Words by Brett Thorne. Photos provided.
The first time I saw Cincinnati, Ohio’s Foxy Shazam was two years ago with the Fall of Troy. I had heard their name come up a lot before that, usually tied to things like “Queen meets Chiodos” or “totally insane band with this really weird frontman.” I was there to see the Fall of Troy, so Foxy had the deck stacked against them, but a few songs into the set, singer Eric Sean Nally asked the audience to throw their cigarettes on stage. He put a handful of them between his lips, lit them, took a drag and stood there with quiet satisfaction.
I just thought he was a raging nicotine addict. Nally then flipped the cigarettes, still lit, mind you, and put them in his mouth. I’m confident Freddie Mercury never executed this move, but I’m not totally positive Craig Owens would never think about putting a burning piece of paper in his mouth. The crowd erupted into applause and the band immediately started playing one of their spazzy and theatrical freak jams. At the end of the song, Nally announced that “No! That wasn’t good enough. Let’s do it again.” More cigarettes thrown at the stage. Another fiery mouthful of tobacco and nicotine. Another freak jam.
So when I found out I was to interview Nally, I was prepared to walk onto the band’s RV and find Nally biting heads off bats and drinking absinthe. Instead, he and his bandmates were playing Mortal Kombat on their newly installed Xbox 360. We talked about touring with Hole, working with Meat Loaf and supporting Lebron James.
So how’s the tour been going? What’s it like going around the country with Hole?
Eric: The tour has been awesome. It’s been a lot better than we expected. I kind of figured that it would be a little hard to convince the crowd on our band because, usually, when you play for a band that’s got a huge following and has had a huge following for so many years, it’s hard to convince the crowd because they’re usually only there to see one band. But they’ve been really receptive to us so it’s been surprising.
Hole’s fan base doesn’t seem like your target market.
Eric: Yeah, well I love to associate myself with anything with rich history. So Courtney Love definitely has a lot of rich history, so it’s cool that we’re able to be a part of it. The Hole tour will be done in about a week, a week and a half, then we’re playing Lollapalooza in August. Then we’re doing Reading and Leeds, which is a big festival in Europe.
What do you prefer as far as festivals versus club shows?
Eric: I definitely, definitely prefer small shows. Like usually the best shows we have are on our off days. Like here, like in Waco. Or if we ever do a headlining one, we usually just do clubs like this. I think we all prefer the smaller, crampy close-up and intimate. I love not being able to hear anything and nothing’s right and it’s all wrong. I love it.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you want your band to be the Michael Jordan of rock ‘n’ roll, and basketball seems to be a running theme with your band.
Eric: The reason for that is because I think it would be—there’s something special about Michael Jordan and you can’t really put your finger on it. There’s so many good NBA players, but there’s never been anyone like him. There’s been people just as good as him; there’s so many good players, but all the same, there’s never been anybody like him.
There’s some sort of intangible with MJ.
Eric: Yeah, and there’s this video online of him, I think it’s from a slam dunk contest or something, and he jumped from half court and like stretches out and they put it in slow motion and everytime I see it, it gives me chills and I think that it would be awesome to… I never want to sound pretentious, but I think it’s a good thing to have someone who is that… I definitely aspire to be the Michael Jordan or rock ‘n’ roll.
Yeah. The first time I read that I was like “Dang they’re aiming high'” but the more I think about it, everyone is trying to be the best.
Eric: Yeah it’s not very uncommon and I think it’s important to think that way. Even if it never happens, you should always try.
So are you guys basketball fans?
Eric: I don’t really like the game—well I love sports. But the reason I incorporate it into all of our artwork is because I think it’s interesting to take things from different—I like the texture of a basketball. Like you know how some people wear alligator boots? Whoever thought about using an alligator for fashion? It’s an animal. It’s a living thing, but you’re using it for fashion and I think that’s awesome. I don’t like hunting and I don’t like killing things but still, the idea of an alligator being incorporated into your clothing and style I think is awesome. So basketball is just a thing. It’s the same thing. I think it’s awesome to incorporate basketball with fashion. It has nothing to do with being a basketball or being a game. It’s just a cool texture. You know? And it also reminds me of my ultimate goal, which is to be the Michael Jordan of basketball.
How well would you say your band is doing on that goal?
