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Fleet Foxes Are Not Hippies

Don't Let the Floppy Hats, Jesus Beards, and Five-Part Vocal Harmonies About Rivers,Trees, and Sunshine Throw You

Fleet Foxes Are Not Hippies

Kelly O

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Morgan Keuler
PECKNOLD AT BUMBERSHOOT '07 Wearing the hat.

Not that long ago, Fleet Foxes had a change of heart. "We all started getting discouraged by the direction the band was taking, and frustrated with the songs I was writing," Robin Pecknold, 21, the frontman for the group, recently wrote on his MySpace page. Pecknold and crew grew up on their parents' records—Crosby, Stills, and Nash; the Beach Boys; the Zombies; Joni Mitchell; Simon and Garfunkel—and they wanted to make music that was more true to those roots. Fleet Foxes were already doing fairly well for a new local band, consistently booking shows and drawing favorable write-ups from the local press, but they "scrapped every song we had and took a while to simply write new music." In that MySpace post, Pecknold described the new sound:

With the new music, we decided to put an emphasis on harmony, simple three- and four-part block harmony. The songs would be simple as well, songs about our friends and family, history, nature, and the things around us in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of complicated vocal melodies, we would try and use guitars and mandolins and banjos and other little guys to fill the melodic spaces in the music. We'd try and avoid conventional song structures, sometimes putting two songs together as one, or avoiding choruses and verses in favor of long vocal rounds and alternating instrumental sections.

"I am not a hippie," says Pecknold, sitting in a coffee shop along with his four bandmates four days after they announced signing to Sub Pop. Pecknold pulls at his frizzy, brown, shoulder-length hair.

He says, "I might look like a hippie, but I actually have much disdain for hippies."

This is funny coming from a guy who wore a floppy brown hat during Fleet Foxes' set five months ago at Bumbershoot. It was big and goofy, like something John Lennon would've worn. Pecknold is not wearing the hat now, but he still has a full Jesus beard to go with his long Jesusy hair. He's wearing layers of clothing (a coat, a scarf, a sweater, a shirt) because it's literally freezing outside, as well as one colorful fingerless mitten (he lost its mate). The tips of his fingers are calloused from constant guitar playing. He looks exactly like a hippie.

He knows it. On January 25, soon after the Sub Pop news, Stranger music writer Jeff Kirby posted a link on Line Out to streaming audio of five Fleet Foxes songs. The first commenter replied: "Fleet Foxes are so awesome except for the part where they ran off with Chris Robinson's dowry." The second commenter was Pecknold. He wrote:

I resent and apologize for that hat. I also can't claim to own any topaz, turquoise, rings of any sort, necklaces, dream catchers, peacock feathers, ponytail holders, or any of the other tchotchkes you might find in the Pandora's box that is Robinson's dowry. On that tip, though, isn't it rad that "hippies" nowadays define themselves by how many weird items they own/can wear at one time and not by any actual ideology? That it's just a veiled version of rampant consumerism with no meaning? The hat, however, is inexcusable and will be burned.

"Hippies were cool, but cocaine destroyed them," Pecknold says, wrapping both hands around his warm cup of coffee. "Cocaine and Charles Manson. As soon as 1970 hit, everyone in L.A., instead of being all free love or whatever, they all moved into these big mansions, these big locked compounds. All the music became really inward focused; '70s music is way more self-centered. It's not bad; it's good to evaluate the self, or whatever..."

Pecknold pauses. Then he cringes and exclaims, "Oh God. Don't quote me on that!"

His bandmates—Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo, Nick Peterson, and Skye Skjelset—erupt with laughter.

"It is good to ev-al-u-ate the self," Pecknold says in a robot voice, mocking himself.


Fleet Foxes have been together as this lineup for almost a year and a half—some have been friends and bandmates even longer. (Bassist Craig Curran dropped out of the band for medical reasons.) Their posture is relaxed, the quieter guys (Skjelset and Peterson) are perfectly comfortable letting the more outgoing guys (Wargo and Pecknold) field most of the questions, but no one's afraid to interrupt or laugh when someone says something goofy. There's a sort of rhythm between them while they talk, a rare connection that comes out in their songs.

There is no lead singer in Fleet Foxes. There are guitars, bass, drums, an electric piano, the occasional cello or string of chimes, and many voices. Everyone's voice is an instrument. It's Pecknold you hear most often in songs like "English House" and "Drops in the River," but it's the layers of dense harmonies sung perfectly that make the band's baroque compositions magnificent and vivid.

