Self-Reflecting With Harvey Fox
In any circumstances, but especially within the creative industry, it’s often too easy to ignore the signs of your own body and mind telling you that you need a break; You’re conditioned to keep going, to continue pushing out content and keep performing. There was a point in time when Colin Fox of Chicago band Harvey Fox came face to face with this exact struggle, and he ultimately decided to trust his intuition and be honest with those around him about taking some time off from his passion project. “I realized that I just wasn’t enjoying anything about the band. I wasn’t enjoying anything about making music or performing or going out and talking to people. It was all like a chore for me,” Fox recalls, telling me about about his change of heart and battle with social anxiety over a cup of coffee last month. The epiphany occurred right after the band played a packed Lincoln Hall show last year, and it led Fox to post on social media about his current struggles with certain aspects of being a musician. “I just made a post about this and was like I’m mentally not in a good space, I’m not having a good time, and I need a break from this to reassess and find a way that I can make a more sustainable life. You have to be careful how much energy you invest and you have to be mindful of your state and when you’re working on something that hard.”
As it turns out, Fox says his break from the band allowed for him to approach their sophomore effort with a refreshed outlook and clean slate, but he does also admit that the whole process had its ups and downs. “The album gets a little meta… There’s a lot of songs about the struggles that [I’m experiencing] and then I’m struggling to finish the record. So it’s real cyclical,” he says. Most importantly though, the second album from Harvey Fox, called Lullabies for the Restless, signifies growth and introspection for the band, and Fox’s ability to call out his own struggles in a self-reflecting manner is maybe one of the biggest changes between this record and the band’s debut.
Harvey Fox’s current-day, four-man lineup consists of friends that Fox made as far back as middle school— 14 years ago. The first being the band’s keyboard and synth player, Drake Morey. “We met in middle school. I transferred to a new school. It was a private Christian school and I was not so into it. Drake was into Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and he was one of my first friends at the new school. I went over to his house and he just had like hundreds of recordings of electronic music that he made,” Fox recalls. In a way, Morey served as Fox’s musical guru, introducing him to classic rock music and the recording arts. After dabbling in making music with Morey, Fox eventually met bassist Tom Garvey at a White Elephant party, where Garvey received Fox’s gift of a monkey carved out of a coconut. “Then I found out that he liked Radiohead and we’ve been friends ever since,” Fox added. Eventually, Fox also connected with drummer Dario Velazquez in high school when they both joined the lacrosse team. “ I saw him play drums in the school band and he was amazing,” Fox says. “We started playing garage rock in Dario’s garage ten years ago. Just Tom, Dario and I. Then it grew larger, Drake joined. We had a ten piece band in high school...we were just trying to be Arcade Fire. We wanted to make the kind of music that inspired us to make music in the first place.”
The long-term friendship between all four band members meant they definitely had a similar goal in mind and connected through their influences, but Fox says, “When I listen back to the [first] record today, it sounds like two different records, there’s side A and side B. Side A is definitely more of the reckless side, like garage party music stuff we were doing before. Whereas the second half is much more self reflective and contemplative side. I think when you work on something long enough you just have to take a serious look at yourself. It seemed like a lot of that first record was done as a joke. They’re silly songs, joking songs.”
Nowadays, in addition to the more direct, cohesive theme of introspection Fox wanted their sophomore album to have, he also approached some of the songwriting with very specific intentions. For example, the lead single “Pictures of Herself” stemmed from one of Fox’s personal relationships, as well as his self-proclaimed love/hate relationship with Lana Del Rey. When he started to work on the debut single for Lullabies for the Restless, Fox said he had just listened to a Lana Del Rey B-side called “Never Let Me Know.” “I kind of dig her, but also it’s hard not to scoff at everything she does. That song ‘Never Let Me Go,’ I just felt like so irritated by it, so the first line of [‘Pictures of Herself’] is ‘She never says don’t let me go because she thinks I won’t.’ The idea of this was to make like an antithesis of a Lana Del Rey song. It was me responding to a Lana Del Rey Tumblr singer.” Fox says after the initial idea fell into place, the song took a very long time to piece together, mostly because it involved a storyline about current events in his life— sometimes events that hadn’t fully played out yet. “I wrote the first verse and then I didn’t know what to do, then I wrote the second verse, then once I had those two pieces I was like how do I merge these together? Part of this album is it’s written in the moment… it’s all very in the moment. A lot of these songs are hard to finish because I don’t know the end of the story. I’m living this story.” For the second part of the single, Fox says he was scrolling through Facebook and saw a picture of his ex-girlfriend. "I saw a picture of her and that feeling of seeing somebody moved on with their life, while you’re just kind of stuck in your own anxiety and depression, that’s the feeling that I was capturing. With this song it’s like the first verse is attacking and antagonizing, then the second verse turns the mirror back on myself. Like you’re judging someone for taking pictures of themselves while you’re looking at the pictures and being annoyed and angry. It’s like you obviously have some of your own ego and headspace that you need to work on.” As for the final verse of the song, Fox leaves that one open-ended, saying that he prefers to keep a little bit to the imagination and allow listeners to have their own interpretations.
Along with a more thorough approach to the songwriting for this record, the band also stepped up their game with their recording process. “We met with a couple of different producers and there was one guy Caleb Harris, he runs SonWaves Studio out of his basement. I was at a party and I had heard one of the songs that he produced. I was like wow this sounds amazing, and I was telling him I wanted to make a lo-fi garage album. He was like ‘Well, go do it yourself then. If you want to make a lo-fi album, you’re not gonna do it with me. If you want to make something sound good, then record it with me.’ So he just like instantly started fighting with me,” Fox says, adding “That’s how I like to work with people. I like to butt heads!” Working with a seasoned producer with a strong vision not only allowed the band to challenge themselves as artists, but it also allowed for the band to take their time and work at a natural pace. In order to even afford recording in the studio, the band had to space out their sessions, and that lent to a more natural, fleshed out recording process that lasted for more than a year. “We recorded everything live initially with [Harris] in the basement studio, then did overdubs with him,” Fox says. “Then Drake and I recorded a lot of the synths and guitars and everything outside of the studio.” As a day job, Fox happens to work in the recording studio inside Hanover Park Library, which turned out to be very handy when recording the finishing touches on their own. “I recorded a bunch of cello and flute with one of the guys from our high school band. I also recorded our vocals in the library because there’s a soundproof booth.I work in the library all week and then on my days off I would come into the library and record.” Other finishing touches include sounds of trains, whispers, and random synth sounds Morey recorded on his phone. “We just combined that in a bunch of ways to make it sound cohesive. It was a very slow, organic process which I was very happy with,” Fox says.
Overall, Fox says that his hiatus and the steady pace of this record completely made the project more enjoyable, and produced something that he can be proud of. “After that [Lincoln Hall] show, I took a four month break from playing music. I didn’t even touch a guitar, and when I came back to it, I had a whole new life. I was able to finish the record, I was able to finish the title track of the album, the very last track on the record. It sort of serves as an epilogue to everything, and I had enough gear and experience from working as an audio engineer at that point to be able to not have to go to the studio, but to record it myself. The direction of the record after that time took a much more organic feel, and I think that if I would have stuck to my previous headspace and mindset, not only would I have totally burnt out, it would have been a much more angry and rigid record. As opposed to blossoming into this more much more positive and organic thing.”