Breaking Through The Noise: A Conversation With Fox & Cats

Making it as an unsigned band in America today is perhaps harder than it has been at any other point in recorded history. The age of social media and digital music has certainly created more ways for artists to engage with the world at large, but just because you have a platform to discuss your latest activity does not guarantee anyone will want to listen. In order to achieve that, you need to work hard and be as kind as possible to everyone you meet. You need to stay up late working on songs, and then stay up even later working on your live show. You need to tweet and use Facebook as much, if not more, than you use any other marketing service. You need to make yourself available, plain and simple, but you also need one thing many artist that get everything else right lack, and that thing is nothing more than good music.

Enter Fox & Cats. Hailing from Texas with a indie-tinged take on pop rock that will melt your heart, this duo has spent the better part of the last year preparing to release their new album, Ampersand. Along the way, the group has toured the states, played to crowds of every size, and learned a lot about what it means to be a successful band in 2015. With the release of Ampersand right around the corner, we took a few minutes last week to speak with the band about everything going on in their very busy lives right now, as well as the lessons learned over the last year of their lives. You can find their responses, as well as some music from their upcoming record, below.

H: To start us off, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself to our readers:

F&C: We are Fox & Cats, a rock band from Houston, TX. I, Josh Willems, play guitar and sing. Nicole Wigginton handles the drums and we have our good friend, Chris Dunaway, on bass guitar.

H: When did Fox & Cats originally begin, and how did you and your band mate originally meet one another? Basically, give us the ‘Marvel origin story’ for your group.

F&C:  Nicole and I met in high school through playing in different bands. We started playing music together with a couple friends a few years after we graduated. After about a year of trying to settle on a sound and going through lineup changes we decided to move forward as a two-piece for a while. Thus Fox & Cats was born. We’ve been playing together for about 5 years now and have evolved to become a three-piece in recent months.

H: You’re from Texas, which has been known for a variety of musical genres over the last fifty or sixty years. What can you tell us about the scene you hail from? Do most groups play a style of music similar to yours, or do you stick out? What are shows like?

F&C: Houston tends to produce a pretty wide variety of musical genres. Most of the bands we play with are doing something completely different from our sound which I feel works to our advantage by helping us stick out. Shows can be pretty hit or miss. It mostly depends on the lineup and what night of the week it is. People don’t tend to go out of their way to catch unknown bands at shows. If the mood is right and you’ve got something booked on a Fridayor Saturday night with a decent Headliner the turn outs can be pretty rad.

H: For someone who has never heard your music before, how would you sell your sound?

F&C: I usually find myself using the same terms to describe our sound: loud, upbeat and catchy. Our peers usually tell us it reminds them of everything they used to listen to in high school.

H: I only discovered you about a month ago while at a house show during SXSW. Your sound was great live, and it wasn’t until after I was back at my hotel that I learned you were actually a duo. When did you start bringing additional members on the road? Do you have plans to make those additional members a permanent part of the group?

F&C:  When F&C first started we actually had four members in the band. After a while things came up and the two guys we were playing with went on to do other non-music related things. Nicole and I didn’t feel like giving up so easily so we continued as a duo. Because of our start, adding additional members to the band was always in the back of our minds but we wanted to make sure whoever we added was a really good fit. I think recording our new album really brought out our desire to grow as a band. In December of 2014 we decided to try playing a show with extra musicians to back it up. It went well so when we planned our recent spring tour we brought along our friend Chris to play bass. At this point we consider him a fulltime member. Whether or not we continue to add musicians or not just depends on whether or not we meet the right people.

H: I’ve always been curious about the writing process for a duo. Is it an equal combination or ideas from each member, or does one work on music and the other focuses on lyrics? Please, tell us what you are able to about how you go create your art.

F&C: Most of our songs start out as acoustic songs that I come up with in my attic. Once I have a basic skeleton of a song Nicole and I will start working in drums and polish up the song until we’re satisfied. I also like to use the voice notes app on my phone to record little riffs I come up with. I’ve probably got about thirty little snippets and ideas saved in there that may someday evolve into full songs.

H: Your new album is titled ‘Ampersand.’ What was the motivation behind choosing this name?

F&C: The idea came partly from us joking around about our band name. One of our biggest pet peeves is seeing our name on show flyers or reviews with the word “and” instead of the ampersand in our name. There’s just something some much less aesthetically pleasing about writing out the word “and”. Hopefully using it as the title of our album will help solidify our beloved ampersand. Another reason is that this is our second release. It’s kind of like we’re saying “…& here’s some more music from Fox & Cats.”

H: Your band is in the unique position of not just starting off, but also not being established to the point of being able to tour anywhere and have kids show up. You’re somewhere in the middle, and that interests quite a bit. What goal do you have for this record, and where do you hope to find yourselves after its released?

F&C: I think being able to tour comfortably is our biggest goal with this band. We just really want to be able to play music across the country and hopefully some day, around the world. Above everything else we hope that everyone who listens to the new record, or any music that we make, will enjoy it and be entertained by it.

H: Is the longterm goal to sign to a label, or are you happy remaining independent?

F&C: A label would be nice but it’s not something we’re actively trying to achieve. We’ve come this far pretty much on our own so I think we’d be comfortable moving forward that way. That being said, I’m sure there’s plenty that a label would be able to do to help us grow, so it’s definitely not an idea we’re opposed to.

H: Bands that are able to develop dedicated following without the help of a label are often able to demand more before signing any deals. Your band has started to build quite a bit of hype, so I’m curious – what would you want to see in a record deal that would make you interested in signing?

F&C: Honestly… just give us a sexy bus, maybe a steady supply of hot pockets and shows to play and we’re happy. Funding everything with just the three of us working crappy jobs can be pretty difficult sometimes. Recording, pressing cd’s and ordering merch definitely isn’t cheap so I guess some money would be nice too.

H: Moving away from the label talk, what kind of live plans do you have for the summer?

F&C: We’re planning on setting up at least one tour. Likely towards the end of summer and likely along the west coast. We’ll have more details on that as we start pulling it together.

H: For people who have never experience your live show, what should they expect?

F&C: Awkward dad jokes, crazy hair flying around in the air (it’s been about a year since my last cut) and sweaty bodies. We usually look like we just crawled out of a swimming pool by the end of our shows.

H: I think that covers just about everything I had in mind to ask. Before I let you go, are there any final thoughts or observations that you care to share with us?

F&C: If you microwave a Hawaiian sweet roll for 5 seconds and then smear Nutella all over it, it tastes EXACTLY like a chocolate doughnut. You’re welcome. Also be sure and pick up a copy of our new album ‘Ampersand’ when it comes out May 12th!

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.