Foxy Shazam's Alex Nauth, Aaron McVeigh, Loren Turner, Eric Nally, Daisy Caplan and Sky White (Steven King)
Cincinnati band Foxy Shazam dropped their fifth studio album, Gonzo, quite unexpectedly as a free download on their website in April. Gonzo is not only their most raw and unapologetic work to date, according to lead vocalist Eric Nally (who has been referred to as the imagined love child of The Mighty Boosh actor Noel Fielding and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury), it reveals Foxy Shazam’s inner darkness and exposes their most secret thoughts for the world to “take apart.”
Gonzo is the band’s first concept album, and it touches on topics like family, change and fear. Nally ventures into new territory as a songwriter and talks about the struggle within himself to break out of the shadow of his father, on whom he based his onstage persona. In part, this is about realizing his idol, like himself, is only human.
Why the honesty now? Why is this album so pivotal to this band’s career? Perhaps it was just timing and the singer’s natural necessity to face his demons.
“I didn’t try to make anything happen, it just did. That’s why it’s so powerful,” explains Nally. “It is scary, it feels like I’m escalating a steep cave or mapping uncharted areas. I wanted to go to those places deep inside myself and write about it. I’m happy to go to that uncharted place, whether it be happy or sad. I want to find something true within myself and write about it.”
It usually takes a long time for an artist to figure out how to expose himself naturally. Nally admits he still has much to learn and baring his raw feelings wasn’t an easy task.
“It’s a really scary feeling to have to dig inside yourself and find something very personal and give it to the world for everybody to tear apart. The scary part about it is people’s criticism, because even if you don’t want to be sensitive to that stuff you still are,” he says in a gentle voice.
The album dissects Nally’s thoughts about his changing relationship with himself and with his father.
“Something changed with my dad as I got older from what I knew of him when I was a kid. I love him with all my heart and always will, but there was a point, right before I wrote Gonzo, where I saw something in him I’ve never seen before, and it was scary,” he remembers. “I looked up to him; everything I did on stage and the personality that I brought to the foreground of Foxy Shazam was inspired by him. At first it was awesome, but then it started to become something not so awesome.”
The fear the exuberant lead vocalist felt could be the same one every human faces as they grow older and realize their parents aren’t super heroes but vulnerable humans with flaws, flaws that may be hereditary.
“It is scary to think about the fact that I’ve been trying to act like him this whole time. When it changed and it became something scarier, I thought, ‘will I naturally become that?’ Every kid has to deal with that when they get to a certain age where they see something in their parents they never saw before.”
Foxy Shazam is known for their dynamic and in-your-face performances, but Nally reveals that their onstage presence is quite different from the everyday Cincinnati kids they grew up as. Gonzo represents them finding a medium between the two.
“I’ve brought the two worlds together with Gonzo; I got in touch with something so personal, and I feel like I’m more myself [on stage], like it’s less of a show,” he reveals. “But who knows? Maybe it is really more like me to put on a show. I never really know, I’m just constantly learning.”
The energetic singer on stage is docile, sweet and very comforting off stage. His honesty is refreshing, and his answers candid and vulnerable.
“Sometimes after I read what I say [in interviews] I feel stupid for saying it. It’s hard; I don’t think I’ll ever understand myself. But it’s OK, that’s all that I want to be. I don’t want to hide behind anything. I want to experience my true life and put it into art,” he shares. “I’m really happy to be able to express everything I go through in my music. Once I record it, it’s like a breadcrumb trail that when I’m old I can look back at and see what I felt.”
With their fifth full-length release, the band members – which also include pianist Sky White, bassist Daisy Caplan, guitarist Loren Turner, trumpeter/vocalist Alex Nauth and drummer Aaron McVeigh – admit they have learned the art of simplification. Being true to themselves has proved to be their salvation and the way to achieve their dreams.
“It seems like everything is much more simple than I thought. When we were a young band, I always wanted to make things happen fast. I was always looking for something or someone to help me become a famous rock star and bring my music to the world. Now I know that I will do it no matter what,” tells Nally. “There’s no more trying, I just have to be true to what I really want. I realized I don’t have to look for something out there, there’s something inside me, and it’s been here the whole time.”
Foxy Shazam recruited producer Steve Albini, who is known for his lo-fi engineering, for Gonzo. Despite the prolific list of prominent artists Albini has worked with (Nirvana, the Pixies, Robert Plant), the band wasn’t afraid or intimidated; they were well aware of what they were in for when they called on him.
“We forgot about all the outside things and focused on the fact that we were doing what we wanted to do, so when we came into the studio I think he sensed that we were 100-percent sure of what we wanted to do,” says Nally. “That made the whole process go smoother. He did what he’s best at and we did what we’re best at, and it worked.”
So Foxy Shazam discovered new territory and were able to find themselves, but why drop the new album so suddenly and for free? The singer admits that it was one of their most arduous and most honest efforts, and the band felt the need to donate it to the world.
“This is the most genuine energy we’ve put into an album. We wanted to put everything out and take nothing back. Even though it is our career and we need to make money to support our families, we wanted to make it clear that for us, it’s about the music and making it available to our fans.”
Although they have bared it all on Gonzo, the singer concedes that there’s even more turf to be conquered.
“[Their last album, The Church of Rock and Roll] shows our dynamism, diversity and how many places we can go. I feel like the possibilities are endless, and I promise you we will always keep on making music.”
Gonzo is currently available. Foxy Shazam performs July 31 at El Rey Theatre. For more information, visit foxyshazam.com.