On the song "White Winter Hymnal" specifically, you can't help but think of a bunch of guys sitting around a campfire. The band takes the listener with them out among the trees. While round-robin vocals playfully sing about the river and snow and sun, their big voices reach up to the sky. Fleet Foxes conjure this scene without any irony. They've brought it to Chop Suey, Neumo's, the Crocodile, your iPod, your bedroom. And as you sing along, no matter where you are, the air starts to smell cleaner, you start to imagine the slightest tinge of pine, and the chattering voices around you turn into crickets. Lots and lots of crickets. So it's not at all surprising when Pecknold mentions that he's looking forward to camping on his days off during an upcoming tour with Portland's buzz band of the moment, Blitzen Trapper. While their music has been compared to mid-20th-century acts like the Band and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Pecknold says it's the environment around him that's his best muse.

"White Winter Hymnal" was featured on Pitchfork's Forkcast. The hard-to-please website adores the outfit, calling their success impressive and saying that the song (a preview of the self-released EP to come out next month) "manage[s] to pack an entire winter and part of summer in these two and a half minutes."


It's fitting that the songs are built out of long vocal rounds. Pecknold has a way of immersing himself in the best of what's around him—including people. With Fleet Foxes, he's harnessed some of the most creative minds in the music community. Bandmates Wescott and Wargo are in the Crystal Skulls, a popular mellow electronic outfit on Suicide Squeeze that Pecknold calls "the best band in Seattle." Peterson has played with David Bazan's emotionally charged indie-rock project Pedro the Lion. And Pecknold used to be in the lush pop outfit Dolour. Within Fleet Foxes, the otherwise clashing genres are brought together to coexist. Harmoniously.

Also in the how-to-coexist-peacefully department, Pecknold was once a music intern at The Stranger and his older sister is a music writer at the Seattle Weekly. This summer he and some bandmates founded Golden Dawn, a group that organized camping trips and hikes. But it was less about camping and hiking and "more about getting together and doing fun stuff," he says. "I feel like there's some negativity in town, in the music scene. So it was just an idea to do some stuff together." He laughs. "I didn't intend for it to sound so hippie."

Signing to Sub Pop expands the Fleet Foxes community even further.

"There aren't any real expectations," says Wescott, 27, who has a thick black mustache and a tailored jacket and an eloquent way of talking, even when talking about punk music. "We've all been doing this long enough to know that nothing happens the way you want it to, so we just keep doing what we want to do and hopefully it works out." Sub Pop, he points out, has "put out a ton of records that are rad that aren't being shoved down anyone's throat; they have a diverse roster. They've put out a lot of cool stuff. I love that they put out Tiny Vipers' record, for example."

"The thing is," says Wargo, "we never sit around talking about it."

"The only conversations we've had about it are like, 'Uh, should we do this?'" says Pecknold, laughing.

Sub Pop (or Bus Pop, Pus Bop, or Sob Pup, as Pecknold variously refers to it on his MySpace page—"because I'm a dork") wasn't the only label chasing after them. They won't say who else was, but for the last months of 2007, they were being courted by a number of different labels—some big, some small. Sue Busch, an A&R rep for Sub Pop, says, "I think they fit so well [with Sup Pop], especially with bands like Band of Horses and Iron and Wine. They fit squarely into what we're doing right now. They're young and we're really trying to work with bands that are not only local but also young, who show signs of progressing. There's something about their sound that's super unique. Robin's songwriting is so mature for his age."

Pecknold and Fleet Foxes aren't the only ones in the city building a new niche out of a quieter, backwoods sound—a far cry from the abrasive, guitar-driven sound that made Seattle famous shortly after Pecknold learned to walk. The Cave Singers, a Pretty Girls Make Graves/Hint Hint spin-off that signed to Matador in May 2007, construct songs fit for enjoying while sipping sweet tea on a decrepit old porch in the South. They've got some harmonies of their own (but nowhere near what Fleet Foxes accomplish) and have a tendency to fall into long, jubilant jam sessions, boasting different kinds of percussion, including washboards.

Likewise, ex– Carissa's Wierd band Grand Archives, who signed to Sub Pop in April of 2007, have obvious tinges of folk and Americana (and at times parlor music), with light, bright tunes saturated with melody and jangling guitars.

