Robin Pecknold breaks down every song on Fleet Foxes' Shore
"The main goal was to make something bright and comforting."
Fleet Foxes are here to calm the waters. On Tuesday morning, at 9:31am EST — the precise time of the autumnal equinox — the indie-folk band released their new album Shore, along with a 55-minute companion art film directed by Kersti Jan Werdal. Though the group's first project in three years makes for a pleasant mid-week surprise, frontman Robin Pecknold is just happy he can give fans any new music during the worst year imaginable.
"Now is a time of so much uncertainty about the near future, so [we] might as well just go for it," the singer-songwriter tells EW of why he wanted to drop Shore now. "The main goal was to make something bright and comforting that would complement the last album in a yin-yang kind of way."
Shore is filled with epic, sweeping songs, but is still a departure from Crack-Up, the band's acclaimed 2017 release. "Making an album of the same length with shorter songs that had more variety as a whole was the fun challenge for this one," Pecknold says, adding that "finishing the record post-pandemic, knowing that there wouldn’t be a big tour, was [like] finishing the music for music’s sake, and falling in love with music in a new way."
Ahead, Pecknold does a track-by-track breakdown of Shore, its featured guests, and its varied inspirations.
"Wading In Waist-High Water"
With most song ideas, Pecknold likes to sit down, focus, and hopefully land on something before letting "a subconscious process" take over. "That's where it turns into whatever shape it’s going to take," he says. "There’s a weird background mental process and that’s where this came from. I thought it would work as this great mourning-type intro for the record — a 'come all ye' thing."
But armed with a desire to expand the number of collaborators on this album, he chose to have artist Uwade Akhare handle vocal duties. "A friend had sent me a clip of Uwade performing and I just fell in love with her voice," Pecknold says. "It felt like the right way to open the album."
While this track serves as the album's unofficial "intro," Pecknold reveals it was actually the last song to come together, and recorded only a few weeks prior to release.
"It really is this big centerpiece and is the anchor that all the other songs are tied to," he says. "I wanted to make a song that celebrated my heroes in an explicit way — people who have passed and who I want to honor in the music. That was a big focus of mine, helping them stay alive through these memories. Music is this weird invisible form of immortality for these people, and I wanted to do it in a joyous way and reframe some of the sorrow of loss into a kind of celebration."
"Can I Believe You"
After "Sunblind" comes "Can I Believe You," which serves as the first song Fleet Foxes wrote during a break on their last tour. But according to Pecknold, it was also the hardest one to finish.
"The first part I wrote was the 'Can I believe you line' with that melody and progression, and I couldn’t tell if that was a verse or a chorus or how it should function in the song," he says. "As the song developed, it turned into this headbanger about trust issues and it was funny to me because it’s such a fun song. It made sense for a song about trust to have the verse function like a chorus and the chorus like a bridge, the whole thing is slightly upside down."
Pecknold then enlisted a massive group of fans for help. "The backing vocals are actually like 400 Instagram followers that sent in harmonies," he says. "We spent a few days editing it all into this big choral bed that the lead vocals are resting on top of. Beatriz Artola was the engineer and she had that task. I would make sure to bring her chocolate and lunch [laughs] and whatever else to thank her for doing that arduous labor."
Similar to how "Sunblind" honors his heroes, Pecknold wanted to use this song to "venerate some friends of mine who are really active activists and are very politically involved."
"Politics are really important to me and it helps me stay involved when I have friends who are even that much more active," he adds. "That song is equating those friends of mine to Victor Jara — the Chilean folk singer who is a national hero — and thinking about the people in my private life who serve that similar role that Victor Jara does in public. It was super inspiring working on that one."
Pecknold found inspiration for the lyrics of this airy, reflective song during quarantine. "It all came from the past few months, being in lockdown, and recognizing how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and to make music for a living," he says. "Back in February, when I was working on the record, I was really stressed out about it — and that stress went away, because the world, the stress that we’re all under, began to seem much more important. Those lyrics were acknowledging just gratitude for being lucky to not be dead and not be out of work."
"A Long Way Past the Past"
Working on "A Long Way Past the Past" allowed Pecknold to have some fun with a song that's "a little bit too slow."
"I was like, 'This song must be 80 beats per minute, that’s as fast as it could be,'" he says. "It has this slight, easy stroll or strut to it. And then lyrically, it’s reconciling how much of the past to hold on to and how much to leave behind, questioning that conflict."
"For a Week or Two"
After the first half of the album, Pecknold wanted to use "For a Week or Two" as a break. "Amplifying it like a full song made it a little too sappy," he says. "A lot of songs in the first half of the album were turning out pretty deeply arranged with a lot of instruments on them, so I thought it would be cool to have a minimalist breath at this point in the record. It’s like a hymn with classic melodic chord structure with a really simple drum throughout."
