Eric Nally wants to change the world, at least a little, with his music. And he seems pretty sure it'll happen eventually if he tries his damnedest. "I want to go down in history. And I want to change what's happening now," says the 23-year-old frontman of the gonzo quintet Foxy Shazam. "I don't want to die until I do it."
The band, which has completed only two full albums (the first self-produced and released), hasn't changed anything yet. But the group sounds like nobody else on the indie-ish rock scene today. Coaxed to a sheen on its first "official" album, Introducing (New Weathermen/Ferret), released this past January, the band's sound still percolates with a raw, spastic energy, careening sonically across geography, era, and genre. Rollicking piano pushes everything along, sounding somewhere between Sun Records classics and Seventies glam rock. It crashes into high-fuzz guitar, which is propelled by a snap-crackle rhythm section that's mastered the art of start-stopping to a melodramatic crescendo. Above all this, Nally vibrates with hellfire, moaning like the best of the Stax soul singers, emoting like Freddie Mercury, rocking like Bill Haley, and even, at times, devolving into near-hardcore screaming. It's funny, consequently, to hear his speaking voice, which is soft and almost childlike.
The band's music is unpredictable but weirdly appealing. At least 20 seconds of each song offers something you'll like no matter what your musical taste. And that's no surprise given Nally's background. He grew up in the Cleveland area, by his account, one of only three or four white students in his school (the band's name purportedly derives from his classmates' slang for "cool shoes"). He was enrolled in special education classes. "I'm horrible at learning anything — subjects, I'm not into it, I don't get it. I can barely spell or read or anything," he says. "I didn't have too many friends." And on top of this, he was a band geek, entering regional competitions.
Foxy Shazam started when Nally and childhood friend Loren Turner decided to put together a band in 2004. Nally recalled meeting pianist Schuyler White (who goes by "Sky") at a school-band battle — and tracked him down through friends. The trio would form the core of the band, using hired guns on rhythm for several years. Current bassist Daisy (that's it) and Joseph Halberstadt were enrolled later, in time to write and record Introducing.
Unlike most frontmen who insist their band's sound "just happened," Nally admits there was a conscious choice at the outset to incorporate a few key ideas. He and Turner came from a rock background, having played in punkish bands inspired by Green Day. They added a heavy dose of soul, which was — and remains — Nally's favorite genre of music (along with, he says, artists Coldplay, Elton John, and Gordon Lightfoot). "I didn't realize it when I was in high school — I never wanted to go, and I was bored — but now that I'm out, I really can use those years as an inspiration to my music," he says. "My teachers and everything, everything that had to do with my high school life had so much soul."
The band quickly drew notice not just for its singularity of sound but also for its immediate, intense schedule of live shows. Willing to jump on just about any kind of bill, Foxy Shazam played some 200-plus shows in the 18 months after releasing its first self-produced effort, The Flamingo Trigger. This led them, first, to Jesse Korman, frontman of the churning, abrasive New Jersey band The Number Twelve Looks Like You, who became their manager. In turn, he landed them a record deal with Ferret Music's budding New Weatherman imprint. They were then duly packed off to Seattle to record Introducing with producer Casey Bates, who had honed releases for Korman's band as well as the screamy, hardcore-ish act Chiodos and the Alaskan group of psychedelic freaks, Portugal the Man.
But nearly as soon as recording was done, Foxy was back on the road. In fact the band has become Studio A staple. It last appeared there this past November, with Heavy Heavy Low Low. Across the nation, crowds have been steadily increasing, thanks to word of mouth about the notoriously berserk live show. Bandmates are known to randomly switch instruments, caroming around the stage, while Nally exorcises his demons, swinging from rafters when accessible, sustaining bodily injury, and even swallowing the occasional lit cigarette. "We don't normally plan anything out ahead of time; it's all improv," he says. "We get hurt all the time. I won't notice it on the stage, and then that night I'll see this huge gash on my leg." It's behavior that's very rock-and-fucking-roll. Nally even sings about things such as a bullfighter's morning prework routine.
Just mark another tick in the "Unexpected" column on this band's scorecard. Which is where listeners will be keeping tabs from now on. "I think the next album will probably be more Foxy than ever," Nally says. "I'm just saying, it's good to be different."
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