The Foxymorons arenâ€™t your typical band. Itâ€™s the songwriting vehicle for two guys from different cities, Fort Worthâ€™s Jerry James and Nashvilleâ€™s David Dewese, who nevertheless have spent the past decade â€“â€“ not quietly â€“â€“ crafting smart, wry indie-pop. Theyâ€™ve released several albums and garnered laudatory reviews in Pitchfork, Paste, and SPIN. A couple of years ago, Dewese and James also started a clothing line, American Viceroy â€“â€“ James describes the typical AV ensemble as â€œa schoolboy uniform crossed with pajamas.â€ The clothes were featured on the web site of GQ magazine a couple of years ago. Of the label and the band, James said, â€œTo me it all feels like itâ€™s coming from the same part of the same aesthetic and part of the same spirit of wanting to make something.â€
Though separated by a few hundred miles, David Dewese (right) and Jerry James still get creative together.
American Viceroy is on the back burner now â€“â€“ the clothes are not even available for purchase online (though they were carried in stores in New York City, Los Angeles, and Japan). Instead, Dewese and James are focusing on the band: They have just released a subtly brilliant and extremely catchy guitar-based album, Bible Stories. The goal now is to become a bona fide band, geography be damned. â€œWeâ€™re trying to book shows now, one thing we want to do a lot more of,â€ James said. â€œWe want to make the band more of a living, breathing entity. Itâ€™s something to me that always feels alive, even if weâ€™re long distance. But weâ€™re planning on playing [more] shows and making more records.â€
Dewese and James first met in high school in Mesquite in the early 1990s but didnâ€™t become friends and collaborators until their college years, when Dewese was studying in Brownwood and James was at Southern Methodist University. They saw each other at home during breaks. The two were music aficionados and started mailing each other mix tapes. â€œThe more obscure music, the better,â€ James said. Ultimately, music that Dewese and James wrote and performed separately began appearing on the tapes. â€œWe didnâ€™t necessarily think you had to be good at guitar [to write your own songs], and some of the songs that we knew and liked didnâ€™t seem that hard to play,â€ James said. â€œThat started it.â€
With a friend, Dewese and James began performing and recording their material, using their churchâ€™s drum kit and recording equipment. â€œAt some point,â€ James said, â€œI was like, â€˜Why donâ€™t we make a 7-inch single? It seems that all these other bands we like have done that.â€™ â€
Dewese eventually moved to Nashville, and James spent time in Los Angeles and Austin. (He received his MBA from the University of Texas.) But The Foxymorons never wavered. The band â€œjust sort of evolved â€“â€“ itâ€™s just an aspect, an extension, of our friendship,â€ James said. â€œWe meet up, hang out, we eat, and we mess around, and always at some point, somebody picks up a guitar and says, â€˜Iâ€™ve got this song.â€™ â€
In the mid-â€™00s, Dewese and James added some players, put out a couple of albums, including the Pitchfork-approved Hesitation Eyes, and in â€™06 played the SXSW Music Festival. â€œI thought we were going to put out [an album] the next year,â€ James said. â€œThere was no intention to wait five years to put out a new album. But [Dewese] had been doing a lot of traveling â€¦ and then we started the clothing line. Our attentions had diverted to these other things. Life had sort of gotten in the way. Or just laziness.â€
After the last shipment of American Viceroy clothing was made, Dewese and James both agreed that the time had come to make another record. â€œSongs had been stockpiling, and we werenâ€™t doing anything with them,â€ James said. â€œI always knew we were going to make another record. We knew we werenâ€™t over. We just didnâ€™t know it was going to take so long.â€
With help from some session players, including drummer Brian Fuzzell, pianist Chris Davis, and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Jerkins, Dewese and James holed up in Deweseâ€™s home studio in Nashville and pumped out Bible Stories in a couple of weeks. â€œWe have friends that spend a lot of time in the studio,â€ James said. â€œI donâ€™t relate to it. We know the songs going in. They happen relatively fast. â€¦ Iâ€™m only there for three or four days, an extended weekend. A lot of that [time], weâ€™re at the movies or at the bar or hanging out with our friends. Then itâ€™s time to do work.â€
Mastered by Centro-maticâ€™s Matt Pence, who also did Hesitation Eyes, the new CD moves through highs and lows and has an ironic sensibility like an indie film from indie-filmdomâ€™s halcyon days of the late 1990s/early 2000s. Starring in The Foxymoronsâ€™ melodic bursts are a â€œpassion shark,â€ an â€œincandescent man,â€ and a â€œteenage typing queen,â€ among many other characters. Dewese and James share singing duties â€“â€“ Deweseâ€™s voice is sweet, smooth, and masculine while Jamesâ€™ is nervous, tiny, and cute. Every song is tightly structured and highly melodious. The duo rocks reverb-laden riffs almost as often as gently strumming or finger-picking acoustic guitars. One standout track is â€œSay It Aloud,â€ a hard-charging rocker in the spirit of Soul Asylum and complete with honey-dripping vocal harmonies during the chorus. Another hit is â€œOut of Control,â€ a toe-tapper built around a simple staccato guitar riff, snappy snare, and tambourine, the bridge formed by a refrain of ba-ba-dada-da.
The rest of the album is equally winning. â€œSick of Californiaâ€ is a slow burn, its heavy bass complementing Deweseâ€™s dreamy delivery. â€œSkinny Cow Bluesâ€ comes on like an old C&W ballad, with James at his cutest singing, â€œWe never connect just right / Like a clumsy high five â€¦ that dressing gownâ€™s awful tight / That dressing gownâ€™s tight / But itâ€™s alright.â€ â€œThis Too Shall Passâ€ is an acoustic-and-vocals lullaby that calls to mind nothing less than â€œDust in the Windâ€ (though not as melancholy). Another softy is â€œMeskeeters (Sweet Sixteen),â€ one of several songs about awkward teenage years. â€œYour boyfriendâ€™s broke, you think itâ€™s a joke, now youâ€™re looking for an older guy,â€ James sings, his voice soft and on the verge of cracking, â€œSo at the Dairy Queen, you talk so obscene, and you leave without saying goodbye.â€ Bible Stories could be the soundtrack to a sequel to Napoleon Dynamite or Rushmore.
â€œWeâ€™re writing songs that we want to hear,â€ James said. â€œIâ€™m writing songs that I think are cool, that are interesting to me, and we share a common sensibility and reference points. And so we have this distinct idea of what we think is cool or what we think is interesting, and I think thatâ€™s it. â€¦ We want to make music thatâ€™s exciting and interesting.â€