Foreignfox’s new EP, I Used To Be a Belly Dancer is an individually fierce and epic slab of Scottish alt rock where every neuk and cranny is filled to the brim with ideas and emotion.
Singer Jonny Watt’s vocals cut through the tracks with an unusual urgency, rising from low key Scottish brogue to anguished wail and back again.
Scotland currently has a wealth of rising indie talent and with this EP Foreignfox cement their place as one of the bands you shouldn’t just watch out for but should actively seek out.
It was a pleasure to have a chat with Jonny about the new EP, their career and the strange places where you might find inspiration waiting.
So, your new EP is out today?
Yeah it came out today at midnight. Our first 12” vinyl, a double EP with our 2014 debut We Float Like Sinking Ships as the B side.
What brought you to putting that particular song as the B side?
When we were writing the debut we had, I guess allusions or delusions of grandeur that these songs were of such importance, I guess like any new band does, that they deserve to be put out on vinyl, just like the second EP. I’m really glad that Neil from Scottish Fiction was able to facilitate that for us.
Was it important to you to have it on vinyl?
Yeah, I believe that vinyl is the most romantic way to listen to music and a lot of our music has deep connotations of romance and I guess introversion. We were lucky to get the art of Gregory Colbert on the debut and the artwork of a Brazilian photographer, Nadia Maria on I Used To Be A Belly Dancer and we’re very privileged to let us use that on the vinyl.
Taking something out and admiring the artwork I think it showcases that beauty in one sense. To be able to pick it up and feel it and place it on a turntable and watch it going round as you hear the music is more more of a consuming and indulgent process than perhaps just shuffling by a song on your iPod. I think you give it more time and a little more respect to the music with the physicality of it all.
You’ve included a bit of a description about each song with the new album, a lot of bands shy away from explicitly stating the meaning or purpose of a song, what was your thinking in doing this?
The notes weren’t just written by myself, it was a collaboration with myself and our keyboardist/guitarist who’s an incredible writer in his own right, not only do we collaborate on writing the songs but he writes short stories and poetry. I always find a little bit of comfort in reading his take.
I may have written the lyrics but I do appreciate his take on the lyricism and the instrumentation and how it looks to him cause that gives me a wider expectation on how it could be received.
I guess that music is ambiguous in the sense that people take from it different things from their personal perspective but yeah it was Richy from the SAMAs asked us if we could write a little bit about each song, to perhaps to give it a prologue to the audience, so I thought that was quite an interesting thing to do.
Is it just yourself that writes the lyrics? Is there a particular process you follow?
Sometimes I may come across a phrase in conversation, sometimes within the band and it’ll grow arms and legs and become this story about something completely different or sometimes I’ll just spend hours sitting by myself and come up with them.
I guess it just depends when it hits you. Most musicians will say that inspiration just comes out of nowhere. I’ve written one song at work. I’d never recommend that as a place to come up with your own art but it totally changes from song to song.
I’ve worked in a call centre in my early days and I can definitely say even just to think, never mind write lyrics, I found that job so robotic that my mind was starved of any creative nutrition. I left after three months.
But I guess sometimes being starved of inspiration for such long periods of the day, when you finally get out into what I guess you could call the real world and you delve back into meaningful conversations with your friends, you read a book or watch a film or listen to a piece of music that you might have listened to a hundred times but because you’ve been so starved throughout the day it’s sensory overload so that when it does come around it becomes more poignant.
I feel that without delving into certain films, or certain books, or certain pieces of music, sometimes it can just be a single line in a film that may be a throwaway in the context of the film, it could just be a part of dialogue where the writer is using it as a link into what might be the important part of the conversation in the film.
That might be the one line that stands out, to me. Funnily enough I found inspiration in one of the Pirates of The Caribbean films, one of the pirates says “Your words surround you like a mist and it makes you hard to see.” And I just found that interesting that it’s so beautifully poetic for what you would call a kids Disney film.
But that’s just one example of something that’s been put in there, that may even be the writers trying to flex their poetic muscles, that I can take and push further on into imagery.
Over the course of writing and recording the songs we introduced them gradually to the set and whilst playing them live the songs themselves have probably changed, about four or five times each – just in the structure, the way they are sung, the timbre, the rhythm of how the lyrics are spat out, the different guitar parts.
I guess you could say they’ve been played out live tens of times, but the finished article on the record, when we go into the studio it doesn’t matter how close to the perfect ideal that we would have the songs, when we go into the studio they change.
We work with a producer called Bruce Rintoul at 45 A-side Studios. There’s a symbiotic relationship with him, he’s a really good friend and we trust him with his opinion as much as I would trust any of the other guys in the band. He might say that line, it need spat out sharper or there’s a little bit of dead space in the pre chorus, how can we change that? Even after they are recorded you feel do I want to do something different there? But there comes a point where you’ve got to let it lie and we’re pretty happy with the way they’ve finished.
Do you think you’ll see them change again as you’re playing them live after recording?
We actually discussed this at our last rehearsal, it was one of the older songs we were playing and in a way we were trying to bring it more into the frame of songs that we’re now beginning to write now.
We really enjoyed the song as it came out and one point was raised that maybe when we go to see big established artists that we’ve known for years and gone to watch, one of the most frustrating things might be that they’ll play a song that you love and they’ll just change it a little bit or just have a slower intro or just sing the chorus differently and you’re thinking ‘That’s not the song you put out’.
I think it’s better to sometimes leave things the way they finished up. Instead of focusing on them you can work on the next thing and you can always throw back to them as a snapshot in time when you did come into that song.
You’re playing King Tut’s as part of Summer Nights right?
Yeah we’re playing in Dunfermline tomorrow (Saturday 1st July), that’s our home town so we’re pretty excited about that and we’ll be playing our first King Tut’s headline on the 20th July.
We’ve also a couple of in store gigs planned for LP Records in Glasgow and Assai Records in Edinburgh.