Interview: Sterling Fox
Interview by Carl Pietrusinski
Photographed by Rachel Cabitt
Sterling Fox may not be listed anywhere on your iTunes library just yet,
but chances are he’s lended a hand in creating multiple songs that are.
A melodic ghostwriter of sorts, Fox was born and grew up in the small town of Stoystown, PA and wasn’t exposed to popular music until his teenage years.
“I grew up in a pretty religious household; so, I mostly listened to classical and religious music. In addition I took piano lessons for the majority of my childhood, so I gravitated toward anything with classical piano,” Fox said. “It wasn’t until I was like sixteen, that I started getting into normal music. 90’s pop punk and alternative rock started to dominate that phase of my life. Bands like Weezer, Nirvana, Radiohead, and Pixies were constantly being played.”
Around the same time Fox also began listening to popular classic rock. To this day he finds himself almost constantly listening to the likes of: Queen, the Beatles, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Paul Simon and many more.
After a childhood saturated with music, Fox pursued his passion at Duquesne University, where he studied Classical Piano and Music Technology in the Mary Pappert School of Music, graduating in 2006.
He also took an interest in analyzing films to aid in his musical writing process. Fox stressed the importance of films and their influence upon his craft. Specifically he admires the famous directors Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch.
“I aim for my music to have a surreal feeling to it and some of my favorite movies really help with that. Something about the films of Kubrick and Lynch just draw me in” the musician said. “The movies Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks, and Blue Velvet will always be some of my favorites… When you’re watching, it starts off feeling normal. But then it takes a detour and all of a sudden you’re watching some pretty crazy shit that you would have never expected from the beginning. I want to make music just like that”
The combinations of these artists, genres, and directors have influenced Fox’s music in a major way. Specifically he tries to pull his favorite elements from them and construct something all his own.
Perhaps his most famed work was done alongside the singer Lana Del Rey (Yes you are reading that correctly). Fox had the opportunity of producing her breakout song, Video Games, which helped launch her into super-stardom just a few years back.
“At the time, this was like 2011, she was living in New York and wasn’t even signed at the time. She was just floating around, performing smaller gigs and singing at bars, trying to make it big. I heard like thirty to forty demos of her songs in the studio one random day and that particular track just really stuck out to me. I loved the lyrics, and her voice. I knew it had the potential to be a hit from the start,” Fox explained. “I casually asked if she’d be interested in me working with the song and cleaning things up a bit and she was all for it. We spent a full day in the studio together. I played the piano and she did the vocals over and over again. Eventually it all came together and was just what she wanted. Things started moving pretty fast and eventually she put the video online and it went nuts. She got signed right after that and really blew up, I was so happy for her. She’s deserved every bit of success she’s had so far. I knew something magical was going on when we were making the song.”
In addition to Lana Del Rey, Fox has put together a pretty extensive resume for himself. He’s worked with a vast array of famed musicians including: Madonna, Avicii, Tiesto, Gym Class Heroes, Adam Levine, Cash Cash, Boyz II Men, Adam Lambert and Charli XCX.
Even though he loves working with other talented artists in the industry, Fox admits he doesn’t always like the songs that he makes.
“I’m kind of self-loathing with my music and I just move onto the next thing once I’m finished with it. But the stuff that I’m doing for myself, I just truly love.”
Sterling Fox’s upcoming album will be the first solo album of his career and he couldn’t be more excited due to the freedom he now possesses.
“I’m really making the album to entertain and challenge myself more than anything. I’m really happy with how my new song Freak Caroline came out. It’s just what I’ve wanted to do. I’m definitely happiest with this stuff and I hope whoever happens to listen understands and appreciates that,” Sterling said.
Fox was careful not to reveal too much about the album but confirmed that it will contain elements of his aforementioned influences.
“This next wave of music that I’m working on is definitely alternative rock. I’d describe it as almost deconstructed rock. It’s influenced by everything from 70’s glam to 90’s post rock. Even as far as like that tacky 90’s pop punk bands. It’s a little all over the place, but definitely rock based.”
Fox’s journey from a small town of less than 500 people to his New York City apartment and recording with an assortment of superstars is extraordinary to say the least. After years of making hit songs for other people, he’s ready to do it for himself.
So give his new single Freak Caroline a listen and head over to his Soundcloud for more music while you await his debut album, which is sure to make a splash later this year. See more of the interview below.
POND: Who were your musical influences growing up?
STERLING: When I was really young I wasn’t really exposed to pop music.. I didn’t really start listening to any type of popular music until I was like sixteen. Weezer, Nirvana, Radiohead, Pixies pretty much dominated that phase of my life. I got really into 90s pop punk and alternative rock.
POND: Do you draw any influences from outside of music?
STERLING: I’m a pretty big film buff. I like for my music to be kinda dreamy and a little surreal sometimes, and I get than influence from some of my favorite movies. So I’d say people like Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch influence me especially. Pretty much all of their work is right up my ally. In regards to my music, I try to make pop songs where things feel normal and fun but something is just off about them. For instance maybe the lyrics will be a little dark or twisted overtop of some type of happy background music.
POND: What artists are you listening to nowadays?
STERLING: I’ve pretty much been all indie rock music nowadays. I dig the new St. Vincent album; I really respect the guitar work on that. Father John Misty’s music has really impressed me as well. Ty Segall is another musician that I’m always playing. I like a lot of "under the surface" indie stuff because it's just what I prefer. When it comes to the more popular stuff, it’s hard to say. It really has to win me over; I don’t usually give radio music the benefit of the doubt. Arcade Fire and Jack White both have a lot of elements that I strive for in my music. Something that I can confidently say I’ll always be listening to is Queen, they’re my favorite of all time. Iggy Pop and David Bowie are right up there as well. It’s mostly older music that I gravitate towards because it’s been tough for me to find rock music that I like nowadays.
POND: What’s your favorite song that you’ve worked on so far?
STERLING: That’s a tough one, I’m kind of self-loathing with my music and I just move onto the next thing once I’m finished with it. But the stuff that I’m doing for myself, I just truly love. I personally like it more than anything else I’ve ever done. I don’t have too many fans; I’m not a huge name; I understand that. So I’m really making it to entertain and challenge myself more than anything. I’m really happy with how my new song Freak Caroline came out. It’s just what I’ve wanted to do. I’m definitely happiest with this stuff and I hope whoever listens to me appreciates that.
POND: Dream Collaborations?
STERLING: Probably Bowie or Brian May from Queen. That’s the definition of dream collaboration to me. Current artist wise- maybe Kenny G. I’m a fan but I’d love to work with him for purely comical reasons.
POND: What type of genre would you best describe your upcoming album to be?
STERLING: I have a few songs floating around online that are just playing around with different genres. But this next wave is definitely alternative rock. I’d describe it as deconstructed rock. It’s influenced by everything from 70’s glam to 90’s post rock. Even as far as like that tacky 90’s pop punk bands. It’s a little all over the place, but definitely rock based.