The Foxx releases a new album, The Rondelles reunite
The folks of The Foxx don't make outrageous demands.
"We request to get paid," says Juliet Swango over drinks at a bar Downtown. "We request a stage ... with sound."
Juliet is The Foxx's principal singer, songwriter, keyboardist and guitarist, but she's too modest to describe herself as the leader of the band—much less to own up to the elephant in the middle of it. She's a kind of a living archive of Albuquerque's golden age of indie music.
Her first project was The Rondelles, formed in 1994 by three La Cueva sophomores. A magically off-kilter lineup threw Juliet on guitar, Yukiko Moynihan on bass, and Oakley Munson behind both drums and a borrowed, semi-functioning Nord Electro 2 keyboard. The glue of the band turned out to be Juliet's songwriting—even at 15, her instincts seemed fully formed. Sticky-sweet poprock held the band's volatile pastiche of personalities and instruments together, and The Rondelles closed out their teens with a string of three-chord mini-masterpieces. Their debut album, Fiction Romance Fast Machines, was released in 1998 on Smells Like Records (Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth's label).
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Altogether, The Rondelles produced three albums, several singles, a move to D.C. and a European tour. They also supplied the backbone to Burque's excellent sci-fi pop outfit LuxoChamp, this time with Juliet on keys, behind singer/guitarist Brad Beshaw. Despite gobs of support from indie music media, successive Rondelles CDs The Fox (TeanBeat, 1999) and Shined Nickels and Loose Change (K Records, 2001) never quite lived up to the raw promise of their early recordings.
"We were a teenage band and—you know, how long can you be a teenage band in your 20s? It was like we didn't know what to do with ourselves," she says. Further complicating a history of inter-band head-butting, The Rondelles tried to integrate new, highly skilled musicians into the mix. "That created problems for me because I was writing three-chord songs and they were playing these ridiculously amazing things. My songs felt like soda pop when they were striving for, like, Keith Richards."
The group disbanded in 2001, and Juliet moved back to Albuquerque. She played briefly in The Dirty Novels before forming The Sweat Band, in 2002, with Isaac Bonnell on guitar and vocals, Zac Webb on bass, and Ryan Roehl on drums. They changed their name to The Foxx one year later. They've been called a glam band every since.
"I like glam but I feel like there's a lot more to us than that," says Ryan, ashing an imaginary cigarette into the air. "I see it from all kinds of angles—like powerpop, like garage rock—and that glam thing gets pushed a lot."
Juliet and Zac demur. "I personally love glam," Zac says.
"I feel like it's more roots rock ’n’ roll inspired, but that's what glam was," Juliet says. "Glam was taken from ’50s rock ’n’ roll, done with ’70s fashion and hair and sound. I mean, I have no problem with people throwing that word around because that's a heavy influence on myself."
Whatever you want to call it, there's not much of it in New Mexico. There was even less of it last fall, after Isaac moved to San Francisco. This was a problem, according to the band, because he wrote and sang three-fourths of The Foxx's music. The band had some rethinking to do—and a lot of songs to write.
Lila (Vinyl Countdown) is the result. The album signals a new beginning, a mile marker, according to the band. "Isaac was such a huge part of the band," Juliet says, "so it's almost like a whole different band, in a way." The Foxx is now joined by Dameon Lee (of The Lowlights) on guitar, and there’s been a prolific return to songwriting and the keyboard for Juliet.
Juliet is clearly used to being an engine driver—in classic terms, the guitarist with mystique, not the dynamic frontman. Lila (pronounced: "Lyle-uh") defines a shift that hasn't quite played out in their live shows since the reformation—the recording is less self-conscious by bounds, and lacks a particular churchy, "Partridge Family" vibe they sometimes put out on stage. Lila is a moodier slice of this band, imbued with a womanly restlessness or exuberance that, like the girl groups of the ’60s, starts in the pit of your gut and goes down to your feet. It was recorded live, in one session, on analog reel-to-reel tape; and it sounds great.
The album is dominated by doo-wop-by-way-of-the-’70s bittersweet ballads, cocksure strutting and just a sprinkle of psychedelic droning that wring depth and soul out of its players. Songs like "Frenchie" are gorgeous, smiling-through-tears pieces of garage pop. Other songs swing out a little wild, particularly in the strength of Juliet's tremulous voice. The Foxx takes risks here, and some people won't cotton to that. But others will love it precisely for that reason.