Drawing from influences such as disco, rock, punk and soul, Foxy Shazam have masterfully crafted their own brand of modern rock–impossible to pin down and satisfying enough that you don’t care. After eight years of relentless touring and releasing music that sounded like nothing happening anywhere in the mainstream, Foxy Shazam are now reaping the rewards of their hard work in the form of their second major label release, a tour with The Darkness and an explosion of new fans.
The band first popped on the world’s radar in 2010 with their self-titled big league debut and it’s hum-inducing single, “Unstoppable,” which was featured seemingly everywhere–from Super Bowl XLIV to children’s cartoons. Not since Freddie Mercury had rock seen a vocalist (Eric Nally) so theatrical and with such a broad range. The single’s over-the-top video led some to wonder if the band should be taken seriously or if they were gimmick, but such concerns ignored the rest of the Foxy Shazam album, as well as their hard-fought legacy which they had earned through years on the road. Moreover, their talents were massive, such that they could have easily wrote more mainstream-friendly music that, compounded with their unique image, would have sent them straight onto the charts. That the band would decline more commercial strategies and continue to do their own thing speaks to a level of artistic integrity that is hard to find in the Billboard 200.
2012 sees the release of their second major label release, The Church of Rock and Roll and its single, “I Like It,” a sex-charged, Zeppelin-meets-Queen hip-shaker with its jaw-dropping refrain, “That’s the biggest black ass I’ve ever seen, and I like it!” Produced by Darkness vocalist Justin Hawkins, the album is a smooth, funked-up collection of sing-along choruses, lush instrumentals and groovealicious dance numbers. The band are playful, energetic and masters at crafting the kind of hooks that pull even the most deeply-rooted wallflowers out to the dance floor. Beyond the rock and roll bombast, The Church of Rock and Roll is richly diverse, interspersing the big numbers with ballads and slow-burning moody jams that together create a deeply satisfying listening experience.
Currently on the road with UK favorites The Darkness, we had a chance to catch up with keyboardist Sky White, to talk about the new album, life in the big leagues and the most unique aspect to “I Like It” that most people would never catch.
Your new record, The Church of Rock and Roll, sounds quite different from your last album (their 2010 self-titled major label debut). Was this intentional?
Well, this is our fourth record and if you go back and listen to all of them, they each sound a little bit different. This one we recorded in the UK and I felt like it had some flares of old UK punk. Our trumpet dude is a bad-ass with the soul stuff, so yeah, we’ve got all sorts of different colors coming out on this one that we hadn’t pulled out before. On every record we try to get a different sound and on this one we found a few different sounds that we hadn’t touched on before.
When you sit down to write the songs, does this process of touching upon different sounds happen organically or do you consciously look for a specific sound? For example, would you approach the songwriting process saying, “Let’s make this one heavier,” or “Let’s make this one funkier?”
Are you talking song-to-song or on the record as a whole?
The record as a whole.
We knew from the beginning that we wanted this record to be darker than the last. We wanted it to be a little more passionate and soulful and we wanted to pull out some darker colors. We had the idea for The Church of Rock and Roll to have it represent a lot of stuff to us, so we had an idea of what we wanted to do with all the songs. Some ideas that we started out like a straightforward rock song would turn out to be big and complicated, with like seven or eight completely different parts and end up being a whole different beast than what we originally thought. So yeah, sometimes songs just have a mind of their own. These songs ended up in really nice places and we worked a long time on every song before letting it be done.
You mentioned recording this record in the UK. What was it like working with Justin Hawkins?
It was great. Love the guy. He was super nice, super smart, super hard-working and a musical genius. We’re on tour with (The Darkness) right now and he’s a great performer, too. Kills it every night. He puts everything into it. I can’t say enough nice stuff about the guy, really.
Working with him was awesome. We’d wake up early and make some smoothies, then work for like, twelve hours, then order some food, keep working and then when the food would get there we’d eat and then go another like six hours. Sixteen-to-eighteen hour days every day for over a month and we ended up with this record.
What kind of suggestions did he make during the recording process?
He came up with suggestions, but his real talent with us specifically is that… well we always try and do different things, like complex or varying styles within songs and he was really good at taking our possibly ridiculous, possibly nonsense ideas and helping us make them into something that flows perfectly and sounds good.
A lot of that stuff depends on the tones of things and if you’re changing styles in the middle of a song, you need things crossing over and he sonically knew how to do that. It was nice.
One of the things that both bands have in common is that neither of you are afraid to bring the sexy back into the music, like the song “I Like It.”
That song is over-the-top sexy. In your mind, what makes a song sexy?
Well, obviously the words. “The biggest black ass that I’ve ever seen, and I like it!” I mean, that’s a really obvious one. But then the groove of the song is really repetitive and there’s some musical things in it that are really weird, like in the entire song there’s almost no music on the one beat in the whole song. Nobody really ever thinks about that, but that’s a really, really weird thing to happen in a song, so it just sets up this real deep, weird groove that nobody’s ever heard before. So that and talking about a big, sexy black ass. It’s a pretty attractive thing to hear.
I know your vocalist Eric has said that there’s no longer a mystique around rock stars. Do you agree with that?
That rock stars are no longer around?
No, that there’s not the aura around rock stars that there used to be.
Of course not. We’re getting a little bit of a taste of that with Justin. Justin is a rock star, but still it’s not like the past. It’s just not. Music isn’t seen the same way, artists aren’t seen the same way, and there’s a hundred times as many bands as there were forty years ago, which means that there’s a hundred times as many bad bands making the specialness of music wear off.
This is your second major label release. What was the experience like for you the first time you went up to a major label?
Well, at first it was pretty scary because before that we’d pretty much just toured. We got tours, we made friends with people and we played 200 to 300 shows a year for years and years and years and years. That’s what we do. We had everything in our life in our own hands, really. We had management and stuff like that, but still everything was built around what we did and how we made that work.
When we made the jump to Warner Brothers, it was a complicated and scary jump for us. I mean, we’re a strange band and to have these people (who work there) and their financial well-being and their company’s benefit dependent on our music, it was a really stressful and annoying. We had a whole lot of more people telling us what we were supposed to sound like. So it was pretty uncomfortable going through all that stuff. When we signed to Warner Brothers, we had a whole lot of people that we really loved and that we talked with and met with and I saw that they got it, but then as soon as the record came out, pretty much everybody that we knew there got fired or left. So then we were left with a company that really had no idea what to do with us.
So that’s why we found a way off of that record label and got onto EMI, who brought back I.R.S. So we’re on I.R.S. right now, which is pretty much run like a small label. It has pretty much everything that major labels like EMI and Capitol have, so it’s amazing. We literally talk to people and hang out with people who work for EMI and it’s their job to come hang out with us and have us meet with industry people in the town and it’s pretty fun. I love ‘em. This is a whole lot more pleasant experience than the last one.
On your press release, there’s a promise that you guys will reveal the meaning of life. I’d like to hold you to that promise and as you to tell me the meaning of life.
Well, that’s a big question. As of right now, for me, I’d say it’s to be happy, but that might not be what we reveal. The meaning of life is a big, big question with big answers, so right now, we need to be happy and I feel that our rock and roll can make you a hell of a lot more happy than almost anything else out there.
We end our interviews with five quick Either/Ors. I give you a choice and you pick one. If you want to share why, have at it. OK?
Jerry Lee Lewis or Nicky Hopkins?
Jerry Lee Lewis. When I was a kid, he was one of the inspirations of piano being cool for me. Like, growing up, seeing videos and hearing the music–for me personally, that was one of the staples of rock and roll.
Time travel or invisibility?
Time travel. Duh!
Meat Loaf or Freddie Mercury?
Um…(long, long pause). I’m gonna say Meat Loaf. Right now…
New York or Los Angeles?
Last one–soul music or punk rock?
Whew… gotta say soul.
(pause) It’s what’s inside. That’s inside. Gotta get the soul out. Punk is good for certain things, but the soul music is what’s working right now for the band.