Foxygen to release concept double album, debut songs at One Eyed Jacks

Alec Schwartzman, Print Arcade Editor

California-born-and-bred duo Jonathan Rado and Sam France formed the band Foxygen in high school. The group produced experimental psychedelia and unconventional music to little public recognition until they handed producer Richard Swift their extended play “Take the Kids Off Broadway” at a Mynabirds concert in New York.

Following the discovery, Swift landed them a record deal and agreed to produce the band’s next album, “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic.” The album caught the national radar and received multiple critical appraisals. The pair’s long-standing friendship has created a sense of familiarity not found in most music groups, which contributes to their ability to jam nearly telepathically.

“We got really good at working with each other,” Rado said. “We learned to work without really talking … to equally communicate ideas.”

Foxygen will perform 9 p.m. Monday at One Eyed Jacks. The band is touring in support of its newest release, “… And Star Power,” out via Jagjaguwar Records on Oct. 14. The new album represents a significant departure in production style from their last output.

“We did the last album with Richard Swift in Oregon,” Rado said. “It was kind of new for us … he had a studio. We made [‘… And Star Power’] in my garage. We did it all on tapes. I have a pretty nice collection of older gear. My trademark is stuff that’s about to die.”

While “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” only had nine tracks and a runtime just shy of 40 minutes, “… And Star Power” brings an action-packed 24 tracks spanning 82 minutes.

“We had a lot of songs for [’21st century’] that we just didn’t have time to record,” Rado said. “With this one, there was no time limit when it was due or when we could start it. We just started and went until it was done, and we came up with a lot of songs.”

In addition to the added length, the new work includes bigger guest features. Some of the contributors include the Flaming Lips, of Montreal, Bleached and White Fence. With the added star backing, Rado and France could attack larger ideas, as well.

The album starts out in classic Foxygen fashion, bubbling with pleasant little pop tracks, but then punk band Star Power begins to take over the album. By the time the third side of the record rolls around, Rado and France are gone. Only Star Power remains.

“There is also this idea of somebody going insane throughout the record, possibly being abducted by aliens,” Rado said. “You know, it’s a pretty loose concept record.” 

The album spans a number of sonically diverse areas, bouncing from neo-psychedelic joyrides to disco punk compositions evocative of a Ramones and Justice mash-up no one ever decided to make. The one constant is the distant, disconnected vocals that whisper over the frantic instrumentation.

“We wouldn’t necessarily have singing on it or lyrics,” Rado said. “Maybe just like shouting things and sound effects … We played these shows last year that were very abrasive. We’d start jamming on one chord for thirty minutes, not really knowing what to do. We didn’t have enough songs to fill up a whole set … so Sam would just scream. We enjoyed doing that.”

Rado recorded most of the drums and all of the vocals on old reel-to-reel dictation microphones originally used in the ’50s and ’60s as interview tools. Interspersed between songs, different vocal recordings appear, as well, but not from Rado or France.

“Sam carried around a tape recorder while we were recording the album. He would just record everything, like people’s conversations,” Rado said. “He cut it up into little pieces, 15-second snippets. We put them in between tracks to give it the effect of tuning to a radio station.”

Due to the increasing popularity of the band, the “… And Star Power” tour has required Rado and France to enlist more band members to perform in the live sets and more staff to plan logistics and maintain the sanity of the crew.

“There are 12 people traveling with us at any given moment, so we had to get a tour bus like P. Diddy or something,” Rado said. “We couldn’t tour in a van anymore cause there was no room …”

The track “ColdWinter/Freedom” opens with a crackle followed by a trembling robotic warning, “Hold onto your butts and get ready.” Famous for rowdy performances, including a straight-up bandmate fistfight at a Montreal concert, Rado is excited to hit the stage with France Monday night.

“I can’t wait to get to New Orleans,” Rado said. “It might be my favorite city in America. Last time we were there it was for 12 hours, and I ate like six times. And all the best food I’ve ever had in my entire life … I’m more excited to be in New Orleans than any show on the tour.”