While whisperings of the Cincinnati sextet hit my ears a few years before, it wasn’t until Bunbury Music Festival in 2012 that I got to experience the magic that is Foxy Shazam. In true Foxy fashion, all the stops were pulled out–from crowd surfing with their instruments to smoking a mouthful of cigarettes after singer Eric Nally asked the crowd for one and an armful of packets were thrown his way.
Recently I had the opportunity to talk to Nally about where all that energy comes from each night in anticipation of their performance in Cleveland at the Grog Shop and return to Bunbury this July.
“The crowd has surprisingly very little to do with how we are,” he said, “because in order to be able to bring that type of performance every time, that’s an important thing for me, that every city is getting the same energy, passion, and enthusiasm, I think in order to do that I just have to go within and find that place that creates it regardless of who I’m in front of. I can just do it by myself. I like to challenge myself and I definitely understand that there’s a lot of people watching, but I think it’s also important to ignore that in some way respectfully as an artist to make sure that you’re giving everybody what they want to see.”
Pre-show, Nally says his ritual is simple.
“I try to saturate my body with oxygen,” he noted. “I think vocally keeping yourself under control, one of the biggest things to remember is to breathe. All you have to do is breathe and saturate your body with oxygen and you’ll get your energy, you’ll think straight, you’ll be cool, and that’s what it’s really all about. My only ritual before stage is to breathe deeply and make sure I’m in the moment and not anywhere else.”
Recently the band released Gonzo, to the surprise of the music industry, for free. Nally and I talked about the album, as well as the impact his relationship with his father has had on his music and how fatherhood has changed his life view.
What was behind the idea to release Gonzo for free on download?
I just wanted to make the album available for everyone no matter what. Easy as pie. I wanted to break down the wall of whether you could afford it or not, or whether it was available in your country because it was on a label. Aside from making it easily available to everyone, I wanted to make sure, you know, Gonzo we’ve put the most energy into as a band and the most passion and heart and effort in every way into this record. I wanted to make sure that people could experience that at no expense. For some people, money is power and opportunity, but for me no money is power or opportunity. It exceeds anything that you can do with money if you’re not worried about that. I do need to make a career for myself, but at the same time it’s not about that. I just want to make my music heard. That’s it.
I think that really speaks to your love of music.
Yeah. Well, thank you.
I also thought this album felt a lot more personal than some of the other albums, in more ways than just being self-released. Why was it important to be open now?
I think what I did for the first time as an artist was I excavated a part in my head, I went to a part in my soul. I went inside of myself and I wrote about some place that I’d found. As you get older, you’re able to access certain parts of your mind or psyche that you haven’t before. I think that’s what Gonzo was for me. I saw an opportunity hereditarily, through my dad I saw a path that he was going down compared to the way that he was when I was younger. That interested me in relation to myself. I wanted to dig into that part of my life and my personal family inside there. Our other albums, I would just write stories, like you would sit around a campfire and tell a story; it’s entertaining and it’s beautiful, but it’s not something that comes from experience. It’s more imagination. But this time I went in and I got something from experience and I used my imagination to manifest it, blow it out of proportion, and make it artistic. Make it listenable to people. I felt like I was excavating a cave and I got to a place where nobody’s ever been before and I was writing for the first time about something personal. It was something that I could write firsthand. Nobody would have to go there if they didn’t want to, they could just hear about it through me.
Do you think it was easier to explore that aspect of your music while you were writing from home in Cincinnati?
Yeah, definitely. I think that was a big part of it. Being around my family for the first time in a long time and seeing how my father had been reacting to what I had been doing with Church of Rock and Roll and the self-title and everything in our career and for the first time after that being able to sit down and suck it all in, you know, where I’m really from and everything. Same for every member. It just went a long way in actually getting in touch with something that was real.
What effect do you think starting this band in the Midwest had?
I think it was a big one because most of our peers, musicians in the music world and the bands, there aren’t too many artists that break away from the Midwest. It’s mostly coastal, New York or LA, and if you’re not from those two places you go there. One thing I’ve always been proud of Foxy Shazam for was we just toured non-stop, but we’ve been able to maintain our home base in Cincinnati even though there’s not too much going on there, I think it’s important to always go back there. Only until I left home, I really realized how important it was to who I was and to who our band is and what we sound like. I feel very fortunate to be from a place that you can still represent. If I was from LA or New York, I feel like there’s so many great artists that represent that place, whether they’re from there or not, that’s where they started. I feel like Cincinnati or any place in the Midwest is not the ideal place to kick off a band or an acting career or any kind of entertainment.
I think your band couldn’t get lost if you were from LA, though. But I’m glad that you’re from here. The horn parts on this album are fucking phenomenal. I think the band members play different roles on this album, if I recall properly. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah. Daisy, our normal bass player, the bass player on the previous record, plays guitar on Gonzo, and Loren, our guitar player on the previous record, plays bass on Gonzo. Alex, our horn player, he just focused on horn. Before me and him would just do vocals together and the horn would be secondary. This time, he focused on the horn and I focused on the lyrics and the melody of the vocals. We were able to crystalize our respective instruments a little better, I think. The switch between Daisy and Loren happened because we just wanted to challenge ourselves and get ourselves thinking outside of the box. It opened up a whole new playing field.
