On an unseasonably warm October day in Toronto, Warren Hildebrand is sitting at a corner table by the drink pick-up counter of the Starbucks at Queen and Bathurst. Dressed in a gray hoodie, jeans, and green horizontal striped t-shirt, he sets down his copy of Dennis Cooper’s collection of nonfiction, “Smothered in Hugs” and then sips on a Roasted Mate tea he purchased down the street at David’s Tea. It’s the 21-year-old’s first in-person interview regarding his experimental ambient pop project, Foxes in Fiction.
But this interview isn’t the only first he will experience this month. Following a 12-hour bus ride the morning after attending a Deerhunter concert, he will be playing his first CMJ Festival in New York. His second trip to the city also falls under a month-long health cleanse he’s taken upon himself to increase his energy. His new diet means no red meat, corn sugar, bread, caffeine, or processed food. Or alcohol.
“My friends are sending me e-mails saying, ‘I have like 40 bottles of red wine! We can drink like housewives!’” says Hildebrand. “I’m like, ‘Yeah… we’ll see.’ I may break down… It’s going to be interesting either way.”
Hildebrand has been rocking the Foxes in Fiction moniker since grade 10, and Bradford Cox of Atlas Sound and music blog Pitchfork are self-proclaimed fans. He says he has never even tried sending his music to any blogs. However, the fact that he produces music on a pretty regular basis is no secret. Hildebrand maintains a blog, MySpace, and tumblr dedicated to his Foxes in Fiction work.
Consequently one afternoon in March, Hildebrand came home from class to find a friend posted a link on his Facebook. His track had been featured on Pitchfork’s Forkcast. Despite first being featured on the Don’t Die Wondering tumblr in November, it was the Pitchfork mention that instigated an influx of other blogs taking an interest in Foxes in Fiction.
“It’s crazy. Totally, totally disarming,” he says. “[The blogs] had nothing but good things to say so far, aside from the constant Bradford Cox comparison. I think I’ve given up at this point.”
No matter any comparison, Hildebrand has come a long way since the day his dad bought him a cheap acoustic guitar from the mall when he was nine-years-old. He took lessons, but it wasn’t until he discovered the White Stripes at age 11 that he understood the importance of kicking ass via guitar riffs. That’s when he bought his first electric guitar.
By the time he was 15, Hildebrand was working on solo material. Three years later, he joined his first serious band, Paper Saw. The band was short-lived due to interpersonal drama, and Hildebrand has focused on his solo material ever since.
But don’t think that experience has put him off being in a band. Hildebrand remains open-minded about putting a backing band together for Foxes in Fiction one day.
“A lot of people keep asking me about it,” he says.
It’s probably because they want to be in your band.
“Oh my God, I doubt it,” he responds, severely underestimating the charisma of Foxes in Fiction.
Last fall, he matriculated into OCAD University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program, brought on by his interest in drawing, painting, and uncertainty as to what other direction he could go.
“Thinking back on it, I kind of applied to art school just because I wanted to get into a school and I knew it would be more of a safe place for me instead of lounging around; to be able to make connections and meet people and actually be doing work,” he says.
“I don’t know if I ever actually had a clear idea of what I wanted to do afterwards. I thought I’d just like decide once I got there.”
In September he said in an interview with Quarter Inch Collective he was taking one year off from his studies. However, now he says he is not sure if he’s going back. But leaving school was not originally Hildebrand’s idea. In fact, to his surprise, it was his parents who first suggested this plan of action if he wanted to focus on his music. And he’s not letting his artistic talent go to waste either. He does his own album artwork and was recently hired to design some event posters.
Hildebrand has grown up in various suburbs in southern Ontario—the neighbourhood Bronte in Oakville being the last—as well as spent a three-year stint on a farm, but he always knew he wanted to live in Toronto—even if he is no longer going to school here. There were times in Oakville where he’d daydream about the 416 while listening to Toronto-band Actual Water. Since moving to the city in November, he’s become friends with the band.
“I love the accessibility of everything [in Toronto]. It’s so easy to get around and so easy to see so many things and there’s always so many things going on,” Hildebrand says.
However, he does have his qualms with the city too.
“What I don’t like about it is that sometimes you just want to get out of it. Sometimes it’s too much, too stimulating. It’s kind of hard to find quiet. Also, a lot of my friends moved back to Oakville after one year of university and found out that it wasn’t for
them… It’s not that I’m lonely or anything, it’s just that a lot of my close friends don’t live around here.”
