Crackin’ into a new album
Crackin' Foxy talks about recording self-titled debut album
SARANAC LAKE — It’s not often you can hear 1920s swing, lyrics written by a Hawaiian prince and the lively rhythm of Belgian gypsy jazz in the Adirondacks, but the Crackin’ Foxy ensemble, led by Saranac Laker Mark Hofschneider, has set out to change that with their self-titled debut album.
The album features a selection of obscure swing songs, original songs and even a cover of the 1982 New Order hit “Temptation.”
When Hofschneider moved from New York City to the Adirondacks 12 years ago, he noticed a severe lack of swing music in the North Country, so he started his own band and became a staple of Saranac Lake’s live music scene.
First performing at the second Hobofest, Crackin’ Foxy has existed for eight years, but up until this point could only be seen live. Hofschneider has planned on putting the band’s laid-back yet jumpy sounds on an album since day one, and in March 2016, the band entered the Beehive studio in Saranac Lake for a trying five-day recording session.
With everyone in one room, a large enough mistake could soil an entire recording. For some reason, the smooth and sly “I can’t give you anything but love” became a thorn in the side of the band as they restarted the vibrant and gleeful song again and again.
“As it turns out, recording is a huge pain in the ass,” Sarah Curtis said. “As a vocalist, it was especially tough for me when we were doing that song over and over again, because you have to sing with emotion, and the first time it’s easy, but the 10th time …”
Recording as a group presented its difficulties but band members said they didn’t think they could have done it any other way.
“When you are playing in front of a microphone there’s nothing there. We are all relying on each other,” Hofschneider said.
However, after scrapping recording after recording, and everyone began growing weary of the song, “Well, there’s always lunch,” bassist Russ Mulvey said.
Crackin’ Foxy appears to be a rather apt name as band members are always doing just that.
The term “crackin’ foxy” comes from a line in the 1941 Humphrey Bogart film, “The “Maltese Falcon.” While Bogart, as private eye Sam Spade, is talking with two detective friends about the murder of his partner, he realizes he is suspected and says the two are “crackin’ foxy.”
“We don’t actually crack foxes,” Mulvey said, again, showing the band’s knack for quips and riffs.
The band members’ humorous and irreverent personalities carry through to their live performances and the album as they incorporate kazoos and duck calls in shows, putting all their energy into performing each song.
“Singing this kind of music is a lot like acting. I try to ham it up,” Curtis said. “Every song has a different mood to it and I try to completely embody that mood.”
A close listen to the wild “Drinking Red” reveals the party described is not a unrestrained, early 20th century swing dance event; rather an account of the time Hofschneider’s rental tenants in the city brought in bedbugs, sung from the pest’s perspective. Hofschneider became a sort of bedbug litmus test, testing if the apartment was clear by sleeping on the floor and being woken up in the early morning hours to find them trying to make a feast out of him.
Needless to say, the red liquid being drunk is not a pinot noir.
The two original songs featured on the album utilize the band’s most interesting attributes, and blend in with 1920s swing lyrically and musically. Both showcase Hofschneider’s engaging lyrics, the Curtis sisters’ ability to sing a lot of those lyrics in a very short amount of time and the unconventional instruments used to complement traditional swing.
In Crackin’ Foxy’s current form, Hofschneider and Sarah Curtis are the only two original members of the band. Sean Connin on guitar is filling in temporarily while Alex Marklund recovers from a car crash in July. Initially in critical condition at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vernont, Alex is now out of rehab and recuperating at his mother’s house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Bobby Davis plays guitar and after several vocalists have sung beside Sarah, it is now her sister Jenny taking on the hurried, upbeat harmonies and playing the “snaps.”
“Mostly we play with the hearts of the people in the audience,” Sarah said.
Redia Spada is the other vocalist heard on the album, and was its producer as well. Singing as siblings, Sarah and Jenny said they know each others strengths and limits well, finding opportunities to goof off as they usually do and relishing in the energetic and carefree swing atmosphere.
“Swing is fun; it puts people in a good mood,” Sarah said.
“It’s good times music,” Jenny added
An upbeat mixture of banjo, guitar and ukulele carries through the entire album with the “le pompe” strum of gypsy swing keeping the head-bopping, finger-snapping energy on the backbeat.
Crackin’ Foxy is holding an album release party at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake.
While Hofschneider said he wants to take Crackin’ Foxy on a world tour without leaving New York, hitting Rome, Peru and Cuba within the state border, the band currently has shows scheduled for the reopening night of the Hotel Saranac on Dec. 29 and First Night at Will Rogers on Dec. 31.