It’s easy for folks who haven’t heard screamo (or, as it’s more affectionately known among aficionados, skramz) to form an impression of the genre without having actually heard it.
Maybe it’s the name, or our collective scars of scene haircuts, but skramz is continuously overlooked; it isn’t just a genre full of brilliant artists, it’s also too diverse to be lumped into one group, as I’ve come to understand and adore.
There is no such thing as an essential screamo sound, whether it be past bands like Orchid or William Bonney or current ones like Your Arms Are My Cocoon or the recently featured Home is Where. However, among all the options, Foxtails may be in a category by themselves.
The term that comes to mind whenever I listen to the Connecticut-based band is “wicked,” and I don’t mean that in a demeaning fashion. The simplest way to describe their music is through the use of oxymorons: delicate yet ruthless; technical but raw; sentimental while apathetic.
With all of that in mind, I was ecstatic to speak with vocalist/bassist Meg Cadena-Fernandez and guitarist Jon Benham about their growth as a band, their vision for a stronger DIY environment, and other fun stuff!
Steven: So I have to ask the obvious question: how excited are you about live shows coming back?
Meg: I’m definitely super excited about it; it’s nice to feel like that wasn’t taken away. I was so afraid that shows were just never going to come back because all the venues were going to basically die out and all of that. But I’m thrilled because there’s been actually a resurgence of venues.
Jon: Especially in Connecticut! Yeah, the pre-COVID scene was struggling a lot, but now it’s doing better than ever. We’ve been in the scene for about seven years, and it’s never been this good. People are going to like every show. It’s crazy.
Steven: I completely get that first part, unfortunately, on Long Island, we lost one of our big DIY venues, but like you guys just said, there definitely seems to be a resurgence in interest in the scene.
How has the absence of being able to perform live affected your creative process? For some bands I’ve spoken with, they’ve said that the time they had off allowed them to really sit down and just work on making new art.
Jon: Yeah, that also applies to us. We didn’t have to rehearse for shows, so we could just write. And we’ve spent the last seven months just writing the album. Just from practicing it and writing it, we can now play it live when shows come back, but the absence of shows definitely contributed and helped with writing.
Meg: Yeah definitely, what I’ve noticed is that having like that time off, although it was really hard to not be able to play shows and just sort of having the emotional release, it kind of just helped me personally with my writing process because I could dedicate more time to like lyrics and really enjoy placing everything exactly the way I want to. This was also a sort of period of self-reflection for me during the quarantine.
I’m sure it was that way for many people, to where they were just sort of like sitting home alone with their thoughts and stuff. That’s pretty much what happened to me and I sort of became a bit more self-aware, like I was more conscious of my writing than I have been in the past and so I wrote some stuff that I’m very proud of.
I think that because we had the time to be alone with it and sort of not have the pressure of outside performance, as we could really hone in on what we needed to focus on and I really like the product.
Jon: In addition to that, we haven’t practiced an old song this entire time, because we didn’t have a show to play it for. So it’s just made the writing process better. We feel less stressed because if we had a show, and we wrote a song like two weeks before, we probably wouldn’t be able to play it, or we’d have to play it repeatedly and practice, but just not having that has been the advantage.
Steven: So, I’m not suggesting that the pandemic has been a positive thing by any means, but in this musical sense, would you say that the band needed time to just sit down and regroup?
Jon: We were all doing our own thing for a while — the original three members — all had solo projects we were working on. The thing that made us take this band seriously again was the addition of our violinist, Jared.
Meg: Definitely. I feel like that time was needed because I think there were some doubts on all of our parts about where we were going and what we were trying to do, and then we were all just unsure of ourselves. I think in this time that we’ve had to regroup and really sit down and focus on writing and songwriting. More than anything, I think it’s brought us back to where we needed to be mentally to write the songs we’ve been writing.
This time period has been extremely beneficial to observe our songwriting process and where we’re coming from a musical standpoint, as well as the prioritization of everything because I believe that prior to the pandemic, we were all stuck in our own lives, our own ways, and our own routines.
The pandemic upset everything and jumbled everything around, and as uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing as it was, it was also fantastic from a creative aspect because it got us out of all of our regular mindsets and allowed us to have a fresh way of looking at things.
Steven: I’m glad you mentioned it since it leads to the next question I was about to ask. Aside from the members, how has Foxtails’ identity developed? How much of that has corresponded to your personal development?
Meg: I believe a large part of it is how we develop as individuals. We started Foxtails when Mike and I were 15, Jon was 17. So over the years, we’ve obviously changed a lot as people in terms of our identities, like we’ve gotten comfortable in terms of gender and sexuality on top of, you know, just general ways of living and mental health and mental illness and how we cope with the experiences that we’ve had with abuse and trauma.
I think a lot of that right now, in our present stages of life, we’re more adult-ish, so I think that helps with our overall identity since we were younger and still figuring things out. And, as you can observe from our albums, they have extremely distinct sounds. I think that with the new record, we’ve been able to mold all of that together and put it all together to establish our sound. It’ll be the most honest portrayal of us. It’s probably the “most Foxtails” album to date; I believe you’ll hear how comfortable we are with our musical identities at all of our ends.
Jon: When you grow up in the same band, you have a sense of what the other members are looking for. As a result, we just write to one other’s strengths; it’s a highly collaborative process.
Meg: Our chemistry as musicians was always there, but I believe that recently because we’ve developed so much self-awareness in being more comfortable and secure in ourselves as us, as human beings, and our identities. That contributes significantly to the solidity of our sound and the ability to say, “OK, this is definitely us.”
