Toronto’s Foxfire discuss classifying their music, growing as a band and opening for MGMT
Photo Credit: Joshua Khan
Nestled in the back of the Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto seems quieter than usual. Stragglers occupied the bar, sipping aged alcoholic potions known to make souls hollow. Urban hipsters scattered themselves around the venue’s average-sized stage, discussing life’s dramatic disturbances and exciting discoveries. While the musicians, slated for the night’s musical bill, lounged in the comfortable and surprisingly flashy seats at the back of the dusky room. Young as the April night, the group positioned to my right were getting ready for their performance. Unlike the fashion oddballs that claim Toronto as their nest, the collection of musicians we’re civilized people. Their style gleamed under the dim lights and echoed across the room full of adult wanderers looking for a spontaneous evening. But their voices broke their sophisticated look once a cordial conversation was initiated. “We brought blood,” one of the lanky musicians announced while shaking a pouch filled with a crimson liquid, “so get ready.”
As Foxfire assembled on stage, bystanders took attention and casually wandered towards them. Before the musicians even signaled the start of their performance, they were enclosed by a crowd the venue had not seen all day. The Horseshoe was known for showcasing memorable talent such as The Police and Our Lady Peace, but this was unheard of for an act that was almost completely chartless on the internet. But then it happened. The legendary tavern’s atmosphere changed in an instant. Gone were the inexperienced musicians as the stage held home to seven individuals designed to emit an incomparable sound. A noise so unique that it provoked a large crowd to detach itself from life and do one simple action: dance.
Despite its proclaimed style and grace, Toronto’s music scene is a hard one to infest. Even though they’re surrounded by sightly venues and approximately 2.5 million people, instant fame isn’t an achievement that’s spoonfed to musicians. Foxfire knows that. With each of their seven members dispersed around the city, its been a challenge for the seven-piece disco rock outfit to collaborate on a frequent basis. But for the Toronto artists, their life goes by an impulsive book.
“I started e-mailing Anna when she was in Australia,” says vocalist Neil Rankin, while eagerly tapping a disfigured table the group joined together at Paddington Pump, a charming restaurant near the St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto.”I told her I wanted to do something but I needed someone who could play music. So once she came along, I started to write some things and then I asked all of these people to join and it just kind of went from there.”
By “all these people”, Rankin means his musical comrades. Joining the singer/keyboardist are Hannah Krapivinsky (vocals, keyboards), Anna Edwards and Alex Ralph (guitar), Joe Elaschuk (bass), Andre Lowy (trumpet, synthesizer) and Sean Dunal (drums). Seven musicians seems like a crowd when it comes to being a band, but the musicians have learned to deal with the number. When the group was first born in 2005, their magic number was nine. Jam sessions were enclosed in a bedroom and their sound was strapped to the name tag they adapted as newborn musicians. As Foxfire Forest, the band’s schedule was wrapped around fun and simply playing music. They were a country-rock group, and instead of focusing on becoming popular musicians, they were lost in a universe created solely for organized musical chaos. But like all innocent newborns, Foxfire was destined to leave the home built for their existence.
“The name Foxfire for me, really represents what we are and it says a lot more than Foxfire Forest,” explains trumpeter Andre Lowy. “Like now, we are a totally different band. The first band name did represent us back then as a group, but then things started sprawling and we really weren’t sure what we were doing. We were much more chaotic back then, but now, we’ve grown to be more focused.”
Organization and communication is a key to success and like most bands serious about their music, Foxfire tries their best to work as a group. Growing as a band in Toronto can be exhilarating and also tiresome, especially when you create a sound the world has stashed away with their once-beloved record collections. Although their genre died decades ago, Foxfire took the simple route to stardom and just started booking and playing shows like regular musicians. As time went on, a diverse fan base was created and their popularity started to soar at an undeniable pace.
“We tend to have a lot of shows where we end up having a bigger crowd than the headliner,” remarks bassist Joe Elaschuk. “Like we’d always be the opener and we’d just the rock the night.”
Foxfire’s reputation instantly sparked the interest of other rising musicians. Before they took the world by storm with spaced-out technicolour music videos and their first major studio album, one talented group got the chance to share the same stage with the off-the-wall Torontonians.
“To be honest, we are just a great opening band,” smirks singer Hannah Krapivinsky. “Like opening for Yeasayer and MGMT at El Mocambo last year was awesome. The guys from MGMT are really nice, like really nice. Like they were there for the whole show. They didn’t leave or anything like that, they were right at the front for our show and the two of them were like ‘holy shit, this is awesome’.”
Creating a spectacular ear-attraction seems to just come natural for Foxfire. After changing their title when they first started, the musicians decided to alter their sound. In turn, it created a form of music one’s ear can easily get attached to. Powered by riveting guitars, toe-seizuring drum beats and bewitching keyboards, Foxfire fuses together a once-cherished disco sound with a bit of dance rock and a splash of new wave. Such a combination may seem feeble in today’s music industry, but it’s helped the aspiring musicians. Numbers like “Dancing In The Drunk” and “Black Light Dick Fight” are enchanting because they innocently force one to loosen up and stake their claim on the dance-floor. Another integral part of Foxfire’s music is their two singers. Along with handing each other the reins to vocal domination, Neil and Hannah are also an astonishing duo behind the microphone.
Most of the tracks Foxfire creates come from one of their collective jam sessions or from the tedious work of one of the members.
“It usually starts as a half-made song from one person, most likely Joe,” says Lowy. “Like he’ll create something on his computer and it will be the basis of a song. We’ll listen to it and then write our own parts unless Joe came up with them already.”
The reason for the disco rock sound is due to Foxfire’s vast amount of influences. Aside from being disco followers and Led Zeppelin fanatics, the group comes from a lot of different musical backgrounds such as bluegrass, New Orleans jazz and big band. But when it comes to their brand of music, each member agrees that they’re not aiming to imitate their influences.
“Our music belongs in this decade, right now,” states Rankin. “As much as we’ve taken from the past, we’re making music what people want to hear right now, in this decade. Like the idea is take aspects from those times and just push forward and create something new.”
“We’re not dreaming of trying to be really cool and we’re not trying to fit into Toronto” adds Krapivinsky. “Like I’m sure there are other bands around here that are like us, but we’re trying to work collectively and create a sound that’s ours.”
Similar to most premier food markets, the St. Lawrence Market is full of diversity. A passerby can be enjoying a delectable sample of a vendor’s finest gourmet cheese, and then within a blink of an eyelash, they can be admiring different bakery delicacies with names difficult to pronounce. This unusual destination was on Foxfire’s agenda for an ordinary Saturday afternoon. The notable smell of fish may have been the reason why the Toronto-based band chose to meet at this location, but part of it was probably due to their instinctive nature and how close-knit they are as musicians and friends. Such co-operation can be hard to find these days, especially with more and more bands disappearing in today’s perishing music industry. As a group of seven, Foxfire is thankful for the luck and support they’ve had, especially with Toronto’s music scene being quieter than usual.
“Not having a lot of stuff on our MySpace and around the internet and what not kind of helped us out because it forced people to go to shows and see us in-person,” says Krapivinsky.
“It can be hard to be a band,” adds Rankin. “Like in our case, nobody really knew how to be in one. We started off really young and we didn’t know how to get our ideas across so that everybody could be heard. So we just kind of hoped everything would happen naturally and we’d end up figuring out how to be a band.”
In order to achieve that sort of enlightenment, Rankin revealed the answer could be found by thinking less and doing more.
“You just have to be a band and don’t focus on anything else. Most importantly, you have to make sure you’re making music you appreciate and you think that’s good, or else it won’t mean a thing to anyone.”