Sterling Fox – Interview

IMG_9925Thanks to various reader suggestions, indie/alt has had the opportunity to talk to a lot of up-and-coming artists recently. We started with ARMORS, the SoCal alternative band that wowed us with their singles “Parasite” and “Old House”. Now, Sterling Fox joined us for a little conversation about his career as a songwriter, as well as his solo career, which produced the brand new track, “Freak Caroline”.

When we first got wind that we would have the opportunity to chat with Sterling, excitement was the first reaction. Though it may not be a well-known fact, Sterling Fox is the mind behind a lot of your favorite songs. He’s written and produced for artists like Lana Del Rey (“Video Games”), Alex Winston (“Fingers and Toes”), Lindsey Sterling (“Roundtable Rival” and “Ascendance”), and Boyz II Men (“What Happens in Vegas”).

So, having the chance to talk to this brilliant mind was something we could not pass up. We asked Sterling about his earliest inspirations, songwriting secrets, and upcoming projects in his solo career.

What’s the earliest memory you have of music in your life? The earliest musical memory was probably from church or from my mother singing to me. She sang me this Peter, Paul, and Mary song when I was an infant called “If I Had a Hammer”. I guess it was originally made popular by Pete Seeger, though. I grew up in the church, so there was always music there. It always seemed to mean something really important. 
What was the first music related job you had?  I think the first job in which I was getting paid to do music, I was fired after the first day. I was supposed to music direct a theatrical review of Jerry Herman songs at a cabaret in Pittsburgh, and I had issues sight reading the La Cage aux Folles score. I think I was 18, so to be fair, probably in a bit over my head. 
Who were some of your earliest inspirations as a songwriter?
I mainly listened to religious and classical music growing up, so in my early days it was probably Beethoven or Chopin or Liszt. I think at some point I got my hands on the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack and listened to that on repeat for several years – so Andrew Lloyd Webber as well. 
You’ve written for a lot of established artists. How did the process work? Did you work directly with the artist, or on a separate team?
It has varied each time. Certain times I’ve worked separately and pitched a song through a label and in those cases, the artist didn’t know who I was even though I wrote their song (which is weird). Other times I’ve worked in the room writing with artists directly which is much more fun typically and slightly less soul crushing.
What’s your process for writing songs?
I come up with a melody and some chords first. I hone it in until it’s manageable, usually just using gibberish as a scratch. The lyrics come next. Usually I pull from material that I’ve been free writing on the subway or on my phone and try to superimpose concepts and phrases in important parts of the song. Sometimes the demo making process is happening simultaneously – lately I’ve been writing on a microphone because you can tell what melodies phrase better and work better phonetically when you are on the mic recording. It varies each time, but I’ve spent as little as 3 hours writing a song up to 6 years. Lately my songwriting process per song ranges somewhere in between 1 week and 4 months. Sounds crazy…but that’s the way I like to do it.
What was your favorite and least favorite part of working as a songwriter?
Favorite part: you can live vicariously through someone else and remain completely anonymous, thereby abstaining yourself from all blame if the song is bad. 
Least favorite part: You also abstain yourself from all recognition if the song is good.
Your latest release, “Freak Caroline”, has an interesting concept to it. It’s described as a “revenge” ode. Can you explain this and your inspiration behind the track?
The song is about a trust fund girl from New York who likes to blow a lot of adderall and dance. It is inspired by several people I’ve worked with. It’s not really a revenge song, it’s just a narrative. She is neither the protagonist nor the antagonist. Caroline is a fun but tragic friend that we probably all have. 
What are the differences between writing for other artists versus writing songs for yourself?
Writing for myself, I can say whatever the fuck I want, which is great. Writing for other people is very limiting, but also more challenging in certain ways because your parameters for use of the English language are limited by the artists’ vocabularies, which are typically miniscule. 
How would you describe the sound of your music?
Each song I write sounds completely different. Even my voice sounds different from song to song. I guess I would describe it as a magical, nebulous concoction of rock and roll, verbose wit, and catchy but bizarre melodies. A couple of my friends call it “psychopop”.
What does the future look like for you?
The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance went pretty well. My right arm became uninvisible while I was playing “Earth Angel” with Chuck Berry’s brother so I’m guessing my parents get together and kiss and Biff ends up not being a total a-hole. I am definitely hoping I turn out like my dad, though, because Crispin Glover is a freaking legend. 
Who are some of your favorite artists right now?
bjork, ty segall, father john misty, st. vincent, arcade fire, kendrick lamar, tor miller, frank ocean, tame impala, etc etc I’m really more into classix to be honest: bowie, iggy, lou, paul simon, springsteen, queen, blur, pixies, oasis, misfits, ramones, and also a lot of terrible pop punk from the 90s.
What are your thoughts on popular music today?
I don’t listen to a lot of it, to be honest. I’m sure it’s great. It’s popular – it must be great, right? I always give indie music the benefit of the doubt, but mainstream music has to really prove itself to me before I can get with it. 

We want to hear your “Perfect Playlist”. Pick 5 songs…

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (greatest song of all time)
Limp Bizkit – Break Stuff (greatest worst song of all time)
Springsteen – Born to Run (raw emotionz mannn)
Bowie – Life on Mars (removed himself from the planet to satirize earth)
Michael W. Smith – Place in This World (funny Christian song from my childhood that I still love. completely obsessed with the guitar solo)

You can stream the new single, “Freak Caroline”, below via Soundcloud or Buy the song on iTunes here. You can also stream Sterling’s Perfect Playlist via Spotify here.

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