Brothers Ben (vocalist) and Jared Schneid (bassist) and drummer Jon Stenz make up the indie rock, New York trio FOXTRAX that’s currently touring with their last stop in Los Angeles, on December 10th. I got to meet the band at their stop in San Diego and witness their energy and stage charisma firsthand. They played their last unreleased single, “Lonely Man on the Island,” which the crowd went crazy for. The release of “Lonely Man on the Island” in January will mark the fourth song of their latest EP. Here, they talk about meeting Gary Clark Jr., almost being trampled by a bison in Utah, and they also spill some secrets about their upcoming release!
My personal favorite song is “Grey Morning.” So tell me a little bit about what you guys were thinking when you were writing and recording that song?
Ben: I think that song is probably our moodiest song. I think that the idea of a “Grey Morning” was always one that was intriguing to me. It’s an odd sensation when it’s the afternoon and you haven’t really woken up yet, you’ve kind of just lost yourself in the day. I think people don’t really speak much about that. Everyone knows that it exists and I think that’s kind of the cool thing about songs—well, good songs—that they find like a pocket of something that everybody feels but that’s not really spoken about. Like, everybody talks about love. Love is great, you know? But, I think if you can find some sort of angle or perspective that is a little bit left of center.
You guys have a very raw writing technique. What kind of moods are you in when you’re writing your songs?
Ben: I think the key is just to be honest. People don’t get enough credit for how not dumb they are. Like, ‘Oh, the public, they don’t know anything.’ Actually, they know a lot better than everybody else. Like, they’ll tell you if your song is honest or bad, or this is hollow…people know. They aren’t stupid. I think that’s kind of the root of it… just being genuine.
Jon: Organic, from the roots up.
“Everything’s Changing,” that just came out… so what were the inspirations for that one?
Ben: I mean, I think that a few of these songs are a trilogy of sorts&madash;a range of emotions. [When] we first got out here [Los Angeles], it was a little bit difficult being from New York. And then just recently we started to feel like, ‘All right!’ Like, things are starting to tip more towards our direction, and that was kind of a nice feeling. And we started to feel like, ‘Oh, at other crappy times, that was part of the journey,’ and we should have been appreciating that.
And then the fourth song, when is that going to drop?
Do you have a title?
Jon: “Lonely Man on the Island” is the name of the track. It’s a little more upbeat and it’s very rock and roll, and it’s something that we’re extremely, extremely excited for.
So you’ve been releasing your EP song by song. What has been the benefit of dropping it like that, rather than just as one project?
Jon: I think it’s like Ben said, it’s like a trilogy. It’s kind of like it’s taking you on this emotional journey. One day you wake up and it’s a “Grey Morning” and you know, the clouds are laughing in your face… you know what I mean? And the next day you realize—or it could be a month later or however long later—that “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the good or the bad, whatever put you in that place, it’s not going to last forever. And the good doesn’t last forever, so it’s that realizational [sic] moment, and “Everything’s Changing” is a few weeks after that, and you realize that nothing lasts forever and everything is going to ultimately change. In terms of where our music is going, I believe that it’s sort of for the positive, things changing, like the world is opening up for us, you know? And the final single, the “Lonely Man on the Island,” in terms of the trilogy, in terms of the EP, is almost like the first song on the EP, if that makes sense. Kind of like the moment where, like you know that acute moment hits, where it’s like you know you’re kind of like alone and stranded in this emotional kind of destitute, if you will.
Ben: That one [“Lonely Man on the Island”] really snuck in the backdoor. It was kind of a last minute type of thing, and I always think they had something special about them. Like it wasn’t an anticipated thing for the EP. And then actually our art distributor was like, ‘You need to put one more song on this record.’ And we were like, ‘Wow,’ like we didn’t think we would have a chance to record this one for a while. It was awesome.
Jon: Yeah it was fresh, yo. Personally, I love everything we put out, but to me, I am the most stoked on this song right now. We’re going to play it tonight for you guys!
Ben: This will be its live debut actually.
How was touring over the summer with Barns Courtney?
Ben: It was pretty wild. In the touring we’ve done in the past, we’ve kind of avoided the big, gaping middle of America. We’re from New York and we moved to another coast. We’ve done the East Coast and we’ve done the West Coast, but seeing the whole expanse of America was kind of a new experience for us and it is awesome. So strange and culturally different than what I’m used to, living in New York. When we moved to LA, that’s a different vibe, but New York and LA are not so dissimilar when you go to the middle of the country.
What were some of your favorite stops, or any funny stories?
Jon: Actually, my favorite story happened in Salt Lake City, Utah. Very, very interesting city. We’ll leave it at that. But we were exploring one of the days, and we did like an early morning show on I think like FOX Utah, “Good Day Utah,” and before sound check we went on an exploration, and we went to this area called Antelope Island and we were just kind of like driving through and we were just trying to like sightsee nature, and we pulled over to the side of the road and we see this bison just like chilling, at least like 30 or 40 feet into the grass. We thought it was a great idea to get out of the car and like walk up to the bison, and our photographer buddy was with us, so we were like, ‘Oh totally, we’re gonna get really close and take some photos of the bison and it’s gonna be freaking rad.’
