Fleet Foxes Get Existential on Second Album, 'Helplessness Blues'

Frontman Robin Pecknold says the disc deals with 'questions about who you're gonna be, relationship stuff.' Plus: Hear a new song

February 1, 2011 10:55 AM ET
Fleet Foxes Get Existential on Second Album, 'Helplessness Blues'
Photograph by Sean Pecknold

For Seattle folk harmonizers Fleet Foxes, their second album is a chance to attend to some unfinished business. "It's definitely an attempt to improve on the first one," says 24-year-old frontman Robin Pecknold, refer­ring to the quintet's 2008 breakout debut, a mix of pastoral CSN-style rock and Appalachian folk hymns. "I really love this kind of music, and I want to make a really awesome example of it."

Fleet Foxes - "Helplessness Blues," Subpop

Fleet Foxes have been recording since late 2009; they did some work in upstate New York, but have been mostly holed up with Shins producer Phil Ek in the same Seattle studio where Nirvana recorded Bleach. "It's been pretty awesome," Pecknold tells Rolling Stone, albeit with one minor inconvenience: "You have to keep the interior door closed, because of the wharf rats." Come again? "It's right by the wharf. You'll go into the bathroom, and, like, the whole door will be chewed up. We actually can't eat food there."

This article appeared in the February 3, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

The record, Helplessness Blues, is due May 3. As for the subject matter, "It's more existential. Questions about who you're gonna be, why you do what you do, relationship stuff. I felt like that was OK, because I come from a self-involved generation. A protest song about world peace in the context of a Sixties-referential folk band in the year 2010 would kind of have no meaning."

Breaking: Fleet Foxes (Video)

Asked if there are any songs he's excited to play live, Peck­nold laughs. "There's one song I'm excited to not play live," he says. That would be "An Argument," a three-part, eight-minute roller coaster that ends in a maelstrom of discordant horn skronk. "It's gonna be kind of a bitch."

But there are prettier elements, too. "There's a little bit of harp," says Pecknold. "I crappily played some violin on a song." And then this: "Have you ever looked through old Sears catalogs from, like, the early 1900s, and seen these weird instruments where it's, like, three in one? Like a zither-mandolin-guitar? We have one of those," he says. "It's called a Marxophone." Sounds socialist. "It's the most political thing on the record."

The Hottest Live Photos of the Week

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories


The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

More Song Stories entries »