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Time Off and Surfing Influenced Fleet Foxes Crack Up NPR

Robin Pecknold, of the band Fleet Foxes, felt he needed to turn his attention back to the parts of his life that music had eclipsed in order to grow as an artist. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

Robin Pecknold, of the band Fleet Foxes, felt he needed to turn his attention back to the parts of his life that music had eclipsed in order to grow as an artist.

If you’ve ever undertaken a creative endeavor, you may have found that inspiration doesn’t always come when you’re creating; sometimes, it strikes when you put your work down and walk away.

That’s what indie-folk singer Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes discovered during his six-year hiatus from making music. The band’s newest album, Crack-Up, came out this summer.

In the late 2000s, Fleet Foxes quickly rose to become one of the biggest indie-folk acts of the decade with its layered harmonies and resonant soundscapes.

But after the release of their Grammy-nominated second album, Helplessness Blues, in 2011, Pecknold decided to step away from the limelight to pursue the things he simply couldn’t do as a full-time touring musician.

“There was this Anton Chekhov quote that I took as gospel for a while,” Pecknold says, “which was: ‘If you want to work on your art, work on your life.'”

He spent his days backpacking, cooking, woodworking and eventually going to college in New York City. And it was there — when he wasn’t studying — that he found inspiration in an unlikely place.

“I got into surfing while I was studying at Columbia, because there’s a surf break just 45 minutes from downtown Manhattan,” he says. “So on days off from school, or in the winter time, I would just go out by myself in a wet suit and figure it out.”

On the water, Pecknold would often think about his music. He says you can hear that on Fleet Foxes’ latest album — not only in the sounds of lapping water, but in the expansiveness and pacing of the songs.

“Sometimes on this record there are just these moments of stillness,” he says. “You’re out there surfing, waiting for a wave, and there’s nothing happening for a while. And then sometimes this set will come through where the waves are just way too big and you’re just getting pummeled — things just crash in out of nowhere. And then there are times when a perfect set is coming through and you’re able to catch these great waves.”

Pecknold says he always knew he’d return to making music, but the time away helped him grow as a songwriter.

“Anything can teach you lessons that you can apply to what you make,” he says. “And I still feel that way — I still feel like the more experience I have outside of music, the closer my music is to what I want it to be. It’s just about chasing those experiences, and applying that to what you do.”

Source: NPR Music

Good Booty Backing Up How Music and Sex Helped Shape American

NPR’s music critic Ann powers takes us on a historical journey in her new book, illustrating America’s fascination with sex and rhythms and how these two passions often combine to create unforgettable moments.

Good Booty

The book is called Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music, and Powers tells NPR’s Dwane Brown that this title was inspired by Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti, which he recorded with Dorothy LaBostrie.

She explains the meaning behind this provocative title and breaks down each of the book’s subtitles.

Interview Highlights

Good Booty

Love and Sex, Black & White, Body and Soul in American Music

by Ann Powers

Hardcover, 448 pages |

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On how Little Richard inspired played the book title

Little Richard is arguably or perhaps inarguably the founding father of rock ‘n’ roll. I mean, I talk about Elvis I talk about Buddy Holly, other rock n roll icons from that same time period. But as far as the style and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, I can’t think of a better embodiment than Little Richard. I mean, this is a guy who you know came from the southern R&B wild club scenes into New Orleans, made that record and gave us a new language to talk about. What we feel in our bodies that we don’t always have other ways to discuss.

On the origins of the words “good booty” in the song Tutti Frutti

In the song we all know it’s “tutti frutti, oh rutti,” but in the original version, which Little Richard first sang. … in those nightclubs, I mentioned — throughout the South, it was “good booty.” And the lyrics were very very dirty, frankly. They were all about greasy, sexy, exciting encounters; something you couldn’t play on the radio. So when he went to record it he and a young woman named Dorothy LaBostrie rewrote the lyrics and made them that wonderful nonsense. …

I think nonsense is a key element of rock ‘n’ roll in American music. And when I say nonsense I don’t mean, you know, something stupid or silly. I mean language that goes beyond linear understanding, just like our experience of sexuality and eroticism, we have to go to another place to really feel it.

