Foxing Topple Tower of Babel on New Album

Foxing frontman Conor Murphy talks singing in different languages, growing up Catholic and ... pool boys?

Hayden Molinarolo

It's said the song playing when the Titanic sank was the Christian hymn, "Nearer, My God, to Thee" -- the same song Ted Turner has supposedly selected to air when CNN broadcasts the apocalypse (if the 24-hour news cycle is still a thing at that point).

It's a logical, if overtly religious, choice: "Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky / Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly / Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee / Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!"

Ostensibly uplifting, sure, but it also belies the implicit fear of the whole ordeal -- and that's the fear that snared Foxing frontman Conor Murphy.

The St. Louis-based hard-to-pin-down indie rock band released their newest album, "Nearer My God," in August after a successful campaign for the title track, which Murphy sings five different times in five different languages: English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.

"For the Japanese version, we didn't really hear anything. We've never been to Japan, so we don't know what kind of following we have here, but that's my favorite one so far. It's such a beautiful language," Murphy said over the phone last week.

"For German, a lot of people said they loved it. Spanish we had the most response from. We had a bunch of people saying, 'Hey, thanks for doing this.' There was zero response from French. Nobody cared," he added. "A lot of bands have to make songs in English to be accepted -- especially by America. We tried to kind of put ourselves in the position of having to make music that's not in your native tongue. That was the goal of the whole thing."

Both the song and also the music video serve as interesting counterpoints to the album's title and thematic motifs. In the biblical narrative of the Tower of Babel, everyone started out speaking one language. Out of pride, arrogance, hubris and excess uniformity, they decided to build a tower to reach heaven (to be nearer to God, you might say). Of course, God didn't like that, so she "confound[ed] their language" and "scatter[ed] them abroad upon the face of all the earth."

In other words, God split up one language into many, much like Murphy has done with the song, "Nearer My God." That's not to say Murphy is God, or even pretending to act like her, but he is well versed in her traditions.

"I grew up in Catholic school [he made sure to emphasize that he's an ex-Catholic], and all of Catholic faith instills so much fear, so the biblical stuff really hits home for me. The Bible, to me, is the scariest book in the world. It's the reference material for the apocalypse, the best source material for scary stuff. I use it now as a literary reference a lot -- not so much because of a spiritual connection, but it's more a source of trauma," he said.

Literary and religious traditions are especially significant for emo-billed singer/songwriters, partly because they're some of the most well-read and expressive musicians out there and partly because mythical narratives help us rationalize otherwise irrational phenomena -- especially trauma.

"We talk about genre and we talk about the word 'emo' a lot. I feel like everybody just loves to talk about that. I totally understand that we're an emo band, but there was never a moment where we've said we want to pivot to something else. On this record, we really decided we wanted to make every song based on what we thought sounded good," Murphy said.

"We don't really think about it too much. What it really comes down to is go as big as we possibly can, go as far as we possibly can, bite off way more than we can chew, see what we've done and scale back from there. The worst thing for us is it not going far enough," he added.

In going far enough, Foxing aren't necessarily aiming for commercial greatness, but that doesn't mean it's not an occasional preoccupation. In one line of "Nearer My God," Murphy sings, "'Cause I'd sell my soul / To be America's pool boy / The crown centerfold ... Does anybody want me at all?"

"I don't think I do [want to be America's pool boy]. I think I do sometimes; I think that's the epitome of when I'm feeling self-conscious. There's a lot of times in the course of this band where we dropped out of college, relationships ended, we missed funerals and weddings, and we thought, 'Is this worth it? Does anybody truly care about this? Or, is this a greedy thing for us?' Look at One Direction -- these guys, these are the pool boys. I would rather be where I am right now than be in One Direction. It sounds like f------ nightmare," Murphy said.

Rutger Ansley Rosenborg has been an Associate Editor at NBC SoundDiego since 2016. Find out more here, or contact him here.

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