Five years ago, Fleet Foxes were the ultimate success story. Seattle-based indie darlings that rose to prominence on the famed Sub Pop Records. Two Gold records, both of which were critically acclaimed. Prime slots on major festivals. Credibility within their musical circle.
The band, seemingly, had it all. Then…gone.
By early 2014, Fleet Foxes were officially on hiatus and frontman Robin Pecknold had moved to New York to work on his undergrad degree from Columbia University. Fleet Foxes, for a while at least, were no longer his priority.
“We weren’t really sure at the time if we were going to try and make the band bigger or just continue doing the same thing,” Pecknold said on a recent phone call. “But I’ve always had a contrarian streak. When I was in high school, I liked not going to high school. I liked not going to college. And when I was playing music, I think I felt excited to do something that was not expected of me. In terms of continuing the band, at the time (of the hiatus), there was so much else that was interesting to do, so much else to explore.”
During this three-year break, Pecknold attended school, spent a ton of time outdoors, went on backpacking trips, surfed, cooked, and so on and so forth. He “expanded his horizons” and became the well-rounded Renaissance man he always wanted to be.
Then…a revelation. It was time to return to music.
“I was trying a lot of different things for a while, and I was very open-minded for a few years there,” Pecknold said. “There were other things I was interested in and wanted to do, but nothing had the same weird magic I would feel when working on music. Getting the band back together sounded like the right thing to do.”
Fleet Foxes returned to the studio in 2016, and the result was last year’s Crack-Up. The title of the album was taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald essay that really struck a nerve with Pecknold, who quite enjoyed the essay’s notion of holding two opposing thoughts in one’s mind simultaneously, a sort of “I can’t go on; I must go on” type of approach.
The album – the band’s most fully formed to date – was critically acclaimed and debuted inside the Billboard Top 10. Fleet Foxes is touring in support of the album, including a show at Revention Music Center on Monday, May 7.
Pecknold admits he was a bit worried how the band would be received after a six-year window between studio albums.
“Absolutely, but my thinking now is different than it was back then,” he said. “I loved the experience of putting out those first two records back in the day, but I really wanted to make an album I could stand behind regardless of what anyone else said about it. We didn’t go into the recording of this album thinking about what its commercial prospects would be. It isn’t the same landscape out there that it was before, but the stuff we’re seeing now, it’s all very interesting to observe and react to.”
The music industry has changed quite a bit since Fleet Foxes stormed the indie scene a decade ago. Album sales have continued to slip. Streaming sites have taken over. Artists’ revenue from commercial record sales continually erode. Merchandise and touring revenue have taken on even greater importance.
Pecknold has noticed all of this. Whereas some artists focus solely on the music, Pecknold – ever the one to buck tradition – pays close attention to both his music and its potential to keep the band gainfully employed. He doesn’t aspire for riches and luxury, but rather, a comfortable living doing what he loves.
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“We’re lucky to do this full-time and have this be our job,” Pecknold said. “I’ve always been conscious of the business side of it. If I wanted to make a ton of money, I’d have played a different kind of music. The overhead is higher now, and I’m a little more conscious of those things, budgeting and things of that nature.”
Not only has Pecknold matured, but he’s managed to shed a bit of the anxiety that plagued him at the band’s outset.
“I used to stay in my basement and write songs, so it was kinda weird to be so exposed,” he said. “But I don’t really feel like that anymore. I just need to be on stage to play a song; the people aren’t really there to see me. Because of that, I feel fine with my neurosis at the moment.”
Fleet Foxes show is scheduled for 7 p.m. (doors open) on Monday, May 7 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. For information, call 713-230-1600 or visit reventionmusiccenter.com. $20-$55.