Monday, December 6, 2010

Interview: Fall Fox

Posted by Sasha

Fall Fox's debut EP is a rarity among first steps into the DIY music scene. Its low-fi folk is strewn with lyrical oddities and playful turns, simultaneously mellow and fiercely alive. It occupies an odd space in both the old and new, mixing fables with the present day and letting Martins and Korgs occupy the same air. It all comes out of one Christian Keck, who's been performing in Chicago for years but has only recently taken on the name Fall Fox for his projects. He talked with us about his influences, the DIY and low-fi ethics in music, and his secret vaults of experimental electronica songs. We also talked about trees and feelings.

The self-titled EP is available as a free download or as part of a $1.75 package that includes a handmade hemp bracelet. Listen to and download it here. Fall Fox will also be playing a free show with Mark Trecka on Monday, December 27th at the Whistler.

Check out the interview after the jump.

WCR: How long have you been performing as Fall Fox?

FF: Actually only about eight months. I was recording music under a different moniker when I was doing my early gigs in Chicago. I was playing experimental electronic stuff, sampling based. Really simple, kind of like a broke version of Panda Bear. I actually saw one of his shows and saw some of the equipment he was playing on and went out and bought it. That's how I started. Then I got out of school and I was working temp jobs and I had a lot of free time. And there was no one else around. I was working a lot on folk music, so I just kind of started mixing the electronic with that. The EP was mainly a lot of folk ideas and then the electronic on one track. I mean, my first instrument was guitar. I really like folk music and I also think there's a lot of cool stuff going on with rock. The whole low-fi movement, there's a big batch of cliches that go along with it, but it's just a lot of people thinking good ideas and applying them to different genres. Now there's all these low-fi garage rock bands. I think it's very interesting, and I've always wanted to do something like that. Low-fi gives it texture and that's what I aim for. That's why I do that stuff.

Who's been the biggest musical influence on you historically?

I was raised on folk. My dad was always playing vinyl. He had a lot of classic stuff, like Hendrix, Neil Young, Dylan, stuff like that. Somewhere I think in '97, I heard a song on the radio and I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but I didn't know what band it was. And two, three years later I found out it was a Modest Mouse song from The Lonesome Crowded West. And I just freaked out. I went out and bought as much Modest Mouse as I could and I really haven't come out of that. I have a lot of Modest Mouse. I love how they're the masters of noise tweaks. Again, just giving it texture. They're just so good at creating texture dynamics.

There are some pretty interesting textures on your track "Feelings" on the EP. How did you get those effects?

Well, part of it is me shaking a branch in front of a microphone. And then I really layered it to get some grit. Then one of my keyboards has all these whooping and bird noises.

So you didn't go into the woods with a microphone?

I did not go into the woods of my backyard, no. The tree is all natural, the branch. It's a mixture of leaf shaking and whooping bird noises. Then I just layered it over with synthesizers. A lot of the cool aesthetic effect comes from the synth doing its own thing. I set up an arpeggiater and I had it broken down into the wishy-washy noise, whooping...then I just pressed record and put them all together. And then it formed into this 6/8 kind of thing, really nice, flowy. It was kind of accidental. I didn't intend for it to do that, but I accidentally pressed record too many times and then all of a sudden the bird noises are in rhythm. And then I overdubbed it with the leaf shaking. It was a good tree, a good choice.

Can we expect to hear more electronic sounds from you in the future?

The next EP, I plan on releasing in the winter, just because I'm getting bored again. I'm deliberating whether to take it more folk or to take it more electronic. I have a lot of electronic ideas, but the folk stuff is coming a lot quicker. I plan to release it on the Bandcamp in February, so by January I'll have a better idea. It takes about a month to record four or five songs. I haven't decided yet.

So it's polarized for you? Folk on one end and electronica on the other?

