by: Thomas D. Mooney
A while back, Foxtrot Uniform‘s new record Cisco came in the mail. That evening, I grabbed it as I was walking out the door to listen to on the drive to The Blue Light.
Yeah. Maybe it wasn’t intentional by frontman Kenny Uptain and company, but Cisco is a “Driving Around with the Windows Down” album. The opener “Cold Heart, Hot Hands” just sets up a chill never-ending groove.
They’ve expanded from being a two-piece to a five since their debut Huj! Huj! Hajrah!. It’s certainly had an effect on the dynamics and direction of the band–not where you’re questioning if you’re listening to the same band or anything–but it’s just obvious that you’re able to do so much more with more instruments.
There’s still that psychedelic-blues that runs deep, it’s just more of a cool, slow burning vibe than the high-power, hectic heat that came off from their first album.
I’ve always been obsessed with soundtracks and film scores–how certain songs are able to make a scene in a film much more memorable. That’s how a lot of Cisco plays out. It’s Easy Rider times Robert Rodriguez times Quentin Tarantino times The Big Lebowski.
Some of the guitar licks (“Never Getting Out of California,” “Redondo Blues,” “She”) just are begging to be used for spans across open highway and desert. The harmonic “ooohs” and “ahhhs” just top them perfectly.
Foxtrot Uniform’s been able to make something that’s truly eclectic and with a super-specific sound without it being alienating and too niche. Psychedelia and Texas blues–some Texas boogie–there’s even some hints of Spanish, some Afro-Cuban, and calypso influence mixed in there–along with just some good American rock and folk.
I caught up with Foxtrot Uniform’s Kenny Uptain last week to discuss the album Cisco. They’re playing The Blue Light tonight (Friday, August 29). Erick Willis will be opening the show and Dave Martinez will be playing acoustic on the back patio.
Listen to “Never Getting Out of California” below.
New Slang: Compared to your last album, it feels like this album is smoother in tone and style. It’s a little more laidback.
Kenny Uptain: Yeah. For sure. The first one is kind of based on coming from the country arena and putting some rock to it. There was only two of us so we got a little more wild with it because we were just recording it on the spot while we were writing the songs. There were a lot of effects. And we did some on this one too, but the last one was all about making it trippy. We were just trying to make a trippy psych-rock record while this one, we were kind of expanding the band and we had a female keyboard player come in and just started writing parts around her. That definitely made the vibe more laid back. Like that first one, the songs were all like two, three minutes long and we decided to make these longer–a shorter amount of them, but all of them being much longer. The band is what really made this record different. The addition of them. We never really intended to make a slower record or anything, but that’s just how they ended up.
NS: Yeah. If you look at other bands that are guitar-drums duos, they’re typically a little more chaotic and upbeat–especially earlier on–than when you’ve got the full band set up.
KU: Yeah. Your limits make you push the song harder.
NS: This album’s opener “Cold Heart, Hot Hands,” that’s a really great opening song for the record.
KU: Yeah. We started this so long ago–like January 2013–and we had so much material, we started really cutting down the tracklist because we wanted it to sound really good on vinyl. Which you know, for it to sound really great, you’re really limited to 40 minutes or so. We ended up taking four or five songs off. So that wasn’t originally the opening song.
NS: The song “Never Getting Out of California,” I think has this really incredible guitar lick groove happening. Where’d that song come from?
KU: That was one that me and Kelly [Test] were doing. I’ve always been big on choruses not really being choruses; them being just oohs or whatever. But some reason, I was always really flat on it. Then we got Katie [Robertson] in the band and started bringing it out. It’s been around a while. I had been reading The Dark Tower series by Stephen King (Side Note: really great books). It was The Gunslinger. I kind of wrote it influenced by that.
NS: Oh yeah? That’s really cool. What ended up being the most difficult part of recording the album?
KU: We recorded it all ourselves, but we were really never limited by that part. When it came to mixing the album, we got bogged down though. This thing has been done for over a year, but it’s taken that long to mix and master this stuff. Writing the songs didn’t seem any more difficult than any other time.
NS: I can imagine that sometimes the mixing and mastering process can just become super frustrating. At points, you’re probably just wanting to call it good and move on. But you know it’s also so important.
KU: Oh yeah. Kelly is the one who really does it all. It’s just constantly listening to it over and over and in different areas. Making sure the volume is right and is lining up with other songs.
NS: I’m assuming you’ve been working on new material as well. Is it difficult to kind of hold back knowing that you have an album that’s about to come out or do you guys just mix in new songs you’ve been working on constantly?
KU: Oh yeah. I’d go crazy if I had to play the old songs and wait.
NS: For you, when you’ve written a new song, how long do you let it sit before you show it to somebody?
KU: It really depends on what I think of it, but usually, I record it right away and at least send it to the band. I do a lot of acoustic shows in the area and if I have a new one, I’ll break it out there. It’s like a comedian testing new material out.
NS: Yeah. Have you found that you’ve written anything that just works better in the “Acoustic Kenny Uptain” version than the “Foxtrot Uniform Rock Band” version?
KU: Man, I’ve yet to find one [laughs]. Every time I bring something to the band, it’s just bigger and so much prettier.