Pecknold also notes how the song's low-key approach reminded him of taking solo backpacking trips. "I would be alone in the wilderness and I would be happy to have myself disappear, just for a few days," he says. "Not have ties to society, not have a mirror to look in. I wanted to look back on that kind of memory and maybe put someone else in that position."
"Maestranza" emerged from Pecknold wanting to make a Bill Withers-style track on the album. But it proved difficult to finish. "I made about three or four different versions of it because it kept turning out like roller-skating music or disco or something; it was weird," he says with a laugh. "But the version we ended up with, I don't feel that as much."
For the lyrics, he wanted to lean into a feeling of hope. "It’s trying to be an encouraging song, because the last few years, it’s been kind of a con man’s era," Pecknold says. "There’s been a lot of people trying to pull the wool over our eyes, not just in politics but also technology and media. Maybe we’re going to be entering this era where that’s no longer the case. That’s the optimistic hope of the song."
"Young Man’s Game"
Inspired by John Prine, Pecknold wanted to get in touch with his own wry humor for this cheery, upbeat song. "Musically I was thinking it would be like Fleetwood Mac using some Joni Mitchell guitar tunings," he says. "Lyrically it’s about leaving some of your old hang ups or insecurities or delusions behind.... I used to be afraid of losing my youth and people would always say it’s a young man’s game to bemoan that, so I was trying to reframe that for myself. When you’re 20, in addition to having all the energy in the world, you’re also lazy and insecure and confused. And my younger self would have been too self-conscious to make a song that’s trying to be funny in any way. So I’m happy that the song that’s a bit jaunty musically also had the lyrics about that same kind of thing."
"I’m Not My Season"
Pecknold first attempted to sing "I'm Not My Season" in a higher key. But he had trouble finding lyrics that made sense for that register. Once he started singing in a more suitable key, "comforting lyrics came out."
"So much of the last six months has been having to find some handhold in the present moment that is not affected by current events or time itself," he says. "So this song is trying to place the idea of spirit in this place outside of time and then the comfort of that."
"Quiet Air / Gioia"
Pecknold loves to include one track on every album that's an "ecstatic, acoustic almost-rave" like song where "the beat stays steady, there’s not quite a chorus, and you’re just layering voice after voice or instrument after instrument." That's how "Quite Air / Gioia" was born. "It was about finding these cool textures and building these movements to get someone into a trance-like state," he says. "My dad was a bass player all his life, and so growing up, he was always playing bass around the house. It’s the instrument closest to my spirit, and I was very proud of the bass on this song. I sent it to my dad and he was like, 'Great bass playing on Gioia. That’s my favorite one.'"
This "lush, romantic song about traveling" got by with a little help from Pecknold's friends, albeit unintentionally. After sending Brazilian musician Tim Bernardes a rough copy of the album in the hopes that he would collaborate on "Gioia," Bernardes actually found inspiration from this song.
"He wrote a whole set of verses for 'Going-to-the-Sun Road' [that] he sang in Portuguese and it sounded beautiful," Pecknold says. "I actually made the song a minute-and-a-half longer to make room for it. It had these great, lucky contributions from people that made that song what it was."
This "short breath" song allowed Pecknold to not worry about the bridge or chorus and just have fun with another short entry. "I wrote a lot of these lyrics driving around in the car for like 12 hours a day for three weeks straight," he says. "I would just pull off the side of the road and jot lyrics down as they came to mind back in June."
Pecknold imagined "a couple loose camping cups clanging around in the back seat and they’re tapping out a rhythm and you start hearing music in that. It reminds you as you’re driving along that music is always with you. It’s expressing some gratitude towards music for being everywhere and being with me."
"Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman"
While this song isn't the final track of the album, Pecknold considers it the grand finale. "I wanted it to be this overdone extravaganza, [with] as many instruments as possible," he says. "There’s all kinds of horns and pianos and strings and guitars, all different rhythms interacting. That whole approach to recording was inspired by Brian Wilson, and he let us use some samples of his voice. He counts the song in and there are some clips of him talking at the top of the song so it was this moment of taking you to the ultimate conclusion."
Pecknold also recruited Grizzly Bear members Chris Bear and Dan Rossen to play drums and layer the "final climax of this chaos of instruments." "I love being able to work with a broad range of people that I’ve really admired for a long time on this group of songs," Pecknold says.
The final (and title) track carries a lot of meaning for Peckhnold. He considers it the album's epilogue. "I really thought about the album as imagining you’re standing on the shore looking at the ocean and you’re reckoning with if you should stay on shore or go back to sea — the shore being this comforting place and full of memories and the sea being this dangerous, empty place where we can’t live because it’s this expanse of death or something," he says. "This song is expressing gratitude towards my family and friends and heroes for everything that they’ve given me as a person. And then back in the water, the music goes to this really wild place where the syllables of every word are pulling apart from each other. There’s chaos beneath the sea and then you rise back up and you’re floating on calm water."