Some bands don’t live on the same planet as the rest of us. They do really weird shit and have the audacity to create music unlike any that’s been made before. Foxy Shazam is one of those bands. Their music is theatrical and poppy, yet abrasive and sometimes confusing. Their live show is even more outrageous, consisting of nonsensical stories, piano stomping, and the ingestion of roughly a dozen lit cigarettes.
When I saw Foxy Shazam open up for Finch at The Key Club several years ago, Eric Nally ended the show swinging upside-down from the lighting rig while screaming the final moments of the group’s song “Ghost Animals.” The same set started with Nally sitting on the band’s pianist, Sky White, while pretending to play the piano and singing a lounge-style version of “The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air.”
Foxy Shazam’s busy schedule forced us to push back our interview a few hours (they had a Twitter Takeover to tend to), but when I got the opportunity to talk with Nally, he offered up some great insight into the group’s past and present tour schedules, their latest album, Gonzo, the healing time of cigarette burns inside the mouth, and much more.
Foxy Shazam will be playing El Rey Theatre on July 31st, and let me just say you’d be crazy to miss it!
G: How was the Twitter Takeover?
E: It was fun. I like doing that sort of thing. I don’t really spend too much time doing it, so it’s nice to just let everything build up and then let it all out there.
G: You guys have a hell of a schedule coming up.
E: Yeah, I’m really excited to get back on the road. We’ve been off so long, which was necessary to get out what we needed to get out, hone in, and recharge, but we’re antsy to get back out on the road.
G: How long did you guys take to write Gonzo and what was the process like?
E: We took about a year and did it in the practice room in Cincinnati. On our past records we would write everything in the studio, so we wouldn’t have the record until we started making it in the studio. This time the whole album was done before we even stepped foot in there, and that’s how we wanted it to sound.
When we were writing in the practice room, we would say, “This is how it’s going to sound. We’re not going to add anything.” Nowadays with computers you can add as much as you want. We wanted to make it sound right first, then bring that into the studio.
G: It seems like you guys have taken a step back in a way. I’ve been following you since Introducing, and since then you’ve added the Queen-style vocals in the choruses. It can be easy to layer things in the studio, but you stripped down to a more raw sound with the new album. Was there a specific reason for that?
E: 1. Because we’ve been there and done that. 2. I didn’t want to hide behind anything. Not that we were hiding anything before, but I feel like there is this essence that draws people to our band, and it’s very simple, it’s very small, but it’s where we get all our power from.
When we make those big records, I think it shows how far we can take that and blow it up and make it eccentric, but what I wanted to show people with Gonzo is that essence in its simplest form. That’s what you like about [the music]. That’s what’s there at the core. I didn’t want to hide behind anything. I wanted people to experience the power in its raw form.
G: It was a bold move to release Gonzo for free and without any PR or real promotion. Does that coincide with the more “real” nature of how you recorded?
E: Yeah. The cool part about it is that the way we released the album speaks for the same thing that the music itself speaks for. It all makes sense together.
Our newest record is always what we put the most heart into. I always want to top it and go further. We put the most into it, and I wanted it to be accessible to everyone whether they could afford it or not.
G: How was it working with Steve Albini on Gonzo?
E: It was great! He just fans that flame. His whole philosophy is to just capture what you are doing. He is the pilot of the recording machine. With the attitude of this record I think it was the perfect storm with him.
G: When you go in to write a record, is there any music that inspires you? Is there anything new you are into?
E: I love all music, and I can find good in any sound, but it’s been weird for me over the last year with Gonzo because I made a point not to listen to anything, not because I didn’t want to get inspired by it, but because I wanted to get in touch with something. I wanted to concentrate on nothing other than what I was trying to say.
Inspiration for this came more from actors — trying to see how someone would theatrically play that role and bringing that to life — but I have had that Paramore song “Ain’t It Fun” or something stuck in my head.
G: On your last few albums, your look was much bigger with flower prints and Jerry Seinfeld puffy shirts and everything. [Eric laughs] I was pretty sad to see that Sky shaved his muttonchops, but with everything you are saying, it just makes sense. It’s not about the look.
E: I still wanted to pay respect to the theatrics of what Gonzo is. Gonzo is very raw and very real — there’s no bells and whistles — but visually I wanted to make sure that I went theatrical with it. Like with the video for “Tragic Thrill” — the look is toned down, but I feel like it’s still this theatrical play on a toned-down look.
G: There is definitely an intensity to it. When I first saw the video I was waiting for something to pop, but then I realized “This is it and it’s good.” You can’t look away. How does that translate to your live show? Will there be any changes?
E: I think there’s going to be an energy to it. The video is a very tedious kind of thing — it’s like a movie — but the beautiful thing about this record is that we did it all live, so what you hear recorded, you’ll be able to experience live.
The downside with our huge-sounding records was adapting them live, but we’ve always done well with that. We’ve always had an energy live that you don’t really get on our records. With this record the energy is in the music. You’ll hear that right there. It will be really powerful.
G: I actually met you several years ago at The Key Club. You said you played something like 250 shows that year?
E: [Chuckles] Yeah. Wow. That was a long time ago.
G: It seems nice to have the schedule you have now where you have a month on the road, a few weeks off, then back out for another month.
E: It is nice. That was in the time when we were in the midst of paying our dues. We definitely worked long, long tours, and I’m proud of that. It’s key to where we’re at now, but it’s nice to hone in on that and get back to the fans we’ve built over the years and give them a show that’s top-notch Foxy.
G: Your live show is so much to take in. Between stage antics and speeches, how much of that is planned and how much is spontaneous?
E: The ideal situation for me on a show night is to not plan anything. There are things that come from not planning anything, and if something is cool, I have this mental filing cabinet where I put it, then I’ll reinterpret it over the next few nights, then put it away, then bring it back differently down the road. There is a certain place I have to get to mentally to keep it fresh, and it’s hard to get there. Even nights when I’m on it, it’s hard to just say whatever you want and it’s magic.
G: Has there ever been a moment on stage where you realized you crossed the line?
E: [Laughs] Yeah. When we first started out, there was one show where I pulled down my pants and Sky’s family was there. They didn’t like that very much.
G: How long does it take to heal several cigarette burns on the inside of your mouth?
E: Well, through me doing this I’ve learned that the inside of the mouth is one of the fastest-healing places in the human body. It actually not too bad. If I do it with a big stack of cigarettes, it takes a few days before I can really taste again, like if you ate a hot piece of pizza or something. With adrenaline I don’t even feel it. It’s just the love of the show. I feel like I’m part of the circus when I do that.
G: There is kind of a circus element in your live show. Not to make fun or anything…
E: It comes from the passion of the entertainment in the circus. It’s kind of the same thing.
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