Maybe it's because the previous generation of local musicians is growing old and the younger generation is digging out its parents' old records, but easy listening seems to be the next rock. It was only a matter of time before Fleet Foxes got swept up in the wave.

We get around to discussing their upcoming tour, which includes three dates at the media frenzy that is SXSW (and as Sub Pop's latest signees, they'll no doubt get a fair amount of attention).

"I was asking Mat Brooke from Grand Archives for advice," Pecknold says. Tour advice. "He was like, 'Do not talk to each other at all the whole time, and if you see a vegetable, eat it.'"

"It may actually be the first band that I believe will eat vegetables on tour," says Wescott.

"Since it's a six-week tour through the whole U.S., the drives between cities won't be as long," says Pecknold. "So we'll get the driving done and be able to chill out and do some sightseeing or camping in certain spots. We'll keep it Zen."

Fleet Foxes will keep it Zen. Right. Because keeping it Zen is what not hippies do. recommended

megan@thestranger.com

 

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Comments (35) RSS

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1
HI YA'S
PLEASE FORGIVE THE FOLLOWING QUESTION...
WHAT TYPE OF SOUND WOULD YOU CALL THIS KIND OF MUSIC...
YOU SEE I'M NOT A YOUNG DUDE ANY MORE...
IT SOUNDS TO ME LIKE IT'S WESTERN INDIAN... WHERE THE COWBOYS WERE
PLEASE GET BACK TO ME TONY)ONE OF YOUR NEW FANS
Posted by THE MOTOWN-SHAKER on September 6, 2008 at 1:29 PM · Report this
2
The song Blue Ridge Mountains brings tears to my eyes with its beauty every time I hear it. I always play it twice!
Posted by Alex in Vancouver WA on September 13, 2008 at 9:37 PM · Report this
3
Fleet Foxes got a collective 8.9 on Beard Revue!!!

Check it out:
http://www.beardrevue.com/2008/10/fleet-foxes-robin-pecknold-casey.html
Posted by mb on October 31, 2008 at 12:45 AM · Report this
4
The writer of this couldn't sound more against the band.
just an observation.
Posted by lala on November 11, 2008 at 11:47 AM · Report this
5
The writer is not against the band, she is more taking a satircal stance with the band. She very accurately describes the music coupled with the idea that they very strongly against being labled as hippies. It is kind of funny if you listen to the music(by the way they are awsome).
Posted by Josh on November 17, 2008 at 6:25 AM · Report this
6
This is a little upsetting to me, just because i would classify myself as a hippie. Not the cocaine doing, self centered type like most are, and believe me that too upsets me, but I do believe in peace, no war, true love, and even though i may not be off somewhere doing cocaine, i believe that drugs (that are truly nature's work) are okay... But I fell in love with fleet foxes just because they had a mellow sound and the sang about things i love.
Posted by Jamie on November 29, 2008 at 3:22 AM · Report this
7
fleet foxes,, cool, they are writing with the Alabama3 i believe ?? can anyone say if this is true ?
Posted by fin on January 4, 2009 at 8:25 AM · Report this
8
John , Glasgow Scotland. Just heard Mykonos and can honestly say at 44 year old this is THEE best sound since the Sex Pistols...love it, thank you
Posted by john on January 10, 2009 at 6:38 PM · Report this
9
I was just introduced to Fleet Foxes on SNL. What great sound. Love the music. I don't think anyone could say they look like hippies, though. Maybe something straight out of Deliverance. (I guess I'm just too old to understand the look.)
It takes a lot of talent to appeal to every generation, and that is just what they do. My 94 yr. old mother loves their sound, too.
Posted by Willa on January 19, 2009 at 12:56 AM · Report this
10
I am a 50yr mother of 3. I work for corporate america and I gotta tell ya, I TIVO'd SNL last Saturday night and I have watched the Fleet Foxes Mykonos performance over and over and over and over again. I love those kids!!! Beautiful song, excellent vocals, my hubby and 16 & 15 yr think I'm crazy. I can't get enough of FF, I wish they'd perform locally here in Los Angeles. Can someone please tell them, I love their song and SNL performance I believe will catapult them to superstardom, which I don't think was their motivation, however, all of them are AWESOME!!!! Thanks FF, I love all of you!!!
Ida
Posted by Ida on January 20, 2009 at 10:32 PM · Report this
11
I also saw Fleet Foxes on SNL and was immediately in love with their sound. It is full, rich and so very beautiful. It touches my inner Earthmama with the beauty of the lyrics, the gorgeous harmonies and the subtle use of all the instruments. These guys don't have to use volume or force to make you sit up and take notice.. Stay true to your craft guys and I wish much success to you.
Posted by Carol on January 22, 2009 at 6:51 AM · Report this
12
That SNL performance was amazing. I'm a 55-year-old male and was immediately hooked. Showed it to my 24-year-old nephew and he's hooked.

