Q&A With Foxy Shazam, Opening for Hole at the Fillmore Miami Beach Tomorrow Night

Hole may be the main attraction at the Fillmore Miami Beach on Friday night, but even Courtney Love's potential antics may be upstaged by openers Foxy Shazam.  A gonzo outfit hailing from the somewhat unlikely locale of Cleveland, the six-piece aims to be "the Michael Jordan of rock and roll," singer Eric Nally has said. 

Sure, that's semi-ridiculous on the surface, but pretty serious underneath -- much like Foxy Shazam itself. Think about it: Michael Jordan had a distinct, recognizable look. Foxy's got that. Jordan excelled in a particular, unique skill set. Foxy does the same -- its melodic, amped-up, slightly off-kilter of soul and theatrical glam rock is pretty much unmatched by any other young band on the circuit. And Jordan, of course, at his peak was the most famous in his game. 

Foxy could well be on its way to that status, too. In its earliest years, around the mid-'00s, hipsters and rock fans at large could be forgiven for scoffing at the band or missing it completely. Due, perhaps, to age (singer Eric Nally is now just 24 years old) or touring convenience, the act found itself largely playing the all-ages circuit with heavier, sing-scream bands bands -- despite having about zero to do with them, sonically. 

Where there might have been some loud rock and roll riffage there, Nally has always been vocal about his love of classic Motown and soul -- and Coldplay, Elton John, and Gordon Lightfoot, he told me in a previous interview in 2008.

Finally, though, the years of slogging it out on the road paid off last year, when the band finally scored a major-label deal through Sire and set to work on its third, self-titled album, released this past April. 

As expected, it's a slicker affair than the previous two records, but also much more musically mature. Here, Nally's arena-size ambitions are clear in his soaring, purposefully melodramatic vocals, his knack for helping construct tight hooks and anthems, and in the subgenre-less nature of the music. 

This is loud, pump-up stuff with wide appeal, and it looks like Nally's rock-star dreams may finally come true. Crossfade caught up with him (again) by phone recently, and again, we were struck by the fact that while Nally is a possessed demon onstage, his speaking voice is devastatingly polite, and almost shy. We chatted about the influence of parenthood on songwriting, Foxy's come-up, and its tour with Hole. 

Read the full Q&A below, after this nifty video for its latest single, "Oh Lord," a song addressed to his son, Julian -- kind of like an updated "Hey Jude," with more interesting facial hair involved. 

Foxy Shazam. With Hole. 9 p.m. Friday, July 2. The Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $23 and $43; livenation.com

Crossfade: In the last couple of years, since your last album, Introducing, came out, it seems like your band has blown up a lot, and you're on the road almost constantly. But you're also a father. How have you adjusted to balancing your family life with the increasing demands of the band?

Eric Nally: It's pretty hard. It's interesting how you have to kind of live at two opposite ends of the spectrum, but it's inspiring more than anything. I have a really suportive family, so it makes it easy. My son Julian is eight now, and Francis is three, he'll be four in July. 

So they're growing up! Has that affected any of your decisions related to the band?

No, not at all. Nothing has ever really affected the band, you know. I'm not saying that I don't miss them every second I'm gone, but they're extremely supportive, so it makes it easy for me to be gone. If they weren't supportive, it would be really hard. I miss them dearly, but this has always been my biggest dream, and this is how I make money and support them, so I can't stop now or give up. 

Has fatherhood inspired your songwriting?

Yeah, it's awesome. It's really cool to be inspired by kids. When you're older, you forget how it is to be a kid ,and think like a kid, and have an imagination and not take things so seriously. Having kids has made it easier for me to have that mindset again, you know? Not a lot of people have it when they're older. I'm thankful for them to inspire me to think the way I do.

Do you ever consult them for an opinion on new songs?

Yeah I do. It's pretty funny. Me and Craig Aaronson, a guy at our label who has kids, we talked about this once and he feels the same way. It's a lot easier to gauge if a song sticks in a kid's head. So I'll play songs around my kids and see if they're singing them a couple days later. And if they're not, I throw them in the trash. Just kidding! But it helps me to kind of see if they like it or not.

What made you decide to jump to a major label for this record from your old label, Ferret Style?

I might have told you this a long time ago, but our ultimate goal is to go down in history and be the biggest band in the world. I've said this from the beginning of Foxy Shazam. I know we're a long way from that, but this record is the next step in that direction. Each thing we do has to be bigger and bigger; we have to grow. I never want to stay still or go backward. It's always got to be a step in the right direciton.

Another change is in your line-up. You finally got a permanent drummer, and you added a horn player. How did you find those guys?

Yeah, like you said, it's been really hard for us to find a drummer. I think our expectations were so high, that there weren't a lot of people who could do it. With our new record, we actually didn't have a drummer. We used the drummer form the Mars Volta, and Josh Freese.

Once that was done, we took our record around and looked for people who would be able to do it. And Aaron McVeigh was a guy who was in a band we toured with called Karate High School, and we always knew he was a good drummer, and we knew what it was like to be with him on the road. We just tried him out, and it worked out perfectly.

