In the unlikely event that someone were to ask me “What’s the common ground between Stephen Hawking, neo-paganism, and synth-pop,” I’d sit them down and play them Draw Down the Moon, the latest album from the ever sadboi-chic Foxing. The St. Louis outfit’s 4th studio record released this August was met with a wash of both praise and critique. (As is always the case in a world where fans and critics alike may tend to lag two steps behind, ever striving for a band’s sound to remain where it was when they first fell in love with the work.) In light of a musical landscape plagued by artists caught in the Ouroboros of chasing the-thing-that-worked-last-time, Foxing has managed to stand out by pushing further and exploring their own creativity. No stagnancy to be found here, only evolution and earnesty.
I had the pleasure of speaking with the band’s singer, Conor Murphy, recently to discuss the album. An interview which, in its entirety, would unfortunately be lost to the sands of digital mishap. Fortunately for yours truly I’ve always been a diligent note taker. However, as a disclaimer: any quotes throughout have been pieced together through my own notes and memory to the best of my ability.
A far cry from the band’s indie-emo roots, the driving synth-pop-esque sound of this latest album somehow still feels familiar, still feels like Foxing. The old tapped out guitar melodies and heavily syncopated drum patterns may be gone, but the sense of earnestness and emotional vulnerability remains. Rooted in an approach of humility in the creative process, Conor recognizes “We’re clearly not the greatest of all time.” Rather than “what do we do to be huge,” the attitude becomes “whatever we do, we’re going to put 100% effort and sincerity into.” An ethos which absolutely shines through, lending every song an air of unabashed nakedness and acceptance of what it is.
The album’s opener, “737,” draws the listener in with soft dreamy guitars and synths. Murphy’s signature gentle crooning takes us in, with lyrics alluding to the Mars Rover Opportunity’s final message to earth: “My battery’s low and it’s getting dark.” Beginning from a place of loneliness should come as no surprise to Foxing’s ardent fans, but the feeling is quickly subverted. This time around we’re given a twist of sweetness on the following verse. Conor speaks to the audience, his band mates, his loved ones: “I feel like I’m just proud to be your friend / To sit beside you while the paint gets too heavy.”
This sentiment of gratitude for those with whom we trudge our various paths is repeated time and time again. In track six, “Bialystok,” a song about homesickness: “I was just thinking about arguing in the kitchеn / Just to be the one that you argue with / Is a miracle in itself.” From track three, “Beacons,” a song about coming to terms with one’s own sexuality: “I thought I couldn’t move my feet / But I’m running with you now, wе’re a stampede / Tell me everything I know about love / Now it’s thicker than my blood.” Even the album’s final track, “Speak With the Dead,” in which Conor contemplates the finality of acceptance in grief, contains a note of thankfulness for the ones lost before their time: “And in my dreams I’m on a porch with you / I promise you I’ve been doing well in your name.”
From start to finish we’re taken on a journey through the ups and downs of human existence in a world ever more wrought by isolation, despair, and hopelessness. And every track a reminder, a familiar hand clasped in darkness: we are not alone.
When asked about the album’s title, Conor had a story to tell. “Have you ever heard of Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep?” I had not, and he explained they’re a series of shorts from Adult Swim in which comedian Joe Pera discusses random topics or tells stories in a slow soothing manner so as to ease the viewer into rest. In one installment Pera tells the story of Stephen Hawking cheating on his wife.
“He spends all day thinking about the universe and how big it is, how our star is just one of dozens in the galaxy, which is just one of dozens of galaxies in the known universe. […] If one guy cheats on his wife, what’s the big deal? Thinking further down the same line of thought however, if we’re so tiny and insignificant, if you’re able to find one person in the universe who cares about you, why would you want to disappoint them?”
Conor cites this as being a mainspring of inspiration for the themes and lyrics of the album, leading not only to the lyrical references to the cosmos featured prevalently throughout, but inadvertently the references to ritual and occultism as well. “There are lots of lyrics about Catholicism on previous albums […] I went to Catholic school and hated it. I was talking to Eric about it and he said ‘Why don’t you look for something you can believe in instead of the thing you hate?’” A striking question which sent the singer down an exploratory path of neo-paganism, goddess worship, and the book Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler (where the album’s title was born).
In Conor’s own view, DTTM is an album about connections, and “every song is a relationship.” The combination of astrophysics and occultism blends beautifully on the album and becomes an incredibly poetic device highlighting that throughline. In relation to death and the deceased on “Speak With the Dead”: “Some nights I hold old faith in the rituals / If the left hand path should cross your road / Pray with grimoires or swinging thuribles / Their incense dissipates all the same.” In relation to those we love on the album’s title track: “I want to draw down the moon / For nothing but to deserve you.” In relation to the people and places where we find comfort (even in banality), from “Bialystok”: “Sacred insignificance / They are arms from the universe / I’m dragging myself back home.”
Just as humankind cannot exist without a universe to live in, we cannot live without being in relationship to something: our ideas, our experiences, our environment, and each other. The micro is the macro. That art thou. As above, so below.