Very cross-generational sound.
Posted by Max on January 25, 2009 at 2:49 PM · Report this
13
seriously, who cares about their appearance? hippies, not hippies, beards, no beards, whatever, their music is amazing. bravo!
Posted by paul on February 3, 2009 at 6:08 AM · Report this
14
100% agree with Paul. In addition to Fleet Foxes I also like hippies, beards, Chris Robinson and cocaine. People are people. Music unifies.
Posted by Rob on February 12, 2009 at 2:24 PM · Report this
15
"Ragged Wood" streamed across my alternative radio station and those ethereal vocals and harmonies struck a very cool chord in my heart. Playful, thoughtful, lyrical and lovely. Kind of like a choir with Roy Orbison as the vocal coach - and that's a good thing! Hope they can make it through Phoenix one of these days - I know I'll be there!
Posted by Dale on February 21, 2009 at 1:35 PM · Report this
16
"My 94 yr. old mother loves their sound, too"

I don't believe in God... but someone please help the Seattle music scene.
Posted by lordy on February 27, 2009 at 7:30 AM · Report this
17
I was shopping in a Barnes and Noble book store and was drawn to this beautifully haunting song being piped through the store. I went to their music dept. and inquired as to what I was listening to. I bought the CD on the spot. I am a sixty one year old professional drummer and this is the best I've heard in ages. Real spiritual in a way. Can't wait for their next CD.
Posted by Ken on April 6, 2009 at 1:52 PM · Report this
18
I'm 50years old and have listened to all types of music in my time.This band's music is one of the best new matieral I have heard in a long time.
Posted by zork on April 7, 2009 at 9:29 PM · Report this
19
They awaken all of my emotions.
Posted by RACHEL on April 10, 2009 at 7:42 AM · Report this
20
Plus they are all veeery pretty. I don't care, hippy, no hippy....
Posted by RACHEL on April 10, 2009 at 7:44 AM · Report this
21
The fleet foxes have to be one of the best band's around at the moment. I'm a welshman and when i am sitting on my garden chair over looking the snodwonian mountain range, listening to the fleet foxes i think wow it just can't get much better than this.
Posted by m clark on April 12, 2009 at 1:50 AM · Report this
22
I recently caught them at the rio theater in santa cruz, ca with blitzen trapper. the show was moving. Robin played Oliver James solo, acoustic and completely unplugged (no mic, no amplification, just the theater's acoustics) as one of the encores, it was simply beautiful. He also interacted with the crowd a lot. He comes off as a very thoughtful, intelligent and witty person. see them live if you get a chance.
Posted by sean on May 1, 2009 at 9:20 PM · Report this
23
Talent will never get old even if Hippies do, Luv your stuff lads.
PAUL from pye
Posted by Paulfrompye on May 12, 2009 at 6:50 PM · Report this
24
I'm an old hippie, mainly at heart now. I just discovered Fleet Foxes Saturday Night on SNL. I love their music. I like the way they remind me of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, my favorite music.
Not all Hippies gave it all up to big mansions ect.
I was sad when it all died.
A new Woodstock movie out soon now---those were the good old days and the best music.
I like your music!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
From one who kept life simple and full of music and Herb too!!!
Sandra
Posted by robslady on August 11, 2009 at 8:34 PM · Report this
25
intersting to hear a song i had heard a long long time ago... they just brought it to reality.. j
Posted by jen scott on January 20, 2010 at 8:47 PM · Report this
26
How many more sliced and smudged angry sonix mixes does the post-modern world need? It had its day and purpose, but now the loops are looping.

When you see poser kids cruising wealthier hoods rattling the windows, you know it is over (along with their eardrums).

For at least the past decade, anything based on music rather than sound has become classified as old. And now those sound mixes are not only old themselves, they are mostly not listenable outside of their social context.

