As soon as Fleet Foxes reunited after a six-year hiatus, the woodsy indie-folk band got busy. In June, the band released a sonically expansive new album, Crack-Up, and embarked on a six-month world tour, which includes a stop at the Arlington Theatre on September 20. The Santa Barbara Independent caught up with frontman Robin Pecknold in New York City, just before he headed to the studio to work on early-stage songwriting for a fourth album.
Between long pauses and carefully mulled-over answers, Pecknold’s famously introspective nature emerged. The band’s principal singer and songwriter joked that he studied “random, random things” at Columbia during the band’s six-year break and laughed about the strange, isolated experience of zooming around the country in the band’s “submarine” of a tour bus. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
It’s been almost six years since the band toured together. What’s that dynamic like now that you guys are all back together? Touring so far has been the most fun I’ve personally had on tour …. Playing the shows is more engaging. It feels more athletic … [like] it just takes more brainpower or something.
Were there any classes you took or thinkers you read at Columbia that influenced Crack-Up? I hadn’t really read Walt Whitman, and I took a class where we read Leaves of Grass. So, I’d say of all of the stuff that I encountered at school, that’s probably the main thing that influenced the music or was on my mind, just finding him to be a really interesting and inspiring and expansive mind.
Are there any elements of Whitman’s voice that you took on lyrically? Just the example of his curiosity or his empathy … the love he embodies.
Your lyrics are full of lush scenes and existential musings, and the sound is almost mystical, with harmonies and rounds. Do you feel like the music reflects the world you live in or is it more about creating other worlds? I guess I turn to music to be transported somewhere as a listener more than I turn to it for political information or excitement. I feel like most music I listen to is like an escape. Or it colors the air in a way that makes the world feel better or feel more, like, magic or something, even though that’s kind of dumb to say …. I guess I seek to write music that has that kind of otherworldly quality or transportive quality.
What musicians do you personally turn to for escape? Ethiopian music, like Mulatu Astatke or Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou … or Charles Mingus.
How has the music you listen to changed over the years? It’s changed a lot. I was thinking about [that] the other day. Like, I wish I could hear The Beatles for the first time again …. But I think right now I’m trying to not listen to any music because I’m trying to write …. I don’t want [the songs] to be too colored by whatever I’m listening to. That always ends up happening.
When in the music-making and touring process do you feel most yourself? I definitely feel the most myself in [the studio]. No one’s watching; I don’t have to be accountable about anything. I like performing live a lot, and I like being able to make people happy by playing songs for them. [Laughs.] But it’s more for the audience than it is for me …. That’s not as validating to me as the satisfaction of working on the music or being enmeshed in a song you’re trying to break or solve.
I like that idea of “solving” the song. Do you feel like that’s what you’re doing in the studio? Yeah, for sure …. There’s an idea that you chance upon [that becomes] this problem to be solved that almost has these inherent right or wrong answers, as far as how to solve it. So it’s almost like you’re finding something rather than creating it after a certain point. I’m really fascinated by the mental psychology of working on an album.
Fleet Foxes play Wednesday, September 20, 8 p.m., at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.), with Natalie Prass opening. See thearlingtontheatre.com or call (805) 963-4408.