Fleet Foxes are an American indie folk band that were formed in Seattle, Washington. They are signed to the Sub Pop and Bella Union record labels. The band came to prominence in 2008 with the release of their second EP, Sun Giant, and their first album Fleet Foxes. Both received much critical praise and reviewers often noted their use of refined lyrics and vocal harmonies. Their second studio album, Helplessness Blues, was released on 3 May 2011.
Formation and early years
Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset both attended Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle, and soon became close friends. Pecknold and Skjelset bonded over a mutual appreciation of Bob Dylan and Neil Young and began making music together. Their parents influenced their musical tastes early on—Skjelset's mother Peggi was a keen listener to both Bob Dylan and Hank Williams while Pecknold's father Greg was a member of The Fathoms, a local 1960s soul group. The two were interested in the achievements of Dylan and Brian Wilson and realized the importance of practicing music from a young age.
Originally going by the name "The Pineapples", a name clash with another local band prompted a change and Pecknold decided upon "Fleet Foxes", suggesting that it was "evocative of some weird English activity like fox hunting". Pecknold took up the role of principal songwriter, both singing and playing guitar, while Skjelset played lead guitar. Pecknold's late-sixties pop style caught the attention of the Seattle producer Phil Ek and he helped them record their first demo in 2006, the self-released Fleet Foxes EP. Ek was impressed with the band's songwriting, and on hearing Pecknold for the first time, noted, "It was obvious he had talent coming out of his ass." By late 2006 the Seattle press began to take notice of the band; Tom Scanlon of the Seattle Times stated that he was impressed with the band's lyrics and musical maturity.
With growing popularity on the local circuit, the band set about making their first album in early 2007, spending time in the studio with producer Ek in addition to recording material at home. However, funds for recording were tight, so the band members cobbled together what funds they had, which limited the time they had in the studio, and so the majority of the tracks were recorded in various band members' apartments, other spaces, or the basement of Pecknold's parents' house.
Rise to prominence
Fleet Foxes were becoming increasingly popular and by late 2007, they had attracted over a quarter of a million song plays over two months on their Myspace site. Although the band had not released any of their recordings, they benefited from word of mouth exposure and their success soon translated into a record deal, signing with Warner Music subsidiary record label Sub Pop on 18 January 2008. According to Sub Pop's A&R, Sue Busch, at the time of signing the band was still a relatively primitive set-up, being without manager or legal representation. Robin's sister Aja Pecknold then assumed the role of band manager. The band's frontman, Robin Pecknold attributes much of their success and popularity to illegal file sharing.
The band completed the recording of their second EP, Sun Giant, at Bear Creek Studio, around the same time in preparation for upcoming tours. Fleet Foxes began their spring tour with another Northwest band Blitzen Trapper on 28 February 2008. The band's performances, first at the SXSW festival in March 2008, and then the Sasquatch! festival in May 2008, moved the band into the public consciousness, notably attracting attention from the European press for the first time.
Sun Giant was released internationally on 8 April 2008 and the group's brand of folk, rock and pop, marked by their use of vocal harmonies, was well received by the press. Despite the warm critical reception, the group said that the EP did not represent their full ambitions, serving merely as a CD to sell while on tour. In May 2008, the band chose to extend their North American and European tour until September in support of their forthcoming album. The band grew in number as the songwriters Christian Wargo and J. Tillman joined on guitars and drums respectively. Their first full length album, Fleet Foxes, was released shortly afterwards on 3 June 2008. The album achieved similar critical success as the previous EP. Fleet Foxes received four out of five stars from Rolling Stone, which compared it to the likes of the Beach Boys, Animal Collective, and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and a 9.0 out of 10 in a review by Pitchfork Media, sharing the website's album of the year rank with the Sun Giant EP.The Guardian was particularly complimentary, awarding the album five stars and declaring it "a landmark in American music — an instant classic". On 24 June 2008, Fleet Foxes went to No. 1 on the CMJ Radio 200 Chart. The album achieved an average rating of 87/100 from 30 critic reviews on the aggregator website Metacritic.
While the group enjoyed moderate success in the United States, Fleet Foxes was better received in Europe, selling over 200,000 copies in the five months following its release. The sales were matched with critical plaudits and their debut album won Uncuts first ever Music Award 2008 prize. Uncuts editor, Allan Jones, said the album "showed impeccable musicianship, and although you could trace its antecedents, it sounded totally unique. Fleet Foxes was just a glorious debut." The band sold out music venues for their tours of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, reaffirming their growing popularity.
At the end of 2008, Fleet Foxes was rated album of the year by Billboard's Critic's Choice and in Metacritic's end of year best album round-up it appeared in 17 lists, topping six of them. Furthermore, it had sold over 408,000 copies in North America and over 100,000 copies in the United Kingdom, making it the first gold certificate record for UK label Bella Union. Their growing profile enabled the band to make televised appearances, playing on Vincent Moon's La Blogotheque in December 2008 and on Saturday Night Live the following January. In 2009, they toured in Europe to favorable reviews; the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant said their show in Paradiso induced goosebumps. In 2008 and 2009, the band played globally ending the tour in September with a final European leg. Fleet Foxes played at the Bridge School Benefit curated by Neil Young on 24 and 25 October 2009 at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. This was the second time that they had supported Young after a summer bill in Hyde Park, London. Fleet Foxes returned to the Way Out West Festival (at which they first performed in 2008) in Gothenburg on 12 August 2011. They played at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur on 11 September 2011. The band was chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he curated in December 2011 in Minehead, England.
Pecknold said that he would have liked the album to be released in 2009, however the band's touring schedule delayed rehearsals of the new songs until February 2009. These sessions took place in a rented house outside Seattle, but were mostly scrapped, losing the band $60,000 of their own money. Further delays ensued because the drummer, Tillman, was scheduled to play a solo tour in Europe and North America throughout the 2009-10 winter. Pecknold later sent some demos to producer Phil Ek and expressed the hope that the second LP would emerge in late 2010.
In December 2009, Pecknold said he wanted the new LP to sound "less poppy, less upbeat and more groove-based". He referenced the 12-string guitar sound from Roy Harper's folk album Stormcock, saying, "That will be the primary sonic distancing from the last record." He wanted the band to record very quickly, with "vocal takes in one go, so even if there are fuck-ups, I want them to be on there. I want there to be guitar mistakes. I want there to be not totally flawless vocals. I want to record it and have that kind of cohesive sound. Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, to me, is the best-sounding album because it sounds like there were only six hours in the universe for that album to be recorded in. So I want it to have that feeling." The band eventually began recording in April 2010 in various locations (including West Hurley, New York) and decided to scrap the earlier idea of a fast recording (though according to the band many of the initial vocals were done in one take). The album features a new 6-piece band line up, with the addition of the former Blood Brothers bassist Morgan Henderson on upright bass and woodwind instruments.
The album, Helplessness Blues, was released on 3 May 2011 with a cover illustrated by the Seattle artist Toby Liebowitz and painted by Christopher Alderson. The title track was released via free download on 31 January 2011, and the album's fourth track, "Battery Kinzie", was premiered in the UK on Zane Lowe's radio show on 22 March 2011. The Sub Pop record label released a downloadable music video of the track "Grown Ocean", with footage of the album's recording, on its website in support of the album. A 12" vinyl double A-side single of "Helplessness Blues" and "Grown Ocean" was released for Record Store Day on 16 April 2011. On 1 November 2011, Pecknold's brother, Sean Pecknold, released the official music video for "The Shrine / An Argument".
On 18 January 2012, drummer J Tillman announced that he had left the band.
On 15 June 2013, an image of a home recording set-up, including a Macbook air, microphone and guitar, was posted on the Fleet Foxes Facebook page with the caption "Step one". On 16 June 2013, an image of a broken mandolin with the caption "Step two" was posted. These images have led to speculation that the group is working on a new project, possibly a third studio album.
- Robin Pecknold - lead vocals, guitar (2006–present)
- Skyler Skjelset - guitar, mandolin, vocals (2006–present)
- Casey Wescott - keyboards, mandolin, vocals (2006–present)
- Christian Wargo - bass guitar, guitar, vocals (2008–present)
- Morgan Henderson - upright bass, guitar, woodwinds, violin, percussion (2010–present)
- Craig Curran - bass guitar (2006-2008)
- Nicholas Peterson - drums, percussion, vocals (2006–2008)
- Joshua Tillman - drums, percussion, vocals (2008–2012)
|Year||Album||Peak chart positions||Sales|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
|2011||The Shrine / An Argument - Live At The BBC (EP)
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
|2008||"White Winter Hymnal"||77||62||Fleet Foxes|
|"He Doesn't Know Why"||—||74|
|2009||"Mykonos"||51||18||Sun Giant (EP)|
|"Your Protector"||—||—||Fleet Foxes|
|2011||"Helplessness Blues"/"Grown Ocean"||—||63||Helplessness Blues|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
|2008||"White Winter Hymnal"|
|"He Doesn't Know Why"|
|"The Shrine / An Argument"|