Fleet Foxes aim to be timeless with alternative brand of folk
AFP - Monday, November 24
PARIS (AFP) - - Though Fleet Foxes are worlds away from Nirvana and the 90s grunge launched by Sub Pop, the indie label that signed them, the Seattle-based group is wooing unlikely critics worldwide with its unique pastoral folk sound.
Released this summer, the group's first and self-titled album received a 9/10 from influential US web site Pitchfork, was dubbed "a landmark in American music, an instant classic" by British newspaper The Guardian, and "album of the year" by British magazine Uncut.
"It's been very surprising," band leader Robin Pecknold told AFP at the Paris Inrocks festival this month, adding that the five-man group is trying not to let it distract them.
"It's something you really need to keep separate, almost keeping it in a little box because that's not something that should really affect the music you make or how you perceive yourself or your band," said Pecknold, 22.
Folk music has been experiencing a revival in recent years, but the group has gone beyond this to create a unique brand of music.
Critics struggle to define the group's sound, using terms such as "Baroque pop" and "indie folk" with medieval influences, to describe what the Fleet Foxes have created with the use of vocal harmonies.
Rich harmonies are the backbone of their songs, sustained by guitar chords and decorated with frequent pop interludes.
Yet the Fleet Foxes never set out to become a vocal harmony group, it happening spontaneously while recording, said Pecknold, who sees this is as a recipe for good music.
"It needs to be almost like a coincidence," said the musician, a cross between a hippy and lumberjack with long hair, bushy beard and thick plaid shirt.
It is not happenstance, however, that this album bathes the listener in a timeless pastoral atmosphere -- its 11 tracks recall sounds of the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, or even Gregorian chants.
The group wanted to avoid trends and create classic instrumentation free of computer-made sounds, said Pecknold, adding that they did not emulate songs from the 1960s either.
"There's no attempt to make it sound new, but we weren't trying to make it sound old either," he said.
Fleet Foxes claim their influences span the likes of Bob Dylan, British folk music, tropicalismo sounds of Brazil, or even classical composer Maurice Ravel.
Pecknold's band mates include his childhood friend Skye Skjelset, 22, Casey Wescott, 27, Christian Wargo, 31, and Josh Tillman, 27, the last to join, having already released several solo albums.
The frontman grew up in Seattle in the 1990s and watched as it gave birth to the dark and thrashing sounds of the grunge movement that went on to sweep the world with Kurt Cobain as its alternative poster boy.
"This was something that was happening locally and was relevant across the world," said Pecknold, who said it influenced the way he saw music.
"It makes you think of music as something more real, tangible than if you grow up in Omaha, Nebraska, where everything is coming from other places."
A section of the painting "The Blue Cloak", painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder in 1559, graces the Fleet Foxes album cover, but the band is firmly footed in the present.
"I just want the music to be whatever we are at that time making music," said Pecknold, who sees their music as a mirror and said the group does not purposely set out to make people happy with their pastoral tunes.
"If next year is the darkest year of our lives, the music might be different," he said.
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Fleet Foxes members (left-right) Josh Tillman, Robin Pecknold, Christian Wargoon, Skye Skjelset and Casey Wescott pose for a photo, on November 12, in Paris. Though Fleet Foxes are worlds away from Nirvana and the 90s grunge launched by Sub Pop, the indie label that signed them, the Seattle-based group is wooing unlikely critics worldwide with its unique pastoral folk sound.
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