Friday August 14th 2009, 10:20 am
Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes is a Patient Man
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Robin Pecknold

Guest Contributor Cheree Franco chats with Robin Pecknold about his favorite night-time music, the meaning behind his song “Blue Ridge Mountains” and whether he’s an extrovert or an introvert:

At the Newport Folk Fest I managed to catch up with Robin Pecknold, frontman of Fleet Foxes, for some backstage banter. Except that as soon as I found myself sitting cross-legged on the grass, facing the person behind the ethereal songs that got me through last winter, I knew I wasn’t quite prepared to conduct a professional interview. I blame it on lack of sustenance (did I really expect a bagel to last upwards of 12 hours?) and dually, the sun. Check out the interview, in all it’s glory, after the jump.

Cheree: I guess, um, tell me about yourself. How did this whole thing happen? You guys have been together a long time, right? Someone just passed your tape to Sub-pop?

Robin: Um, we started the band about three years ago and I think we were kind of like, we started to work [for the record/on the record? This part is illegible due to me moving the voice recorder] and my friend Phil was helping us record it and he’d done a lot of records for Sub-pop so he knew the people there and once we were kind of like
halfway done with it, and then um—

C: Well how did you guys meet? You and the guys in the band?

R: Me and Skye with to school together, and Casey and Christian we met once we started playing music in Seattle, doing this thing called Crystal Skulls.

C: And then, I guess, so this whole year has been when everything’s sort of blown up for you guys?

R: I mean, last year was a much busier year, I think for us.

C: What’s the difference between this year and last year?

R: Well last year, the record came out in June and we toured I guess three months before that, and the whole rest of the year. This year we’ve been touring less and writing the new record.

C: And when do you expect to finish that?

R: I have no idea.

C: Is it going to be along the same vein? I guess, how would you describe what you do?

R: How would we describe what we do?

C: Yeah, how would you describe, I mean, it’s folky, but it’s not straight-up…

R: Yeah. I think that’s a pretty good description, folky, but not straight-up folky.

C: Really? You’re just gonna give me back my own words? That’s totally cheating, but hey…

R: I think that…I think that there’s like elements of folk music, or that’s the basis of it, as opposed to based in rock or something. Um, you know.

C: Is this the kind of music that you’ve always played? I mean with the other band…

R: This is the only band I’ve ever had. So I think, like, when I was a teenager I used to record a lot of Elliot Smith type songs, I was constantly obsessed with him, but yeah, it’s always kind of been in this vein for sure.

C: And you think the new record is gonna be…

R: I think it’ll be similar or at least the main difference would be songwriting, you know….

C: As in different songs or a different approach to songwriting?

R: Just kinda how you put a song together and where the chorus goes or you know, if there’s a chorus at all, how long the song is, it’s different that way, as opposed to like, now we’re gonna do a dance or a techno record or something. It’ll still be acoustic instruments and stuff.

C: And you write the songs, or everyone writes the songs?

R: I write the songs for the most part. So far I’ve written them all, but a couple on the next one, we’re working collaboratively on.

C: And where do your ideas come from?

R: I think it’s just trying to evoke an atmosphere or something, you know, like trying to, I think, um, the most inspiring thing could be just the feeling of a certain place or certain time, you know. That’s kind of what you can base stuff on, maybe—

C: So they’re not necessarily narrative, like a certain place in time in your life specifically, or like a certain place and time—

R: Yeah, like either in your life or an event in your life or just like, you want music to evoke a feeling, just like ‘night-time’ or awe or something.

C: Did you used to make seasonal mixes? Are you that guy?

R: Seasonal mixes?

C: Yeah, or do you like, have music that you only listen to at night?

R: Yeah, totally, yeah, yeah, yeah.

C: What’s some of your night music?

R: I definitely like Bert Jansch, you know, um—

C: I don’t know who that is

R: J-A-N-S-C-H, yeah, that’s a good night-time guy. John Renbourn is a good night-time…Robbie Basho, he’s like another kind of Nick Drake-y type dude.

C: I do know Nick Drake. But did you used to make seasonal mixes, or do you still—

R:I haven’t made a mix in a long time, but yes, absolutely.

C: Um, what did it feel like to see all these people, is this the biggest show you guys have played?

R: I don’t think so, we played Glastonbury which was like 100,000 people, and that was—

C: Oh yeah, Wikipedia says you’re really big in Europe.” line

R: I don’t think they were all there for us, but that was the capacity. It was just people, as far as the eye can see.

C: Do you get nervous?

R: It’s so abstract, you know. I’m maybe more nervous playing for thirty people than any more than that, you know. I think that at a certain point it just becomes this indistinguishable mass.

C: Did you eat the cake that they gave you guys? [Some fans passed a cake to the stage before Fleet Foxes played their Newport set]

R: No, they told us not to eat the cake.

C: Because it might be poison or something?

R: No, they were just like—don’t eat it!

C: What are you going to do with it?

R: I dunno, schellac it and frame it.

C: Yeah, then it’d be art.

R: Totally.

C: But, um did you know who gave it to you guys, or someone just handed it and that was it?

R: That happens every once and awhile.

C: What other things have you gotten?

R: We’ve definitely gotten a lot of food, and someone made like this weird wire cut-out thing, like they took this long thing of wire and formed it to say Fleet Foxes and made a fox, all on this one piece of wire.

C: And you guys are all still living in Seattle?

