Not So Fast

Fleet Foxes' successful sound depends on slowing things down

Huffing and puffing, Casey Wescott, keyboardist for Seattle's Fleet Foxes, makes it to the phone just minutes after sound check. Judging by his lack of breath, preparing for a show in Glasgow, Scotland, appears to be quite the job. Winded and apologetic, Wescott is eager to talk about his band and its tour; he just needs to catch his breath first.

"On this tour, I haven't been abiding by the Gregorian calendar or any sense of time other than light and dark," says Wescott, still panting.

After a few minutes, he composes himself slightly. Complete sentences are still a rarity, but at least his rate of speech approaches comprehensibility. Fleet Foxes is a band that describes its music as baroque, harmonic pop, so it's odd to be discussing such in a rapid, haphazard manner.

"We were driving this morning into Scotland from London, and it was the most gorgeous scenery I have ever witnessed," says Wescott, sounding like a high school kid on his first field trip. "Green, green fields full of sheep and goats and the different bird sounds."

Listening to Fleet Foxes' just-released eponymous debut, it's easy to understand Wescott's hyper-kinetic yet naturalistic demeanor. With influences ranging from British folk legends Fairport Convention to American folk/rock pioneers Buffalo Springfield, Fleet Foxes is definitely a band from another time: Its slow tempos and lush accompaniment, especially on songs such as "Sun It Rises" and "Ragged Wood," come across like pieces from a soundtrack to a PBS documentary on migrating fowl.

"I'm very excited about where this band is going to go from here," Wescott says. "There's an infinite amount of room in these songs for vocal arrangements."

Wescott proceeds to use the word "harmonization" about a dozen times as he tries (vainly) to explain the band's compositional processes. Suffice to say, what comes across on Fleet Foxes is a flair for detail and an intriguingly soft-spoken way of expressing regret and hope. Vocalist Robin Pecknold and guitarist Skye Skjelset are the band's focal points, but each of the five members contributes to the subdued atmospherics. Elements of alt-country merge gracefully with harmonies lifted respectfully from the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel.

"Each of the melodies is distinct in that its creation is to highlight the strength of that singer's voice," Wescott says, sounding like a professor of music theory. Although it may sound complicated, what makes Fleet Foxes so endearing is the way a simple structure slowly expands into an epic, nearly symphonic collection of voices and instruments.

"Even when Robin does one of his solo numbers, all of the rest of us are in the back row practicing our harmonies," says Wescott. "We're just always singing."

 
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