Interview: Talking with King of Foxes about Her New Single, Her Upcoming Album, and Her Guitars

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King of Foxes
Photo: Levi Manchak
       

Canada-based indie-alternative singer-songwriter King of Foxes, aka Olivia Street, introduces her new single, “Only Here on Loan,” a track lifted from her forthcoming third LP, Twilight of the Empire, slated to drop in November.

King of Foxes
King of Foxes | Photo: Levi Manchak

Speaking to “Only Here on Loan,” King of Foxes shares, the song is “about impermanence, and the very human condition of achieving perspective only as events recede into the past.”

The music video was directed by Canadian theatre and drag legend Darrin Hagen. According to King of Foxes, “Working with the one-and-only Darrin Hagen on this video was an absolute dream. I’ve been a huge admirer of his work in the theatre world for years, and when he approached me about doing a video together, of course, I said yes immediately. “

The upcoming album, Twilight of the Empire, follows King of Foxes’ two previous albums, Golden Armour and Salt & Honey, along with two recent singles, “Doomed to Repeat” and “Swimming in the Undertow.” Salt & Honey, a fan favorite at CKUA radio, took the number 42 slot on the station’s Top 100 Albums of the year, one of only two independent artists to appear on the list.

Guitar Girl Magazine spoke with King of Foxes to find out the inspiration behind “Only Here on Loan,” her influences, how she got started in music, and her guitars.

What three things can’t you live without?

  1. Body lotion. Lots of it. Slather me with it. I live in Alberta where it’s super dry and the winters last roughly 10 months a year.
  2. Sparkling water, preferably grapefruit flavored. Because I’m super fancy.
  3. Twinkies are my guilty pleasure. On a Sunday morning, I’ll have one with a cup of coffee, before anyone else in the house gets up.

What inspired your new single, “Only Here on Loan?”

Bits and pieces of this song had been marinating in my brain for a long while, and then one day, it all tumbled out fully formed. I had been thinking about the way I used to imagine the world when I was a child, and what changed since then in how I perceive it. I remember I would wander through the back corners of libraries looking for secret books of spells. Through our various experiences, we become so jaded by the time we get to adulthood that it’s easy to forget about the possibility of magic. As your view of the world widens, you start to realize that you’re just a tiny corner of a much larger picture. It’s a humbling process. The world doesn’t owe you anything. As a thought, though, that’s also liberating – take the pleasures of now, because the wrecking ball is always coming.

You will be releasing your third album, Twilight of the Empire, in November. What can you share about the album?

I’m so excited about it! I know that people say, ‘no one listens to records anymore’ and ‘no one has the attention span’ to listen to anything more than a single. I don’t think that’s true, and this album is definitely meant to be listened to as a whole. I think each song is strong in its own right, but there is definitely a joy in putting a string of musical moments into the context of an album. I’m also thrilled that the album cover art was done by one of my favorite artists, Kathleen Neeley, an amazingly gifted printmaker, and illustrator. She’s done designs for artists like Phish, My Morning Jacket, Calexico, and Weird Al Yankovic, and I was so honored that she created a custom print for my album cover – it captures the mood of Twilight of the Empire so well.

How did you get started in music?

I was a classically trained violinist! But I started my first punk band when I was 17 and taught myself to play guitar. I started writing my own songs and making demos on the only device I had at the time which was a Fisher-Price tape-player for children. I recorded demos on that until I was well into my 20s.

Where are you from?

I was born in Illinois, but have been in Alberta, Canada since I was a kid.

Which singers/musicians influenced your sound?

I’m a sponge and such a product of everything I’ve absorbed. Growing up, I loved Nirvana, Alanis Morisette, Liz Phair, Weezer, Our Lady Peace, Sleater-Kinney, Neko Case, The Weakerthans, Patty Griffin, Sheryl Crow… But I’ve also been really influenced by music from the previous generation too, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, the Beatles, and Elvis Costello.

Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?

I’ve always had a really clear sense of what I want my music to sound like, and I think the songs somewhat dictate their own form. A key collaborator has been my producer Stew Kirkwood – he intuitively knows what I’m going for, and we’ve worked together on all the King of Foxes albums up to this point.

What kind of guitar do you play?

I go through phases where different guitars really speak to me and inspire me. For a long time, I used a hard-tail Strat but then fell in love with a Les Paul Standard. I recorded most of my new album on my 1973 Tele Deluxe. I love this guitar – the Seth Lover Wide Range humbuckers give it such a full tone. I also used a ‘58 Gibson ES-335 Dot, which is a beautiful guitar that my producer owns and was kind enough to let me play on a track or two! I recently picked up a ‘66 Harmony Bobkat… it’s super fun to play, has loads of character because of the original gold foil pickups, and feels great in my hand. I also love my Jazzmaster… I’ve been learning to play classic surf music on it lately!

What is your definition of tone? And has your tone changed over time, or remained pretty much the same?

I don’t use a lot of effects on my guitar – I generally go for an instrument I like the sound of, through an amp, I like the sound of (I mainly used early ‘60s black panel Fender combos for the amps on the album. ‘60s Deluxe Reverbs and Vibrolux Reverbs are my go-to..) My tone has definitely evolved over time, and I think that just comes from having more confidence in myself as an instrumentalist and a songwriter. Tone has to serve the song, and to me, that often means ‘less is more.’ A great-sounding instrument is inspiring, and I try not to overcomplicate that most of the time.

What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?

All of the above! I love to incorporate ideas I’ve picked up from books and poems. Creativity definitely doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and you have to fill your well in order to have something to draw from. I try to turn my ears on to the conversations that happen around me. People talking in the checkout line, odd turns of phrases that strike me, I jot these things down in my notes and use them later.

What can you share about your writing process?

It’s a continuous process of learning to trust yourself. I don’t know where songs come from, but it certainly feels like bits and pieces of them are just floating by on the breeze, and you might have the privilege to hear a bit of one – it’s then your responsibility to bring it into the world, or to decide to let it go. Maybe it will float along to somebody else. I usually start with a piece of a melody that’s come to me in this way. And then I start asking it questions and trying to solve why it came to me and what I’m supposed to do with it. It chose me, and I owe it the respect of trying to figure it out.

Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?

St. Vincent has been on top of her game for a long time. Courtney Barnett is also amazing. Love the Weather Station. From my hometown, Bad Buddy. I continue to be amazed by Buffy Sainte-Marie, who is an absolute icon.

What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?

We have an incredibly busy summer lined up! In August, we are opening for Barenaked Ladies, Sam Roberts Band, and 54-40 at the Together Again. I’m also looking forward to our first tour of Japan this year. I have a new music video coming out when the album drops. Very excited about that one too. We had such a blast filming it and trying to vacuum up several buckets’ worth of glitter at the end of the shoot!

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