Artist Spotlight: Foyer Red

    Brooklyn’s Foyer Red began as an email project during the pandemic, with the trio of singer/clarinetist Elana Riordan, singer/guitarist Mitch Myers, and drummer Marco Ocampo exchanging song ideas as they freely settled into their roles. A few months after forming, they got together in the same room and self-recorded their Zigzag Wombat EP before expanding into a five-piece with the addition of bassist Eric Jaso and guitarist/vocalist Kristina Moore. Last week, they came through with their debut album, Yarn the Hours Away, which was recorded with producer Jonathan Schenke at Figure8 Studios in Brooklyn. Exploratory and playful by nature, the record is framed as a collection of short stories but tangles them up like a conversation, more of an frantic free-for-all than a straightforward back-and-forth. Yet as zany and eclectic as it may sound, it ultimately feels more like an earnest heart-to-heart, teeming with bright, sneakily infectious, off-kilter melodies and rhythms that pulse and twist and wind their way around the body of a song. Despite the abundance of voices that sometimes talk over each other, the music never quite descends into total chaos, creating an atmosphere of warm exuberance that allows its wildly surrealist tales to come alive.

    We caught up with Foyer Red for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the development of the project, their collaborative process, making Yarn the Hours Away, and more.

    Given that it started as a pandemic project, how do you look back on the genesis and development of Foyer Red over the past few years?

    Mitch Myers: I feel like it was years in the making even before the pandemic. Elana, Marco, and I had tried to meet up and jam for years, and we were thinking about doing something for so long that it was like waiting for all the stars to align. It feels really cool to have Eric and Kristina come in, and it has transformed our sound so much. This album that we made together is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of, so I just feel super blessed to be making art with these people.

    Elana Riordan: To me, Zigzag Wombat, was like the prequel to this pretty epic trilogy, the little origin story. But once we became a five-piece and started writing as a five-piece, I feel like we all felt like, “Oh, this is Foyer Red, and this is what we’re doing and how we’re moving forward.”

    Marco Ocampo: There’s definitely a narrative that the band was a band with the EP, but the band was kind of just email stems and us as friends, because we weren’t really playing that much. It was more so just, “We’re all stuck in the house doing this,” and became a band once Eric and Kristina joined. That’s when we were like, “Oh, we’re a band.” So I really like the idea of a prequel, and then this is act one.

    Was there a moment that convinced you this band was something special?

    ER: Maybe when we were writing ‘Slander’. It felt like things clicked into place, like all of our parts had clicked into one another. Sometimes you make things and they push you to continue because they feel really interesting and exciting.

    MO: For me it was when live shows came back. Our first show ever was a house show, and house shows don’t really happen too much in Brooklyn. It was like, “Wait, that’s why we do this  – to play live.” Maybe not for everyone, but at least for me, that’s what makes things worth it, just the feeling that you have when you’re playing live shows with your friends.

    Kristina Moore: I think because Eric and I came in later, when I realized that I felt really invested was like, “This feels like a unit that’s developing.” I was just playing a lot of what Mitch wrote for the EP live, just so that we could fill out the parts. And then I was given the green light to write to the song ‘Blue Pearl’, and I had so much fun doing it. I was like, “Oh shit, I just wrote a part for this song. I guess now I’m a part of the song.” I think it was more of a slow burn because then all five of us started writing together, but I feel like that was a moment for me.

    Eric Jaso: My timeline’s different too because I was a later edition, but for me it was when we started making our new songs as a five-piece. ‘Etc.’, that single we released last year, that was a riff I had for a long time. We were just messing around in practice, I played it, and then Mitch really ran away with it. Over the next two weeks, it became our first new song we’d all written together. That’s when it felt real to me.

    How did your collaborative process evolve going into, or maybe more during, the making of Yarn the Hours Away?

    ER: I think towards the middle of writing the songs on Yarn the Hours Away, it felt like we were just coming up with things more in the studio, all being there together. A lot of times, someone would bring something and we’d all jam on it. But as we got more familiar with each other as players and started having a lot of fun writing together, especially through improvisation, we would just fall into the writing in a way that was not necessarily super intentional or with an end goal in mind, but just as an exploration. Part of the reason that the five of us work so well together is we’re all very interested in that exploration, and it leads us to new places all the time.

    MO: There’s been a lot of self-growth that I’ve been able to see in all five of us individually because I’ve known everyone in this band for a very long time. As much as things are done collaboratively in the studio, we do love email chains and we all have the ability to write and record at home and send things to each other. It’s been really special to see individual growth, and then that bleeding over to group growth.

    It’s interesting to me that the record starts with ‘Plumbers Unite!’, because your voices and the instruments all sort of chaotically merge together, and then there are moments where they’re more set apart. I feel like all of the songs are conversations in their own way, but how do you determine what kind of conversation each track will be?