R: Yeah, yeah.

C: Are you from Seattle?

R: Yeah, I was born and raised there.

C: And you went to school there and decided to stay?

R: Me and Skye were both born there and so was Casey. Christian and Josh grew up on the east coast, and just moved to Seattle at various times.

C: Do you think you’ll be there forever or do you think—

R: I think it’d be nice to live somewhere else for awhile, but I don’t think anywhere else would really feel like home, I guess. I like being from Seattle, and I like staying in Seattle…I feel like, moving somewhere else, you would have to be plugging into something that wasn’t fully your own…

C: Just because it’s home, or because it’s your scene and your friends…

R: Yeah, your friends, your family’s there.

C: What’s the first music that you remember really getting into?

R: Probably the first stuff that I was like ‘okay I wanna play music’ was Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home and Blood on the Tracks. For sure.

C: Remember how old you were?

R: I was 13. I was like, I wanna play music like now.

C: So you went and got a guitar?

R: Yeah, well, my dad got us, me and my brother and sister, all guitars when we were, well I think that Christmas, when I was 13.

C: In Mississippi you get a deer rifle when you turn 13.

R: Deer rifle? (laughs)  And a driver’s license?

C: That’s 15, they moved the age up though, but yeah, I got mine at 15. Um, okay, I guess, your experience here…

R: Yeah, it was great, it was really fun. It’s definitely somewhere that, as a Dylan fan, I’ve read about Newport in ’65 and it even hit when he would play Newport the years before that, just all the crazy stuff that went down. So it was definitely an honor to be asked to play, and Gillian Welch is just amazing…So I was glad to see, I’d never gotten a chance to see her.

C: When you say a feeling of a certain event or a time in your life, this might be a complex question, you don’t have to answer it, but um, is there a particular song that you associate, well I guess, can you elaborate on that with specifics?

R: You mean, with songs that I’ve written or…

C: Yeah.

R: I think that like, ah…

C: It’s a tough question.

R: There’s like, the second to last song on the album, “Blue Ridge Mountains”, my granddad had just died and…it was just kind of reminiscence about times me and my brother had been with him, and yeah, it was trying to evoke that place I guess.

C: So they’re really personal, but also…I don’t know, I feel like they’re really intuitive and universally evocative, in the sense that…I’m really big into myth of place, that’s why I move so much…

R: Yeah.

C: Yeah, but, is there anything else you need to say about the festival?

R: Um, to say about the festival…

C: Or about anything, is there anything you feel you need to share—

R: That I need to get off my chest?

C: Yeah.

R: Um…it’s definitely a beautiful place…and it’s kind of, I’m looking forward to Pete Seeger absolutely.

C: Yeah, because he’s 90.

R: And yeah, it’s just nice to be outside…

C: That’s true…okay, I do have two more things actually.

R: Okay.

C: Your dynamic with the rest of the guys in the band, I mean not your dynamic specifically, but how does the dynamic of the band work?

R: Um…you mean in terms of?

C: I mean in terms of, are you friends, or it’s more of a professional relationship and you used to hang out but you don’t really hang out now that you’re, or I dunno, band dynamics can be really messy or raw or sometimes they’re really professional…

R: I think it’s like, we definitely hang out for fun, it’s not like we never see each other when we’re not working on music or playing shows. I think everyone’s pretty easy-going, no one takes it too seriously, no one’s too self-involved to have fun with it and, yeah, I mean I think it’s like, sustainable, you know? That’s how we treat it.
Nobody’s too insane, everyone’s kind of interested in, like—

C: That’s important. A lot of great bands self destruct.

R: (laughing) Yeah.

C: Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?

R: Definitely an introvert I would say, I think…that that’s kind of where music comes from or something, introverts.

C: So then, to be onstage, giving, exerting so much, is that strange for you?

R: I think that everybody has different sides to themselves. I think um, I think…I dunno, I think you can either make music for yourself and other people identify with something in it, and it’s not like you’re doing it for them, but they can find the value in it and then they’re kind of sharing that experience together, you know. It’s not like you’re really pandering to them. I don’t think we’re performers in the sense that we’re trying to make people enjoy themselves and like put a show on, we’re just trying to play the songs as they were written and you know, do it well, and hopefully people will enjoy it, but it’s not really for, you know, we’re not setting shit on fire and
doing cartwheels.

C: Do you think you’d write the songs anyhow, even if you weren’t playing them publicly?

R: Oh yeah, absolutely. Songs are just like what you do after a certain amount of time’s past in you life and stuff has happened to you, you write songs about it.

2 Comments so far
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Cherie, thank you for this lovely interview. It is clear that you are meant to be a journalist even as Robin is meant to sing and to song-write.

You have come very close to describing the way that I feel about this music. The melodies are so evocative, filling up the space of what it is to be human, a perfect distillation of melody, rhythm, and meaning. Song as ancient as the human voice and rhythm as akin as our heartbeats. Everything that is sorrowful, ecstatic, and calm. This is the best I can do for now.

To invite further comment, I will assert that “Meadowlark” and “Blue Ridge Mountains” are my favorites from the canon currently public.


Comment by Anna 12.03.09 @ 5:10 am

After hearing what Blue Ridge Mountains is about, I shed a tear because I can hear the lyrics in my mind and now I’m thinking of my grandfather and brother. Such a beautiful song.

Comment by john 03.18.14 @ 11:05 am

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