By Bryan Rolli
Foxy Shazam has a knack for famous last words, even if they didn’t plan it that way.
“Who are you? Who are you?” lead singer Eric Nally wails repeatedly at the end of “Story Told,” the final track on the Ohio rockers’ latest — and possibly last — album “Gonzo,” released in April.
Was it just a catchy line, or was Nally hinting at the future with this cryptic message?
Two weeks ago, the group shared a message on their Facebook page announcing they are disbanding indefinitely to spend time with their families and pursue their own passions. They canceled all future tour dates (including a stop at Red 7 scheduled for this Thursday) and left countless fans confused and heartbroken —myself included.
The stunning news made me ask, “Who are we?” Have we taken Foxy Shazam for granted? Do we only look at them as performers whose sole purpose is to entertain us because their music touches our souls? Are we being greedy? Have we ever considered they’re human beings with needs and desires that must be fulfilled — no different than us?
I spoke to lead singer Nally last month in anticipation of Foxy’s Austin performance. Judging by the determination in his voice and the passion with which he spoke of the band, it still comes as a total shock to me that they would announce their hiatus so abruptly. While it’s unclear whether or not this is the end of their story, one thing is for certain — it’s been a damn good one so far. “I just wanna be the biggest band for me and do it from my heart the whole time,” Nally says. “And by the time I’m gone, I’ll be remembered that way.”
No surprise, coming from a band that effortlessly blended the epic theatricality of Queen with the manic energy of The Fall of Troy and early My Chemical Romance — all delivered with a wink and a smile that reminded listeners whose song was playing.
I had the pleasure of growing up with Foxy. While I may have been too young to witness their hysterical, post-hardcore-with-pianos debut in 2005, I hopped on the bandwagon in 2008 with “Introducing,” which showed a band that was excited, talented and cocky enough to take the world by storm. Two years later, their immaculately produced, self-titled third album showed a band that had matured substantially. The power-pop masterpiece served as their gateway to the mainstream when the single “Unstoppable” was featured during the 2010 Super Bowl.
Nally & Co. channeled their inner Led Zeppelin on the 2012 release “The Church of Rock and Roll.” As their biggest commercial success to date, it seemed like Foxy could only continue to up the ante in terms of enormous production, densely layered songs and overall outrageousness. Instead, they did a 180 with this year’s “Gonzo,” a stripped-back, contemplative album that showed the whole band — especially Nally — coming to terms with being grown-ups in a grown-up world.
“We had a lot of time to kind of soul search,” Nally says of their downtime after the “Church” tour. He used this break to explore his own relationships with his family and identify with his parents on a brand-new level. “You just kind of start comparing. You see you as an adult, and you see your parents as an adult. You never had that perspective before. You’ve had just you as a kid and your parents as an adult,” he says. “It was just a really honest time for me to be able to reflect on that. And all it was was me kind of listening to myself.”
The band has earned its stripes touring for the last decade, and this mileage has influenced their songwriting as well. “Just living life, getting older, going around touring so much, you get a lot of experience,” Nally says. “That all just contributes to the music, and the records grow in countless different ways. So that’s exciting to me, and that’s making a career.”
Did the road lead to the band’s current hiatus? Foxy hinted at the pressures of their relentless touring schedule on “Together Forever,” a cut from “Church.” “Travel’s said to broaden the mind. I’m just losing mine,” Nally croons.
“It is never easy to be away from the ones you love,” says Nally, who has always strived to emphasize the importance of the band to his family. “I put a lot of attention on that with my kids to show them that you can find something in your heart that really matters to you that you can’t do without, and you’ve just got to follow that.”
Still, something must give eventually, and the band’s explanation for their indefinite breakup seems completely sincere. As a die-hard fan, it’s heartbreaking, but only for selfish reasons. If I had it my way, Foxy would stay together forever (yes, pun intended). I know they’re making the best decision for themselves personally, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
Thankfully, there’s a silver lining. The band believes they will make a triumphant return, and although they can’t predict when, I have no reason to doubt them. If Nally’s sentiment toward performing is any indication, they have no choice but to take the stage once more. “That feeling that music can bring me to when I’m doing it good is the ultimate feeling for me,” he says. “And I always know when I can feel it. It’s just one of those things that’s like magic to me.”
Magic warrants no explanation, and neither does Foxy’s breakup. Devastating as it may be, only the band members can govern the course of their own lives. If their families take precedence over their art right now, so be it.
That doesn’t stop me from dreaming of their glorious return, and Nally’s own words give me hope. “There’s always a plan, for sure,” he says. “There’s this light that I’m following. I call it Foxy Shazam, and it’s very clear to me.”