Though Foxtrot Uniform’s sophomore album, Cisco, is ready to be released in early September, frontman Kenny Uptain and drummer Kelly Test’s project is already moving on to album No. 3. As with Cisco and the band’s 2012 debut long-player, Huj! Huj! Hajrah!, the writing and recording of new material won’t put a dent in FU’s gig schedule.
“There’s no slowing down,” Uptain said. “If anything, we’ve probably picked up a little more than we had in the past.”
Cisco isn’t a placeholder, but it is a snapshot of the band at a certain point in time. Half of the songs, Uptain said, were written around 2012 –– they weren’t included on Huj! Huj! Hajrah! because they “didn’t seem to be what we were going for,” Uptain said, implying that they’re not as rocking or as poppy as most of Huj! Huj! Hajrah!’s 14 tracks. The rest came between January and March, when Foxtrot Uniform was in Test’s home studio in Dallas and his workshop space in Cisco, about 45 minutes west of Abilene. All 10 Cisco tracks have changed some since Uptain first penned them, he said. New blood is the reason. The first addition Uptain and Test made to expand their sound was Dallas’ Robbie Saunders, who plays guitar, lap steel, mandolin, you name it. The next was bassist Zack Busby, who’s played with Vaden Todd Lewis’ The Burden Brothers and Dallas’ Slow Roosevelt, followed by Fort Worth singer-songwriter/keyboardist Katie Robertson. Uptain said he loved the collective-writing process.
“It was way mind-opening how one instrument can change your approach to a song,” he said. “Somebody sitting down at the keys can come up with a different progression than [on] a guitar or whatever else you’re writing the song on. As a songwriter, you can totally open up where maybe you couldn’t by yourself.”
The result is a sumptuous, moody, slow-burning experience. Cisco is bluesy and soulful, and while the sound is crisp, the album is also gritty, raw, and prone to bombastic, expansive denouements.
As different as Cisco is from Huj! Huj! Hajrah!, Uptain said, the new material will be different from both, representing an entirely new path. The biggest reason is that Uptain’s approach to songwriting has changed dramatically. Instead of appending lyrics to vocal melodies that have arisen from riffs, Uptain is now writing lyrics first, something he’s never done before. Inspired chiefly by Bob Dylan and by ol’ Zimmy’s inspirations, the Beats, Uptain is now focused on poetics and storytelling. “I think when I grew up in the ’70s, Dylan was already clichéd,” he said. “You didn’t want to write a song like Dylan for some reason. I stayed away from all that stuff, and now I’m all the way back into it. I love it.”
Along with Dylan, Uptain is listening to a lot of outré Americana sounds (Cotton Jones, J.J. Cale, Sturgill Simpson). Uptain said FU’s new work is “going in a weird, bluesy direction, but it’s positive.”
His new attack is “just comfortable right now, and it changes all the time too. Sometimes I’ll sit down with somebody, and gold will happen. I just want to figure out where I want it to go.”
He feels invigorated. “It’s a breath of fresh air,” he said. “Playing music feels good again.”
For Foxtrot Uniform’s slate of upcoming dates, Uptain and Test have replaced Saunders and Busby, who both moved on to other projects, with Shake the Moon’s Morris Holdahl on guitar and The Royal Savages’ James Hughes on bass. Though FU won’t be performing many Cisco tracks onstage until the album hits, the band will trot out a lot of that “weird, bluesy” stuff that hasn’t been recorded yet.
“It’s like being a stand-up comedian: You throw it out there until you feel it’s good,” Uptain said. “If you’re playing three-hour shows, it’s not even to test it on the audience. It’s more for the band to be familiar with it.”
As passionate as he is about the new, unrecorded material Uptain is eager to push Cisco: “Man, it’s been awhile since we [finished] it. I dug it. I thought what we got out of it was real good, and now we’re heading in a different direction. It’s all a process and a learning thing, but I dig the results.”
Fri at The Free Man Cajun Café & Lounge, 2626 Commerce St, Dallas. 214-377-9893.