Professor Fox Band
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Professor Fox Band

Fort Collins, Colorado, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | INDIE

Fort Collins, Colorado, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Americana Blues

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"Get to know a Colorado musician: Professor Fox's One Man Band"

At the heart of Fort Collins’ Professor Fox’s One Man Band is Steve Jones, a Colorado transplant capable of playing more instruments simultaneously than most people can play separately. Before heading to Austin, Texas next week for SXSW and the Colorado Music Party, Professor Fox’s One Man Band has two shows in Fort Collins: Wednesday, March 11 at 1933 Brewery and Friday, March 13 at Blue Skies Winery. This inventive folk musician spoke with AXS about Professor Fox’s One Man Band in this exclusive interview.
AXS: Are you a Colorado native? If not, where are you from originally?
Steve Jones: I have lived in many places - Ohio, California, Pennsylvania (I grew up mostly in Philadelphia), Indiana, Wales, and Ireland. However, Colorado has been home to me for three years, and my mom’s side of the family has lived here for a long time. I often visited my grandparents in Ouray, and my uncles in Fort Collins and Loveland, while I was growing up.
AXS: What inspired you to start playing music?
Steve: I’ve had an odd fascination with sound in general since I was a kid, and asked my parents for piano lessons for my 6th birthday (which was considered weird in Philadelphia). My parents had an amazing recording collection, with artists like The Beatles, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, which fostered a love for rock, jazz, and blues from a young age.
AXS: How long have you been performing?
Steve: I started playing in rock/blues/classic rock bands starting around age 13. Since then, I’ve been in indie rock bands, jazz/rock/funk bands, folk-rock bands, classic rock bands, jam bands, and have dabbled in experimental electronic and drone music with various other musicians and artists.
AXS: Where was your first show in Colorado, and what was the experience like? Who else did you play with at the show?
Steve: My very first show in Colorado was as a one-man-band on the street in front of The Cupboard in Fort Collins. I had just moved from Ireland to Colorado, and the owners of The Cupboard (friends of my parents) had me play. I was still new to the one-man-band set up, especially since the previous band I was in (Ebenezer & The Hymnasters, from Indianapolis) was a pretty large “folkestra” band. I’ve figured out how improve the solo performance quite a bit since then, and I’ve also met a few local musicians with whom I’d like to start a full-size band in the coming months.
AXS: Have any Colorado musicians inspired you?
Steve: There’s major appreciation for American folk-based music in Colorado, which has been great. I’ve typically played within the folk and blues genres with the one-man-band, although recently I’ve been expanding into rock territory. As far as specific bands and musicians (who have called Colorado home) go, I’ve been influenced by DeVotchKa (from the indie side of things) and Ginger Baker (Cream was a really early influence regarding the combination of blues, rock, psychedelic elements, and jazz).
AXS: What inspired your 2014 album, Labradoration Vol. I?
Steve: My first album, The Rise & Fall of Yoomi Jones, was basically a breakup album. Doing that album was very cathartic, but I’ve moved on to larger issues - from general wordplay (influenced by James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake), to explorations of love, dreams, human struggles for meaning, and romantic relationships. Musically, I’ve been very influenced by Tom Waits, the music of David Lynch, Gruff Rhys, Cate Le Bon, and others who combine blues, jazz, rock, and other folk traditions with lyrical examinations about the mystery of human existence.
AXS: What was the writing and recording process like on Labradoration Vol. I?
Steve: Some of the songs had been written long before the recording process; track 7, “Planning Wrath Upon a Distant Sun,” for example, was one of the first complete songs I had ever written (around 1997). A few others, like “Siddhartha (Dark Night of the Soul”) and “Reflections in Mercury” had also been written many years prior, but I never had the opportunity to record them. While I still enjoy those songs, my songwriting process has changed a lot since those early days. The more recent compositions often come to me all at once, with lyrics and music being written simultaneously, which is very satisfying; sometimes, though, the lyric writing process takes time for serious reflection and contemplation. As far as the recording process goes, I typically record scratch vocals and guitar to a click track, then layer the instruments as I go (usually starting with drums, then rhythm guitar, then vocals, bass, and other instruments). I usually know what instruments I want to use on a song, since I hear the whole thing in my head (string sections, harpsichord, etc.) Occasionally, the arrangement/production of the song comes as I am working on it; that is, I’ll realize that a section needs something else, which usually is an organ/piano/keyboard part or another instrument not typically used (e.g. sitar, sanshin, etc.).
AXS: What projects are you currently working on?
