Being in a highly acclaimed indie band isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Just ask Robin Pecknold, frontman of Grammy-nominated indie folk band Fleet Foxes, which is due to play in Malaysia in January.
Three years ago, Pecknold grew so tired of the constant touring and recording that he opted for a complete change of pace and went back to school for a while.
Putting his music career on hold and the band on hiatus, he pursued an undergraduate degree at the Columbia University School of General Studies.
“I never got an undergraduate degree, and this felt like the right time to both see what that was about and to try something new after a while in the touring/recording lifestyle,” he wrote in a Facebook post back in 2014.
During a recent phone interview from the United States, Pecknold said the biggest lesson he learnt from that break was that people should do what they are naturally drawn to and not try to be something they are not.
“When I was a student, I was trying to be more of a thinking man and not a singer or artiste. As a result, I found it difficult to maintain focus at times.
“But now I’m back into music, I feel much more focused. I have a different appreciation of music now,” he explained.
Fleet Foxes comprises Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo and Morgan Henderson – who all contribute vocals and play multiple instruments.
The band will be playing at KL Live on Jan 16, 7pm, as part of the Upfront Arena concert series.
Fleet Foxes first shot into the limelight with its 2008 eponymous debut album, which contained hit singles like White Winter Hymnal, He Doesn’t Know Why and Your Protector. It was hailed as one of the best albums of the year by the likes of Rolling Stone and Q magazines and online music site Pitchfork. Its 2011 second album, Helplessness Blues, peaked at No. 4 on the US Billboard Top 200 album chart, and was nominated for the Best Folk Album Grammy in 2012.
Fleet Foxes recently released its third album, Crack-Up, which debuted at No. 9 on the US Billboard top 200 album chart in June.
With the new album, Pecknold said there was more input from everyone else in the band, especially Skjelset and Wescott. It was also meant to be a little more “confusing and expansive” than the first two.
“In the first album we wanted to sound strong and sturdy, in the form of Christian songs. The second album was more traditional folk influences and wanting to do that right,” he explained.
“This record is its own thing. I think you try to do the same thing every time but you have different curiosities and experiences to draw from.
“Crack-Up was really fun to work on, I view it as really disjointed and fractured. So the next one is going to be very fluid and prismatic, and more soulful, with a new set of curiosities and intentions.”
He is also happy that the response to new material has also been great, though they are still trying to figure out how to best play it live.
“It’s really complex music which we made mostly for our own enjoyment, and we’d hoped that people would respond to it. It took a lot of practice and rehearsals to learn how to play the new songs live and make them work with the old songs. We’re still figuring out a lot of things even now,” he said.
According to Pecknold, the hiatus also helped to refresh the band as live performers.
“We were really tired after the last tour. But it’s been eight months now (into the current tour), and there’s still a lot of energy there,” Pecknold said.
“It’s a lot more fun, there’s more improvisation, more room for surprises, and more band interaction. Some of us have even been taking singing lessons so we can make the show good!”
So, what can Malaysians expect from the upcoming show then?
“We play songs from all our records, and weave them together into one long piece of music,” he said. “We’re really excited to play there and see the country. We’ve never played there before, so hopefully some people will show up for the show!”
Tickets for Upfront Presents: Fleet Foxes Live in Malaysia are priced at RM230 and RM250, and are currently on sale at Ticketpro.