Saturday, June 25, 2011
Interview with Guy Keltner of Fox and the Law
Guy Keltner is proud of where he’s from, and he’s not worried about the labels that exist when you happen to be from Seattle, or the comparisons that are likely to be made with other bands from such a storied musical city.
Tell me the history of Fox and the Law.
I started the band about a year and a half ago. I had been in a group called Shotty for 5 years, and despite some really strong bonds and a lot of great musical chemistry, I decided to part ways and began recording demos for a bunch of garage rock songs I had written. The drummer from Shotty and an old bass player of ours helped fill out the lineup in the beginning, and we started taking small shows around Seattle and the Northwest. Over time I found some more permanent members that really vibed with my sound and my vision, and we've gradually involved into the band we are today. We did a tour of the mid-west and the Northwest last summer that took a really heavy toll on our jobs and personal lives, but it also beat the band into shape and really tightened us up. We've become much more mature. It's a lot different, the songs feel different, but the energy is still there and my voice has taken on a lot more of a unique sound in the past year. I'm really happy with where we are at.
How would you describe what your doing?
Definitely falls in the garage rock category, but it's becoming so much more. There is totally this punk rock energy and attitude to what we do, especially during the live show. We also incorporate elements from other genres, such as Motown, Country Western (I'm a huge fan of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson), Jazz, and R&B.
Seattle is really flooded with a lot of singer songwriters, indie bands, faux-country acts, etc. I have a lot of respect for many of these bands, but at the end of the day it's just not my thing. While that is the stuff that usually gets the most press, there is so much more diversity in this city that often gets overlooked. I mean, yeah, Fleet Foxes and Death Cab came from here, but we have so much more to offer. The musicianship of the average person in this town is just incredible. I'm always finding out that so-and-so is in a band, or that my old boss or co-worker totally shreds at the clubs on the weekends. It seems like everyone is in a band.
We are really trying to put rock back on the map out here. Since the indie scene tends to overshadow everything else, it is going to be really nice when things finally shift in a different direction. There is so much talent in the rock scene that is just waiting to get press and recognition. I really love local bands like Hounds of the Wild Hunt, Hobosexual, and The Spinning Whips. It'll be really cool to see where things go in the city as these acts start to pick up steam.
Could you describe your songwriting process?
I usually come up with a skeleton of the songs. Basically, I sit with a bass guitar (and on some occasions, a classical guitar tuned down to C flat) and work out the hook or the groove, and will sit at that for a while until I can picture the whole band playing along. The vocal melody tends to fall in place as I get more comfortable with the groove. Sometimes I can picture a vocal melody in my mind first and it comes out the other way, where I'll hammer different ideas out on the bass until they fit my lyrical tropes. Surprisingly, my guitar parts are written last more often than not. And this is weird, considering we are a really guitar driven band.
And your process for lyrics? (Maybe they're one in the same).
Lyrics can be tough for me. I am not the most poetic dude, but then again, I spend a lot of time writing. I work in advertisement during the daytime, optimizing web ads and editing ad copy, so I do a lot of mundane writing at work. In my spare time I sometimes contribute to a local blog called Seattle Show Gal, and I usually put together music previews for them. Since I'm so heavily prose-oriented, it can be tough to create a beautiful or heartfelt lyric, but somehow I manage to do it. Usually I take notes when a really great line comes to mind, on a receipt or post-it note. I have so many goddam receipts and paper scraps folded into my lyric notebook. It's hard to keep track of them. When I sit down and make a conscious effort to focus my energy, I find that the lyrics were there all along and it's really just everyday distractions that make songwriting the most difficult.
Talk about the gear you choose; why you choose it, what exactly you use.