I'd say it is. Sometimes it comes together really nicely, like on "Feelings," but for the most part when I'm doing folk I sit down with a guitar, pump stuff out. It just comes a lot easier. With sampling, it's a lot of meticulous work. It comes down to the millisecond. Sometimes it gives me a headache. Whether I come back to it depends on how the sounds that I create come together. When I do sampling, I never save the settings. I do a lot of adjusting and I never save the settings. It's always original. I'm never trying to copy a texture, so I never, ever save settings on my keyboard, for good and bad. At shows I have to try to recreate them, do a different interpretation of that sound again. I was really down with vocoders when I started. I had this awesome setting and I did God knows how many tracks with it, just pumping out lyrics with this robot voice. And for the life of me, when I got on stage, I could never recreate it. I'd end up sounding like the devil onstage.

Are there a lot of songs in the vault?

Yeah, there are. A lot of them are the electronic stuff. I might release a whole electronic album because I have so much recorded. It's really experimental. I wasn't into percussion at the time, so it's just floaty melodies. I don't want to say trance, cause that wasn't the goal. I wasn't trying to sit people out for a while. But it is very experimental. I rarely do straightforward lyrics with it. It's all through the vocoder. You can't understand any of the lyrics because it's too harmonized, too thick. It reminds me of the Ratatat guitars, what I was trying to do with the vocoder. They just make the guitar talk.

Do you like to work with vintage gear?

I have two old guitars. One is from 1963 and my first guitar, my baby, she's about 12 years old. I collect as many musical instruments as possible. I have four keyboards and a 1990s-era drum synthesizer. Like the original Korg drum synth. It'd be really good if I became a '90s rapper. That'd be another side project.

Does the name "Fall Fox" come from somewhere in particular? Or have a particular meaning?

Well, I used to have a different moniker. I started putting stuff up on the internet in '06, '07, on Soundcloud, and I was recording under a bunch of different names. Like five or six names. And then I picked this one name, and maybe eight months later I got an email from this dude in eastern Europe who's a DJ, and he's like, "you're stealing my name!" I didn't really take it seriously. So I go on with it and I play a show and then I get another email from this guy. And in the most broken English I've ever read, he just shared his rage in this email about how upset he was with me. It was an obscure name too. I tried to find him on Google through this name and I couldn't. So I picked Fall Fox instead. They were just two words that worked really well. I like fall, and foxes are weird animals. I don't know. Do I think I'm red and furry? No, not really. They're just two words that really came together and sounded nice. Maybe it's a subconscious ode to Modest Mouse. Alliteration's cool. And I always knew it had to be two words. I didn't want to be a one word dude.

Do people think you're associated with Fleet Foxes?

There's always the one drunk guy who's like, "Fleet Foxes, you rock!"

What are you listening to these days?

A band I'm digging a lot right now is Teenage Reverb. I thought they were a duo or trio but it's just this one guy in his basement. He's taking the ambient approach to lo-fi garage rock. There's so much reverb. It's tame though. It's within some kind of spectrum of control. He's doing really cool and interesting things. I think a lot of people are moving toward faster garage rock and the whole chillwave thing is sort of dying out, but he's found this really nice equillibrium. That's something I really appreciate. It seems to me that he's out there pumping out music because he really enjoys what he's doing.

So Fall Fox is your own solo project. Any collaborations on the horizon?

I actually just got in touch with...her name's Heather, she's from Seattle and she goes by Honey and the Moon. I recently just got in contact with her. I found her stuff online. It's really good, simple music. She's got good harmonies. It's like if Feist kept on drinking coffee and never went into one of her doldrums. Very upbeat, very lively, very straightforward. But a lot of people in the music industry are in their own world. Most people are very ADD. I can't get two people to concentrate for five minutes. The whole EP was done by me. I would just get home from work and strum on my guitar.

There's a lot of weirdness and fantasy in your lyrics. What's your writing process like?

That's the good thing about DIY and folk music. You get a lot of control over your lyrics. No one is like, "you can't talk about bunnies." When I was doing the experimental electronica I was basing a lot of it on this story I would write to myself as a kid. A really important thing to me is texture. Touching stuff, physical touch, is important, and putting that into words is hard. You touch something, and there's a whole little story to it. Just texture. That's all I can say about my music, is texture. With each song I try to create a place where I can communicate a different feeling.


Check out more interviews:
Diamond Rings
Scattered Trees
Frightened Rabbit

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