So, what are you channeling when you’re onstage?
This ties in to the story of Gonzo. I would channel my dad. There were parts of my dad that I would channel. When I was growing up, he taught me how to be eccentric. I don’t even know how to explain it. The way I am onstage, a lot of things were inspired by my dad, if you can believe that. When I came home from the Church of Rock and Roll and the self-titled record, I had some time to sit with my family and be at home in Cincinnati, we all did in the band, it was to recharge and really plug into where we came from. My dad was kind of, certain things had changed about him that I remembered from when I was little. Those things that I would channel onstage to me, my power, were kind of turning into something that was hurting him. He would be acting a way that didn’t seem like it was best for him, like he was actually hurting himself. Because I was looking up to that feature of him, I felt scared about it. I didn’t know where to go or what to look to. The whole Gonzo record was kind of about exploring the fact that things change when you get older, the things that you look up to watching your parents, it’s not really like things change, it just became clear to what it was in the first place. The meaning of Gonzo is kind of based on those things becoming more clear to you as you become older and feeling more like your parents.
You’re a father now, right?
Yeah. That’s how I’m able to relate so well and write about my relationship between me and my father because it’s a whole generational thing. Relate myself to him and relate him to me, relate my kids to me and relate my kids to him. There’s just a lot of things involved, stuff like that that makes for a very powerful piece and I feel like I excavated my mind and went to a place I’d never before and wrote about it.
How do you feel fatherhood has impacted the way you approach music?
It’s hard. That’s the hardest part. When you’re excavating a place in your mind as you get older, these aren’t things you realize until you get older, you’re not ready to realize them until you get older, so when I realize them and I go there I have to be honest because that’s who I am as an artist, I want to bring really what I’m feeling to people, but at the same time exposing my kids to that place, it’s hard for me to balance that. To know how far I should really be going, you know? How much I should really be saying about the parts of my mind I’ve unlocked. That’s a scary thing. You don’t think it’s scary when you’re a kid, but when you’re older, the power of it and the places you can go…it’s like…
Yeah. I have a difficult time figuring out, it’s not just my kids, it’s any kids that listen to our music. It’s how far do you go as an artist? For me, it’s always been that there’s no limit. At least for this record, I did not hold back. I just wrote about the place that I was at. I think what I try to make my kids understand is that I have the pleasure of being able to express myself artistically as opposed to destructively or anything. Sometimes the place you can go in your head isn’t always good, sometimes it’s bad, but I’m willing to go there for the sake of writing about it.
I think it’s important, too, the level of authenticity that you’re exposing of yourself and your music, that’s important for people to hear because that gives them a vehicle to expose the same sort of thing and process their lives.
Do your kids listen to your band?
They definitely do. They love every record we do. I think they get it on another level, too, because I’m their father. They can see it in a way that I don’t think most people can’t. I always think about that when I’m writing. That’s kind of what I was explaining. I’m sensitive to the fact that they can hear the truths. A lot of times when you go to a place in your head and you write about it, people don’t understand, but I feel like family just has that inside a little bit.
What advice would you give your kids if they came to you and said that they were going to pursue music?
I’d tell them that as long as it’s something that they really wanted to do, that’s the most important thing I think about me being in a band. I knew it from the very beginning. There was no question in my head that I was born to do it. As soon as I found out you could dedicate your life to music and making your career out of it, I was like, that’s what I’m supposed to do. There wasn’t any question. I just knew it. I felt comfortable on stage and could just be myself and do what I wanted and I think that’s an important thing to whatever you decide to do in your life. You have to make sure that it’s not because someone told you to or you’re in a fashion hook, you just gotta make sure it’s always for you.
How have you continued to pursue that when it’s been difficult?
With me knowing that, when I was in high school, I would just be thinking about band. I would be thinking, I have to get out of school, I’m not going to go to college, I’m going to play music. I finished high school for my mom because I knew that she wanted me to. When I was in high school, I would just be thinking about the band because I just knew, it’s so hard to explain. But I felt so sure. To this day, I feel like any obstacle I’ve ever had to overcome or anybody that tells me I’m not good or I’m not supposed to be doing what I’m doing, it just doesn’t effect me because of that feeling that I recognized so early.
It’s really difficult to balance pursuing a life that you’re passionate about and making that a career.
It’s hard when you have responsibilities as a father and a husband and making sure you survive financially. Money always just makes things so hard. That’s one of the reasons I chose to leave it out of the equation with Gonzo. I want to give the record to people for free. Gonzo is the record that we’ve put the most energy into as a band. If you’re a fan of Foxy Shazam, then Gonzo is the essence. I wanted to make sure I gave that to people at no expense so they would know what I’m really here for: I’m here for giving you that, not for taking your money.
Tonight, Foxy Shazam will play at Grog Shop with special guest Larry and His Flask. The stage is set for some rowdiness. Don’t you think you should be there? We do. Tickets are still available here, $16 in advance or $20 at the door. If you’re ready to get rocked with some explosive horn lines and the unforgettable voice of Nally, we’ll see you there.