Fleet Foxes – Robin Pecknold on “Shore” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, July 17th, 2024  

Fleet Foxes – Robin Pecknold on “Shore”

On the Beach

Sep 08, 2021 Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue) Photography by Shervin Lainez Bookmark and Share

In 2017, Robin Pecknold nearly died. Surfing a massive wave off the California coast, the Fleet Foxes multi-instrumentalist was soon tangled in the riptide, his board stripped away from him as he struggled for 15 minutes to swim back to shore. When he finally reached dry ground, tired and trembling, he felt like a different person. That feeling would soon saturate the music he would soon be making on the appropriately titled Shore.

“I was very convinced I was going to die,” Pecknold says. “And when I made it back to shore I felt so relieved and happy to be alive—in a way that you aren’t on a daily basis unless you are confronted with the possibility of death. So that was where I was while working on the music. I wanted to make this thing that was relieving and comforting and bright, but as if it was on the other side of something dark. So keeping an awareness of that darkness present so that you know what it’s in contrast to. It’s easy for me to draw a parallel between my personal experience and making the music and then the experience of 2020 writ large, which was obviously nothing I could have planned for or anticipated.”

Starting out with the intention of making an album that was the “complementary opposite” of 2017’s Crack-Up, the band’s expansive and chaotic third full-length release, Pecknold began writing music that was far more subtle and focused. Drawing from ’70s R&B and singer/songwriter records, he wanted to create an album that was classic yet contemporary, something he likes to a “’60s car with a Tesla engine.” Having spent the previous year traveling and “living the dream of studio rat wish fulfillment,” he soon found himself stuck at home with a mostly finished album and few completed lyrics. Pecknold was in an unusual position. With thousands of people dying every day and most everyone else shut in during lockdown, he had an opportunity to make a statement as profound as the moment we were all living in collectively. How would he react to it?

“There were two kinds of youthful delusions that I was trying to cure myself of while making this record,” he explains. “One was that serious music has to be dark. And more and more I don’t see why serious music can’t be joyous. And I also used to think ‘personal’ meant chewing on some existential quandary or some emotional roadblock that felt unique to me and the circumstances I was in. In a song like ‘Featherweight,’ I’m saying that I’ve made things too hard on myself and I need to let go of that. There are ways to be personal that are outward looking and informed by your outward circumstances or other people. That was one thing that I was trying to find.”

Part celebration, part tribute to fallen heroes, Shore became an exercise in positive psychology. Still reeling from the death of Richard Swift—the musician and producer he got to know while both of them lived in Portland, Oregon—Pecknold turned “Sunblind” into an expression of the gratitude he felt toward songwriters (John Prine, Elliott Smith, Bill Withers, among others) whose work had affected him. “Jara” took its title from slain Chilean political activist and artist Victor Jara to serve as a paean to local activists who Pecknold saw sacrificing personal comforts to participate in the George Floyd protests night after night. Perhaps no track captures the communal spirit of the album more than “Can I Believe in You,” a song whose backing harmonies were compiled from nearly 500 vocals submitted by fans. “People talk about Brian Wilson or The Beatles learning to use the studio as an instrument in the ’60s, but now we can think about using the Internet as an instrument,” Pecknold says. “That can be an exciting thing to do more of in the future.”

Pecknold says he still isn’t comfortable surfing in rough waters, and he doesn’t expect to shake off that fear any time soon. When he talks about the prospect of carrying that trauma forward, he doesn’t sound particularly distressed. Having transformed his most inwardly felt terror into his most outward-looking piece of art, he remains rooted in the gratitude he felt in that moment on the beach.

“Someone sent me a video today of two teen girls headbanging to some [Fleet Foxes] song while they were driving,” he says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, no one would have ever done that to an old Fleet Foxes song.’ And they were headbanging and laughing and having a good time. To provide that was a total gift. That really lifts my spirits.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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