The evolution of Los Angeles’ Foxygen has been interesting to watch, from their indie/psych throwback breakout We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic to the glitzy funk-pop of …And Star Power. And now, with the huge orchestral sounds of Hang released after three years without an album, we caught up with singer Sam France ahead of the band’s upcoming performance at The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing Co. Hang holds onto the multi-instrumentality of Foxygen’s previous efforts, and there’s a Harry Nilsson-meets-Broadway-meets-Motown feel that might mean fewer songs—but they’re much bigger, courtesy of composer/arrangers Matthew E White and Trey Pollard of West Virginia arts collective Spacebomb. France, along with co-founder Jonathan Rado, gave Pollard and White free rein to maximize the music’s potential, so obviously we wanted to hear about the process, the growth and what it feels like to give up total control.
SFR: What I hear is that the songs from Hang were written quite a while ago— before your last release, …And Star Power, even. Did they still feel fresh and good to get into?
Sam France: Oh yeah. I mean, the purpose of the album, really the idea for years and years, was to make a grand scale musical type record. We developed these concepts early-on. We have all these ideas for hundreds of different records, and we're never sure what avenues we're taking, but we ended up executing this one. We wanted it to be a cinematic, musical kind of album. We both grew up in the theater. It's second nature to us.
Is it hard to stay focused that long? Do you start to wander in other directions musically when there's such a big lead time?
I think Rado and I both experiment a lot in our own houses. We explore stuff. But I don't know, we really meet in the middle. We always have a definite idea of what we're doing.
You recorded with an orchestra. Was that daunting, or more like a relief to get as close to your vision as possible?
I think it was a relief once we teamed up with Trey Pollard. He was our savior. And Matthew E White. … Spacebomb is this rotating cast of musicians; they're sort of a wrecking crew.
So then was it weird to record in this different manner?
It was awesome. The basic tracks were all laid down in Los Angeles with this band The Lemon Twigs. All the rock instrumentation was sort of done, and we basically handed it over to Trey to do his arrangements. And when he was showing us all his arrangements, I thought we'd edit it or something, but it was no use—he had this vision.
Does that mean you learned a lot about arrangement, writing, etc.?
Rado, I think, did a lot of the arrangements just because … we made demos in our garage first. Rado created a lot of arrangements using synthesizers at first. A lot of that went into the record. What Trey did was play off of a lot of what we laid down. I think Rado and Trey were responsible for all the arrangements. I didn't play anything on the album, even. I didn't get anywhere near an instrument. It was a relief, because I really wanted to focus on my vocals. It was sort of difficult to sing. I was more in this headspace of before—I was singing the '60s, '70s, softer sort of voice, which isn't really my natural voice, it's a little deeper, so it was getting back to that and getting back into my show tunes roots. There's some high notes on the record.
Has the collaboration between you and Rado evolved in any way now that you've worked in bigger sounds?
We're writing a lot and definitely I think the world will see what we're doing sooner rather than later. A three-year gap [between albums], that was quite a while; people won't have to wait that long. But you know, time flies.
With the orchestral stuff, how is it recreated live?
We're not touring with an orchestra, but we have a brass section. Trey Pollard is in the band, he's the musical director—we're a rock band with a musical director. He translated a lot of his arrangements to just the brass section. It really works. We'll have eight or nine people.
When you use these sort of throwback, Motown-meets-Nilsson sounds, do you ever feel like the music is read wrong by listeners? Like, ironically?
Sure. It's not that it's misreading, it's just that it's their own perception. I think that we've always had our own world, which is the Foxygen rule. It's outside of time and space, so we're just doing what we do and what we've always done. I think people try to make sense of it; it's a different group. Saying it's ironic is a way to make sense of it. I don't know why they can't make sense of it, it's just their taste. What we're doing is very serious. We are making music out of our passion for music, which is what every musician does, so I don't really understand.
We're a different group. Thank God for that. We don't think about that as much anymore. Our music just flows out of us. A lot of those old records are just embedded in our DNA and we're not trying actively to recapture anything. ... Our [music] … it was based on the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but with this record, we were trying to create music that sounded like it was from the '20s or '30s, mixed with '70s rock.
7:30 pm Wednesday August 9. $20-$25.
The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing Co.,
37 Fire Place,