Steven: Does this make it more difficult to play older songs as a result? I believe Jon mentioned that you have touched none of the songs you’ve written earlier in seven months or something like that. Is there a sentiment like this where playing older tracks is almost a nuisance to who you are now?
Jon: Meg and I have never shared the same viewpoint on this, so you’ll get two different responses! But, as you mentioned, I prefer to leave our identities in the past because they no longer represent us.
Meg: Personally, I like to remember where I came from. There are some songs, obviously not the entire album’s worth, where I’m just like, “That was a really special song because those words, in particular, were extremely reminiscent of those certain times in my life,” and those are the ones I like to revisit. I like to remind myself of where I come from, not to reminisce, but to remember. That’s the closest I can come to describing it. It helps me with my current self and writing because I recognized that this is how I used to speak. This is how I thought when I was younger. And it’s kind of like “Whoa,” in the sense that it helps me understand how I think and communicate now.
Steven: No, I entirely understand. I’ve seen bands play their entire set, with fans waiting for that one popular song, and then just walking off the stage like it never existed — I’ve always been fascinated by the mentality behind that. But, I appreciate the diversity of views on this subject.
You guys seem to be really forthright about your views, especially as they pertain to the DIY scene and how quickly individuals are lumped into boxes and then perceived specifically. So, my question to you is: how do you envision a better DIY scene?
Jon: It’s between individuality and individualism. That’s the fight for DIY. I believe that the ideal condition is for everyone to be themselves in any manner they want, rather than being forced to be this way, which is to be a white male with a generic musical style.
Meg: I believe it has been steadily improving in terms of quality. It’s funny because I think it’s gotten better since the pandemic, but the pandemic, to be honest, radicalized many people, much like the presidency did, so I believe this time off has been a moment of self-reflection. Many people are becoming more aware of the disparities that exist in the scene of, you know, how people have historically marginalized individuals who are already struggling to make use of any platform that is afforded to them.
I believe that over the last year, there has been a lot more inclusivity, you know, a lot more people who are talking to talk now are like walking the walk, because I believe that before, many people would say things like “I want this, this, this to happen out of the scene,” but there was never any action.
Jon: DIY was dead during the pandemic. Bands would make music, but there would be no concerts or anything. It was a period of self-reflection for everyone. However, in order to be more inclusive, you must first reflect on yourself and understand the bigger picture.
Meg: Yeah, I’ve noticed that there are a lot more shows where there are people who look like me, which is great because I feel like it resets everyone’s brains, and I’ve noticed that there are a lot of younger people at shows, like people our age, who are going to shows where I’ve never seen them before. I believe it’s a lot of the younger generation coming in and overhauling everything, and rebuilding it from the ground up, which I really like because it gives them a fresh view of what shows should look like and how scene etiquette should be. It’s just a different vibe, and I love it. I think it’s fantastic. It’s a lot more welcoming.
Jon: We’ve gone to a bunch of shows in the last month and we’re pretty comfortable now, while previously we weren’t.
Steven: I absolutely understand, and I appreciate your honesty and openness because I know it isn’t always easy. That is very appreciated. So, since we’re on the topic of vibes, I came across a comment from Meg: in which you defined your previous two albums as an outpouring and a statement, respectively. With that considered, what would you both call your next LP?
Meg: I think it’s essentially the same, but like, I’ve always found catharsis in songwriting for Foxtails and all of that, but I think with the past releases it was more of like, “okay I’m awake now, I’m conscious I’m angry about everything.” You know what I mean? Then, with III, it was very nostalgic, very like drowning, just wishing I had something that I never had.
Jon: And now, we’ve said this to each other, but this upcoming album is just very sick of it. We’re just sick of everything and the music represents that.
Meg: Coming from a lyrical standpoint, I think it’s a very mature take on everything in terms of what’s happened to me in terms of trauma, how I cope with it, how I process and communicate emotion.
I’ve always had this sort of cryptic style to my lyrics, and now I feel like I’m able to do that but combined with a lot of the directness that I had before, so it’s sort of this super cool mix of poetry, but also dialogue. It’s like a conversation but it’s poetic and relies more on storytelling. It’s more like I’m on the outside looking into myself and my experiences and that’s what I feel about and that’s why I think it’s more of a mature take because it’s more of a narration than like an account,
Steven: So, musically, would you also say that it kind of follows that same sort of coming of age, I hate that term, but like that same sort of coming of age mentality?
Jon: The instruments are very like, I don’t want to say progressive, but they are progressive. Less so like in terms of prog metal but more like forward-thinking. It’s like the parts go into each other and it’s very story-like. The goal was to do what’s never been done before.
Meg: I really like the musical approaches that we’ve been taking with the new material. What I really like about the instrumentation is that every single person has their own voice, and it’s like a layering of conversation so it adds into a sort of wedges or swings. Musically, if you think about it, it’s like the lyrical content is very complex. So I feel like the instrumentation can add a bunch of layers, emotion, and feeling to those complex statements and themes.
The somatic approach to it is very cinematic, like extremely cinematic, especially because of the voice of the violin. I love Jared — he has such a unique voice and I think that’s one thing that I love about us is that we’ve all sort of found our own voices and we all can contribute to the conversation equally and that creates something unique.
Jon: It’s like Zen. We are so full of emotion but they work so well together that it’s just peaceful, the entire project is just in contrast; that’s pretty much where sound is at this point.
Steven: That sounds awesome! Thank you two so much; I really appreciate the time. I can’t wait to see what you put out!
Meg & Jon: Thank you for having us!