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Going, Going, Gonzo

Without a label for the first time in nearly a decade, Cincinnati’s Foxy Shazam drops its most ambitious album

By Brian Baker · July 8th, 2014 · Cover Story
shazamFoxy Shazam - Jesse Fox

Last fall, a Foxy Shazam interview was convened at bassist Daisy Caplan’s Northside home for the purpose of discussing the band’s tour-ending, two-show extravaganza in Cincinnati — a full production at Bogart’s in Corryville, and an intimate club date at Northside’s Mayday. 

One topic that was very much on everyone’s mind that evening (and yet relatively off-limits for discussion) was the band’s nearly completed fifth album. The band members — Caplan, vocalist Eric Nally, guitarist Loren Turner, keyboardist Sky White and trumpeter/back-up vocalist Alex Nauth, sans unavoidably detained drummer Aaron McVeigh — all danced around the subject, scattering the sparest bits of information about the titled-but-not-for-public-dissemination album. It was written after the tour for The Church of Rock and Roll, over the course of a year in a rented rehearsal space; it had been produced by renowned boardsman Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago; and it was different, perhaps a defining moment in Foxy Shazam’s 10-year history.

Fast forward to the here and now. Foxy has just returned home after a month-long circuit to promote the aforementioned Gonzo, the third album with the current lineup and the band’s first self-released album since its debut, 2005’s The Flamingo Trigger. The nine-track conceptual song cycle was released on April 2 as a free download (at fs-gonzo.bandcamp.com), and trumpeter/backing vocalist Alex Nauth couldn’t be happier talking about Foxy’s latest tour and, at long last, the details surrounding Gonzo.

“We really wanted to tell you about it,” Nauth says. “Between CityBeat and (playing at) home, it was the perfect combination, but I think you can see the plan of how we wanted to do this and the surprise element — it was important and it definitely worked in its own way. The small shock factor — how we released it and being free, and even the production quality of the record itself. It was hard keeping it under wraps, and it was hard being off the road for that long. This tour was like a massive release for us.”

The Gonzo tour is another example of Foxy’s new mindset. Rather than going out for huge blocks of time punctuated by short week-long breaks, the circuits will be of a shorter duration with more time at home to accommodate families and allow for a more quality recharge.

“The tour was truly, truly great,” Nauth says.

“We’re on our own right now, and we wanted to make sure everything went without a hiccup, going from label support financially to something of our own. Almost every night was pretty sold out, and we’re putting on more of a production now, and we’re really proud of it. In some respects, I think Gonzo was made to be heard live.”

As the band hinted at last year, Gonzo is a very different animal for Foxy Shazam, not in a departure-of-style sense, but in the way the band wrote, recorded and considered their individual places within the band. On the writing/recording front, the big shift was that Foxy wrote as a unit and recorded live in the same room, lending Gonzo an air of immediacy and energy. It also represents, in more ways than one, a return to Foxy’s earliest musical explorations.

“As a band, we’re going to explore every genre of music and sound, and it will be different combinations each time,” Nauth says. “Especially with my instrument, I feel like I got to delve a little more into those aspects. The songs we were coming up with together were allowing those avenues of creativity, like these jazzier elements and, in my particular realm, the horn working with the guitar and bass in a way that, in my opinion, a Jazz musician might do, not a Rock musician.” 

Another big shift on Gonzo took place between Caplan and Turner. At one point, to shake things up, the bassist and guitarist swapped instruments as well roles within the band. It proved to be the tonic necessary to move the album forward.

“I hugely attest that to Loren and Daisy making that switch,” Nauth says. “Loren wrote these funky bass lines that Daisy might not have done before, and it just brought the whole thing together. We kept hitting a wall, and with Daisy and Loren switching respective instruments, it opened up immediately and that wall disappeared and opened up a whole new world for us. It was a huge blessing and I think what makes Gonzo sound the way it does.”

The switch was so successful that it’s been implemented during the tour as well; because of the conceptual nature of the album, Foxy plays the album from beginning to end, with Caplan on guitar and Turner on bass, and then after a short intermission, the band returns to play from its back catalog.

“We play Gonzo from top to bottom, then we take a break and change clothes — or take some off, I suppose — then we come back on and play our older material,” Nauth says. 

As stated, Gonzo is also a conceptual piece, a fact that, for this tour at least, makes it necessary from Foxy’s perspective to present the album in its entirety and its established running order. Nauth is quick to credit Nally with an even greater degree of openness and vulnerability on Gonzo.

“Eric really opened up lyrically on this record, not that he wasn’t before, but almost in a more personal way that neither him or I had ever written before,” he says. “We used to share some of those duties and work together on lyrics and melodies. This time around, he really had something to say; it has to do with his relationship with his father, growing older and even dementia, and finding out who you really are. We were all exploring ourselves equally on our respective instruments and I think it was the exact story that all of us were going through at that exact time. Eric has the unique ability to write it out perfectly.”

So as Foxy Shazam’s first large-scale, self-financed tour wraps up its first leg, home is clearly on the members’ minds. At least, home from a work perspective.

“We’re really excited to play Bunbury,” Nauth says of this weekend’s homecoming show. “We’ve been talking about it for the entire tour. I think it will be the final cap on this side of the country. It’s home.”

FOXY SHAZAM plays the Bunbury Music Festival on Saturday at 9 p.m. on the River Stage.



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