Love at first sight – or first listen, rather – isn’t something that happens too regularly for me when I hear a record for the first time.
That’s why Foxing’s debut album, The Albatross became a bit of a big deal – it hooked me from the gentle cacophony of the first few notes of its opening track, ‘Bloodhound’, right up to the record’s end – an ending that arrives far too quickly, but that’s probably because it’s such an absorbing album in so many different facets.
It’s a beautiful collection of music – both melodically and lyrically, weaving intricate musicianship with masterful storytelling. But it’s also painfully sad - you can’t ignore a chorus of:
‘I swear I’m a good man
So why don’t you love me back?’
It’s not the lyrics that make that chorus so impactful though – it’s the emotion that the band’s singer, Conor Murphy, puts into singing those two short lines. It’s almost incomparable. Uttered melancholically at the start of the song, it’s then screamed out, gut wrenchingly defeated by the time the last chorus is reached - in a way that leaves you feeling like you’ve been punched in the chest. You’re listening to the audible embodiment of a crushing heartache.
It can be sort of draining to listen to, but in the best possible way – it’s dark and tackles big issues and it’s oftentimes troublingly relatable. Music should make you feel something, and Foxing definitely succeed in that. They make the kind of songs that could probably reduce people to tears if it caught them on a tough day and hit too close to home.
I’m sat in a park in North London with Foxing’s singer, Conor Murphy, and bassist, Josh Coll. The two band members share lyric writing duties. It’s a stiflingly hot day, but the pair seems to be in good spirits after a show in Kingston the night before.
A few hours after our interview they’d be playing to a sold out crowd at The Dome in Tufnell Park - supporting Tiger’s Jaw – engrossing the entire crowd to an extent that I’ve rarely seen a support act do. It’s not difficult to be pulled in by Foxing’s enigmatic and emotional performance though, and their audience seemed more than willing to be swept up in a tidal wave of feelings, led by Conor pouring his heart out on stage.
One theme that’s impossibly hard to ignore in The Albatross is that of isolation – there’s a heavy sense of longing and separation in almost every track. “I was studying abroad here in London and when I came home, Josh and I were writing all the lyrics for [the record]. A lot of it was because both of us were in different worlds but had a lot of common ground with the feeling of isolation and coming home expecting it to feel a certain way. It didn’t feel like home.”
Looking at the album lyrically, there are constant references to a feeling of separation that seem to reflect this backwards sense of homesickness. “Home brings a lot of expectation. I was here for five months and I got really homesick and expected everything to be perfect when I got back home. It was supposed to feel a certain way, but it didn’t feel that way at all. A lot of The Albatross lyrics are about that.”
While Conor’s stimulus for The Albatross drew from his experiences of being away, homesick in London and feeling disjointed upon coming back home, Josh’s came from his return to St Louis after serving in Afghanistan.
“I came back from a tough year in Afghanistan around the time we started the band, so it was a similar idea - being away for that long in a dangerous situation and having your home be a light at the end of the tunnel.
You think ‘if I can just get through this day, I’m that much closer to going home’. Home for me isn’t St Louis - it’s California, but I lived in St Louis for a while. I got back to St Louis and it was the same thing Conor was describing – it didn’t have that therapeutic quality, and nothing was there.
So I went back to California thinking ‘once I go back here, I’ll start to feel a sense of relief’, and I didn’t. That’s when I started to write a lot of stuff for The Albatross – that’s why there’s lots of oceanic imagery throughout the lyrics because the beginning of it was written when I was in California.
Somewhat similar stories but different situations.”
While writing their second album - which is yet to be released – the band moved into a cabin in remote Vermont. It reads like a story we’ve heard countless times before, but the motive behind secluding themselves lay in giving them no option but to stay together and get the record finished.
“I think we wanted to force ourselves to go through a darkness together. The writing process normally takes a lot longer than we were giving ourselves. There’s just a challenge to that and to not being able to walk away from it is even more of a challenge. Any time we would try to leave the cabin, we would get stuck in the snow, so it was really immersive.”
Much of The Albatross is bathed in metaphor and ambiguity, perhaps to conceal some of the more personal aspects to the songs’ meanings to their writers. In many ways though, that’s what makes me love the first record so much – the obscurity of its turn of phrase allows it to put across universal and relatable themes. With the next album, and an ignited confidence in their writing abilities drawn from the success of the first record, Murphy and Coll admit that it delves deeper into darker and more personal themes.
“It’s somewhat in the same capacity of the first one – maybe to a degree a continuation. I think in the first record both Conor and I lyrically were trying to find our voices with each other and as separate writers. In the second record we both kind of disarmed ourselves a little bit and I think that the subject matter is a lot easier to decipher, whereas the first one is bathed and drenched in metaphor. The second one is a lot more raw, and whilst it deals with some similar things, I think it’s a lot more apparent what it’s about. It’s a bit more “adult” – family deaths, fear of death, and fear of god – rather than break-ups or conventional kinds of heartbreak.”
What’s so interesting about the dynamic between the two is that in the writing partnership they’ve formed, they’re forced to share things that would otherwise perhaps go unsaid. Even with the first record, there are a lot of deeply personal anecdotes and experience being drawn upon, so for the two to say that the next album is even more honest, and more explicit with it means that Josh and Conor are the first to admit that they’re nervous to play such sensitive and personal lyrics in front of an audience.
“Me and Josh have a lot of trust between us to be able to write together about such personal things. Some of the songs on the new record are so deeply personal that we don’t even want to play them live – it’s difficult to give that part of you away. That’s exactly what it feels like when you play a show and sing out these words that mean so much to you or remind you of really strong feelings you had at a certain time, or still have. “
It’s not always easy to find a band that draws you in from the first listen - one that keeps you coming back time and time again, but the depth and emotional complexities of Foxing’s songs really set them apart.
Their debut album, for all its honesty, darkness and intricacies made me fall in love with the band, and I don’t doubt their second album will make me fall in love with them all over again. It’ll probably make me cry too, but I think I’m okay with that.
Words by Victoria Parkey