Ann Powers is NPR Music’s critic and correspondent. You can read more of her work on The Record blog. Lucent Vignette Photography/HarperCollins hide caption

Ann Powers is NPR Music’s critic and correspondent. You can read more of her work on The Record blog.

On whether music lowers our defenses

One thing I discovered while researching this book was there’s a term called “entrainment” and it’s a term that has to do with the nervous system and how certain things outside of our bodies can actually affect our bodies and kind of change our nervous system cycles; the way our heart beats. … the way we, our nerves feel and music has that power. And American music is so rooted in rhythm.

All music is rooted in rhythm but particularly American music, which is defined by an African foundation and an African Diaspora foundation. And so the rhythms that came through the middle passage through the Caribbean to the states, which we still hear today, in you know, the music of Beyoncé, the music of the Top 40 in general. Those rhythms move our body in a particular way and help us kind of feel the things that we don’t name.

On why she focused on the subtitle “love and sex”

[It’s] a cliché to say that popular music and particularly rock ‘n’ roll is about sex or is you know, motivated by sex, sexual feelings. But I wanted to go deeper. You know I wanted to go beyond just that kind of clichéd statement. Oh yeah, of course, this is dirty music or whatever and really think about how in every era from the 19th century to the present the particular anxieties of the time and the possibilities of that time were reflected in and shaped by music.

So for example in the ’50s, the teenager was this new phenomenon and you know, this newly named phase of life teenage life. And people were very worried about young kids experimenting sexually, so the music reflected that. The music also guided kids through their early attempts to be erotic beings. Now kids are living on the Internet, we’re all living on the Internet. So I talk about how artists like Britney Spears with their very processed voices kind of embody virtual reality and a cyborgian way of being that reflects what’s happening erotically in cyberspace.

On what was called the subtitle “black and white” and “race music”

In the origins of the recording industry, black and white recordings were segregated by race and of course, this is a key aspect of the story. I say early in the book that there is absolutely no way to talk about American music or frankly America in any way without discussing the oppression of African-Americans, the enslavement of Africans and … The enslavement of Africans until the Civil War.

All of those things are just foundational in our culture and especially in music because, really music was the lifeline, the conveyor, for African Diaspora culture to live on as enslaved Africans became African-Americans, as you know through the Jim Crow era into the 20th century, into the era of civil rights and into our present day.

Music is the carrier of legacies and it’s also a place in which cultures mix. … for better or worse. Sometimes through appropriation and theft, sometimes through genuine collaboration. And I wanted to look at all of that stuff it can be hard to talk about but I think it’s super important.

On how music allows people to deal with prejudice, moral judgment or cruel circumstance

I think every era poses different challenges and limits and also offers different possibilities. And you know right now we’re in such an incredibly challenging time in terms of relating to each other across lines of identity and recognizing oppression and some of the most intense realities of our own history. I think music can guide us through that history in a very deep way, including the history of race relations and particularly relations between African-Americans and white people in this country.

Certainly issues of appropriation arise. Also how do we even talk about mixing. You know, it’s been problematic when people have used words like miscegenation. These words have a lot of weight to them. But what I think is that music reflects the best of us coming together but also has offered a way for communities to preserve their own traditions and legacies and to speak to each other through those legacies.

So music,. … I’m not saying it’s utopian. I really don’t believe that and I’m not saying that it’s all about liberation. I think it’s important to recognize that that in music we share our ugliest emotions as well as our most beautiful emotions.

On the final subtitle “Body and Soul”

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We’re talking the fact that body and soul are inseparable.

I do look at gospel music as a foundation maybe the foundation of not just soul music, which we all know because we have great icons like Aretha Franklin who came out of the church but also rock ‘n’ roll. We have to remember Elvis also was a gospel fanatic as a teenager. And it’s just as important in the foundation of that music but for me, the soul and the body are not separate entities.

And I think music is that connective tissue that reminds us that all of our experiences even transcendent experiences generate are generated in our bodies.

Elizabeth Baker and Janaya Williams produced and edited the audio of this interview. Maquita Peters adapted it for the Web.

Source: NPR Music