Whew...I'm not exactly the most gear-headed dudes, especially by Seattle standards, but I'll do my best to explain the "what" and "why". I play on a custom-built Fender telecaster for the most part. It's got a really good fit to my sound. The neck pickup is a TV Jones, has a really fat sound and works great with my amp. The bridge pickup is stacked, so in I can get that really twangy tele sound if I want, or I can pull off a much hotter sound in the other setting. For my amp, I use a '67 Fender Bassman head. It's epic, the thing just hits all the right mid-range tones I want to hear, but doesn't lose any of the high or low end that I want. I run it through a homemade cabinet (this great guy in Montlake Terrace put it together for dirt cheap, and wrapped it in classic red Marshall vinyl), and there are two 12'' Celestion knock-offs inside that I found online at this awesome warehouse site. I use an Ibanez Turbo Tube Screamer for overdrive/distortion, because it doesn't lose the low end in my tone. I am really obsessed with keeping our sound fat and heavy, without making it too metal, or straight-up sounding like a distorted bass. Finally, I use a homemade fuzz pedal, with Russian transistors inside for that really classic tone. The guy that made the pedal also made the guitar. His name is Al Kaatz, lives just north of me in Seattle. He gave me lessons back when I was in elementary and junior high school, and we've stayed close ever since. I really feel like he's had the most impact on my guitar sound.
My other guitar player, Ryan, uses a newer Fender DeVille amplifier with two 12's. He plays on a really fantastic Gibson Les Paul Studio guitar, and also has a Tube Screamer like mine. I'm actually a bit envious of the fuzz pedal he has, called a Swollen Pickle. The thing just get's that epically fat fuzz sound, and works so well with our music. We have similar tones, but there is a lot of difference in each of our own personal sounds and the way we play, so it compliments really well.
Where did your name come from?
I used to call the drummer from Shotty "The Law" (his name is actually Miles Frank). This is because the drummer should always lay down the law in any band, with a firm hand. At the time we started recording the demos of this stuff, it was just him and I, so we bounced around a couple of nicknames, and Guy Fox finally stuck. So that's why we became Fox and The Law.
Could you tell me about the recording process of your newest album.
I am not even ashamed to say it. Recording this album was about as close to Hell as I have ever come in my entire musical career. It really was a struggle, and all the while there wasn't much we could really do about it.
It begins with our tour last year. We manage to save quite a bit of money with some high paying gigs we took prior to leaving town for the midwest. However, after touring in an old renovated school bus, along with another six people (The Hague, an indie band out of Portland, and their merch guy) and experiencing a variety of hardships on the road, we were completely wiped out by August. Our guitar player, Ryan, lost his job at Boeing because of the tour, and my employment at the University of Washington was seasonal, so both of us found ourselves out of work for a number of months. Therefore, when it came down to record a record, we really had to rely on the kindness of outside parties in order to succeed.
We cut four of the tracks at my friend Pat Moon's home studio in Kirkland. Originally we recorded 12 over there, but were unhappy with a lot of the finished product, so we scrapped a majority of the recordings and held onto the four that sounded the best. We took these to a studio in Seattle called the Recovery Room to re-record the vocals (they didn't sound dirty enough, way too digital), and worked with the owner, Graig Markel. For the final mix of these tracks, we worked with another friend at his home studio, and he worked for free in exchange for a few shows (we have a decent draw in town so we had his band on a few bills). This was extremely time consuming, as you can imagine.
Around the time we were deciding the vocals needed to be re-cut, we began work on the other five tracks up in Bellingham at the WWU student studio, The Fairhaven. We had initially intended to put these tracks to tape, but scrapped that idea after realizing how amateur we really were (our friend that was engineering these sessions, Ben, is a recent graduate of their audio program, and it is safe to say that this was his first professional outing in the studio). We managed to get the drums to tape, though, which actually really affected the sound in a positive way. The tape machine even broke at one point, and despite the fact that I have next to no experience working on a technical level with recording equipment, I managed to repair the machine to finish of the drum tracks. After finishing a majority of the instrumental tracks in this studio, we were so flustered with the pace and limitations within this environment that we made a decision not to leave the Seattle city limits for the remainder of the recording process. We actually recorded a majority of my guitar solos at another friend's home studio near my apartment in Greenwood. If this sounds convoluted by this point, trust me, I completely understand. I was just as confused. Finally, we were under the gun to get the vocals recorded because the summer season was coming up fast, and our original goal had been to finish by March at the very latest. It had already been 9 months by this point. We recorded the remaining vocals in Ryan's bedroom, and I was literally so relieved to be finished that I ran out of the room immediately after singing the final vocal pieces and said "I am outta here."
