Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold: Show Tunes, DMB, and, Finally, Radiohead

A conversation with his sister.

Aja: We were raised on musicals, many of which, after one viewing, you'd memorized all of the lyrics verbatim and subsequently, spontaneously performed many of the numbers live. (I recall your nickname at one point being "Showtunes," as coined by one of our brother Sean's best friends.) Can you remember which one was your favorite and why?

Robin: I guess looking back now, my favorite play as a kid was Oklahoma! because it was Dad's favorite. He would go to New York and bring home playbills from shows he saw. I loved the music so much in Oklahoma!; "Pore Jud Is Daid" and "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" are such great songs. I haven't seen a play or paid attention to plays since I reached double digits, so I've kind of forgotten what Oklahoma! was even about, but it was definitely my favorite! Oh, what a night!

I'd like to see us show the world how good our cover of "Light My Candle" is from Rent. What do you think of that?

I think we should seriously consider doing a world tour, you and me, just singing that one part of that song from Rent. We could open for Triumph of Lethargy! Ask Spencer!

Next came the old Dave Matthews Band phase, which we revisited recently in a rental car, belting out "Crush" at the top of our lungs (because none of us could remember the lyrics to "# 41") while driving along the Dingle Peninsula on a family vacation in Ireland.

Those lyrics...Dave really is a master of those vague platitudes: "Am I right side up or upside down/Is this real or am I dreaming?/Lovely lady I am at your feet." So good!

What about Dave Matthews Band drew you in?

Hey!While I'll never deny listening to that band, I will say that I WAS 11 years old and DEFINITELY was the Impressionable Youngest Sibling when it came to Dave Matthews Band. My interest came through you [and Sean]! But still, being a fat kid and listening to Dave Matthews Band was pretty cool in 1997. I guess the music was pretty complex and maybe, I guess, somewhat reminded me of the music in video games I would have been playing at the time. But that might be a bit of a stretch. Let's just say I had a crush on [classmate] Corinne Strandjord, and she was a Dave Matthews Band acolyte and I needed an "in."

Is the climate right for a DMB renaissance of sorts? Is there enough of an irony factor there?

Probably. Didn't it feel "right" singing those tunes in Ireland? Maybe they will make another record, and we can all go buy it and see their shows and welcome him back into the family.

DMB gave way to Radiohead, I believe (I remember Mom driving you out to the Gorge and sleeping in the car while you went to the show), but once you discovered Bob Dylan, I think that was it for you. I nearly burst into tears when you played and sang "Boots of Spanish Leather" for me in my little apartment on Eastlake. How did listening to him change your approach to music?

Yes, yes, yes! You have my life story down! Are we related? Dylan definitely changed everything. In fact, to be able to play Dylan songs is the reason I learned guitar! I don't know what I would be able to add to the great discussion of Bob Dylan in this little interview, but those songs have been with me all the time since then. I still listen to him constantly. There are so many moments in my life and memories I associate with Blood on the Tracks or Desire or Bringing It All Back Home or The Times They Are A-Changin'—healing music. I love him. He's a total gift to the world. He was the gateway for me to all '60s music, from Neil Young to Ars Nova.

I think that was right around the time I dragged you on your first big road trip: with me all the way to the Rainbow Gathering in Wyoming. How did being surrounded by 30,000 crazy hippies in the middle of the woods affect your worldview?

I remember being super teenage depressed before going on that trip. And then, feeling so good there. Neo-hippies get a bad rap for having no message, but I wasn't sad or depressed any of those days, and it wasn't for any reason like distraction or anything. I felt really at peace being in the woods on the edge of that big meadow, with you and Cheyenne, eating rice and beans from two giant cauldrons in the evening light, under real starlight. I can see why people go to the Rainbow Gathering every year. I loved it and chase that feeling.

At this point, your tastes are tough to pin down. But I know that if I've heard a song, you've probably had it memorized for about three months already. In such a disposable era of music, is there anyone that you think will have the influence/staying power that artists like Neil Young and Dylan have?

There will never again be anybody like Neil Young or Bob Dylan or Townes Van Zandt for so, so many reasons. It is such a different world now. Mass popular taste has moved on to other forms of music like hip-hop; nobody like Dylan will ever command the world's attention. Our music is dead, maybe. That's fine, though. People like Gustav Ejstes, Jack White, Noah Lennox, Andy Cabic, and Jeff Tweedy will sit on that tall mountain and keep the flame alive and burning.

While we were in Ireland, you were struck by the sounds of the traditional music. Can we expect to hear a little fiddle or Ellen pipes on the new Fleet Foxes record?

Aghh! If we didn't all come home from the trip so penniless, maybe! I wanted to learn the fiddle after hearing all those fiddlers at the Tass in Scotland—I still do, but maybe not for this thing. Maybe my other project will be Robin Patrick McGillycuddy's Scads O' Trad.

When, when, when will it be ready?

NEVER!

apecknold@seattleweekly.com

 
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