Morgantown indie band Fox Japan will pre-release their new CD “Reenactment” Thursday night at 123 Pleasant Street. We caught up with frontman Charlie Wilmoth to learn more about the band, the CD, 2012, and why they hate Glenn Beck so much...
WVRS: Are you still living and working in San Diego?
CW: Yes. I’m finishing graduate work and teaching classes at the University of California, San Diego. The academic schedule gives me plenty of opportunities to get back east. I’m graduating this year and will hopefully move somewhere closer to the band.
WVRS: How excited are you guys to have Reenactment ready? Any particular insight into the title?
CW: Actually, not really. Our last two records had pretty obvious themes, but this one really doesn’t. It was just a word that we liked and that happened to be on the album already.
Reenactment won’t be out officially until late February, which is when the press and radio blitz will happen, but we’ll have it available at our shows and on our website before that. It’s our best record by a large margin, so we’re eager to see where it takes us.
WVRS: How if at all has Fox Japan changed since its inception, from songwriting to the recording? Basically emailing mp3s and ideas back and forth?
CW: I do email MP3s sometimes, but often I’ll just show up at rehearsal with a song and show people how it goes. We all have backgrounds in classical music, where rehearsals tend to be very efficient, so we can get a lot done in a short period of time. It isn’t like the stereotype of a rock band rehearsal, which probably involves playing some songs in between doses of alcohol and cocaine.
As for your first question, we’ve changed in that we’re better! I know this is something that every band says in every interview, but it’s 100% true in our case. The biggest change is that we’ve gradually begun to understand the steps we need to take to make a recording sound good. While our albums before Reenactment are cool documents that contain a lot of songs we still really like, they weren’t ideal for reasons that often were our own fault.
For example, I didn’t know that you need to take time to make your guitar sound good BEFORE you record, rather than just assuming the engineer will wave some magic wand later; you probably shouldn’t just plug in and play. Brian Spragg, who recorded Reenactment, was really helpful with the guitar sounds. And we had it mixed at the Kennel in Brooklyn, and the guys there, James Pertusi and Jim Santo, did a great job with it. The songs and performances are much better too, but the most important things are like, “Oh, if you add some reverb, suddenly the vocals don’t sound so strident.” That sort of thing.
WVRS: To what extent is having three brothers in the band conducive to the creative process/chemistry and how much do you hate the other guitarist, Slater? Would you ever change your name to Slater-Wilmoth?
CW: Well, I probably wouldn’t change my name, but the particular makeup of the band does help things along. Since three of us are brothers, we grew up listening to a lot of the same music, and Andrew has been friends with Sam and Pete for a very long time, so he’s part of that too. In fact, the first time I met Andrew might have been at a Dismemberment Plan concert in Wheeling in about 1999, when he would have been around 14. In some other bands I’ve been in, people talk about what they’re doing in painfully passive-aggressive and unhelpful ways, because they aren’t on the same page. Since we all grew up together, we can be pretty straight with each other, and there usually isn’t that much to disagree about anyway.
I do hate Andrew’s guts, though.
WVRS: You talk about having political lyrics, of maybe an anti-conservative type bent; is it tougher to find that kind or inspiration with the new president in office? Or does that even factor in at all?
CW: I think Obama’s election made things more complex for us. Before, the targets were so obvious, and as much as I still enjoy playing a song like “Shut Up, Private” (which attacks people like Donald Rumsfeld and is from the album Hell), it’s a little bit ham-fisted. It’s ham-fisted in a way that was appropriate for the time (I think we started playing it live in 2006), but still, nobody likes having pig meat for hands.
Even before the election, I was starting to write lyrics that were a little less direct, and Obama moved that process along. Obviously, it isn’t like he’s fixed all the problems in the world. Actually, as it turns out, he hasn’t fixed very many problems at all. But the upshot is that now I focus more on the problems themselves and less on people who deserve blame for them. And I probably write a little less about overt political things and more about things that have political undertones. For example, “Bachelorette” from our new album doesn’t really have an agenda and isn’t even about a real person, but there’s stuff about right-wing terrorism all over the place.
“Glenn Beck” is the one example of a song from the new album that maybe uses the old template, but I also think that song is also funnier than some of our old ones, so I’ll take it.
WVRS: You recorded with Brian Spragg of It’s Birds, how satisfied are you with the end result and working with him? How long did it take to record?
CW: We recorded it over the course of about a year, usually in two or three day clumps. We’re very happy with it. It’s just so much better than our last record, mostly for the reasons I mentioned above. Also, I worked a lot harder on the vocals; on Hell I was going for a kind of Superchunk/Okkervil River strangled-chimpanzee type of voice. This time I wanted to write melodies that were a little lower in my register, and take the time in recording to make them sound expressive.
WVRS: Hell was put out on Small War, is Reenactment on a particular label? Thoughts on labels these days?
CW: Small War is us, and we’re going to put out Reenactment also. It would be fine to sign to a bigger label, in that it could be a leap forward in terms of name recognition and publicity, but it must be tough to be a label these days, and we’re perfectly happy to put our records out ourselves.
WVRS: What is the song 1984-2012 all about?
CW: It’s about our drummer Pete committing ritual suicide, obviously.
WVRS: So what do you guys have against Glenn Beck?
CW: Did you listen to the song? He came to our hometown and publicly exposed himself in a Cold Stone!
(Just in case Beck’s lawyers are Jedi Masters with the Google, I should be clear that this is a joke, and that this particular episode of sexual deviance in this particular ice cream establishment in northern West Virginia is pretty much the one bad thing that Beck could be accused of that actually is unlikely to be true.)
WVRS: If Glenn Beck endorsed your band, how would you thank him?
CW: We’d all give him big hugs, because clearly he needs them. The world is a scary place, you know. Sometimes it just makes me want to cry in front of an enormous TV audience.
WVRS: You’re releasing the new CD at 123 with Librarians and The Demon Beat, how stoked are you to do the show, and go out on this NE mini-tour through December?
CW: We are THIS stoked [holding hands three inches apart].
Actually, Librarians and Demon Beat are two of our favorite bands to play with, and 123 is our favorite venue. And I haven’t heard the Demon Beat’s new record yet, but I’m really excited on the Librarians’ behalf about their new record, which is unbelievably hot. It’s a little like Animal Collective, but a lot more fun.
WVRS: You’ve been rocking since ‘93; how special is Fox Japan as a unit to you and the group?
CW: Well, we’ve SORT OF been rocking since ‘93. Our activities until 2005 mostly consisted of Pete and me playing songs on homemade percussion instruments and sending them out to people.
I can’t speak for anybody else, but for me, yeah, it’s special. For me it’s the rare rock band that really functions well as a social entity. And I’ve made some records with these dudes that I’m pretty proud of (despite some of my comments above), and I’ve spent too many late nights driving down the Penn turnpike with these guys to not care a whole hell of a lot about this band.
Photo: Erin Yeager