Charity and expectation: Diving into the world of Foxing

Debuting with a record that could of easily pegged them as an emo cult classic, Foxing have gone on to evolve with every album. Their third record, Nearer My God, released in mid 2018 is unashamedly grand. The band have continued to take bold steps forward, backing their records on stage with a blistering live presence. 

For the first time ever, Australian audiences were able to witness a Foxing live show, with the band making their debut visit to the country earlier this year. In the hours before the opening show of the run, frontman Conor Murphy spared a moment to talk about the record, providing a platform for non-profits and a certain single inspired by Celine Dion.

Nearer My God takes a different direction to stuff you’ve done in the past. Obviously this is the music you’re wanting to make, but how do you navigate the expectations that fans have of you as a band? 

That’s a thing I feel we’re constantly talking about. It’s something on everybody’s mind that is a fan of not just our music, but any music. Anytime that you love a band and they put out a new record it is the biggest fear in the world. You’re like, “They’re gonna fuck it up, they’re gonna mess this up so bad.” No matter what, that’s always my expectation. This band that I love so much is just going to mess it up from what I want them to do? I think the best thing to do from the artist’s perspective is just to keep doing the thing that makes you happy. Because you’re going to mess it up for someone. Someone is going to hate what you do. With this record, it received better critical reviews than any other record that we did. I think we’ve garnered more fans than any other record we’ve done – but there are still so many people online that are like, “What happened to this band?” This is by far the most successful record that we’ve put out – but there are still people that are like “This band fucking sucks now.” The solution to all of that though is just to make what actually makes you happy. 

This record is the proudest we’ve ever been of anything we’ve made. So I think even if it was the least successful record that we’ve done, it still would of been the proudest we were of a record. It felt like the most ambitious thing we could of made. Really, it just proved to us that we can have fun making music and we can feel challenged while making music. 

I think the way to do it is to not actually think about other people’s expectations. Which sounds like doing a disservice to your fans, but in reality if someone really loves a band then they want the band to grow. That’s at least the way I look at it. To have somebody just stay the same forever? Make the same album over and over again? That’s just such a selfish thing. You already have a record just like that.

Now you have four carbon copies of it. Thank you Muse.

That’s a really good example! You know the biggest difference though? Muse’s record that they keep copying over and over again is massively successful. It’s like if our first record was a huge hit and made us a tonne of money, maybe we would just keep making it over and over again? But you know, we can’t pay for health insurance so we gotta keep trying some different stuff!

It’s hard not to take some comments online personally, especially when they’re directed at your art. How do you navigate that? 

Everybody likes to say they don’t read comments, that’s the way you do it – “Just don’t read the comments!” We read them. We religiously Google ourselves and look at our own hashtags. We want to know what people think of it! We see when a critic writes a review, but the more important thing is always the fans of our band. What do they actually think of it? There’s been Reddit threads about it, where people are just talking about how much they hate it. But it’s so evened out – there’s people who are like “I didn’t like this band before but now I like it” and for that reason I guess I just don’t take it personally at this point. I think if it was a personal attack on me and the way I look or something, then it’d be different. But I think that I brush it off because it’s like, there’s not enough of you hating it to really affect me.

You took a different approach to the record, production wise. Can you tell me about that?

This is the first record we made all in St Louis, where we’re from. I think that was such an important decision to make. Our first record we recorded in St Louis and did it at local studios. We had to bounce around between them because you know, not having enough money. It was totally out of our own pocket. Making that first record was just what we had to do. We never liked that result because it wasn’t what we intended to do, it was just what we had to do. 

On our second record we were given some money to go record it. So we were like, “Great! Let’s freak out with this thing.” We went to Vermont to write it, into a cabin and demoed the whole thing. Then we went to Seattle to actually record it with Matt Bayliss who’s one of our favourite producers of all time. He recorded Pearl Jam and was in Minus The Bear, he did Mastodon… He’s got a big list of great bands he’s worked with. That process was really amazing for so many reasons, but I don’t think it was the right process for us. We’re still proud of that record, but I don’t think that was the way we actually wanted to do it. The way that we really wanted to do it was what we did on this third record. Doing it totally in St Louis with no time constraints. We’d come into the studio and work from 10 in the morning til’ 9pm. We’d go over or cut early sometimes, but we had this schedule going the whole time. The best part about it was that you could come back to something weeks later and be like “Actually I really hate all of the vocals that I sang on this, I’m going to redo the whole thing.” There was no problem, because there was no time constraint. We owned the studio space. That was amazing! 

