It’s hard to know where to start with a band like Foxing because they have so many moods with so few entry points. The St. Louis emo indie rock band only has three albums to its name, yes, but the band has done so much within that space. There are reflective songs and guitar-heavy numbers, a vocal style that’s consistent yet sounds different on each release. But after the release of their newest album, Nearer My God, the choice of where to start in Foxing’s discography has become far easier.
Though it’s undoubtedly the biggest and more over-the-top record in the band’s career, their third album is one that feels impossible not to see why the collaborative efforts of vocalist Conor Murphy, guitarist Ricky Sampson, drummer Jon Hellwig, and guitarist Eric Hudson should be applauded. For one, it’s the first record where they felt like they were all on the same page. It was a bonding experience dotted with unexpected uses of instruments like synth and bagpipes. It’s experimental in some ways on paper, but in sound Foxing turn all of their odd choices and bold decisions into an album that explodes, as if it’s a record determined to mark a shift not only for the band but for the genre they often get lumped into.
“At the time, it made sense to us to self-produce a lot of this record,” says Murphy. “When we were first putting songs together, one thing we realized from the last record was that we have a very hard time with demoitis: you write the song, you demo it, and then nothing you record after that can ever be as good as what you did in the moment. We suffer from that really bad. To fix that, we decided to do it all ourselves so that the demo is the actual version on the record. A lot of what you hear on the record is catching lightning in a bottle, all spontaneity. The only problem with that is that it made everything so, so, so messy. To keep track of all of that and then to work with [ex-Death Cab for Cutie guitarist] Chris Walla who mixed it? We knew it would be difficult, but it was by far the hardest part of the process.”
To understand the personalities that inform Foxing’s chemistry, we interviewed Conor Murphy for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Nearer My God as the prompt, his answers range from speculative to open-ended—a similar quality you can hear in their music when they headline the Sinclair this Sunday.
1) “Grand Paradise”
DIGBOSTON: What’s one trick you’d recommend to make a boring vacation better?
MURPHY: Oooh. Play Dungeons and Dragons! Are you in the midst of a boring vacation or are you bored on an okay vacation? Because to me, a boring vacation is one where the sole purpose for everybody is to go and see one thing and along the way everyone is trying to pass the time. So my remedy for that would be the conversation of “Is Nick Cage a good actor or a bad actor?” This is directly stolen from an episode of Community, I should mention, but makes for the greatest conversation in the world with anyone where you try to get to the bottom of it. I know it seems simple right away, to just say, “He is a bad actor.” But if you dig into it real hard, and actually watch the movies of his, the line between good actor and bad actor becomes impossible to define. I feel like that’s a conversation we constantly have all the time on tour—which is the most boring vacation of all time, because [touring travel] never ends.
DIGBOSTON: What’s the best comedy movie you’ve seen this year?
MURPHY: Okay. Hmm. Oh! You know what I just saw for the first time, like yesterday, that everybody told me to see for my entire life? Mallrats! It was hilarious. I can’t believe I had never seen it before. I assumed it was going to be the same type of thing as Clerks, Clerks 2, and Jay and Silent Bob. I’ve seen all of those. But everybody I talk to about Kevin Smith movies told me I had to see it. So I finally saw it yesterday and I think it’s my favorite one out of all of them. It was really good. Had a great time.
3) “Lich Prince”
DIGBOSTON: Who’s the coolest “bad guy” character in sci-fi?
MURPHY: Oh my god. I just don’t want to give the wrong answer on this one. For now, I’m going to say Lore from Star Trek. That’s the first character I will go with, and I will probably go back on that, but he’s a really good bad guy. He’s Data’s brother. Do you watch Star Trek? Data is an android who is a good guy, and my favorite character from any sci-fi thing. But then Lore is his twin brother who is evil… and awesome! The only difference between him and Data is that he has a sense of humor, and that’s what makes him evil, which is the coolest thing ever. That’s actually part of the rationale. I think the biggest thing is that he can feel emotions. The point of that being that humans are evil because of their emotions. [laughing] That damn Gene Roddenberry, trying to get us with that stuff. I think Lore pops up in season four of Next Generation. So if you ever want to get in on it, hop right on in there in four.
DIGBOSTON: Which video game cheat code did you use the most as a kid?
MURPHY: Oooh! [Big sigh] Well, video game cheat codes are tough because I feel like I didn’t really know any cheat codes when I was a kid. See, when I play video games, I’m a pretty bad sport about them. I get really, really upset if I can’t do it on my own. Using a cheat code feels like, well, cheating. [laughs] I don’t subscribe to that. See, even in Mortal Kombat, I even think of doing “real” moves as a type of cheat code. I just do punches and kicks, which is why I’m very bad at that game. The cheat code I used by far the most was DK mode in that James Bond GoldenEye game. Are you familiar with that one? Where everybody’s just got a big head? Really dumb. It has nothing to do with the rest of the game and doesn’t affect anything.
5) “Nearer My God”
DIGBOSTON: If you had to start worshipping a new God of your choosing, who or what would it be and why?
MURPHY: I really like the idea of the church of Ned Flanders in, I think, Scotland. Do you know about this? Everybody dresses like Ned Flanders and practices Ned Flanders-style Christianity. [Laughs] I don’t know if I would actually want to do that because it entails being a Christian again, but I do think it’s really funny at least. I think it’s a real thing people get really into. So I’ll go with that. It’s probably really fucked up actually.
