The band didn't really go anywhere; they've maintained a fairly healthy schedule of local gigs ever since their inception in August of 2012. But it's been so long since the band has released any new material — three years this summer, to be exact, since the band dropped “Can't Help Myself” on the city — that you can almost be forgiven for assuming the band was a one release wonder.
But now, finally, Foxholes is back with their follow-up LP, a self-titled affair recorded with Des Moines' Phil Young. The path that Foxholes has taken from album one to album two has not been the way any of them would have drawn it up. It has, however, allowed the band to come together as an entity, become more cohesive as an act and, above all else, taught them all a lesson in patience.
“We weren't just not doing anything the entire time,” said front man Trevor Holt. “After releasing the first album, we didn't really expect it to be three years in between records. There was a lot of stuff that we wrote up to a certain point, then abandoned because we couldn't agree. Things just fell by the wayside.”
“Can't Help Myself” was a raw, DIY-sounding affair. The album was well-received locally and showed flashes of how great Foxholes could be when the stars aligned. The band parlayed the momentum the album provided into a spot on the Hy-Vee Stage at the 2014 80/35 Music Festival. But the further everyone got from the album's initial release, the more Foxholes started to look like a band who would never quite tap back into their potential.
Internally however, the band never really stopped working and writing, and the extended delay was eating at them as much as it was any of their fans. Eventually, Foxholes started leaking new music on stage, as much to cure their own boredom as to appease their crowds.
“I remember early on, we would hold back on playing the new stuff live, because we wanted the next album to have surprises,” Holt said. “But after enough time goes by, you start letting them out a little more, because you just want to play them.”
In the interim, Foxholes added guitarist Craig Bowers to the mix, and tightened up their playing style.
“We LEARNED how to play,” bassist Jessica Villegas said. “We've grown so much as a band. I listen to the first album now, some of the things I was doing, and I think 'oh wow. A child could to that. I feel like an idiot for thinking I was cool'. We were novices the first time, we didn't really know what we were getting into.”
When Foxholes made the decision to head into the studio for the first time, they chose Iowa City's Flat Black Studios and producer Luke Tweedy to put everything together. Like most first-time bands, they approached the process with a tiny amount of money and little practical knowledge regarding what they wanted to do or how they wanted to get there. They were, by their own admission, babes in the woods.
“We felt a lot more pressure last time because we had to travel,” explained drummer Ben Barndollar. “We only had that weekend to do things. We went in thinking we were going to get eight or nine songs done in that one weekend. Jeff was like “you guys are fucking idiots. You're not going to do that.” And we were like 'we have to. We don't have the money to come back'.”
“Can't Help Myself” wound up being recorded over three weekend sessions, but the band admits to not having a lot of focus, and getting easily distracted by the litany of equipment choices available to them at Flat Black. The process became less a focused recording session and more an expensive chance to play with their sound. But this time, with three years of growth under their belts and three years of planning in their heads, the band was determined to learn from their mistakes.
“Unlike the last one, (“Foxholes”) is one that we labored over for quite a while,” Holt said. “We kept getting mixes back and adding new layers. It's also the first one that Craig's played on, so it's more substantive.”
One thing that helped “Foxholes” the album develop, was how Foxholes the band came closer together as a unit. Gone were the days when band disagreements over hooks or melodies would completely derail a song. The members still have their differences of opinions but, as Holt explained, they've come to embrace the beauty of a majority vote. The artistic choices may not always be a consensus, but that's made for a sound that everyone can happily live with.
“We've grown a lot as a band,” Villegas said. “We've meshed together, and have a better idea of how to make decisions. We're like a family now.”
On top of better relationships and more well-rounded technical ability within the band, the other major factor in making “Foxholes” a more well-rounded album than its predecessor was its producer. Everyone in Foxholes is quick to praise the work that Tweedy did on “Can't Help Myself,” but they also admit the difficulty of his task, owing mainly to the facts that he didn't know the band at all, and they barely knew themselves. But in Young, Foxholes found a local producer who knew them all personally.
“We're all friends with Phil,” Holt said. “He knew us as a band, and knew what we were going for. Plus, just recording this in town meant that we were able to spend a lot more time on this one. I think that was good in the end, but that made the recording process way longer than I was expecting. We've had these songs done for quite a while.”
Indeed, Young's final mix for the album was completed last August. From there, Foxholes resumed the hurry up and wait game, as they spent months talking to various labels, hoping to get a deal done. When nothing materialized, the band was forced to sit on their hands for months more, as they self-produced a run of vinyl.
“There's also a lot more to this album,” Barndollar explained. “There's a music video. We're working with a PR department this time, and it took time to get all that lined up as well.”
“(Then) we were looking at April for a release, but then the calendar was too busy,” Holt continued. “So now here we are.”
Here we are. Nine months after the mixing was done, three years after the release of their debut, Foxholes is ready to give the world something new. And everyone involved believes that, just as “Can't Help Myself” pushed the band into a slot on 80/35, “Foxholes” can help them take the next step, outside of the capital city.
“I got frustrated throughout the process, with how long it took to get this one out,” Barndollar admitted. “Because I'm always looking towards the next thing. When we released the first album, people might have known who we were locally, but that helped us kind of establish that. Now the next hope is to use this album to do that regionally.”
“Anytime I put the record on, I just listen to the actual songs and it sounds so good and so cohesive,” Villegas added.
The band has been hitting the weekend warrior circuit this spring, booking shows in cities like Minneapolis, in an effort to get their name and sound outside of their home state. Now, with a finished product that is more polished, more cohesive and more complete than anything “Can't Help Myself” could provide, they finally have something they can stick in a new fan's hand, that will probably stick in their heads as well.
Foxholes plays Vaudeville Mews on Friday, May 26.