    ER: We don’t have any formula for any of this. I feel like we make sense of each individual song, and sometimes they happen differently. There have definitely been songs where Mitch has a very particular idea for the vocals, and we start from there. There’s a lot of songs where I lay down my vocals, and there’s still room – wherever you want to jump in is where you go, honestly. [laughs] None of us really care about having our toes stepped on. It’s all very much welcome.

    Did you try to make sense of it in a more intentional way in the context of the full album, like when it came to sequencing?

    ER: I wouldn’t say so, I don’t know.

    EJ: I feel like we always knew we wanted to start with ‘Plumbers’ and end with ‘Toy Wagon’. It was like a sandwich. Those were always set in stone, and it took a little while to figure out the sequencing in between all that.

    MO: Jonathan Schenke, who mixed and tracked the record, kind of floated the final track listing to us, and it just made sense.

    ER: It didn’t at first. It’s so interesting how when you’re so tied to these songs, mixing up the order can make you feel, like, physical things. [laughs] We went back and forth so many times about the sequencing.

    MO: I think that Mitch – and correct me if I’m wrong – whenever anything Foyer Red comes up, you immediately fall in love with it because of how much you love the band. Like, a track listing would come up and Mitch would be like, “I love it, it’s perfect!” [all laugh] And then the next day it’s like, “We should change this,” and Mitch would be like, “No, the last one was perfect.” And then the next he’d be like, “Actually, that‘s perfect.” And it just kept happening.  It was really cute to watch, because I know it just comes from how much you love the band.

    MM: I remember specifically, too, you switched the order of Zigzag Wombat a lot. Marco came up with that sequence, and I was so glued to it, and then realized that it was a whole different EP, but in the best way possible, with just changing a few songs around. I think what we did land on for the album sequence really feels like the exact right thing. I feel like it would have been a totally different album if the songs were in a different order.

    Why did this one feel right?

    ER: It makes me think of a book with several chapters, each song being its own chapter. There’s this push-and-pull of advancing the plot or introducing new characters and having these ups and downs where you really feel tied to the story.

    MO: There’s some songs that are put right next to each other that there’s, like, little complements. That’s something I really liked that I feel like someone may never pick up on, but it’s something that always makes sense in my head. For instance, ‘Big Paws’ going right into ‘Toy Wagon’ at the end – both of the songs have very strong tambourine presences, and ‘Toy Wagon’ had this little tambourine jangle in the beginning.

    ET: You always said that it felt like the tambourine was being passed to another person. I always liked that visual analogy, because it’s a lot of what this album is about, and also what we’re about as a five-piece collaborative unit – we’re, like, constantly passing the tambourine back and forth. [all laugh]

    Because a lot of the writing on the album seems to rely on free association, I’m curious if it ever became a challenge to translate that into a group context. Do you feel like you have to decode or talk about things beforehand?

    KM: This is going back a little bit in the conversation, but I think it relates to this – I kind of think that we do step on each other’s toes a little bit musically, and I like that. It feels like a really organic conversation. I listen a lot to Elana about where the vocals are going – sometimes the lyrics come later. But I want to always make sure that I’m taking direction from whatever she’s doing melodically. And Mitch, too, when he’s at the helm of the singing stuff. But there is stepping on toes and interruption, like a regular conversation, in the songs, and that’s what makes them really fun and special.

    EJ: I think a big example is ‘Big Paws’ – you were saying you were thinking of an argument between you and your brother, weren’t you, Kristina?

    KM. [laughs] Yeah.

    EJ: Mitch and Kristina are having these interjections – they’re like different-shaped Lego pieces, but they still fit together and make this cohesive narrative and melody.

    I noted down this line I really love from the song: “We’re chasing trains of thought – yours went left and mine to the waterpark.”

    KM: Elana was really determined to make a waterpark happen in this song. [laughter]

    What’s the story there?

    ER: It’s kind of twofold. Definitely when we’re in the studio, I’m not great at coming up with random words on the spot, so I’ll often just babble in gibberish. But “waterpark” was the one word that kept coming up, and I was like, “That feels right.” But also, this was a song where we were discussing the narrative in the studio as we were playing it and writing it. We were talking about relationships where you’re so close with someone that a conversation can be so passionate and feel like this really heated back and forth, kind of like an argument. And it just made me think of this time at a waterpark with my childhood best friend, where we stood in line for like two hours for this one ride and played this hand game up to an insane level that I feel like no one else has ever played this hand game. [laughs]

    KM: Is it the one where you do the… [shows hand pattern]?

