Foxygen: Harnessing Star Power

Music Features Foxygen
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There isn’t very much glamour involved when a star is born. In actuality, the cosmos are cold and dark and dusty, and those spectacular glowing orbs we gaze up at with wonder from lightyears away are little more than the results of molecular clouds collapsing under their own gravitational attraction. To become a star, you must first essentially implode, falling victim to your own forces. Then you shimmer for a few billion years—cruelly, the bigger and brighter you shine, the quicker you burn out—before your energy production slows down and you overheat, collapsing in on yourself again, this time for good.

It’s not the most stable gig in the galaxy, and it’s not always pretty, but it’s never boring.

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This is not an article about Foxygen’s implosion. (For that, we’ll point you to The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of Foxygen.) Jonathan Rado and Sam France are done talking about last year’s in-fighting and canceled shows, done attempting to extract any kind of meaning from a trying year.

“People are always asking us what kind of lessons we’ve learned,” Rado says, stretching his legs across a couch backstage before the band’s show at The Loft in Atlanta. “It’s always the same thing: ‘Did you learn any lessons last year?’ And it’s kind of like, ‘No, because we didn’t really do that much wrong.’ It was just sort of the way it all unfolded.”

France nods in agreement. “I think we’ve just naturally been in the music business longer now, so it’s just easier to maneuver in it now,” he offers. “But I don’t know looking back exactly literally what we’ve learned, but I just know that now we’re a lot more comfortable as a band, as a live band, we’re a lot happier with the stuff that we’re making and stuff like that. But I think naturally we’ve just progressed.”

It might seem like the natural progression after a year like the one Foxygen had would involve slowing down, taking a bit of a breather, regaining bearings. It would not, one might presume, include recording, releasing and touring behind a double album.

“Double albums always seem like kind of bad ideas,” Rado says, laughing, “but they’re always so great because of that.”

“We wanted to make something that was excessive,” France adds. “Like the White Album or Tusk by Fleetwood Mac. We just wanted a ridiculous, excessive album.”

And so we have …And Star Power, an indulgent, experimental double-LP that clocks in at 82 minutes and gets hijacked by a fictional punk band (the titular Star Power) halfway through, becoming unhinged and collapsing in on itself in the best way possible.

“I think we wanted a record that encapsulated a lot of different sides of our personalities because the album previous to it was just…we liked it, but it felt kind of one-dimensional, and so we kind of wanted to create this idea that maybe it wasn’t even just Foxygen on the album, that maybe we were collaborating with this other entity, like some sort of weird punk band from space or something,” Rado explains.

And, truth be told, there were a lot of extra hands (albeit human ones) involved in the making of …And Star Power: The Flaming Lips, of Montreal, Bleached and White Fence all are featured on the album, contributing tracks whenever they happened to be in the same city as Rado and France, and Foxygen itself has expanded to a nine-piece outfit on tour, including a trio of female backup singers and an extra guitarist to allow Rado to stay on the keys for all the songs that call for them. The bigger band also means France is freed up to focus solely on vocals and shoot across the stage as he pleases, right in that sweet spot where it feels like any moment he could fly off the rails.

“I think we just want to make an impression, whatever that means,” he says. He’s quietly sipping on a kombucha right now, but in a few hours he’ll transform into a spastic madman to the delight of this Atlanta crowd (which, on this particular night, happens to include Killer Mike and El-P of Run the Jewels). “I just want it to feel like something happened on stage, like something was exchanged between the audience. If some sort of exchange happened, then I’m happy with the show. But I think we achieve that every show nowadays.”

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Whatever you do, don’t get used to Star Power. The concept isn’t so much a new direction for the band as it is the latest in a series of ongoing musical explorations.

“For now it’s probably one and done,” France says. “It’s funny to imagine us doing Star Power 2. Maybe we’ll make that when we’re like 40.”

Rado laughs. “I was thinking about that the other day,” he says. “I was thinking about how, you know, Eminem put out the Marshall Mathers 2.”

Instead, he and France will hit the studio after their tour wraps in November to begin work on their next album, one that will feature neither the heavy ‘60s influence of We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic nor the glittery excess of …And Star Power.

“It’s gonna be kind of like an orchestral album,” Rado says, one that sounds “kind of like a Disney movie” with “lots of fancy arrangements and stuff.”

“It’ll be really pretty.”

And so it seems that no two Foxygen records will be alike. There are no “changes in direction” for the band because that implies some sort of linear trajectory, and that’s not how stars work. They appear at random points in the universe, and we orbit them.

And then, eventually, they’re gone.

“I think it’s just that we have a concept for an album and then we execute that concept to the fullest so there’s nothing left over,” Rado says. “It’s just we kill it and then move on to the next thing.”

The space dust settles into itself after the supernova, and the whole celestial process starts over, flaring up out of the cold, black sky.

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