Steve: With the one-man-band, I’m in the process of recording Labradoration Vol. II, which gets back a little more to the folk roots of the first album (although it is quite a bit more bluesy, too). I have enough songs to record several albums, and I have many musician friends from all over the country, and I’d love to do a collaborative album with them. I also have plans for an album that explores sensuality and mysticism (for lack of better terms) based on soul music by artists like Marvin Gaye and D’Angelo. I’ve been developing a concept album based on the life of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, with my friend (and visual/sound artist) Mark Franz, which is very much in the vein of similar biographical albums by Gruff Rhys and Neon Neon. I often daydream about Gruff Rhys producing that album in the future…
AXS: What else are you involved in locally?
Steve: I have a PhD in Literature and am an academic for my day job; I teach literature and film, and give regular paper presentations at conferences (including Harvard, UC Berkeley, UCLA, etc.). I’m a board member of an organization called The National Welsh-American Foundation, which exists to foster relations between North America and Wales and promote Welsh cultural heritage in the North America. I was also a Fulbright scholar to Wales, conducting dissertation research at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, so I’m very committed to learning about and appreciating Welsh history, literature, and culture. Regarding other musical projects, I’ve been playing and writing a lot with Julian Peterson, who is an excellent Boulder-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter. We’re hoping to start a band together in the coming year. I also write and play with Irish musician Luke Carrig in a band called St. Lad, which is influenced by American and Celtic folk traditions. With Professor Fox, I will be making a music video for the song “Sleepwalk With Me” with the folks at In The Shed Media (a local Fort Collins production company).
AXS: Do you have a goal in mind for the sound the you produce? Are there certain influences or themes the you try to inject into its own music?
Steve: I suppose that depends on the specific musical project. Professor Fox’s One Man Band is all about various folk traditions. I consider rock to be a part of the category, since it is the major genre that has been “of the folk” for the last 60 years or so. However, I’m very invested in other less common folk traditions, such as Delta Blues, traditional Welsh music, West African guitar music, Hindustani music in North India, etc. With St. Lad, the acoustic folk traditions of Ireland and the US play a major part in our music. The band that I’m hoping to start with Julian Peterson would be very much rooted in blues and soul music. Across the board, however, are general themes of human struggles. In each case, the songs I write discuss or explore the nature of language, communication, belonging, existentialism, community, etc.
AXS: For someone who has never seen or heard you, what would you tell them to entice them to watch your set?
Steve: People are often drawn to the “gimmick” of the one-man-band. When I play live, I usually play guitar, harmonica, foot drums (made by Pete Farmer), and sing (although I will occasionally bring out a mandolin or banjo instead of a guitar). However, I’m pleased by the fact that once people start listening to the songs themselves, they continue to pay attention due to the interesting chord progressions, arrangements, lyrical content, etc.
AXS: What would your ideal live show look like? Where would it take place? Any particular time of year? Would a specific band/musician share the bill with or open for you?
Steve: My ideal show would be opening for a band that I love and appreciate at a dedicated music venue. Locally, playing at Red Rocks is a major dream of mine. In the meantime, I’d love to play local music festivals (such as the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, New West Fest in Fort Collins, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, etc.), or other music venues (returning to Larimer Lounge in Denver, playing the Boulder Theater, the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, etc.)
AXS: What shows are you looking forward to over the next few months?
Steve: The biggest show that I will be playing soon is at SXSW in Austin, TX. Julian Peterson will be joining me for the Colorado Music Party on March 17 and SXSW Play Fort Collins on March 20. There’s a chance that we may have a few more shows between March 17 and 21 at SXSW, too. Regarding other bands, I just saw/heard/experience The Wood Brothers at the Boulder Theater, which was excellent (Chris Wood, also of Medeski Martin & Wood, is my favorite bassist). I’m also looking forward to seeing Spoon (one of my favorite bands) at Red Rocks in the end of May.
AXS: What do you enjoy most about Colorado’s music scene, and why?
Steve: Colorado has a unique appreciation of folk traditions. Growing up in Philly, a lot of the live music that I saw was based in blues, jazz, and soul (or neo-soul). While I adore each of those genres, my personal interest and experience in folk music was often limited to the Philadelphia Folk Festival and the excellent radio station 88.5 WXPN. It might also have to do with shifting interests due to the time period/zeitgeist of American culture in general, but since I’ve been in Colorado I have noticed that people here really love American folk music. I think that provides a unique opportunity to delve into older musical traditions while providing other musical and lyrical content that might be a bit more challenging or philosophical (or at least different) than what has come before in order to speak to present-day problems and situations. - AXS


