Get to Know Foe Destroyer, band of ‘Fly By Night’
Instead of a traditional orchestra, Fly By Night boasts the talents of acclaimed Brooklyn/Austin rock band Foe Destroyer, who bring their musical prowess and wildly eclectic sound to the show’s New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons. Equipped with sardonic wit and a plethora of opinions, the three mad geniuses behind the noise—a.k.a. Daniel Garcia, Chris McQueen and Cade Sadler—discuss with PH's Literary Resident Kari Olmon their songwriting, collaboration, and why they are uniquely suited to play in musicals.
How did Foe Destroyer come about?
DANIEL GARCIA: Various failures, I think, have led to this current failure. No, it’s like every band—you play with enough people until you find the ones that feel good.
CADE SADLER: Danny and I went to high school together in Denton [Texas], and we were in a band together, where I played guitar and he played bass.
CHRIS McQUEEN: I went to college in Denton, and that’s where I met Danny and Cade.
CS: And then I got kicked out of the band for Chris. He replaced me. He was already in college and studying guitar, so he was obviously better—
DG: Looked way worse. Cade looked like a rock god.
CS: Danny was going to quit the band that he in Chris were in, Oso Closo, but then Chris was like, let’s just start this other band. So they started Foe Destroyer and brought me back in.
How many years have you been together now?
CS: Three years.
How do the three of you collaborate, both in terms of writing and recording?
DG: I write the hits. Cade writes the weird ones.
CS: I write the deep cuts.
CM: I write the filler.
DG: No one writes the words.
CM: It definitely varies from song to song. One person has an idea, takes it to the next guy, and those two people write it. Other songs start with a jam session, and others one person wrote almost entirely.
CS: Sometimes we’ll go back and find old recordings and rework them or re-record parts of them to fit what we want on the record.
CM: It’s loose, but there’s a central focus of what needs to happen for a song to feel like it belongs on an album, that it sounds like our band, and it represents who we are.
How would you describe that ethos?
CM: I think all three of us are interested in making songs we feel like we haven’t heard before. Songs don’t ever really feel like they’re done until they sound like something new, something that is exciting to us, something that we’d like to hear ourselves. It usually ends up being a combination of different genres, different influences.
Listening to the record [Foe Destroyer, March 2013], what’s most immediately striking is the sheer diversity of styles and genres—both in the album as a whole and in each individual song. How would you describe your sound?
CM: We wrote a bio talking about the genres we combine, and every time I read it, I hate it. What does our sound sound like? I guess we try to go for meaning, and it doesn’t really matter what genre or what instrument we’re playing, if we’re feeling it and we’re meaning it. We love to write songs, we’ve all been writing songs for over ten, fifteen years.
DG: There’s no clear direction on how to make good music, and we don’t really have a clear direction on how to sound. Most of the time it just comes out, without us over-thinking it.
CM: We have the highest standards anyone could have with regard to our music, so if we’re happy with what we’re playing, then that’s what we’re gonna put out.
How did Foe Destroyer come to be a part of Fly By Night?
CM: We already had a relationship with the Dallas Theater Center when we came to Fly By Night in Dallas. My old band, Oso Closo, did The Who’s Tommy at the Dallas Theater Center, and it was awesome. When they were getting ready to do Fly By Night, Will [Connolly] and the others [co-writers Kim Rosenstock and Michael Mitnick] went to the theater and asked about getting a real rock band to perform the music in their show. We met the writers at the first big meeting for Fly By Night in Dallas, and it all sort of clicked. We stayed in touch after Dallas, and they brought us in for the New York production at Playwrights.
What was your role in the process? What changed from Dallas to New York?
CS: In Dallas, we spent a full month working on the music with the writers.
CM: We arranged the music in the rehearsal room, as a band. The writers wanted to take the songs from being ‘musical’ songs, in the traditional musical theater sense, to songs that sounded like the work of a current band. Will would come to us with what he was hearing for a song, he’d play it on acoustic guitar, and together we’d develop it as if it were a song for our band, yet still make it fit into the musical. We’d flesh out the songs and contribute our own style.
CS: Everything is a lot quieter than we’d generally play. In Dallas, when we were onstage, we were in a closed room with a window—we were in a box. That way, they had more control over how loud the band was.