There are those who thought cassette tapes didn’t live around here either, but they would be very wrong. In addition to his work as Foxes in Fiction, Hildebrand has operated his own cassette tape label, Orchid Tapes, since February. Usually in a pressing of 100 cassettes, he releases his own work as well as music from other artists. It takes Hildebrand three days to record all 100 tapes via three tape decks in his apartment. He buys the tapes from a small shop called Accudub just a couple of blocks from this Starbucks for $1 each. Orchid Tapes is more of a hobby for now, but he is working towards turning it into a serious business; starting with stocking his tapes in the independent record stores in Toronto.
“Surprisingly, a lot of people really go for it. People get so immersed in the culture of digestible mp3s all the time that they never have a tangible form of their music,” he says. “I’m just giving them something that’s so outside of that, and that’s what is really appealing to people. You could do CDs, but when it comes down to it, it’s still a digital file.”
But he’s not opposed to CDs. He signed to the Brooklyn-based record label Moodgadget for a June re-issue of his formerly self-released Swung From Branches and for an EP. Moodgadget’s re-issue even includes Hildebrand’s song explanations originally published in his blog. He appreciates when other artists explain their work because it helps him feel more connected to the song itself.
“[It] gives you a better understanding of where the artist was coming from when they wrote that specific song,” Hildebrand says. “Especially these days where there’s a prevalence among younger artists to shroud themselves in secrecy and kind of make it seem like their songs were productions of some unknown force and there was no actual musician behind it because it kind of helps out with their hype, and that’s what a lot of people are searching for.”
After releasing an EP, he’s signing to Moodgadget’s parent label, Ghostly International. Hildebrand has already picked out the cover art for his next full-length: a photo of his Oakville neighbourhood from the ‘70s. He seems to have grown a penchant for vintage snapshots of his old ‘hood. Coma Foxes, Hildebrand’s pop collaboration with South Carolina’s Mat Cothran of Coma Cinema, is releasing a cassette on Orchid Tapes accompanied by a photo of an old Oakville school before it was torn down in the ‘80s to make way for a plaza. Hildebrand and Cothran have never met, but they are huge fans of each other’s work and maintain a friendship over the phone and the internet.
The internet has proved to be both a fulfilling and trying tool for Hildebrand. He finds his greatest challenge for Foxes in Fiction is proving to others there is more substance to his music than any blog-hype he’s acquired. “They think I’m some
second-rate Bradford Cox,” he says. Even without the blogs, he seems to put a fair amount of pressure on himself to hone and grow his sound.
He also finds with blogosphere fame, you’re more likely to be well-known in certain pockets of the internet, and maybe not so familiar in your own city.
“It’s totally the opposite of how it used to work where you’d have a local following in your city and then progressively tour all over the world. I’m backtracking from there,” Hildebrand says. “Working with other Toronto bands and setting up shows and trying to meet other people. Getting out there more I guess. Being more in touch with the actual culture of Toronto because right now it’s like I play shows and everything, but I feel like I’m almost kind of disconnected from it.”
Despite any backtracking he may feel compelled to do, the internet feeds into his main inspiration for making music: hearing real-life stories about how his music has factored into people’s lives.
For example, a student in Georgia (the country) told him over Facebook that all summer he and his friends would get high in a truck while listening to Hildebrand’s album. Another kid from Mississippi sent him a message about a camping trip with his friends where they were smoking hash. One girl got too high and freaked out, so the two of them went in his car and listened to Swung From Branches and, as the story goes, she instantly felt better.
“It’s just little things like that are really inspiring to me and make me want to keep making music. Just the possibility of something like that just blows my mind,” he says.
Are they all drug-related stories?
“I don’t smoke weed or anything, but it does seem to be a bit of a trend lately. I think it’s just maybe a coincidence. There’s been other stories that have not involved drugs, I swear to God,” he laughs.
When Hildebrand begins to list further ambitions and goals to work towards for the next year (working on his live show, exploring new recording techniques and new sounds, etc.), a skeptic would be tempted to write him off. But then he reveals his post-interview plans: buying more cassettes and preparing for the night’s show at Tiger Bar. It’s all very fitting for his parting words.
“Keep on rocking,” he says.
Foxes in Fiction is playing Glasslands in Brooklyn on October 20th and Pianos in New York October 21st. Keep an eye out for spring 2011 tour dates.
Posted by : Melissa Kim