Thus, the beginning of the return of music, led by actual musicians like this band.

Instead of continuing to bash hippies, why don't we turn our attention to some other music categories that desperately need bashing?

Whenever I pass metal punks with Mohawks, if I think they have a sense of humor, I compliment them for staying true to the traditional ways. As I understand it, both punk and rap started in the late 70's.

The bands I see on SNL and Letterman and the former Conan look and sound like parodies. For the most part, they don't even try to communicate beyond obvious sonic formulas devised for the audiences they are marketing themselves to.

People can bash hippies. They are an easy target. And for the superficial hippies, this is entirely justified. But no one can get around the sonic fact that a few 60's and 70's bands made some of the best music ever recorded.

Another easy bash is, how many lo-fi Pavement copyists do we need?

Just the fact that there is a band that is making something that can be non-classified as non-parody, non-sampleattack, non-post-post-modern music has ironically become, uh, like, uh, what's the new word for, you know, the next music trend that will change the world?

Or we could just listen to some actual music.
More...
Posted by Not Me on January 23, 2010 at 9:54 AM · Report this
27
I have been haunted for over a year hearing a hint, of what I know now is Ragged Wood, as bumper music on Dennis Prager during his "Ultimate Issues" hour on Tuesdays from LA....BIG, big audience. Be honored. Exposure.

I spent all afternoon today fighting to finally discover where this music came from, who, when. At first I thought they were from Hungary; first site I found... but felt they were likely Irish. BUT...they're local guys...from Seattle!!! GREAT...and just beginning...with great destiny before them.

Finally found the UTube link and passed it on to many friends. Then purchased the whole disc on Amazon as MP3.

This is a wonderful revival of gentle, loving music. Music HAS to move on and this temperate sound is classical in itself.

These guys have a great future and will appeal to all ages. Don't stop!
Posted by JeannieJ on June 29, 2010 at 11:32 PM · Report this
28
Fleet Foxes have the most dynamic & amazing sound I have heard since Mobb Deep put out the Infamous and Hell on Earth albums in 1994-1997 era. Great Band.
Posted by LivefromDelaware on July 23, 2011 at 8:31 PM · Report this
29
Fleet Foxes have the most dynamic & amazing sound I have heard since Mobb Deep put out the Infamous and Hell on Earth albums in 1994-1997 era. Great Band.

I have not listened to music so deep & smooth since Cormega put out the Realness 10 years ago.

They do have some Crosby stills and Nash to their sound.

What a great new band probally the best in the last 10-15 years.
Posted by LivefromDelaware on July 23, 2011 at 8:39 PM · Report this
30
I hate music reviewers who misuse classical terms or music theory terms. I can't have respect for someone's musical opinions if they attach "baroque" to a description of a band like this. It makes me wonder if they have any training whatsoever in music, or if they believe that by simply listening to enough shitty bands they have cultivated an educated opinion.
Give me a break.
Posted by scrooutdd on July 28, 2011 at 11:23 AM · Report this
31
I absolutely love the sound of the Fleet Foxes and I really couldn't care less if they look like hippies, punks or emos or whatever. And by the way I might add I love a lot more 70s music than I do 60s music, I dunno why I just do. Though not everything of course...
Posted by Michelle Taylor on January 14, 2012 at 4:02 AM · Report this
32
Actually for me much of the music from the 60s and 70s was a high point in the generally uneven history of rock music, if not a golden age. But there are heaps and heaps of amazing contemporary and more recent bands as well that I can't positively rave enough about, mainly in the alt and indie genres. The Fleet Foxes being one such group...
Posted by Michelle Taylor on January 17, 2012 at 12:03 AM · Report this
33
I hate myself for loving this music so much. They are like Lenny Kravitz- lacking authenticity. Perfect mimics of great musicians. Suburbanites pretending to have suffered and strived.
Posted by rondee on January 22, 2012 at 11:46 AM · Report this
34
You really don't think suburbanites suffer? lol! Of course they do; they just hide it behind a veneer of respectability, normality and often religious sanctimoniousness. There's nothing disingenuous about the Fleet Foxes music, though their hippyish image maybe...
Posted by Michelle Taylor on January 25, 2012 at 8:53 PM · Report this
35
Wow, what a snarky, annoying writer.
Posted by Adamcampb on September 29, 2012 at 6:26 AM · Report this

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