When you think of the music Seattle has brought to the world, folk is hardly a first thought. What about grunge? Nirvana! Audioslave and Soundgarden! Yet in stark contrast to those derelict countercultural rhythms born about in the late ’80s and early ’90s another distinct thread appeared; a wealth of rich, complex American folk flowing from Washington’s largest city.
Realised today in the magnitude of Seattle-based label Sub Pop and once-local, now global radio broadcaster KEXP, it’s a scene which enjoyed a rare degree of explosive success. Band of Horses, Modest Mouse and Sunny Day Real Estate are all applicable here, traversing humble roots to reach widespread critical acclaim.
Another band, originally cast under the disappointingly short-lived name The Pineapples, was born in that space. Fleet Foxes were high-school mates turned local sensations formed in Seattle suburbia, initially bonding over a love of Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
It’s as auspicious an origin story as there is, yet after less than two years in the biz they were in a position few musicians can ever boast.
Riding on the coattails of Seattle’s folk renaissance and surprising avenues of internet success, Fleet Foxes exploded from the rare space unbound by any outside force.
In 2005 Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset would form the band which became Fleet Foxes, changing their name after a dispute with another local act who was, quite unbelievably, also named The Pineapples.
Early shows caught the eyes and ears of local producer Phil Elk, the man who would go on to produce their three long-players. In Pecknold’s songwriting he saw a bright spark the world would come to love; a seemingly unattainable sweet-spot between outside influence and personal whim. It’s the magic which sits at the heart of Fleet Foxes, an existence that was both refreshing and nostalgic. An existence Elk would capture.
Aside from a retired, self-titled EP, Sun Giant was Fleet Foxes’ first official release.
Released in 2008, Sun Giant was catapulted to heady success via an unforeseen avenue; the growing power of the internet. Through a wildly popular Myspace page and the recent advent of peer-to-peer file sharing which categorised the mid to late 2000s, Fleet Foxes’ debut was reaching ears far beyond their usual Seattle haunts.
To Pecknold and Skjelset, now joined by bandmates Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo and Nicholas Peterson, it was a somewhat welcome surprise. Their EP was literally crafted as something to sell on tour, and its official release was only prompted by its unforeseen popular demand.
Yet revisiting the EP in question, it’s no surprise at all. Although physically sold by Sup Pop, who had signed Fleet Foxes in January 2008, the collection of songs had been tracked at Bear Creek Studios with Elk before they were bound by any label pressure.
The band never admitted it was indicative of their ambition, yet Sun Giant serves as an altogether perfect introduction to what makes Fleet Foxes tick. Reverb-drenched vocal harmonies sit as the EP’s primary feature, while threads of American musicianship and razor-sharp lyricism permeate its tracklist.
Mykonos sits as the EP’s penultimate track, an early forebear to their career inclinations. After almost 10 years and three LPs to their name, it arguably remains the band’s most popular song. Not band, for a record Fleet Foxes pushes to the side of their creative calling.
Soon after Sun Giant made the rounds, Fleet Foxes would appear at SXSW and a slew of other key festivals, cementing their position as world leaders in the field. They would drop their debut LP Fleet Foxes not two months after Sun Giant’s popularity-borne release, a masterstroke upon their already unstoppable momentum.
It was the beginning of a lifespan that has been a consistent crescendo, their standard never wavering for an instant. Thank the heavens you downloaded Sun Giant illegally… Fleet Foxes may not be here if you didn’t.
Fleet Foxes are returning to Australia over New Years Eve this year, playing Falls Festival and a single sideshow in Melbourne: