In September 2011, Fleet Foxes stopped at Raleigh's Red Hat Amphitheater for what was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill show. But a torrential storm hit that night, raining so hard that the aisles between seating sections resembled creek beds. Lightning threatened the outdoor electrical system and water dripped through the roof of the stage onto then-drummer Josh Tillman's kit. The band apologetically ended the show early, swearing they'd be back.
Nearly seven years later, Fleet Foxes are finally making good on that promise after the release of Crack-Up on Nonseuch Records last June*. The band dissipated for a few years—frontman Robin Pecknold went back to college, and his band mates immersed themselves in other projects. But they've returned true to form: Crack-Up is rooted in lush folk-rock, with Pecknold's distinctive croon leading the way. But unlike its predecessors Crack-Up swoops and dives dramatically, veering from Pecknold singing in a near-whisper above a soft guitar line to dramatic, explosive instrumental interludes. It feels like a brave adventure into some sort of soft, mossy abyss.
Ahead of the band's return to Red Hat, Pecknold paused to reflect on some of Crack-Up's multi-layered themes.
We stopped touring in 2012, and then it wasn't so much that I wanted to take a hiatus as much as I just wanted to continue trying new things. I didn't spend a lot of time just sitting on my hands or not doing things. I actually felt like I had to make up for lost time in terms of all this other stuff that I wanted to do aside from music. So there was no real hiatus in terms of my day-to-day life. I would say I associate the word "hiatus" with something you take when you're like sixty-five or seventy-five—retirement or something.
I feel like if I ever do something alone it's because I can't convince someone to do it with me. It's something I really want to do. I feel like I get enough solitude in the writing process, working on the music, that I don't really want solitude any other time. [laughs] Oftentimes I feel like if I do something alone, even though I have my memory of it, if it's not a shared memory it's much less potent or valuable. I'd rather be doing things with people that I love. I think it's necessary sometimes and it's just about balancing. There are things that you can kind of hash through on your own that help you be a better friend when you do come back into the fold with people.
Back when I was writing songs for Crack-Up, I was watching this movie called Walkabout a lot, this movie about these two kids lost in the Australian Outback. There would be these really beautiful shots, like a shot of a girl swimming in a spring, and then there would be a shot of someone butchering a kangaroo or slaughtering an animal—these really contrasting shots right next to each other. I found that interesting or exciting, the juxtapositions, and I was also very—not wishy-washy, but I feel like I was kind of like manic and changing my mind all the time, and that's probably why that was interesting to me. It was fun to be messing with different volume contrasts and putting different parts of the songs in different mental spaces.
I totally get hung up on that. Even if it's like self-deception or someone else deceiving you—I don't know, it's just certain things that were going on that bled into the lyrics. I feel like I'm always wondering to what extent anything you attempt to do is a form of self-deception, or if there's any objective reason to do anything—or, if you call it deception, it doesn't need to be a bad thing. Giving yourself a reason to get up in the morning, it's a useful lie, something that does you good. I guess that bled into the lyrics somewhat.
I think music is kind of the only thing I have a mystic connection to. I'm not like reading Aleister Crowley or the Kabbalah, I don't do tarot cards. It's really weird, any time someone goes there I tune out a little bit, with astrology or things that are more in that vein. I do feel really connected to something unknown and it feels very magic to me. So I think if those things ever crop up in the lyrics, it's almost just a function of that reflecting how it feels to work on the songs themselves.
*This article originally misstated the release month of Crack-Up. It was released in June 2017, not August.