Eric Hudson, our guitarist, acted as our producer which was really nice. Because we trust him, he trusts us and we have the communication that we’ve had for years. I’ve known him since I was 12 years old. There’s always a communication hump you have to get over with a new producer you’re working with and that just didn’t exist with him. Then Chris Walla, he’s from Death Cab For Cutie, recorded Tegan & Sara and a lot of great bands… He came in and acted kind of like Eric’s producer. He mentored the whole record, then he mixed it. The whole process was the dream process for us. I think for a lot of bands it’s their nightmare – to take it on all on their own and not work with a ‘leader’ or something. But for us it was the best way we could ever do it. I think it’s what we’re going to do again. 

It sounds like the process was very community focused?

Oh defintely! That was another thing about it, everybody recorded on the album is St Louis based (I think). A really great opera singer friend of ours did a lot of vocals on it, we had a bagpipe player and our friend that’s a violinist played on the record. Everybody was right there with us.

A moment at The Rev.

You released the single ‘Nearer My God’ in five different languages. What inspired this?

Short answer, Celine Dion. Celine Dion has done this so many times. She (or whoever) writes the songs, I don’t want to say she doesn’t write her on music, but she might not. Whoever is writing the songs, she records them in Mandarin, Japanese, German, Dutch… It started as “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did a Celine Dion thing with this?” What we realised from touring is that there are all of these bands in different countries that learn or translate their songs into English – because we’re all too lazy to learn their language. It’s a tiny attempt at doing something for them. We thought, why don’t we put in some effort and figure this out too? It was the most difficult thing in the world. It sucked. 

We ended up working with somewhere around 70 translators. What we’d do is work with one translator, send them the lyrics, they’d send us back a set of lyrics. I’d then record it, send it back to that translator, they would say “You fucked up everything, try again.” That would happen a couple of times – I don’t know any of these languages. Then once it was like “Okay, the translator says it’s good” then we would go to as many different people from those countries – people we’d met on tour, friends from social media. We’d go to these people and ask “How does this sound?” We’d then write it out for them and ask if it worked, or if it made any sense. Then, we’d go through the process again with the revisions. It was a nightmare. I’m not very good with other languages, so it took a long time. Eric recorded all of it so he had to listen to me get frustrated about it.

The effort that goes into that!

Well we really wanted to do it with more songs and do more languages, but the second we started doing it we were like “Oh my god, this is so hard.” I think for the next record, once we get to a place where we have the songs together we’ll just start doing that same thing again and try to do more songs with more languages. I think that would be cool. I commend anyone that puts anything out in more than one language. It’s such a pain in the ass.

Last year you brought out non-profits and charities on stage, raising awareness and donations for charity. Why did you want to incorporate this into your live show?

There’s no shortage of answers for it – of course you want to do it. A big thing was rather than trying to find one charity to encapsulate everything, we really wanted to work with local ones in each city that we went to. Something specific that with the money at the end of the night, could mean an immediate difference.

The second part – I think raising awareness is one thing, but having people who truly are badasses come up and talk to a bunch of people on a microphone? We’d always do it at the same part of the set, right after a pretty hype song and before our big song. At the height of the performance where everybody is ready to go, we bring out this person to capitalise on that kind of energy. The most notable time was in New York, there’s this really great all-encompassing religious organisation that works with people of Muslim faith, Jewish, Christian – you name it, they’re all working to help immigrants from being deported. It’s called New Sanctuary. The guy from New Sanctuary came up and gave the most spine tingling speech I think I’ve ever heard. Everyone’s hair was standing up. He started by telling a story about him almost being deported, then there was this big protest by New Sanctuary to stop him from being deported and then it worked. By the end of it he’s yelling “We have a racist, homophobic, xenophobic president” and the entire building – this is a big venue in New York, everyone is just cheering while he’s saying “Fuck Donald Trump.” It was capitalising on this energy of everybody at a rock show.

It’s just such a simple thing. Musicians, for the most part we don’t do very much for people. Emotionally, maybe. You could say we’re helping people get through their day or some shit. But for the most part, you don’t do that much for society in a broad sense. So doing stuff like that is so small and so easy. 

Listen to Nearer My God by Foxing.