Photo by PETE TROSHAK
Let’s not kid ourselves, Foxygen‘s irresistible We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic — think The Royal Tenenbaums as a twee, technicolor indie-rock album — is hands down the catchiest album of 2013 thus far. No one else need apply. In fact, nobody needs to release another album this year. Not even kidding. When I listen to it, I feel like one of the Magi following the star that will lead us all to the manger. Go tell it on the mountain. Bring frankincense and myrrh. They play at World Cafe Live tonight as part of the Non-Comm convention. Earlier this year, we got Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado on the horn to share with us some tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy. — JONATHAN VALANIA
PHAWKER: So, let me just say up front that I fucking love you guys. You’re my new favorite band. Seriously, your record is like album of the year in my book, the one to beat.
JONATHAN RADO: Oh, wow. That’s cool.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah, yeah. We’re on the road. Someone let the air out of our tires this morning.
PHAWKER: Someone let the air out?
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah.
PHAWKER: Where are you?
JONATHAN RADO: Houston, Texas.
PHAWKER: Do you have enemies there?
JONATHAN RADO: We don’t have any enemies that I know about. I don’t even know any rival bands that are in Houston. Or any rival bands really anywhere that I know of.
PHAWKER: Where are you guys based out of these days?
JONATHAN RADO: Um, no where really. We’re sort of, I guess based, collaboratively out of California. Where we live in different places.
PHAWKER: So, if we can just go back to the beginning for a sec and tell me a little bit. Back where you were, like, barely teenagers you guys were in a band called The Fionas…
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah, I was in that band, very Doors influenced, and then Sam became the lead singer and did a bunch of really cool stuff that everyone in the band hated except for me. So me and Adam decided to start a band and that’s how Foxygen started.
PHAWKER: You guys really need a better creation myth. So, what are your duties as the 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic?
JONATHAN RADO: I’m not sure. I’m not bringing peace to the world, but I think more like, calling AAA a lot.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah. Well I think it’s less we, like me and Sam, are the 21st century ambassadors. I think it’s we as a collective, you know, Earth, are the 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic
PHAWKER: I heard you guys were pretty obsessed with Brian Jonestown Massacre when you were starting out.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah, I mean they were just a really influential band. We really love all their albums. Yeah, I mean, I just really love that band. They were sort of the reason we started the band a little bit, yeah. We watched Dig like everyday. Watch Dig!, record a song, watch Dig!, record a song. This was before people really knew who that band was, too.
PHAWKER: Have you guys ever played with them or have you met them?
JONATHAN RADO: No, no. We were in Berlin and Anton [lives there now], and there was this back and forth on Twitter with Anton. He really wanted to, but I don’t know, he didn’t end up coming, which is pretty awesome, you know?
PHAWKER: Why is that awesome?
JONATHAN RADO: Why is that awesome? I don’t know. It just seems pretty, you know, pretty cool of him to like, I don’t know, it was like, it was cool of him to not show up or something, you know? Like being very fashionably late or something. I don’t know. It was just cool of him to like tweet with him a little something, you know?
PHAWKER: Take it from me, you don’t want to meet your heroes, they’re only going to let you down.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah. I’ve met a few of them and they’ve all been very, very nice actually.
PHAWKER: Who are some of your heroes?
JONATHAN RADO: Well Richard Swift [who produced the new album] was one. You know, he’s one of my best friends now, so that’s really great. We toured with Of Montreal, that was for me, a pretty big one.
PHAWKER: You know, there’s a scene in Dig! where Anton’s talking about, ‘we’re gonna be, like the Nirvana of garage rock and we’re gonna be huge,’ and I like those guys, I love those guys, and I dug them while they were going on, I was well acquainted with them before Dig! and stuff, I knew all the really early records, but like, I could just tell they weren’t going to become huge. They weren’t that “it” band. It wasn’t the right time. They weren’t the right band at the right time. But you know what? I’m not just blowing smoke here. I think you guys could be what he thought Brian Jonestown Massacre was going to be. I think you guys could blow up huge. I the time is almost right for something like that.
JONATHAN RADO: I mean yeah, that’d be pretty cool. I don’t know (laughing). We’ll see, we’ll see. We’ll see if we can get there. We’ll see if we can do what we need to do.
