Q&A w/Charlie Wilmoth of FOX Japan
FOX Japan (L-R: Sam Wilmoth, Charlie Wilmoth, Andrew Slater and Pete Wilmoth) plays 123 Pleasant St. Saturday night.
Slater-Wilmoth (aka FOX Japan) plays 123 Pleasant Street this Saturday night on the heels of releasing “Casual Sex,” the debut single from their fourth album, Glory, Glory Hallelujah, set for release Tuesday.
The indie rock outfit, comprised of brothers Charlie (vocals/guitar), Sam (bass) and Pete Wilmoth (drums) with guitarist Andrew Slater and evoking something like Talking Heads, with influences ranging from The Pixies to Pavement, is no stranger to Magic Town’s scene or readers of this here blog.
We caught up with FOX Japan frontman Charlie Wilmoth to see what’s been up with the making of Glory, Glory Hallelujah, what has changed (if anything) and what’s in store for the band...
WVRockscene: It’s been over a year since we last talked, where are you guys living at these days? Columbus? Pittsburgh? Morgantown? How far apart are you?
Charlie Wilmoth: I’m in Columbus, Pete is in Pittsburgh, and Sam and Andrew are in Morgantown.
WVRockscene: While there are projects that you may be involved with, be it The Overcoat, Spirit Night, Charlie doing solo stuff, how cool was it getting back together writing and collaborating for new FOX Japan material?
Wilmoth: We do it all the time, or at least we have recently, so I’m not sure it’s something we really felt like we took a break from. Speaking for myself, I just like making things and I probably always will, so I’ll always be writing.
WVRockscene: Charlie you’ve played out solo in recent months, how did that go and does/did playing solo either refresh or let you look at FJ writing differently?
Wilmoth: I feel like I should do it more. Fox Japan is about ten times more interesting to me than playing by myself, but I think Fox Japan also isn’t very easy to understand the first time you hear it, in part because the lyrics aren’t clear or audible. When I play solo, it almost feels like comedy. People laugh at the funny stuff. That doesn’t happen at Fox Japan shows.
WVRockscene: Speaking of solo, Charlie, the debut single “Casual Sex” continues the FJ theme of deeply personal, sometimes painfully honest and smart, insightful lyrics. Musicians talk about their craft offering some sort of catharsis, is just getting to write lyrics and share them pretty cool? Whether it’s casual sex (or lack thereof,) Glenn Beck or whatever cultural/religious/political observations, how much thought goes into the lyrics?
Wilmoth: A lot of thought goes into them, and thanks for noticing! One way this record is different from the others we’ve made is that the lyrics ARE pretty personal at times, whereas before I think they weren't. Thoughtful and distinctive, yes (hopefully), but personal, no, in that I was mostly writing about political ideas, or characters I dreamed up, not about myself. The original idea for “Casual Sex” was for the narrator to not want to have casual sex because of his brimstone-and-hellfire religious beliefs, but that felt like a cheap shot, and it seemed much harder and more interesting to actually make it about me and my own weird hang-ups. So that’s what I did. Most of the songs on Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! aren’t as much of a departure from what we did with lyrics before, but I’m also less inclined than I used to be to go after easy targets.
WVRockscene: I thought I’d seen a pic of you guys in the studio with Dave Klug in Pittsburgh, is that right? How did that go and how much smoother if at all has recording got for you after three prior releases?
Wilmoth: Actually, we recorded the album with Brian Spragg in Morgantown, and Dave mixed it in Pittsburgh. The photo you saw was probably from the Overcoat’s recording session.
The recording process isn’t smoother. It’s worse. We’re getting a lot smarter about it, but we’re also wanting to do crazier and crazier things. “Casual Sex” was the last song we recorded and we banged it out (so to speak) in a few days, so you can’t really tell, but in a lot of the other songs on the album, there’s just a million things going on. I felt a little bit bad for Brian and the amount of time I spent at his house. He really was a saint about it, and all I could really do to repay him was give him a few bucks and buy him lunch. There’s one song that has, I believe, 78 tracks. Dave just about had a heart attack when he saw it. I liked the way our last record, Reenactment, sounded, but it seems a little bit spare. This one sounds richer, and there’s also a lot more ear-candy stuff going on.
WVRockscne: Charlie when we talked for the Herald-Dispatch piece on FJ like 18 months ago, you mentioned you wanted the follow-up to Reenactment to sound minimalist in comparison or something like that. Given your classical music background, how satisfying/frustrating a process was arranging and producing the new songs?
Wilmoth: It was just kind of crazy. I think we might have started recording it even before Reenactment came out. It took a long time in terms of hours spent. I’m not sure whether that will be immediately apparent to the listener, in that this record doesn’t really announce itself as an epic rock album, but I do think all the weekends we spent in the studio make the new record sound more dense and warm and immediately appealing.
There really wasn’t a lot of arranging in the classical sense. It was more about listening to things and deciding whether six guitars was enough for a particular section, or whether there needed to be eight. Or whether there would be a way to drop a couple extra keyboards into a particular section to give the pre-chorus a little more momentum. That sort of thing.
WVRockscene: You’re releasing Glory, Glory, Hallelujah on Garbage Days, which has already put out some cool stuff from local/regional acts, how neat is it to be able to kind of share the new FJ record with not only your fans, but your friends who are running this label? It’s got to be cooler than dealing with some stranger somewhere who doesn’t care about your bands, right? Just your thoughts on labels these days?
Wilmoth: We used to concern ourselves with that kind of stuff, but we haven’t recently, and that feels a lot healthier. As for Garbage Days, there has been a lot of great music happening in Morgantown in the past few years, and it’s nice that Anthony Fabbricatore put together Garbage Days to help announce that to the world.
WVRockscene: On the FJ bandcamp page it says the new CD will be out Nov. 15, is that right or just a marketing ploy? Can fans expect to be able to get on there Tuesday and be able to order it?
Wilmoth: Yes, it should be up there on Tuesday. There might be some reason to delay it, but we’re not planning on it.
WVRockscene: Looking forward to this show Saturday at 123?
Wilmoth: Yes. We’re playing with Dave Bello and with a New York band called the Ditty Committee, who make these small but spectacularly bleak and well-crafted songs. It’s a good bill, and what unifies it is that all the acts on it are very serious about lyrics.
WVRockscene: Bands come and go, but it seems like, looking at you guys from the outside, that being brothers -- and you guys have said this much in the past -- precludes any real diva drama or chemistry issues. Obviously Slater is something of an adopted Wilmoth bro in FJ, but how cool/fun is it after all these years to still be together in a band making music you like playing?
Wilmoth: It must be good, because I can’t imagine doing it any other way. We just agree on so many things that rehearsals are pretty easy. And when I’m in Morgantown, I can always crash on Sam and Andrew’s couch.
mp3: Casual Sex by FOX Japan
photo: Nikki Rotunda
--- FOX Japan plays 123 Pleasant Street Saturday night with The Ditty Committee and David F. Bello, and will release their fourth album, “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” Tuesday, Nov. 15 on their bandcamp page...
Related: Slater-Wilmoth (FOX Japan) vs. Glenn Beck Friday @ Shamrock's (Herald-Dispatch June 2010 article)
Posted by WVRockscene!