    ER: Yeah, Slide. Kristina and I played that game one night, and my hands were sore for like five days afterward. [laughs] Really intense Slide player.

    MO: I feel like one day the book opened to be like, “We should talk about this song in a narrative.” Either Mitch or Kristina said, “Oh my gosh, it seems like our guitars are talking to each other.” And then it was like, “Oh, this song’s a big conversation,” and then it opened everything up.

    Tell me about the title of the album, Yarn the Hours Away. There does seem to be a lot in these songs about wading through time.

    ER: It’s hard to think about the songs as a group sometimes. I think that lyrically and narratively, I think about them a lot more on an individual level, but I also think that I write from a really temporal-based place. I get ideas about where things are in place and time, and I situate them there. Yarn the Hours Away comes from a lyric in ‘Toy Wagon’, and that song specifically is about time passing and looking back. I feel like it’s a good title for the album because you’re sort of meant to get lost in the songs and float away a little bit.

    Mitch, there’s this line you sing on ‘Time Slips’ that seems to tie into this idea: “So I dance around a tune as the cosmos will me to.”

    MM: I love what’s going on in ‘Time Slips’ between Kristina, Elana, and I. I think we all approach the subject from a slightly different angle or have a different point we’re making with what we’re saying. But my lyrics, specifically the one you’re referencing, is maybe the idea that we live in a way that’s deterministic versus free will. Like, how much of my behavior am I actually in control over? Is this just what I inevitably was going to do based on everything that’s happening all the time all around me that’s having a domino effect on everything? So in some ways, it’s feeling like time, you can’t really grasp onto it, and life is slipping away – not even feeling agency in the role you’re playing in life.

    ER: I think that’s something that can be found across a lot of your lyrics.

    MM: Yeah, I I feel like ‘Unwaxed Flavor Floss’ is a little that, too. I guess it’s just something I was thinking about a lot when I was writing my lyrics during this time period.

    Can you each share one thing that inspires you about being in this band?

    ER: This feels like kind of an obvious answer, but the past few months, we’ve mostly just been practicing the songs that we have written, and it’s only the last practice we had that we kind of fell into a jam, playing whatever. It just reminded me that that is the best part. We recorded the album in June 2022, so it’s been almost a year since we’ve written something, and to fall back into that, I was amazed all over again. You have five people in a room who are just being completely vulnerable and so present and willing to have the “conversation” through our instruments and our voices. It’s just such a beautiful thing. I think that I would do anything to be able to do that.

    MO: As the one person in the band that doesn’t sing or play a string instrument, everyone is able to speak through their instrument so beautifully, and it really amazes me that everyone speaks through what they do with their hands or with their voice. I feel like it brings me closer to these people than I ever thought I’d be able to.

    KM: Piggybacking off of both of that, everyone is so talented to a point where I’m just like, “How the fuck did you just do that thing?” [laughs] Being in this band has personally helped me fight my own imposter syndrome about being a “musician” or whatever. I think it’s a totally different way, kind of what Marco was saying, of getting to know a person, and us all getting to know each other, us giving each other so much space and listening… Last year was probably one of the most difficult and crazy years of my life, making what we were making, but making the record itself was actually pretty awesome and easy, just because we had such a good time doing it.

    ER: I feel like everyone felt so validated through that process, too. As we were writing, we would all just constantly get so excited about what everyone else is doing. I think that is what pushed us forward, just being so supportive and excited.

    MM: I’m inspired, as everyone said, by how bold and talented all my other collaborators. What Elana was saying about just being so supportive of each other, I feel like we’re so not trying to squeeze the creativity out of something to have a certain image. I don’t know what’s gonna happen next, and that’s kind of the most beautiful thing about our band. Who knows what our next song is going to sound like?

    EJ:  You can hear how everyone’s instrument is an expression of themselves. With all these different voices, it’s also some of the most intricate songs I’ve ever played on – this the first time I’ve ever played a song in, like, 7/4, and then go back to another time signature. I’m counting in my head – actively playing, not just jamming, but having to think about the song. It’s challenging, but fun.

    MM: Also, Marco was talking about how all of us, because we’re playing string instruments or singing, speak through our instruments, but I feel like he is totally speaking through his drums. The percussion is one of the most amazing parts of our band; the rhythm complements the melodic information so much. I’m so inspired by every single person in this band, and it challenges me to try to be better, because I want to impress them. That’s something I don’t think I’d get in another group. I love being in this band with the exact people I’m in this band with.

    KM: I’m so glad you said something about impressing people, because secretly I want to impress everyone in the band, too. [all laugh] Also, Marco secretly rips on bass, so maybe we’ll just do musical chairs and switch instruments for the next record or something.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Foyer Red’s Yarn the Hours Away is out now via Carpark.

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