For this production, we busted you guys out of your box. What kind of direction did [director] Carolyn Cantor give you, and how were you more integrated into the production?
DG: We hand off props to the actors throughout the show. For instance, McQueen gives Miriam a newspaper and I give Daphne a blanket in Act Two.
CM: Carolyn wanted to have us doing as many of the sound cues as possible ourselves. She wanted us to organically create them with our instruments.
DG: We’ve been with the show for a long time, and we know the writers well. They’ve given us room to experiment and try whatever we want. If they don’t like it, they tell us.
Cade, you make a big show of ringing the bell for the deli door.
CS: Yeah, I was talking to Kim and Mitnick about it after a [preview] performance. I was apologizing, saying I’d missed a couple of the cues today, and Kim was like, ‘What bell?’ ‘The deli bell.’ And she said, ‘You’re the one ringing the deli bell?’ I was like, ‘You didn’t even notice?’
CM: We’ve had to play much more quietly than we’re accustomed to. This theater is small and we don’t have a box, so we’re learning to play very dynamically at a lower volume, which is actually fun.
When you’re onstage, are you supposed to be in character?
CM: I think so. We feel we’re existing in the same realm as the narrator, more or less. We know what the story is and we’re reacting to it. Subtly, on an emotional level—not in any overt way. There’s times like, in ‘Circles in the Sand,’ when we’re pretending to be the guys in the club—
DG: We’re not pretending. We’re acting. I create a backstory for my character. I’m Ned Storms. Brother of Joey Storms. I also flip sticks off my snare drum to Chris.
Coming to the production as an established band, what has it been like working with such a large company of writers, directors, designers and actors?
CM: We’ve definitely had to learn that we can’t just give our opinions about anything, anytime. Within our band, we’re very open with each other. Anyone can say anything they want at any time, and no one’s gonna be offended or weirded out.
DG: Or better yet, they are offended by it. And then we dig through the weirdness.
CS: And because there’s only three of us, that process isn’t too complicated.
CM: But as far as working within the theater world, it’s different. In this particular group, we feel that the writers trust us, that Carolyn trusts us. But we also have to be careful, because we have loud opinions—
CS: And loud mouths—
CM: We’ve learned we can’t tell someone else how to do their job.
What are your favorite numbers to play?
CM: I really enjoy ‘Eternity’ because it’s the one where I try to catch sticks in the air and play my guitar with them.
CS: I like ‘Breakfast All Day.’ It’s the most fun to play. It cruises. It’s the most 1965-style song of the show. It’s only a minute and a half, but it’s my favorite one to play.
DG: I like underscoring the death. I like the nightmare. I like any time something sad or scary is about to happen.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
CM: I think the way they’ve done the stars is pretty incredible.
DG: All the actors in this production are really inspiring in a new way. I like watching actors work.
CM: I think ‘Cecily’ is a really great payoff.
CS: I like Crabble’s moment, when he runs down and directs the traffic.
CM: The writers built each of the characters to have a terrific story arc and a great payoff during the blackout, but McClam’s and Crabble’s moments are especially great.
This isn’t the first time you’ve played in a musical. You did The Who’s Tommy, and next up you’re doing The Rocky Horror Show backin Dallas. Was it intentional, or did you just fall into it? Why do you think the band is suited to it?
CM: I think it’s both. Like anything else, you do one thing and you meet people that you like to work with, and then they set you up for the next one. So you end up falling into unexpected, cool projects. But I also think that we are fairly well suited for this, as it turns out, because we do obsess over the stories and the characters and how it all happens.
DG: When we go home, we spend hours talking about the show.
CS: I was in theater when I was very young; I took acting and music theater classes. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t that great. I was never chosen for leading roles or anything. So it’s cool to be a part of it all again, in a completely different capacity.
Two-thirds of the band just moved to Brooklyn, and Chris, you’re going back to Austin after Fly By Night closes. How do you envision Foe Destroyer’s future?
CM: Our first album was made when we were all living in different places, so we’ve adapted to working like that. We work in spurts. When we’re apart we work separately, and then we come back and put our ideas together. Whenever we’re in the same place, we always find time to be a band.
Learn more about their upcoming appearance in Dallas Theater Center’s Rocky Horror Show at dallastheatercenter.org.