Ben: And we were like, ‘Bison… they don’t charge.’ I was like looking at that bison. It’s totally chill, it’s tail is wagging and everything.
Jon: Jared was like, ‘No, that’s a sign he’s about to charge!’ And Jared was like, ‘I’m gonna walk that way,’ and I’m just standing there taking a video on my camera, thinking it’s pretty funny, and so we like get up really close to the bison and all of a sudden, Jared was totally right, and he starts charging at us and we are running for our lives [laughing].
Ben: And Sam, who is our photographer, he’s like crouched in a stance as the thing starts running. I’m like, ‘I know that I’m fine; this kid is gonna die.’
Jon: And it’s all recorded on our Instagram, @foxtraxband. There are a lot of great memories, but that one is my favorite one.
Ben: Actually, meeting Gary Clark Jr. at Antone’s [Nightclub]. He’s amazing, he’s a pretty legendary blues player, he’s pretty big. And I think when he got big, he bought Antone’s, which is this landmark blues club in Austin, and after we played our show—I like grew up playing the blues and they have this house blues band, and I was like, ‘Oh, can I jam blues with you guys?’ And I started playing with them and then I see Jon coming in hot to the stage and he was like ‘Dude, Gary Clark Jr. is here!’ I was like ‘F*ck yeah!’
Jon: His sister works at the bar and saw us play, actually, and she told him that we played actually, and he was up there performing at this point, and Gary Clark Jr. just walked in and since his sister had told him that I played he actually offered to buy me a beer! So he actually paid with his own money to like buy me a beer, and when I got the beer I was like, “Gary, come check it out, the blues band is on,” so we walked up to the stage and Ben was just like shredding up there. I remember the look in his eye as he sees his idol, Gary Clark Jr., like walking up to the stage and he’s just like giving it everything that he has. It was great.
Jared: Actually, do you remember when we got on the boats on the three rivers in Pittsburgh? That was pretty sick.
Ben: That was sick. [Pittsburgh] Pens had just won the Stanley Cup and we just asked this guy if we could come on his boat and play a song, and he was like, ‘Sure!’
Jon: We played “Grey Morning.”
What about your “Spotify Fan First” video? How did that come together?
Ben: So Spotify has been on—I guess they’re changing their whole thing—and they approached us and said, ‘We love your guys’ stuff, would you want to do a creative event for your top LA listeners?’ We were like, ‘Uh yeah!’ That’s like awesome, and we have a great team of people surrounding us. We’re lucky, and so everyone on our team and Spotify helped us put together this amazing event. And it was just like a backyard barbeque. It was just our top fans in LA, a lot of people we had never met before, and it was just a really special kind of thing.
Ben: Those are like, a lot of our heroes really. I mean, there’s a reason we wanted to work with them and when we found out they were down to work with us, we were like, nice! We did not see it going that way. Those guys are awesome.
What other bands or artists do you look to for influence?
Ben: That’s always such a loaded question, there are so many!
Jon: I mean, everything from like [Bruce] Springsteen to The [Rolling] Stones to The Beatles. Like, even Nirvana to Coldplay. It’s just all over the map. I think that in our generation too, growing up in the Spotify age where you don’t have to buy a record necessarily to listen and be inspired by other artists, I think that with all that at our fingertips, our inspiration is really good music regardless of genre. There is so much good music out there and you know, a really great melody with a great lyrical message and an infectious beat is a song that we’re gonna like, and we’re gonna want to create. I think that you can find that in almost any genre.
You guys are performing at South by Southwest in March. What are your expectations for that? Are you guys excited?
Ben: Pretty high. I think when people asked us this question last year, which was out first time playing South by Southwest, we were like, ‘We don’t know what to expect.’ And then we got there and it blew our minds. It’s one of the craziest events that America puts on.
Jared: It’s the music Mardi Gras, really.
Ben: Yeah, the whole city of Austin shuts down, so our expectations are high that it’s going to be pretty epic. If last year was great, this can only be better.
What other big festivals have you guys played at?
Ben: Well, we played Coachella, which was sick.
Which one did you like more?
Jon: South by Southwest is so cool, I think, because there are so many intellectuals there. For us, we’re sort of people who also are inspired by other forms of art as well, outside of music, like film and the startup culture. And I think what’s so unique about South by Southwest is that you have all of these forward-thinking, progressive minds coming together, you know? No matter the genre of what you do, we want to be a band that inspires other creators to do what they do, and South by is just full of people like that. I love South by.
So after this tour, once your last song of the EP is out, are you thinking of making any music videos?
Ben: We’ve been getting this question a lot recently, and we’ve got some big plans, but we want to keep them to ourselves. There’s some good stuff to come, which we’re very excited about, but we haven’t been given the green light to announce them yet. But there are some pretty amazing things on the horizon.
Do you want to say anything to your fans?
Ben: Don’t force it, feel it.