Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado Uses Downtime To Craft Debut Solo Effort, ‘Law And Order’
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For Jonathan Rado, who has been performing with childhood friend Sam France in experimental pop project Foxygen since he was 15, downtime is a serious commodity. So when he finally got some, he did what any exhausted musician would do: churn out his first solo effort, Law And Order, which dropped Tuesday (September 3).

When Rado was a freshman in high school in 2005, he teamed up with France to start making music in their Los Angeles suburb. With an affinity for classicrock albums, the duo began learning as many instruments as possible, self-releasing a slew of music, with the first proper record,  Take the Kids Off Broadway dropping via Jagjaguwar in 2012. 2013 would see the release of the highly acclaimed We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. A grueling tour and press schedule would follow.

During a brief sabbatical from his main project, Rado returned home to his bedroom in LA to work on material for what would become Law And Order, his first solo attempt. An incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist and producer, Rado put together a collection of whimsical, cathartic tunes bouncing back and forth between motown and ruminative folk.

With these tunes, Rado has hit a stride. There is an obvious sense of ease and confidence on this solo record, especially on tracks like dance-laden “Seven Horses“ and folk-ballad “I Wood.” With help from White Fence‘s Tim Presley, Rado’s inherent playfulness and good-humored nature come through readily on “Faces.” Both imperfect and refreshing, Law And Order is an inspiring debut.  One can only imagine how positive this time of rest and reflection will be for all of Rado’s future endeavors.

Before the release of Law and Order and scheduled performances at CMJ, Rado took some time to email with Hive about his musical background, recording techniques, as well as his relationship with both NYC and LA.

Currently, do you see Foxygen as your full-time band, or do your solo efforts exist on the same level of importance?

Foxygen is the definably my main focus, but I really do enjoy the solo stuff as well. The solo stuff is more of a way for me to satisfy the part of me that wants to, like, do guitar solos for a really long time or sing songs that sounds like this – because there’s a really big part of me that needs to do that kind of stuff. It’s all a joke to me, really, but I have a really good time with it.

How does the writing/recording process differ between the projects?

The solo stuff is never really “written”; I just sort of make it up as I record. It’s closer to how Foxygen used to work when Sam and I were growing up. We actually write the songs out beforehand now.

At what age did you learn to play music? How were you drawn to it as an art form?

I started playing guitar when I was 9 years old, I think. The same year that Enema of the State came out. I think I just held a guitar in front of a mirror for the first year. Then I started writing some songs and trying to record them.

I had two cassette recorders. I would, like, record me hitting the ground onto one of them and then play it back while playing guitar and record it onto the other stereo. It was like a primitive version of multitracking. Then for one of my birthdays, my Hungarian babysitter, Rozi, bought me a little 4-track and that changed everything. That’s when I became truly interested in recording music.

Can you speak about your general process of writing music when you’re in different locations? What changes do you notice in your music when working on material in LA as opposed to NYC?

I don’t know if the actual songs change from place to place, but I can say that in LA, it’s a lot easier for me to record because I have more room, physically. In New York, recording is kind of a chore because my apartment is so small that if I want to play drums, they take up the whole room and then I have to break down the whole drum set to do anything else. I also have to work during the day, because my neighbors complain if I make too much noise too late. In LA, I record at my parents’ house and they love me so they just ask that I don’t play drums after, like, midnight.

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Woodsist seems like the ideal label to house Law And Order. How did you become involved with that label? Were they your first choice to release your material?

They were the only label that I wanted to put it out. Also the only one that I asked. I just sent it to [founder] Jeremy {Earl] on a whim. They put out a lot of amazing music and I’m really thrilled to be involved with them as a label.

What were the main programs and devices you used to capture and record your audio for Law And Order?

Ninety-nine percent of it was done on tape. Most of it is on a Tascam 488, which is an 8-track cassette recorder and some songs were done on a Tascam 388 which is 1/4″ tape — but only 7 of the 8 tracks work. The only thing that wasn’t done on tape was the little organ line on “Faces” because I ran out of tracks.

Describe a favorite instrument and why it’s important to your sound or the identity of your recordings.

I have this old cymbal that my girlfriend’s dad gave to me and it sounds amazing. I’ve never heard anything like it. I have always had this problem where I can’t stand the way that most cymbals sound on recordings. I, like, can’t listen to certain songs because of it — something about the frequency of certain cymbals — my ears can’t take it. So I have this really nice cymbal — it’s super light and washy. It sounds amazing. It’s my favorite thing in the world.

What is your ideal live setup?

As long as I’m playing with my friends, I’m pretty happy. It doesn’t really matter to me.

Outside of music, what are some major influences on your writing style? How are they important to your process?

I’ve always loved Woody Allen. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Borges and Sam Shepard. I have this friend, Carson Mell, who wrote one of my favorite books ever called The Blue Bourbon Orchestra — it changed my life. I don’t know how much of this affects my songwriting, though. If anything, an author will affect my overall feeling or approach rather than affect a song in terms melody or lyrics.

Are you a big Law & Order Fan?

I’ve never seen more than a few episodes of Law & Order. I had it labeled as “law & order” in my itunes because that’s what Lindsey Buckingham’s first record was called. It just kind of stuck. I don’t want to break any laws. I don’t even like to jaywalk. I’m a very nervous person.

Any plans for touring or live activity for your solo material?

I just played 3 shows with White Fence and Jessica Pratt. I’m going to do another show with White Fence, I think. I also might play a few shows at CMJ. But that’s about it for now.

Law and Order is out today via Woodsist.

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