The final mixes were predominantly decided by Ryan and I, so in a weird, roundabout way, this album was self-produced, with about four other co-producers involved at some point or another. The record is being mastered over at Jupiter Studios by a fantastic guy named Martin Feveyear, who has worked with Kings of Leon and The Blue Scholars, among many others.
I would never even attempt to relive this experience again. Working like this meant dealing with a lot of variables, too many people, and way too many opinions. It meant calling people that had something important and not hearing back for days, or getting blown off at times. I have no animosity towards anybody that helped us out - a majority of them were working for little or no money, so what was I supposed to say? In the end I am really thankful for what they did to help, and I am just glad it is done. I fully intend to carefully budget for our next project and make sure that we have a reasonable deadline that we can comfortably meet.
How would you describe your most recent show?
Face melting. We played Chop Suey, on Capitol Hill in Seattle, to an extremely enthusiastic crowd. One of the great things about being this band is watching people's reactions when we are on stage. Some of them have seen us, and some haven't. They usually see us get on stage and probably think, "Ugh...that singer looks like a high school kid and that other guitar player looks like Gerard Butler. These guys can't be any good. And is he wearing a sheep-skin vest?" Then we start rocking out and that's when everyone kind of looks at each other and goes "Holy Shit!" I hope I don't sound as egotistical as I think I do right now.
Anyways, my mom was at this past show along with my brother, who is recently 21, so he and all his friends bought my mom and I shots of tequila, and were handing them out at the foot of the stage right before we started playing. I'm not one to promote drinking liquor necessarily, but it was pretty funny to be making a toast to my mom and my little brother from the stage and then downing a nasty shot of well-tequila right before playing.
Our set consisted of the usual burners and a majority of the songs off of our record. We also played some of the new Motown and Funk inspired tunes, and they won't over extremely well. Despite the clear use of funk and R&B elements, we manage to keep things very punk-rock and fuzzy. The crowd went fairly ballistic at the end of our set and made us come out for another song, so we played this punk tune that we haven't done in a while called "Honey, You're Heartless", about this psycho-ex of mine that assaulted me and cut my hair (that's a story for another day).
Is this your full time gig? What does everyone do in the band outside the band if not?
Definitely a full time thing, but we find time for other stuff, despite often working 50 or 60 hours a week and then rehearsing like crazy. Like I said, I do advertising for a day job and also some writing. I am also working on some other musical projects, including a more dance-heavy set of songs I plan on recording at some point this summer. I also just started rehearsing again with the power trio I played in during high school (kind of a Modest Mouse meets The Moving Units thing).
Ryan is in another band called the Grizzled Mighty. It's just him on guitar and vocals and this girl Whitney playing drums. They will absolutely get White Stripes and Black Keys comparisons but they have their own sound going, and it fucking rocks. Whitney actually used to play guitar in the band Deerhunter. She grew up in Georgia with Bradford and toured the US and Europe with that band.
Our drummer Dan just graduated UW (we are both officially alums), and while there he was drumming for the jazz combo, among other pursuits. He'll probably keep working on some jazz stuff, but right now this band is our primary focus.
Future of the band?
Go big or go home. We are looking to make a career of this, so that means years and years of hard work and struggling, which we are ready to take head on. We will be releasing the record sometime this summer after our kickstarter campaign is complete: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/779555836/fox-and-the-law-summer-tour
We are going into record at Orbit Audio in July or August. We hit it off with this producer, Mike Sterling, and will be cutting an EP of our most recent songs. I would really like to put together another full-length in the fall. We are also likely to be touring the west coast in August, doing a few club dates in Portland, San Francisco, etc.