Eric: That’s a hard question because no matter how you look at it, it could be the end of it. Like if you think you’re good, you’re not on the right track. And if you think you lost it, you’re not on the right track. I try not to think about it. You never want to think you’ve done it. You never want to be like “Oh I’ve accomplished my goal.”
It’s about never being content with where you’re at.
Eric: Yeah exactly. And that’s what gives you the power to keep on going. So you never want to say that you’ve made it. “You never want to say we’re finally the band I’ve always wanted to be.” I don’t think that will ever happen. Just for the sake of keeping the fire inside.
I was going to ask about the whole basketball thing, you guys being from Ohio, I was wondering if you had any feelings on the whole Lebron James fiasco that’s happening?
Eric: Yeah, I don’t know too much about Lebron James—Lebron, is it? Yeah, but there’s something cool about athletes that have this whole rock star kind of thing going. Like on the Bengals, there’s Ochocinco. He used to be Chad Johnson but he changed his name to Ochocinco. He breaks a rule every game, he’s got to pay all these fines and Dennis Rodman was the same way back in the glory days of the Bulls. I love these eccentric characters in sports. I think it’s so cool. Remember that move Major League? It’s the one with Charlie Sheen and he’s got the glasses and the mohawk and everytime he comes out they play the music. I used to get chills watching that. He’s that eccentric character. I always thought it’s really cool to have that persona in sports. So if Lebron James—Lebron James? Yeah if Lebron James is doing that thing, just hoarding all the attention I think that’s cool.
It seems like you guys, from album to album, kind of evolve. Is that a conscious thing?
Eric: Yeah, it’s definitely a conscious decision. I never want to make the same album twice. I always want to do something different. The cool thing is, we never try to do something different, it just sort of happens. I have it in my head obviously, that I want to do something different but at the same time, I don’t do anything to support that idea I just let it happen and it happens. Every album we make defines the time of our life. That’s what’s important to me. By the end of my career and I’m a crippled old man, I want to look back on this band and I just want to see a trail of bread crumbs. I want each album to be a trail of bread crumbs and I can find my way back to the youth of my life and remember the way I came.
I really respect band’s like Thursday who never make the same album twice, but it seems like they take a lot of crap for that.
Eric: It’s funny because the reason bands take a lot of shit for that kind of thing is because people think they lost whatever was respectful about that band but really they’re only gaining—I don’t know what the word is, but the reason you respect a band is for doing what they do and that’s all a band ever does when they do that type of thing. Usually. There’s exceptions, but that’s usually the case. I’m sure with Thursday they’re just doing what they feel is right. Whether you like it or not, it’s extremely, whatever that word is. It’s extremely… awesome. [laughs]
Does Foxy ever get that from fans? Do they ever say why didn’t you make Introducing Pt. II?
Eric: Yeah, sometimes, but there’s a whole lot more that overcomes those things. Every now and then there will be somebody who says something like “Why didn’t you play any old stuff or why don’t you scream anymore?” or those types of comments and it’s a hard thing too because you don’t want to disrespect those people because they’re obviously fans of your past work. The best thing I can tell them is that I’m still the same guy you knew on Introducing. And we’re still the same band; we’re just playing different songs. And we still play those songs and we still love that record. And we’re still the same person. Nothing’s changed except the music.
I saw that you helped write some songs for Meat Loaf. What was that like?
Eric: That was awesome. That goes back to the whole thing I said about loving being involved with people with rich history. So everything I do, I always want to have this huge foundation. This strong foundation. We made our record and it wasn’t even out yet and my manager called me and said “I have this thing I think you’d be great for. They got ahold of me and they love your stuff and they think you’d be great for it too. Are you interested?” And I was like “Are you kidding me? Definitely.” So they flew me out to Rob Cavallo’s house, who’s this producer who did American Idiot and he did the My Chemical Romance stuff. He’s done everything. From Fleetwood Mac to whatever. He’s done it all. So he was doing the new Meat Loaf record and I just went there and I met one of my best friends, Justin Hawkins, he was the singer in that band The Darkness. Remember that band? “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” Yeah one of my best friends. And we collaborated on that whole thing. Me, him and Meat Loaf sat there and worked on shit and we got two songs on his new record.
Did you grow up listening to Meat Loaf?