PHAWKER: I’ve been around the block a few times. I’m old enough to be your father so listen to me when I tell you I’ve seen a lot of I’ve seen a lot of stuff come and go and you guys have it, whatever ‘it’ is, so don’t blow it on something stupid. There’s plenty of examples of what not to do in Dig!, if you know what I’m saying.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah I think that’s the good thing about being in a band these days, you can look back and see what not to do.
PHAWKER: Let’s talk about what happened between making the last record and the new one when there was this giant leap forward. What’s the timeline, how much time passes between each record?
JONATHAN RADO: Well we spent about 6 months making Take The Kids Off Broadway, a little more than that, maybe 8 months. And the new one we wrote really quickly, five or six days. And we recorded it in two weeks.
PHAWKER: Well, you know, that almost makes sense because Take the Kids Off Broadway is so dense, it sounds like there’s tons and tons of overdubs.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah, yeah.
PHAWKER: And the new record, while it’s got lots of great sounds on it, but it’s a lot more spare. I think everything breaths a lot more.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah, totally. That was intentional.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah, we’re touring until, god knows when and then over the summer I think we’re going to make a new record. I think that’s the plan. We’re sort of, we’re a little burnt out on touring at this point. I think we might take some time with the next one. Not just do it really quickly. We have a lot of songs for it so I think we might take a couple months to do it and then you know, try to put it out at a time that’s really convenient for everyone. Because everyone in our band has their own projects as well that they want to work on that they’ve sort of been putting on the back burner for the last year so I think we’re going to give everyone a break and then yeah, come back and record some more stuff.
PHAWKER: So and how old are you?
JONATHAN RADO: I’m 23.
PHAWKER: 23 and how old is Sam?
JONATHAN RADO: He’s 23.
PHAWKER: How did you guys get into the kind of music that you do? Most people your age would be making rap or dance music or DJ stuff.
JONATHAN RADO: It’s just sort of the music we grew up with. Our parents really liked it and it’s good, you know. I really don’t know. I get asked that question a lot and for me, personally, I think it came from listening to like, punk music. When I was really young I was into, like, Green Day and stuff, that type of punk and then I started getting into The Germs and stuff. When you dig through punk music you sort of find your way back to The Stooges and then you go back to The Kinks and you sort of realize, ‘Oh the 60s were kind of punk.’ And that just sort of led the way into 60s music for me.
PHAWKER: Okay, last question, this is a hypothetical, you’re house is on fire, you wake up in the middle of the night, there’s only time to grab one album, which one do you take?
JONATHAN RADO: I don’t know. I have an original copy of In a Priest Driven Ambulance by The Flaming Lips that I hold pretty dear because it’s super rare. I’d probably grab that.
PHAWKER: Good choice, good choice. I was actually just out at Wayne Coyne’s house a couple weeks ago. For–
JONATHAN RADO: Oh, really?
JONATHAN RADO: Oh, nice. We are playing in Norman Oklahoma in a few days, we just got booked with their manager. We’re going to play at his School Of Rock out there. They’re like little kids. We’re going to play I think, like a concert for the kids there, which is going to be really fun.
PHAWKER: That’s awesome. I’ve seen the school of rock, that’s awesome.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah, so hopefully we, you know, we can meet the Lips. Steven Drozd was like a really big influence on me, personally. Yeah, I’d really like to see those guys.
PHAWKER: Well they have a recording studio set up at Wayne’s house. You guys can probably go and make an album with them in a second. I’m not even kidding.
JONATHAN RADO: I’d like that, yeah maybe like one of the songs on the next album or something, we’ll do with them.
PHAWKER: And make sure you go– they actually set up, they set up their own Flaming Lips store and art gallery in downtown Oklahoma City.
JONATHAN RADO: Really? They just like, own that town.
PHAWKER: They do own that town. That’s why they stay there. You guys should go and check out the Wayne Coyne compound. It’s quite an adventure. I’m sure they’d be happy to have you. They love meeting new people all the time and hanging out.
JONATHAN RADO: Yeah. I’ve heard through the grapevine that they like our record. So I’m pretty excited about that.
PHAWKER: Awesome man. Well listen I wish you luck. Again, I really, really, really love the record and I’m looking forward to seeing you guys when you get to Philly.
JONATHAN RADO: Thanks, man.
PHAWKER: And remember what I said about now blowing it over something stupid.
JONATHAN RADO: (laughing) We won’t.
PHAWKER: I’m gonna be watching you, son.