The Weekly Interview: Foxygen keyboardist and founding member Jonathan Rado

Foxygen plays Brooklyn Bowl Tuesday night.
Photo: Cara Robbins

You guys have a couple days before you start touring. Are you doing anything to gear up for it? We’ve been practicing in Seattle. So we’ve been kinda hanging out in Seattle for the last week or so, kinda half-practicing, half-exploring.

You and Sam didn’t live in the same state when you recorded We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. Is this kind of rare that you get to hole up and work on stuff together? Yeah, especially the live band. Me and Sam both live in LA now, finally, but for the rest of the band, three of these guys live in New York, a few live in Washington state, our drummer Shaun lives in Indiana—so we’re all over the place. So yeah, it’s really nice to sort of hang out for a week or two and just bond.

2013 seemed like a really turbulent year for you guys. You guys blew up and became one of the biggest bands of the year, but also ran into a lot of problems. Sam’s girlfriend made a Tumblr post that led to reports that you guys broke up. I don’t know if she’s his ex-girlfriend now … Yeah, she is.

Then Sam broke his leg, you cancelled a European tour, FYF Fest and even another Las Vegas show. How did you guys rebound from all of that? It wasn’t ever as turbulent as the Internet makes it seem. There’s a lot of people that really wanted us to be crazy and wild. I think that a lot of things were blown out of proportion. The public image of us is that we had a crazy turbulent year, and we did—I mean, there were parts of it that were extremely turbulent—but it didn’t take as much reconciliation.

It sounds like the media had a big impact on shaping your band, which also happened to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles—40 years ago. The thing about the Stones, they created that themselves. We didn’t set out to be a crazy wild band. It wasn’t like, us deciding to do that. It’s just the Internet age. And in the Internet age, anybody can put anything on the Internet. You know, that whole Conor Oberst thing. Like, that girl was just like, “Yeah, I just completely made that up,” but everyone totally believed it when she wrote it on the Internet. I don’t know, I think there’s some things that are kind of flawed about the Internet and society in general.

But you guys are a band in the digital age. How do you overcome those kinds of things now? I don’t know, you complain about it a lot [laughs] then you just keep going. You just kind of have to. If you look at the greater history of rock music, tons of artists overcame tons of things. Am I gonna let the Internet break up my band? No.

You guys have gone through a few lineup changes. What’s the band look like nowadays? The lineup is me and Sam [France], Shaun Fleming on drums and Justin Nijssen on bass, as always. And then we have two new guitar players—I’m playing keyboards now. We have Jared Walker, who plays in Shaun’s band, and Kevin Basko, who plays under the name Rubber Band Gun. He’s got a cool project that we really liked. And then we have three gorgeous lady background singers, Jacquelyn Cohen, Emily Panic and Nina Joly.

One of those gorgeous lady singers is your girlfriend, right? Yeah. Jackie’s my girlfriend.

How’s that, getting to tour and be in a band with your girlfriend? It’s amazing. Well, I think last year it was really hard because we had to do a long-distance thing and it was really tough and sh*tty and terrible trying to keep our relationship going on the road. It’s a lot easier now. Plus it really helps when your girlfriend’s really talented.

So you don’t play guitar at all now live? A little bit, on a few songs, but I’m mainly playing keyboards.

A few years ago you guys opened for Moonface at the Beauty Bar—I think some of us assumed you were all just really high. I talked to Sam later that night and he said that’s just how you guys are. Is that, more or less, how your live shows are? Have you changed things since then? I think we sound better. If I recall, that Beauty Bar show was really insane. During that tour we didn’t have money to have a van so we took two cars, our parents’ cars. The whole band was split between two cars, and like, we had just rolled into Vegas. We didn’t get a sound check, we just sorta put all our sh*t on the stage and sorta played and I remember it sounding really weird. I do remember that show. Oh yeah, all night my guitar kept going out of tune for some reason, I just remembered that. That was the most grassroots, hardest tour we’ve ever done, that Moonface tour.

But yeah, I think that the live show now sounds really good because everyone’s extremely proficient, the guitar players that we have are amazing and our background singers are amazing. There’s always gonna be an element of unpredictability, but the music is not unpredictable.

Do you prefer being in the studio or do you prefer playing live shows? For the last couple of years I was like, “F*ck, I hate the road, I like being in the studio,” but now I’ve kinda come to love playing live again. I definitely think in terms of the studio and probably am best in that sense, but touring has become a lot more comfortable for us because we just decided to do it on our own terms and finally get the band that we really want. It’s become a lot more bearable and enjoyable.

What’s influencing you on the next album? I’ve heard it’s not going to be as much of a throwback as 21st Century. It’s just not a flower-power throwback. I don’t know, the throwback term gets used a lot. It’s definitely not a modern-sounding record, but it’s not so specific to an era.

You guys overdub and layer a ton of different sounds—from multiple vocals to chaotic, unusual instrumentation. What does that creative process look like when you’re in the studio? It does not take as long as I think most people would think. We record a song a day. We never really spend more than a day working on a song. It’s different with every album. With the last album it was a lot of different ideas just cut together, just a lot of catchy parts of songs. With this [new] album we were writing a lot separately, so we sort of set to record everything that we had. We sort of just cut it all together, but we kept everything in some respect.

What’s the new album going to be called? It’s called Foxygen … And Starpower.

You have a solo project and Shaun has his other band, Diane Coffee. How does everyone balance solo projects while focusing on Foxygen? I think Foxygen, for me and Sam, is our main project. I wouldn’t consider myself having a solo project. I think I just have an abundance of stupid things that I wanna maybe release at some point, but all the songs that I write go to Foxygen.

Foxygen’s Twitter is largely unintelligible. Who does most of the posting and can you tell me what’s going on? [Laughs] I don’t know. Sam does it. I don’t even know if I follow Foxygen on Twitter anymore. I’m sure it means something. I think a lot of people think that he is on acid tweeting and I really don’t think that’s the case. I actually know that’s not the case. But I don’t know what any of it means.

So Sam—his persona—is he like that in person? He’s out there. He’s not like some idiot. He’s, you know, a beautiful nice boy.

That’s a nice thing to say. Yeah.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to when you come to Vegas? The last time I was in Vegas was the day that we had to cancel that show because Sam was really sick. Sam was just throwing up every five minutes; there was no way we could’ve played it. That would’ve been a f*cked-up show. It would’ve involved a lot of throwing up. But yeah, I’ve been to Vegas like, 30 times with my parents. I’m excited to go and I’m excited to play on the Strip. Moving up in the world, you know?

Foxygen August 12, 8 p.m., $13.20-$16.50, Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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