop. Launching with Star Power Airlines, it veers and careers through loops of frazzled psychedelic frenzy, eventually settling on the new planet coated in iridescent, glittery wooze. It’s just one cabin of the FOXYGEN starship, which has been travelling this twisted path since its captains, Jonathan Rado and Sam France, were mere highschoolers.
I had the pleasure of sitting down in the tour bus with France, the band’s rambunctious frontman, before their Berlin show. France is somewhat of an enigma; when I meet him, he’s curled up in the recesses of a furry hooded jacket like a sleepy fox, quietly spoken. When he re-emerges – or rather, pounces – on the stage later that night he is nothing short of mesmerising. His jacket is quickly torn off as he flings himself into the crowd like a moth to a lamp, pink-tipped hair dripping and flying, flaunting a jaw-dropping fusion of the lung-busting Mick Jagger howl-and-prance, David Byrne shoulder-snaps and coy, eyelash-fluttering words of gratitude between songs. Indeed, there are licks of this and splashes of that all across the sonic canvas; but at the end of the day, this particular strand of chaos couldn’t have been brewed by a band other than FOXYGEN.
France mentions that he’s missed a number of interviews recently due to an unexpected stint in hospital. ‘We did a press tour a few months ago; I was in Amsterdam, and I had a collapsed lung,’ he explains. ‘It’s when the lung just, pfffff, deflates. I couldn’t breathe. I was in the hospital for like five days’. This thread of injuries is one that continues to unravel during our chat; as a performer, France couldn’t be referred to as anything less than devout.
Last year the band infamously cancelled their world tour; contrary to reports, however, the France and Rado flame didn’t fizzle during this period. ‘That was just a crazy year,’ says France. ‘I broke my leg onstage, so for awhile I was just recovering from that. Then we started working on our new album, and… that’s basically it. We just recorded a lot of music.’
Expanding and blooming
The main reason for the tour cancellation was cited as the ‘creative health’ of the band, and evidently something worked, with …And Star Power sprawling across a rich double-offering. ‘Yeah, that’s what we said,’ says France. ‘I don’t even – I mean, I guess it was. It was just booked without our knowledge, without really running it by us. There were different people in the band at the time, and we were not in a great place. It just wasn’t gonna work. We needed time to regroup, to make a new band. There’s nine of us now – it’s fun.’
FOXYGEN‘s creative approach is a direct one, with the pair predeciding a concept, mood or even album title before beginning to write and record. ‘A cinematic auditory adventure for speedy freaks, skull krunchers, abductees and misfits’, announced a teaser before the release of …And Star Power. ‘We wanted to have this idea that we were a new band, and that we were working with some other band, a punk band of aliens or something,’ says France of the starting point for the record. ‘Kind of like Ziggy Stardust. That was the concept.’
In terms of musical influences, the band cite a whole spectrum; this includes the obvious plethora of classics such as THE ROLLING STONES and LED ZEPPELIN, as well as a formative teenage obsession with psychedelic royalty THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE. What’s wonderful about FOXYGEN, though, is the way in which these influences are standing there for all to see, like turned-out sleeves. It’s certainly a clever pastiche; though one that tends to be divisive. I ask France where he finds inspiration outside of music.
‘Hmm… Recently I’ve been wanting to make a film,’ he says. ‘I’ve been really inspired by Harmony Korine’s movies, you know him? He’s an experimental filmmaker; he made that movie ‘Gummo’, that movie ‘Kids’, and then more recently ‘Spring Breakers.’ Really original. [But] I don’t really like new movies overall. I feel like, in our generation – there’s people making decent music and decent art, maybe, but there aren’t really any good filmmakers. There’s not young people making really challenging, interesting films. So yeah, I’d like to make a movie.’
Past and future
The pair have been creating music together more or less since their voices broke, and as a result have an impressive back-catalogue of unearthed highschool gems. ‘It was like goofy rapping and stuff like that,’ says France of the earlier recordings. ‘Just the two of us, mostly. We’d sample a lot of stuff, stupid noises and silly, nonsensical lyrics. It was kind of influenced by BECK.’ And are they still kicking around in a bottom drawer? ‘Yeah! Someone’s got ’em. If somebody wanted to release it, they could – no one’s asked us about it, but we have a lot of albums that we could re-release. There’s probably about ten legit old albums.’
Never a band to take the predictable path, the future is looking to get all the more warped and weird for FOXYGEN, with concepts for the next two albums already in the pan. ‘The next one is called ‘Hang’,’ says France buoyantly, ‘and it’s an orchestral album. It’s like Disney orchestra music; still rock music, but with orchestral Disney arrangements over it. And our next album is going to be a hip-hop album called ‘Boys Life’.’
With the blessing of success on their shoulders, FOXYGEN‘s ambitious projects have had the space to work in roots and bloom. ‘I think we’re a lot happier as a band now than we were, say, two years ago,’ explains France. ‘Just having the resources to actually follow up on our visions of things. We get to see them become real. We’ve always wanted to have a big band, and backup dancers, and we’ve always wanted to work with an orchestra, and now we’re going to be able to. Even bringing them on tour, bringing an orchestra on tour,’ he adds with a smile.
Before we part ways, I ask Sam to name three things he still hopes to achieve before the year is out. He furrows his brow and mulls it over.
‘I want my wrist to heal,’ he begins. ‘My wrist is broken – I broke it a few months ago, at a show in LA. I didn’t realise it was broken until later that night. It feels pretty fucked up. I can’t bend it backwards at all; I keep snapping it back into place. I’m supposed to be wearing a cast. That’s where they did the surgery, right there, they put a screw in…’ he adds, pulling back his sleeve.
At face value, it’s difficult to fathom how a vocalist could be so battered around during a performance. After witnessing a FOXYGEN show, however, it no longer comes as a revelation. France, who has previously described his artistic approach as ‘Dionysian’, twists and contorts like a possessed soul, leaping between amplifiers and the arms of the crowd in spasmodic, warped gyrations. It’s bewildering, intoxicating and impressive. I ask whether Jonathan has sustained any injuries. ‘No,’ he answers. ‘But I’ve been in the hospital three times this year, from being reckless on stage. I’ve had to learn how to find a balance in performing.’
As far as the other two ambitions are concerned, France is direct and somewhat surprising – or not, considering that they’ve spent the last two months whirling around like perpetual meteors.
‘Get married,’ he chuckles. ‘And have kids. Yeah! Settle down. Just settle down and have a family.’