"Limelight - Professor Fox Band"

Steve Jones of Professor Fox’s One Man Band discusses his decision to be a lone musician. He shares with us his iconic one-man band influences, playing multiple instruments simultaneously, as well as his writing style and sound.

The one-man band was born out of necessity. I had just moved back to the US from a few years living abroad in Wales and Ireland, and Colorado was pretty new to me, so I didn't know any musicians here yet. I saved up my pennies and bought a Farmer FootDrum kit, which is the core of the set up. It has a bass drum, snare, hi-hat, etc.

In Professor Fox is one man band, you play a variety of instruments. How challenging was it to learn to play all of them concurrently?

My live set up and studio set up her pretty distant. For studio recordings, I just overdub everything at a track at a time; this allows me to develop a full band sound with the various string, keyboard, percussion, and wind instruments. On my two albums thus far I've played all of the parts myself, in keeping with the one-man band role; however, i've met a few excellent musicians including Boulder’s own Julian Peterson, and I've recently been signed to Sugarfox Records, so that will probably change with the next album.
Live, I play the Farmer FootDrums with my feet, guitar, harmonica, and saying and there are a few other shakers and tambourines here and there. I had already played guitar and harmonica together for a while, but there was a bit of a learning curve with integrating the foot drums. If you tap your feet while you play, you are already part of the way there; however, it took me about two weeks of practice to start sounding decent with the drums. I am two years and playing them and I'm still learning and challenging myself.

 Your music is described as “Bluesy, Folksy Americana.” Can you talk a little about your writing style, and describe your music for someone who is never heard it?

Americana is an unfortunately nonspecific term... To describe traditions such as blues, folk, country, rock, etc. However, I think it kind of works in this case since the band incorporates each of these genres to some degree. I think of it all is being folk music to some extent, even rock has been music quote of the folk quote or of the regular people. I enjoy working with these established genres and bending them around a bit. Musically, this means using cord progressions that are not typical to blues songs, or injecting elements from welsh or Indian folk music into a song where you wouldn't typically find those elements. Somatically, this could mean working with common topics like love, loss, and relationships; however, I also enjoy expanding the scope beyond what is normal for the genres to address issues like the nature of language, communication, belonging, existentialism, community, etc. This genre bending is probably due to the fact that I'm a teacher for my day job. I've got a PhD in literature, and MA in film studies, and a BA in philosophy, so my brain is for better or worse full of various influences and subjects. - Scene Magazine


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Professor Fox Band is the brainchild of musician and scholar Steve Jones. It exists to revive the solo busking traditions of yore, especially in the "Americana" genres (folk, blues, rock and roll, etc.), while exploring modern innovations in terms of musical equipment and songwriting. All instruments - vocals, foot drums, guitar (or banjo or mandolin), harmonica, etc. - are played entirely live, with no prerecorded music or loops. 

Professor Fox Band also performs in a full, 4-piece-band incarnation. 

Band Members