Alex Nauth and I can't seem to make it work. The Foxy Shazam horn player and I have been attempting to link up for the better part of a month, barely missing the other's phone calls as the Cincinnati, Ohio-based glam rock band bounces between U.S. and Canadian tour dates. When we finally do land our eventual conversation, it revolves around the theme of what it means to be a rock band in 2014 -- something that holds much more weight than it implies.
If nothing else, that's exactly what Foxy Shazam is: They're an unapologetic, brash, over-the-top rock band in an era in which the term "rock band" alone is enough to cause niche-based, hyper-hyphenated genre splitting, at best. and elicit cringing at its worst. On their latest release, Gonzo, the band's scaled back their approach to a degree, letting songwriting show through rather than just showmanship. Having worked on the record with Steve Albini, of Big Black and Nirvana-producing fame, there's a new side of Foxy Shazam that Nauth and his bandmates have unearthed, yielding surprising results and a fresh future for the band.
Up on the Sun: What did Steve Albini bring to the table for Foxy Shazam as a producer and as a creative? What did he motivate you guys to do, or how did he alter your approach?
Alex Nauth: He's one of the smartest men I've ever met in my life, and just really down to earth. One of the best parts about working with him is just his ethic, his whole ethos about how he works with a band, the role he expects a band to bring into his studio. It's, "You do your part and I do my part," and he does it so well. He captured real sounds honestly and beautifully, but at the same time it requires the band to be prepared. He's not there to hold your hand and that was the best part for us. We knew how we wanted to sound, and he was just the right guy.
What's one moment from the recording process with Steve that stands out to you?
One of the best memories I have of Steve -- it was pretty close to when we first started with him -- but we always just joke about random, horribly weird or gross things, and we love farts. Somehow, we got onto the conversation of farting underwater and if there was any way to fart underwater and it to be released. Steve came in and heard this conversation and very seriously, no smiling, no joke, sat down and drew a diagram with a two-liter bottle and PVC pipe with how you could capture and release a fart from underwater. Scientifically accurate, he did it within five minutes and he sat it down next to us like, "This is how you do it." Pretty amazing.
There's sense of restraint with Gonzo, in which the theatrics of past releases have been pared down a bit. With that kind of direction on this record, what's the direction for the follow-up?
I think your use of the word "restraint" is a very appropriate word, because even in restraint there's insane amounts of tension, excitement, because you're holding something back in some way, shape or form. We didn't hold things back but we were approaching songs from a different angle. What I can tell you is that the next record is just like before -- approaching a certain set of songs from a different style, a different mindset. We try to achieve something that's truly honest, and that's a hard thing mentally do, but that's kind of our process, in some way like method acting.
What's something you've learned over the course of your time in Foxy Shazam that you weren't privy to coming in?
You just got to keep working. Success, in quotation marks or whatever that is, is something that comes and goes at levels for everybody, whether you're in music or working an office job. The biggest thing that I felt would be different is that success is different in this field than any other field -- it's not. You just have to keep your nose to the ground and work harder than you're getting paid, harder than anybody else, and do it because it's what you're meant to do.
That being said, what do you feel like success means to you, to the band? What is it you're still striving for, when success seems to constantly redefine itself?
As you grow older and you learn more things, it changes our perception on thing we thought we knew so certain. But no, you're never there. That's the beauty of music itself, that there is no peak, unless you put the roof on there yourself. As always, we want to be the biggest band in the world, whatever that means, we'll achieve it in small ways over our entire career.
I've heard the "biggest band in the world" comment from other acts before, but here, who do you want to be the biggest band to? Obviously you fill a niche for some, but you're still a rock band in the overarching sense of the label. What do you want to be the "biggest" at -- in terms of your audience or in a sweeping pop sense?
That's a really good question, my man. I don't think I've heard that broken down as well before. I think we've said that as a creed for a long time because that pushes you, that drives you. It gives you a fire that you can use. When you break it down, it probably means something different to each of us. To me, what I want is that when all is said and done and we're dirt in the ground, that our legacy, whatever that may be, stands out among the test of time. It's not about the riches or money or fame, it's just leaving something behind that you're proud of, that lasts longer than you.
Foxy Shazam are scheduled to play the Crescent Ballroom on Monday, July 28.
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