6) “Five Cups”
DIGBOSTON: How many drinks does it typically take to get you drunk, not buzzed?
MURPHY: Well, what type of drink? Like beer or wine? Okay, so one glass of wine. If we’re going by beer, then it’s three beers. If it was a mixed drink, then just one. Basically what I’m saying is that I can’t handle my alcohol at all. I’m honestly the biggest lightweight in the world. I’m also the person who nurses their drink all night and sits with one mixed drink the whole time. Or I’ll have 15 of them and be unreasonable to all my friends. That’s also why when someone asks if they can buy me a drink after a show because they enjoyed the performance, I always respond, “Nope, not at all, no thank you,” because I will ruin this band’s reputation.
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite song by the Knife?
MURPHY: Oh! Probably “Heartbeats” or “We Share Our Mother’s Health.” One of those two. Actually, “We Share Our Mother’s Health.” It’s funny, because this song went through more names than any other song on the record. Chris actually came up with the name, and it’s in the lyrics also. But that was my big thing. “Well wait, what about ‘Heartbeats’ by the Knife? We can’t do that.” But then I realized there’s a million songs called that, and it’s just a good song name! Have you heard the José González cover? That’s the one I love. So instead of being mad about it, I decided it would be cool because we all share this song name. If I ever get to meet them, and I’m sure I never will, I’ll get to be like, “Hey, we all have a song called this.” I don’t think they even speak English. They won’t care.
8) “Trapped in Dillard’s”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the best department store find you’ve ever scored?
MURPHY: Oh man. I got a pair of jeans that I wore for probably a good seven or eight years. They were my high school jeans. They were a pair of Levi’s that I got at a Dillard’s. I think that’s probably the best thing I bought. Because they were the jeans. They were the only pair of jeans I had. They do not fit now. Those days are looong gone.
DIGBOSTON: What’s a second-rate thing that you love?
MURPHY: Applebee’s? Does that count? That’s what I got for you. My girlfriend and I haven’t gone in a while, but for a while we were going on a weekly basis. It was our date spot. See, the thing is that Applebee’s is failing miserably as a business. So the prices get passed on to you. You get really great deals because they’re about to file Chapter 11. It rocks pretty hard. Go buy Long Island ice teas and get 7,000 of them because they’re very cheap. [Laughs] They have a crazy drink menu! It will be like $2 Long Island ice teas on a certain day. They pour ‘em really strong, too, because you’re like the only person that came in that day. It’s awesome. And really sad.
10) “Crown Candy”
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you binge ate a lot of candy?
MURPHY: If you consider Oreos candy, then very recently. When you say a sleeve of Oreos, does that mean a row in a package? Is that what that means? Because there’s three columns in an Oreo package. Basically what I’m trying to say is that I’ll eat a whole package of Oreos, like all three rows, on my own. I want to make sure we’re not downplaying it. I will eat all of the Oreos that are in a house all at one time, anytime, unless someone stops me. So the last time I did would have been a month ago, or whenever the last time I bought Oreos was. It’s pretty much what I do any time I get Oreos. It’s really bad. I don’t fuck around with any of the other flavors. I only do the regular ones. I do like the thin ones, because I get to tell myself I’m doing something good by only eating a package of thin Oreos. I’m also currently eating a package of Haribo sour gummy bears right now.
11) “Won’t Drown”
DIGBOSTON: Where were you when you first learned how to swim?
MURPHY: My mom taught me and I was at this place called Fair Lakes in Minnesota. That was our vacation spot. It’s a camping place, almost a little resort spot, with family stuff by a lake. So she taught me by the pool. It was awesome. It was a very fond memory that I haven’t thought about in a very long time, so I appreciate you bringing this up. I was about six or so.
DIGBOSTON: In your opinion, what’s a good way to measure someone’s intelligence without taking too long or using standardized testing?
MURPHY: That is a good question. This is a hard one for me because I consider myself to be a real dummy. Ask them who they voted for in 2016! Nahhh, don’t do that. That was a hack joke. Not gonna go for that one. How about the triangle game? Like the little thing they do at Cracker Barrel? But also, I don’t want to use that because I don’t do it well, so I shouldn’t pick that either. Shit. What would you say?
DIGBOSTON: I’m not sure. Maybe ask someone what their favorite word is that isn’t used commonly? Because that’s a good way to see which words they think are or aren’t used frequently, and a way to hear them explain the reasoning behind their chosen word.
MURPHY: That’s pretty good too, but that’s just vocabulary. Like, I feel like I have a good vocabulary, but I’m pretty dumb. I just cover it up with words.
DIGBOSTON: Now this is coming down to how we define intelligence.
MURPHY: Okay, you’re right, damn. Okay, so just asking a person what they think about death, but specifically death. That’s the intelligence I usually value, you know? Because when you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t give a shit, you’re like, “Okay, whatever. That’s fine.” But you know what? I wouldn’t care. I just… [sighs] I don’t know. I’m not intelligent at all. I’m sorry.
Actually, okay, nope. Fuck everything I said before. The real test of intelligence is Tetris. There it is. Bada bing, bada boom. That solves all of it. It tests your philosophical ideas, it tests your problem solving, your quick thinking, all of that: Tetris. And that’s who I voted for in 2016.
FOXING, RATBOYS, KISSISSIPPI. SUN 9.2. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/ALL AGES/$15. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM