When Kenny Uptain and Kelly Test started Foxtrot Uniform, they were looking to rebel. They'd become disillusioned by the strictures of recording session tradition. Hailing to the unflinching producer's demands, most of the Texas country scene was obligated to be "clean" for radio play. But for this pair, that just didn't sit right.
"Artists for the most part just want to make a clean record for the radio and they are willing to do anything that any semi-successful producer tells them...including using all session guys," says guitarist Uptain. "Kelly and I always seemed to leave the studio with a feeling that we were making a sub-par product all for a ridiculous goal."
Divorcing themselves from such a uniformly conventional culture, the two began playing as a two-piece, with no clear mission other than to make a record that reflected their desire to just play music that they wanted to play.
"Foxtrot Uniform is the NATO alphabet F and U," Uptain explains. "This departure and attitude we approached our new project with was a definite 'FU' to all we had done and had been told to do in our time playing music."
With their sophomore effort, Cisco, set to release September 2, their intention to abandon rigid formulas and to just play what they want is ever-present. The album careens all over the roots-rock, bluesy Americana map, but still manages to elude any specific artist-inspired confines.
"Never Get Out of California" is a gristly and raw blues with a hypnotic groove. "Grab My Gun" could have easily been a '70s-era arena-rock standard. And then there's "Honey Bee," which drifts into catchy Southern blues riff territory.
In contrast to their first album, Huj! Huj! Hajrah! which unearthed an era of classic country and blues melodies, Uptain focused more on a classic and pop-rock sound for Cisco. "This one I focused much more on words, and the songs became slower, atmospheric and much longer than the first record," he explains.
Uptain and Test have been active in the North Texas music scene for more than 10 years, and have combined works with such artists as Cooder Graw, Pat Greene, 1100 Springs and the Polyphonic Spree. But with Foxtrot Uniform, their music retains some elements that are particularly "Texas," just with a broader scope.
"I don't know if it's a specific North Texas thing as the whole state kind of has the same boogie hanging around in their scenes," Uptain points out. "I think it is very relateable on a bigger scene as well. I'm writing songs inspired by black Germans, gay soldiers, kidnappers, bigot cops. These are not necessarily things one thinks of when you think of Texas. Except maybe bigot cops."
With plans to already begin recording a third album, Uptain explains his preferred formula for writing is the absence of formula.
"Sometimes songs come out of the free-form writing, sometimes just lines, sometimes nothing at all. I find most of the best songs (to me) that I've written were based off some sort of immediate inspiration. Such as, a line from a book or film, a line just in conversation, or just some visual that hits me in such a way that I need to (attempt to) vocalize it."
One gets the sense from just a few listens to Cisco, that Foxtrot Uniform comes off as a particularly substantial "live" band, as their recordings beg for an arena to which the best method for ingestion is on the stage. Uptain makes clear that their best shows are the results of band communication, whether the audience is two or 2,000 in attendance.
But given the choice between constant performing or recording and releasing new material, Uptain prefers the studio.
"I think they both serve their purpose, but personally I would rather write and release new material all day, everyday than ever play a show again," says Uptain. "The studio is such a fun and creative place. Smoky bars are not always the ideal spot to open your heart for an hour or three."
Foxtrot Uniform will be performing a stint of CD release shows, and have no intention on slowing down. Their proclivity for cool, composed individualism while remaining a much-needed addition to the North Texas music scene is particularly refreshing.
"As hokey and cheesy as it sounds I really do believe this band has seen success because we are truly doing what we want and like to do with no outside influence of money or what's hot right now," says Uptain. "If it feels right to us, we just do it."
FOXTROT UNIFORM perform with Cody Jasper, 9 p.m. Saturday, August 30 at The Foundry, 2303 Pittman St. Free.
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