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 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."
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."
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."
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