Foxygen's Sam France discusses the band's uncertain future | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Foxygen's Sam France discusses the band's uncertain future

"We never really thought of ourselves as a musical band. We were actors pretending to be a rock band."

Foxygen is over. Maybe. Kind of.

In mid-March, the shaggy-haired California twosome rebranded its current set of dates as a "farewell tour." But Sam France, one half of Foxygen, won't specify whether the promising neo-psychedelic band has broken up or if he and Jonathan Rado will cease making music together.

"This incarnation [of the band] is definitely dead," says France.

When asked to elaborate, he says, "The certain framework we've been working in, the current incarnation has run its course. I think we're just ready to move on." To what, though, France wasn't specific.

Though Rado and France, both singer/songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, are still in their mid-20s, they've been together almost as long as The Beatles were. They formed Foxygen in 2005, when both were 15-year-old drama-club kids in Westlake Village, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles. They bought myriad instruments on eBay and elsewhere online. Fans of such genre-mashers as The Flaming Lips and Beck, Rado and France unleashed a stream of tracks online that ranged from noise rock to hip hop — whatever the two felt like making that week. They played coffee shops, open-mic nights and, most often, events at their high school.

Foxygen band
Photo courtesy of Cara Robbins
Star Power: Foxygen

"We never thought of it as a career," France recalls. "It's just what we did all the time. It was what our friendship was based on, creating these alternative worlds to escape into, that were out of time and out of reality."

In 2011, they handed one of their EPs to producer Richard Swift at a gig by The Mynabirds, one of several bands under Swift's tutelage.

With Swift's backing, Foxygen settled on a thickly produced, distinctly vintage sound and signed to indie rock label Jagjaguwar. 2013's We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic — the band's second Jagjaguwar album and breakthrough in the music blogosphere — sounds like it could be a lost Kinks record, with its breezy feel, dense instrumentation, wry lyrics, undeniable sense of melody and complete lack of post-1970s influences.

France says the retro style is intentional. "I think we were trying for that subconscious imprint you get when you listen to classic rock," he explains.

Their obsession with classic rock led them to try to recruit actual classic-rock icons to guest on their latest, ... And Star Power, an album that echoes with the airy clanking and banging of pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd. France and Rado got their management to reach out to Stevie Nicks and Paul McCartney: yeah, that Stevie Nicks and that Paul McCartney. No dice, though; both declined through representatives.

"We were told Paul McCartney doesn't collaborate with people," says France, "which obviously, in the past few months, has proven not true. He only collaborates with famous people. I think he's trying to be cool, because he didn't want to be on our weird album, but he'll work with Kanye."

Even if Foxygen escaped Sir Paul's radar, the band has received consistently stellar reviews for its lovingly old-school sound and its chaotic live show, which often spills out into the audience, once leaving France with a broken leg from falling off the stage. The likes of Pitchfork and Fuse TV are eating out of their slender young hands. Why break up the band — or change their "framework," or whatever — now?

France says so far Foxygen fans have heard only one iteration of the band's musical interests — one that is kind of a façade. "I think we got obsessed with being parodies of cultural icons. It was a funny way to express ourselves," he says. "The way we communicated with the rest of the world is we would act out these rock 'n' roll archetypes in this kind of postmodern way or something." (Particularly, the two wanted "to emulate Mick Jagger.")

It's a vestige of their theater days, says France. "We never really thought of ourselves as a musical band. We were actors pretending to be a rock band."

They've got more to offer. Now that the band is undergoing a transition, expect forays into new styles. Rado and France plan to release a hip-hop mixtape, which might be the last project to bear the Foxygen name.

"I'm tired of being stuck in this basic rock 'n' roll sort of thing," says France. "It's definitely tiring, and I am not saying I don't have love for that, and I won't make music like that again, but lately I've been trying to express myself more in a hip-hop medium lately.

"I have a lot of things to say and it's easy to fit a lot of words into a hip-hop song and put a lot of anger into it, a lot of ego into it. You can dis people. You could make modern references. Those are things I didn't know how to do with the retro thing."