Do you think the addition of your horn player, Alex Nauth, affected your style at all?

Definitely. I mean, he's a great. He has a lot to do with the writing process. He and I worked very closely on the writing of the record -- well, so did everybody in the band, but he was definitely an element that wasn't there before. I think he contributed a lot to the sound of it with his instrument and with his ability and input on songs and stuff.

You didn't have a horn player before, so what made you decide to bring him on?

I'm the founding member of the band, and everybody we've ever put in it, I've just had this feeling about. When I first saw Sky [White, the band's keyboard player], I just knew it, that I had to get the guy in the band, and I knew he was special. 

I want this to be a special band, and we're only gonna do that by having special people. Everybody in the band is their own character, and they bring their own element. I wasn't even looking for anyone else, but I was at a local show in Cincinnati, and Alex's band was playing -- they were called Look Afraid -- and I saw him, and I had that feeling. It overcame me so strongly I went up to him and got his number, and I said, "Hey, would you be interested in playing some songs?"

What was it about him that struck you? 

It's hard to explain. It's like when you watch someone, they have a certain charisma. That's why Michael Jordan is one of my biggest influences. It's hard to explain because there are so many NBA players, but there's something about him that's different. You can't really explain it; he just has this persona. 

I see people like that sometimes, and -- I rarely ever see anyone like that, you know? I think when I do, that's why snag them up. I cant really explain what [Alex] was doing or why.

This album seems a lot more developed and a lot more melodic than the first two. When you first came out, people tried to slap this label on you that you were somehow influenced by hardcore, it seems mostly because of the labels you were on and the bands you happened to play with. Did you ever feel you had anything in common, musically, with that scene?

Nothing we did then was intentional, but I do think that what you said is right. A lot of what people tied us to a while ago was just because of who we were touring with, but we couldn't be picky at that time. We had to take what we could get. 

I think now that we've grown as a band and become separate from these things, it's easier to see our true colors. We just really do whatever we want. When you listen to Foxy Shazam, you should just expect the unexpected, because we don't try to do one specific thing. It's gonna change pretty frequently; I never want to make the same record.

Another thing is that your vocal range has really seemed to develop. Did you notice your vocal ability at all as a kid? Did you know you were going to be a singer? 

I never really had an interest in singing itself, but I always had an interest in music. I think it's just in my nature to be, like, a leading man, kind of. I enjoy being in the spotlight and getting attention, and, you know, everybody in this band is a natural-born performer or entertainer. It comes naturally to us. I think that's the way I was born, and it's just my destiny.

Any particular vocal influences these days?

As far as the vocal influences, I'm a huge fan of Elton John, I love Motown and any kind of soul singer -- Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, all that stuff is such a big part of my influence. Also, there's a lady I found recently named Kate Bush; she's got an amazing voice.

Do you specifically practice at all?

I do practice. I'm always writing music and I'm always singing. With vocals, it's interesting because the hardest part is knowing when you're hitting the right note. It's more of a mind thing than a physical ability, I guess. But we're on tour so much, our touring is practicing, really. None of us are ever really out of practice, because we play so much. 

You're coming to Miami on tour with Hole. How did you get hooked up with them?

Well, we have a booking agent. We played a few shows with Hole before, though. We've played with them at SXSW twice, and we played with them over in London, and we all just had a really awesome time. 

I love their music, and I love being tied to things that have rich history, because some day I want to have a rich history, and Courtney Love has a rich history. It's really cool to be attached to that. 

Has Courtney or anyone else in the band expressed a specific musical admiration for you guys?

I've talked to Courtney Love a few times, and she's awesome. We don't really talk about music or anything, you know. I'd imagine that we have an appreciation for each other's music because they invited us on the tour. I could only hope!

You're going to be playing some slightly larger and fancier venues than you have in the past. You're known for your crazy performances, though. Have you changed anything to make your stage show bigger and more dramatic?

We've done a few tours in the past that have been at these types of clubs, and it's a whole different ball game. You can't do what you do in these punk rock venues. It's because the stage is so big, and it's hard to fill it up. But like I said, it's our ultimate goal to be the biggest band, so it's definitely something we have to start practicing, if that's what we're hoping to become. I don't think we've mastered it yet, but we know we have to do that. 

You mentioned Michael Jordan already in this interview, and in the past, you've said in the past that you want the band to be "the Michael Jordan of rock and roll." How far along do you think you are in achieving this goal?

Well, it's a funny thing with music, or with a career like this one that I have. I'll never feel like, "Oh, I'm there, I finally did it, I achieved my goal!" But like a year ago, if I had seen myself where I am now, I would have been like, "Oh my god, that's awesome, I can't believe that I'm gonna be there!"

But when you're there, you're in it, you don't even realize it, and you want to go on to the next thing. That could be a problem sometimes, but for the most part it's pretty good if you're never content, because you reach higher and higher and stay motivated. So I don't think I'll ever know when I've accomplished that goal. I'll just keep trying. Someday, hopefully, I'l be there, but I won't know it, and I'll still keep on going. 

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