In little more than a year, Foxygen has traversed a scope of creativity and work that few bands touch even after decades of writing and performing together. The sometimes-esoteric and frequently baroque duo of Jonathan Rado and Sam France keeps its soul rooted clearly in California, all while exploring different versions of itself. At one point, in 2014, the guys released a concept album that imagined themselves as a fictional band with a far-reaching fictional history and trajectory.
The stakes are no less dramatic on Foxygen’s latest album, Hang, which hit streets and stages this year. This new one is both a return to their roots — to their hometown — as well as a workshop that touches on all manner of good old American music.
“The record itself is sort of a hero’s journey-type story through the canals of the Hollywood entertainment industry — the rock ‘n’ roll world, whatever — and all the themes in that,” France says. “The area of town that we lived in — the entertainment industry was just seen as something that people that we grew up with felt entitled to be a part of. It was always this thing that affected the culture of where we lived. It had people living in a fantasy world, and that’s sort of what that area is all about.”
With the cultural tides of Hollywood flowing through the band members’ veins, it was only natural to wash ashore now and then on the page as songs and albums.
And while it’s studied in some ways, Hang is certainly a fun album. Take the sprightly “Mrs. Adams,” for instance, which pairs an ABBA-like melody with suicidal imagery and a song structure that just won’t quit. It’s a great example of how the rest of the album flows.
“We felt that Hang itself is one piece of music; none of our other records, I feel, were one chunk of music like this was one,” France says. “It’s the first time we’ve [played a full album in a set].” That was something that emerged organically as the album came together. As the writing began to gel, France says, a concept emerged that gave the album the feeling of a play or a film.
In fact, France wrote an entire script — with dialogue and everything draped across a plot — that accompanies the score that Hang provides. He assembled this before the band even began rehearsing for this current tour. “We didn’t end up using it, because we wanted to showcase it as more of a concert,” he says. “We were proud of the music and wanted to make it about the music.” (That said, the band hasn’t ruled out bringing the theatrical performance to the stage as a one-off event — “possibly,” France adds.)
Trey Pollard, who arranged the album, has been joining the band onstage, leading a tight ensemble adjacent to the core duo of Foxygen. France says they’ve been loving the opportunity to showcase the album as it’s supposed to be heard before moving onto older tunes.
That ensemble sound is key to the vision that Rado and France had while they were thinking about this album over the course of the previous few years. The whole thing was written ahead of time, and the guys realized that they needed to bring in some additional instrumentalists. The Lemon Twigs were brought in to flesh out the sound on this album as the rhythm section, much to the delight of the Foxygen guys. (Rado had previously produced the Twigs’ debut, The Lemon Twigs Do Hollywood.)
The resulting product is something that the guys have referred to as their first real studio album — in more ways than one. “All of our former records were made in some variation of a home studio,” France says. “The album really has that taste to it; it sounds like we’re onstage, it sounds like we’re performing in the room. We made what we saw in our heads, and I think it worked out.
“It’s just an idea we’ve had for quite a few years, and finally we found all the cast to make it,” France says, sounding more and more like he’s seated in a director’s chair and loving every moment.
With Cut Worms and Trios
8:30 p.m. Monday, July 31, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd. 216-383-1124. Tickets: $20 ADV/$22 DOS, beachlandballroom.com