Ever dreamed of discovering a latter-day reincarnation of Freddie Mercury or Elton John? Foxy Shazam frontman Eric Nally is your guy. For years, the Cincinnati native was famous for his mascaraed mustache, his outlandish outfits, and his propensity for smoking (and then eating) 10 cigarettes at once, doing push-ups and headstands on stage, and putting a borderline schizophrenic face on the strutting glam-rock of his five-piece band.
Foxy’s brash, boisterous 2012 album The Church of Rock ’n’ Roll represented the pinnacle of the band’s arena-sized reputation. The video for lead single “I Like It” featured Nally firing a gun while riding a motorcycle into the aforementioned church, which is full of bootylicious backup dancers and Gatsbyesque revelers. Foxy Shazam’s 2014 album, Gonzo, might sound like it’s up the same insane alley, yet it actually represents a complete 180.
Yes, Nally still puts his limber falsetto through countless acrobatics, and trumpeter Alex Nauth and keyboardist Sky White still jazz up Foxy Shazam’s driving boogie rock. But Gonzo is a deeply personal record; Nally hints that his father’s deteriorating mental state was a major songwriting motivation, and songs like “Tragic Thrill” and “In This Life” are far more subdued than anything the band has ever released. Much of that can be attributed to Foxy Shazam’s leaving the lustrous studio sheen of The Church of Rock ‘n’ Roll or 2010’s Foxy Shazam in the dust in favor of live-recorded, everyone-in-the-room takes.
“This is the biggest feat our band has achieved,” says Nally. “We were able to find something so deep and personal inside of ourselves for this record, and it’s the thing I’m most proud of as an artist. So I didn’t want to hide behind anything. I wanted people to see the power of this band in its rawest form. The way records are made and sold nowadays, it’s hard to see the core of what attracts people to a band. If you’re doing it right, that shouldn’t take any elaborate production.”
Sweetening the deal, Foxy Shazam also chose to release Gonzo independently (the last two albums were released on Sire and I.R.S. Records) — and completely free. “We wanted to make sure we broke down that wall between the business of the music and the passion of the art form,” Nally said. “We’re not in this to make money, so for this record to be free — no ifs, ands, buts or catches about it — was very important for me. I wanted to make sure our hardest efforts could be heard by people no matter how much money they have.”
Of course, Nally has always put forth the hardest effort ever — you don’t collect comparisons to Freddie Mercury and Elton John (or work with Meat Loaf) by half-assing it. “I’ve had this in my heart since I was born,” Nally says. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever felt like I was supposed to do. And I’ve always been an eccentric, blowing things out of proportion. So being onstage gives me the excuse or the permission to do extreme things like eat cigarettes or punch myself in the face. I do whatever comes to mind because I trust that that’s the right thing for me to do — even if it’s goofy or wild or weird. That’s just who I am.”
Even with a decade of such flagrant individualism under its belt, Nally believes Foxy Shazam is still evolving — and Gonzo represents just the abrupt creative and sonic shift that can allow the band to break out of its glam-rock box. “When you’re a young artist or a young band, people are always trying to pinpoint you,” he says. “The beautiful thing about Foxy Shazam is, we’ve found our own path as a band. For me, there’s a path I’ve seen very clearly throughout my career, and I’ve been following that path no matter what. Now it’s just a matter of staying there and going for it every time. It might make people uncomfortable at first, but they start to realize that we’re just doing our own thing.”