Five years in hardcore can seem like eternity. In five years scenes change, groups come and go, and other life obligations can get in the way. New England Hardcore outfit Foxfires are celebrating their fifth anniversary by releasing the LP Pinetum this October. Pinetum is an aggressive and hard-hitting album, with a stand out performance from frontman Josh Lyford. Lyrically Lyford sets himself apart from his peers with honest, raw, poetic sensibility. Scene Point Blank recently sat down with Lyford to discuss his band and the good things that happen when you continue to make music.
Scene Point Blank: You play in a hardcore band. Every five years or so people seem to make claims about the state of hardcore, or punk rock, as a dying art form. What draws you to hardcore and what made you want to be in a band?
Josh Lyford: I was drawn into hardcore around the time that I started high school. It was a combination of things, maybe a bit of a perfect storm. I've always ridden BMX and the videos at the time were really punk and post-hardcore oriented and I loved those bands.
And at the same time, some of my friends had gotten involved in hardcore - starting bands and going to shows - and I was attracted to the music and the message. From there, I eventually started going to shows myself and was completely blown away by what I found.
My mom gave me her acoustic guitar when I was in middle school, which I have played ever since. It was only natural that I would eventually want to start a band of my own. Beyond that, it's always been a great way to spend time with friends and doing something that, at least tangentially, is fairly productive.
It's true, the state of hardcore and punk is always called into question and I think that's normal and healthy. Do I think it's dying? Not at all, but it is certainly changing. When I first started going to shows, I could go to a "big" hardcore show at the Palladium with a mixed bill and there would be hundreds of people almost every time. It was vibrant and it was alive. I don't think we really have the infrastructure to have those sorts of shows consistently throughout the week anymore, but there are still shows that draw a lot of people and I think that, at least in the world I live in and Foxfires lives in, the line between hardcore and punk has been blurred.
"I think we're seeing an uptick [in hardcore] again. Younger people are booking shows, starting bands and getting their friends involved."
Since I got involved in hardcore, there have been ebbs and flows and luckily, I think we're seeing an uptick again. Younger people are booking shows, starting bands and getting their friends involved. I've seen plenty of my peers that have "grown out of" hardcore and they seem to speak the loudest about the state of the scene, but if you frequently attend shows and listen to the bands coming out, I think most reasonable people would say that hardcore and punk is very much alive and well.
Scene Point Blank: The Worcester/Boston scene has a pretty notorious scene, how has coming from Worcester affected Foxfires? Have you had a lot of support from the community?
Josh Lyford: The community gives back to the bands that support it. We've seen bands come and go because they expect to immediately be received well and this community isn't the same as maybe what you see in pop music or something like that.
Without a lot of hard work and dedication, you won't go anywhere. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, but for the most part, you get back what you put in. In that respect, I think the Worcester hardcore and punk community has supported Foxfires. There are certainly more people at the shows now than there were five years ago when we started and I think that is pretty standard. If you want to have a future in those communities, you have to go to shows, support bands, book shows, and meet the other people involved.
Scene Point Blank: A lot of hardcore bands have fairly short-lived careers. Foxfires has been a band since 2010, which in hardcore terms seems like a lifetime. What do you owe the band's longevity to and why do you think so many bands in your genre call it quits much sooner?
Josh Lyford: I think that it really depends on your expectations. Hardcore isn't a genre you get into to become rich and famous. You have to love the music and the people you meet and the basements you play. If you don't, then you aren't going to last. With that being said, a lot of bands aren't meant to last a long time.
I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but I can completely see the rationale behind starting a band with your friends, playing shows, putting out an EP and maybe doing a tour and saying that's that. I think that's kind of awesome in a way.
"Hardcore isn't a genre you get into to become rich and famous. You have to love the music and the people you meet and the basements you play. If you don't, then you aren't going to last."
Scene Point Blank: A lot of people consider hardcore and punk to be a phase. Many people don’t last past their teenage years. Why have you stuck with the scene and what do you get from being one of the older people at the shows?
Josh Lyford: It's funny to consider myself the "old guy" at shows these days, but it's true a lot of the time. I'm 30 now and have been listening to the music and going to the shows since I was in high school, that's at least 16 years and even saying that kind of blows my mind.
I don't think I've ever really had a choice, I love the music and the community and I've met so many people and been to so many places because of it. I never would have gotten that if I had left it in the rearview mirror. I think one of the things about hardcore is that it represents so much, for every band with mindless, uninspired lyrics, there are a handful that have something really amazing to say and I love that both of those things coexist.
I definitely have my preference, but working as a writer myself, I take something particularly special away from the bands that have something interesting to say, or those with a way with words. When you find lyricists with their own poetic and passionate delivery set to fast, heavy or gritty music, it is really something.
Scene Point Blank: Is there ever an expectation of making a living off of this? I know that before Four Year Strong you had worked some odd jobs as a carnival truck driver and cemetery caretaker.
Josh Lyford: There is absolutely no expectation of making a living off of Foxfires. I think these days there is an expectation of success in some startup bands, particularly relating to money or fame, but that really destroys what it's all about. It's liberating to be in a band that will mean absolutely nothing to anyone on a global marketing scale, but might mean something really special to a handful of people.
It takes the weight off in some ways. I've done the professional music thing and I appreciate the experiences that I had and it was obviously great to get a paycheck for banging your head, but that's not why I started playing music and I saw what that did to the creativity, the lyrics, and the relationships there. I'm not a businessman, but if you look at a band as a business, that's what it becomes. It kills the magic. In previous, maybe more lucrative, bands, the outward message was always, "we're friends, we're just doing this for fun, yeah!"
But, that wasn't the reality behind closed doors; it was monetizing the image of those ideals. With Foxfires, these are five people, who I consider some of my best friends - some of whom I've known for almost my entire life - that write whatever they want, play whenever they want and represent themselves however they see fit.
Before the old band I was in, I did anything and everything I could to make ends meet. Cemetery caretaker, carnival truck driver, picture day photographer, social media something or other, PR, HVAC, painting houses, I worked at ski resorts and ice cream stands, literally anything I could do to scrape by and I look back and love that I got to have those experiences. Nowadays, I am an A&E reporter at a small publication in the city that I love and I play music and ride bikes. I have no complaints and I don't think I would trade that to go back to the full time pop music thing, that wasn't my world and that wasn't me.
Scene Point Blank: Tell us how you got involved with Escapist Records.
Josh Lyford: Escapist was kind of this guardian angel for us, for lack of a better term. I remember the early conversations with Mike and how incredibly honest they were: we talked about what we both wanted, what we could make work, expectations, that sort of thing. We didn't think we were really the kind of band people would be interested in working with and we had had a few conversations with some other labels around that time, but it was pretty obvious we weren't on the same page and a lot of the interest came from the Four Year Strong thing.
With Mike it was a breath of fresh air. He got it. He got it all and he wanted to release our second EP, The Golden Age, and we were all a little bit taken aback, in a good way. Here is this guy who owed us absolutely nothing that told it like it is and we did the same. We shook hands and we've been a part of the Escapist Records family ever since. I think that it would take an act of god for us to go anywhere else and if, for whatever reason, Escapist could no longer work with us, I think we would go back to releasing records on our own rather than working with someone we felt was disingenuous.
Being on the same page was always the biggest thing for us and we have that with Escapist Records. Prior to Foxfires we had all had dealings with different record labels at various levels and they weren't always the most positive experiences. To talk man-to-man with someone who loves hardcore and punk as much as we do and appreciates the history behind it, and has proven to support the bands on his roster, was exactly what we needed. It's a privilege to work with Mike and Escapist.