Let’s rip the band-aid off right up front: “Fleet Foxes Sing” is not actually Fleet Foxes. This needs explaining, because when the first cover popped up on Tumblr last month, plenty of folks bought it. “Fleet Foxes Covered Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’,” announced Yahoo. “Fleet Foxes Cover Whitney Houston, Prove They Can Turn Anything into a Campfire Singalong,” crowed The L Magazine. Only problem? The real band’s response. “We didn’t do that Whitney Houston cover,” they tweeted. “Funny though!”
One listen though and you can instantly see how folks were fooled. Fleet Foxes Sing may not actually be the Seattle folkies, but damn if that sound isn’t right on. The pitch-perfect harmonies, the back-woods instrumentation – it’s all there. The artist has posted more covers since the Houston number and, on each one, you do a double-take. We checked in with the creator of the ongoing Fleet Foxes Sing series, who wishes to remain anonymous (lest the fanmail from Robin Pecknold become overwhelming we assume), to find out the story. Read our brief chat to find out how he creates the songs, then scroll further to download five MP3s, including covers of Feist, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Al Green, and the Whitney Houston song that started it all..
What inspired this?
“I’m an aspiring musician, so I’m always trying to be creative and practice my craft as an artist. One day I had “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” stuck in my head. I had some ideas as to ways I could deconstruct the song and make it my own, so I recorded a short demo of the chorus and the “don’t you wanna dance” part as an experiment. The demo had 12 vocal overdubs, reverb and acoustic guitar. A couple days later I played it for some friends while drunk and one says “What is this? The Fleet Foxes?” so I ran with it. Seemed like a great meme that’d be popular on tumblr.
“When I started the blog, it blew up on day one. The L Magazine, Yahoo news, and Vulture (I think) blogged about it and within a few hours the band must’ve been getting a lot of Whitney Houston-related messages sent their way. Once FF tweeted to say it wasn’t them, I guess more people just got curious and it’s been picking up steam on its own ever since, especially when I posted a Feist cover. When I saw people were enjoying the songs, regardless of whether or not it really was FF, I knew I needed to churn out some new tunes on a regular basis.”
How do you arrange the songs to sound like Fleet Foxes songs?
“Once or twice a week I’ll decide on a song I think I can record in under an hour. I listen to the song on repeat on my way home from work, look up the lyrics online and decide if I’m gonna add anything “Fleet Foxes-y” to the arrangement like ooohs instead of a guitar solo or whatever. For instance, the “woah oh oh” in the beginning of “I wanna dance…” is just a transposition of the beginning of the FF song “Ragged Wood.” It’s important to start with vocal harmonies because that’s the #1 thing people associate with Fleet Foxes and if they just heard my solo voice, they might not be as easily convinced.
“Once I figure out the arrangement, I record a solo performance of the song while singing and playing acoustic guitar, then I overdub 2 other voices in parallel with the melody – one lower than the melody and one higher than the melody. I try to pick a key that brings out the “tenor” in my voice, even though my range is a bit lower than Robin’s. I’m still able to pull off sounding like FF, however, with the combination of all 3 voices. The special ingredient is the highest, falsetto voice which sounds different enough from my chest voice that it comes across as if there are actually multiple different people singing as opposed to one person doing overdubs. Once I’ve recorded all the voices, I add a special “log cabin” reverb effect to make it sound extra woodsy and authentic. Three voices, acoustic guitar and lots of reverb – it’s gotta be Fleet Foxes, right?”
How do you select the songs?
“Ideally, it’ll be a popular song that has credibility. A song that’s so undeniably good that the most pretentious music snobs can’t deny it. At first I would brainstorm with friends, but recently, I started taking requests. I’ve only recorded one request so far (“We Belong” by Pat Benatar), but I plan to do more of these and future requests. I really enjoy letting the fans have some ownership of this project and it’s more fun now that I’ve opened it up.
“I like to pick songs that have simple melodies with lots of long, held notes. Additionally, it has to be believable that Fleet Foxes might actually dig the original version – so I mostly try to avoid things that might come across as cheesy or gimmicky, but I’m sure I haven’t avoided that entirely. Lastly, the best songs are the ones by artists that aren’t typically grouped together with Fleet Foxes. I tend to think popular dance and soul songs have the most potential. The hard part is picking the perfect tune.”
There you have it! Download five great covers below and see if you can tell the difference.
Check out more at the Fleet Foxes Sing Tumblr.