Eric: Yeah, he’s just really someone that… he’s in my zone. He’s inspired by the same things I am, like theatre. He’s an amazing vocalist and his records are just amazing. He definitely stood for a certain time. Bat Out of Hell is I think one of the bestselling albums next to Thriller. It’s just really awesome that I got to do that. Still when people ask me it’s hard to even realize that that even happened to me. It was all a dream. It was two weeks. One or two weeks. Flew out. Wrote. Went home. Next thing I know, I have my name on a Meat Loaf record.
What was the process of working with him like?
Eric: It’s interesting because I had never done anything like that before. I had never wrote for anybody. I was nervous. I was so nervous because I didn’t have any of my band guys there with me. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t know anybody.
Did you have some ideas going in?
Eric: Yeah, I knew Meat Loaf’s stuff so well that I kind of knew. But it was weird because I got there and turned out he didn’t want to do anything like he used to. He wanted to shake his whole…he told me “I want to make parents scared of me. I want to reinvent myself. I want to become what I was, ya know, 10 or 15 years ago and I want to do that nowadays.” So I kinda had to scrap every idea I had because I was kind of thinking bats and motorcycles and hell and I was like “What am I doing?” but I got there and it turns he wants to completely reinvent himself which goes back to the whole thing about never making the same album twice which is awesome so you know, it was just a really awesome experience. And the fact that it all worked out, I was expecting to go out there and completely just try my hardest but it just felt like it wasn’t going to happen because it was just too good to be true. But we did and we got two songs on there and they’re amazing songs and I can’t believe I got him to do the songs. I have a song called “California Isn’t Big Enough” and I can’t believe I got him to say what I got him to say in that song. You should look it up. I’m not going to tell you, but you should look it up on his new record.
I saw Foxy Shazam about two years ago opening for the Fall of Troy at the White Rabbit in San Antonio, and you did a little maneuver where you put some cigarettes in your mouth and took a drag off of them and flipped them over and put them in your mouth. Is that a common thing?
Eric: Yeah. I love to get attention. Remember I told you about the Dennis Rodman? I love people wanting to get attention and they’re not scared to admit it. Definitely, that’s what entertainment is. No matter if you’re an athlete or a musician or a movie star or whatever, it’s all about entertainment. You got to make sure you’re doing that right, but on top of that you’ve got to do it well. So I do it sometimes. I don’t do it all the time. It’s kind of like my “fatality.”
Do you have any health problems from swallowing multiple lit cigarettes night after night?
Eric: Not from swallowing cigarettes. I do burn myself a lot and I have these weird things on my lip and everyone thinks I have herpes, but it’s just cause I just face-planted a cigarette on my mouth and missed my mouth completely and burned my mouth.
Does it hurt when you do that?
Eric: It does. Not then. The adrenaline covers it up completely. After the show, it’s like I can’t taste anything anymore. But I can’t feel my knees anymore. I’ve never broken a bone in my body, but we played with the New York Dolls in New York, so I just wanted to go overboard because it was like this punk-rock crowd and I just wanted to impress everybody so I did something stupid. I jumped from somewhere really high and broke my rib, so I definitely suffer the consequences of everything. I’m starting to feel it more now that I’ve been doing it so long. It’s taking it’s toll a little bit. But I’m not scared of anything. I don’t think it’s going to interfere at all with what I’m going to do because it doesn’t hurt when I do it. It will hurt afterwards, and I don’t care about that.
So what’s more important to you: putting on an energetic live show or nailing every single note?
Eric: The funny thing is, is that I used to think it was all about showmanship, but being signed to a major label, they’re all about cracking down on you and making sure you just play the songs the way it sounds on the record. So it’s a hard thing, but I think it’s a balance of both. I don’t think people want to come to a show and hear the record. Otherwise they would save their money, stay at home and put it in the CD player and sit back and relax and listen to the songs. I think there’s got to be an element of surprise. They want to hear you mess up. I go to shows to hear my favorite people do things wrong. I think it’s awesome. Like I said about the sweaty shows where nothing’s right and it’s all wrong but that makes it all right. It’s just definitely a fine line. You’ve just got to try to balance it as best you can. I don’t think a little more either way isn’t wrong. A little more showmanship isn’t wrong and a little more playing the songs, it’s just however the night feels. Let it take you where it goes. If you mess up don’t worry about it. If you play it right, it’s even better.