The Foxymorons aren’t your typical band. It’s the songwriting vehicle for two guys from different cities, Fort Worth’s Jerry James and Nashville’s David Dewese, who nevertheless have spent the past decade –– not quietly –– crafting smart, wry indie-pop. They’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 –– James describes the typical AV ensemble as “a schoolboy uniform crossed with pajamas.” The clothes were featured on the web site of GQ magazine a couple of years ago. Of the label and the band, James said, “To me it all feels like it’s coming from the same part of the same aesthetic and part of the same spirit of wanting to make something.”
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 –– 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. “We’re trying to book shows now, one thing we want to do a lot more of,” James said. “We want to make the band more of a living, breathing entity. It’s something to me that always feels alive, even if we’re long distance. But we’re planning on playing [more] shows and making more records.”
Dewese and James first met in high school in Mesquite in the early 1990s but didn’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. “The more obscure music, the better,” James said. Ultimately, music that Dewese and James wrote and performed separately began appearing on the tapes. “We didn’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 didn’t seem that hard to play,” James said. “That started it.”
With a friend, Dewese and James began performing and recording their material, using their church’s drum kit and recording equipment. “At some point,” James said, “I was like, ‘Why don’t we make a 7-inch single? It seems that all these other bands we like have done that.’ ”
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 “just sort of evolved –– it’s just an aspect, an extension, of our friendship,” James said. “We meet up, hang out, we eat, and we mess around, and always at some point, somebody picks up a guitar and says, ‘I’ve got this song.’ ”
In the mid-’00s, Dewese and James added some players, put out a couple of albums, including the Pitchfork-approved Hesitation Eyes, and in ’06 played the SXSW Music Festival. “I thought we were going to put out [an album] the next year,” James said. “There was no intention to wait five years to put out a new album. But [Dewese] had been doing a lot of traveling … 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.”
After the last shipment of American Viceroy clothing was made, Dewese and James both agreed that the time had come to make another record. “Songs had been stockpiling, and we weren’t doing anything with them,” James said. “I always knew we were going to make another record. We knew we weren’t over. We just didn’t know it was going to take so long.”
With help from some session players, including drummer Brian Fuzzell, pianist Chris Davis, and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Jerkins, Dewese and James holed up in Dewese’s home studio in Nashville and pumped out Bible Stories in a couple of weeks. “We have friends that spend a lot of time in the studio,” James said. “I don’t relate to it. We know the songs going in. They happen relatively fast. … I’m only there for three or four days, an extended weekend. A lot of that [time], we’re at the movies or at the bar or hanging out with our friends. Then it’s time to do work.”
Mastered by Centro-matic’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-filmdom’s halcyon days of the late 1990s/early 2000s. Starring in The Foxymorons’ melodic bursts are a “passion shark,” an “incandescent man,” and a “teenage typing queen,” among many other characters. Dewese and James share singing duties –– Dewese’s voice is sweet, smooth, and masculine while James’ 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 “Say It Aloud,” a hard-charging rocker in the spirit of Soul Asylum and complete with honey-dripping vocal harmonies during the chorus. Another hit is “Out of Control,” 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. “Sick of California” is a slow burn, its heavy bass complementing Dewese’s dreamy delivery. “Skinny Cow Blues” comes on like an old C&W ballad, with James at his cutest singing, “We never connect just right / Like a clumsy high five … that dressing gown’s awful tight / That dressing gown’s tight / But it’s alright.” “This Too Shall Pass” is an acoustic-and-vocals lullaby that calls to mind nothing less than “Dust in the Wind” (though not as melancholy). Another softy is “Meskeeters (Sweet Sixteen),” one of several songs about awkward teenage years. “Your boyfriend’s broke, you think it’s a joke, now you’re looking for an older guy,” James sings, his voice soft and on the verge of cracking, “So at the Dairy Queen, you talk so obscene, and you leave without saying goodbye.” Bible Stories could be the soundtrack to a sequel to Napoleon Dynamite or Rushmore.
“We’re writing songs that we want to hear,” James said. “I’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 that’s it. … We want to make music that’s exciting and interesting.”