Fleet Foxes - Biography
For many of us, indie music can grow tiresome. We’ve stuck by indie all these years, because...well, it’s indie and that means that it deserves our attention, right? But as we know, simply having the indie tag doesn’t make a band great. Indie bands can sound as whiny, ignorant, and inauthentic as even the most boring major label-dwelling philistines. That is why ears perk up when a band like Fleet Foxes comes along. Their brand of self-described “baroque harmonic pop jams” had all the potential in the world to ring totally false; they’re incredibly young, for one thing, and they’re not even British. And yet, singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold and his four fellow Seattle troubadours sound and feel like the real thing. It is their skilled musicianship, their delicate voices, the beautifully-woven harmonies, and Pecknold’s ability to transplant the listener with his songwriting that we can’t help but love. At the end of the day, it’s the music of Fleet Foxes that wins out and their indie status matters very little.
Fleet Foxes officially formed in 2006 in Seattle, Washington but the seeds of the band were sown long before that. Pecknold and Skye Skjelset, both skilled guitarists, attended the same high school. Eventually, they became best friends and began writing songs together in their basements. After playing live as a duo named Pineapple, Pecknold decided to change the band’s name to Fleet Foxes. The duo ultimately expanded its personnel to five members. Ex-Pedro the Lion drummer Nicholas Peterson joined them on drums, as did bassist Craig Curran. Bryn Lumsden replaced Curran, who had departed due to medical concerns. Subsequently, Lumsden was replaced by local Crystal Skulls bassist Christian Wargo. Another member of Crystal Skulls, keyboardist Casey Wescott, was welcomed into the fold as well.
It took only a few gigs to attract Phil Ek, a Seattle-based producer famous for molding bands for the better. Pecknold was a longtime fan of the producer. Ek had done wonderful things with the music of Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, and The Shins, and now he would do it again with Fleet Foxes. An EP, Fleet Foxes (2006 Bella Union), was quickly thrown together so that the group would have something to sell at live performances during 2006. Towards the end of that year, Fleet Foxes began to garner notice were given write-ups in local publications such as the Seattle Times. More importantly, the band was signed to a record deal with Seattle’s own Sub Pop.
In early 2007, the group got to work on its first full-length, Fleet Foxes. Although they were allotted time in a proper studio, they were under such a tight budget that a large chunk of the album was recorded in the homes of the band members (or, in Pecknold’s case, his parents’ home). With the LP finished but not released, the quintet almost immediately began recording a second EP with Ek in January of 2008. Released on April 8, 2008, the five-track Sun Giant (2008 Sub Pop) yielded strong, enthusiastic reviews from nearly every publication that wrote of it. Perhaps the most-praised aspect of the band’s overall sound was their deep, complex vocal harmonizing – a trait that would shine further on their forthcoming full-length.
On June 3, 2008, six months after the band had completed its recording, Fleet Foxes (2008 Sub Pop) was finally issued. Music journalists were even more complimentary. Several descriptive words turned up again and again in reviews: pastoral, ageless, picturesque, placeless, and wistful. Critics agreed nearly unanimously on comparisons to The Beach Boys, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, early My Morning Jacket, Animal Collective, and Band of Horses. It was clear that these five musicians, most of whom were still in their early 20’s, had crafted a near-perfect album that felt like the album of the year (even though the year was only half-over).
The remainder of 2008 went along swimmingly for the band. After supporting Wilco on a few dates and getting a new drummer (Peterson was replaced by Seattle-based songwriter Josh Tillman), Fleet Foxes hit the road for a full-fledged tour of North America that began in September. In late October, the band kicked off a sold-out tour of the UK In November, they were awarded the first ever Uncut Music Award, beating the likes of Elbow, Radiohead, Vampire Weekend, and the Raconteurs. By the end of the year, Fleet Foxes had reached number 36 on the Billboard 200 and won top honors in the year-end best lists of Pitchfork, The Times, NPR, and Stereogum. The album also ranked in the top ten lists of Spin, Amazon.com, Metacritic, Paste, and PopMatters, among others.
The group’s success and hype carried over into 2009. After winning the Best Art Vinyl Award in 2008 from Artvinyl.com, the band traveled to New York City to perform on the January 17, 2009 episode of Saturday Night Live. They were just the sixth indie band to play on the show in its 34-year history. By late January, the band had sold 211,000 copies of Fleet Foxes and 40,000 copies of Sun Giant, both huge numbers for an indie band. Perhaps because of the remarkable sales, a rumor began that Fleet Foxes had signed with Virgin Records. When the rumor found its way to the actual band in question, Pecknold issued a statement reassuring that Fleet Foxes would never sign with a major label or even one of their subsidiaries, citing that major labels are “anti-music.” But be they major or be they indie, Fleet Foxes will soon return with a new Sub Pop-released album, ready to prove whether or not they live up to the hype that has surrounded them for the past year.