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Fox and Bones: If You Can’t Find It, Make It

As artists, we get told so often about the “hustle”. The arduous journey of networking, social media growth and promises that aren’t always kept. It takes drive, commitment and passion and not everyone makes it through. It’s one thing to survive, it’s quite another to thrive in that environment. This is exactly what Fox and Bones do. For Sarah Vitort and Scott Gilmore, the music industry, with all its ups and downs, is not just a career, but a way of life. I was lucky enough to meet with them, and it took all of two minutes for me to see how far they’ve come, and how far they’re going to go..

Sarah Vitort (left) and Scott Gilmore (right) © Amandala Photography

The Curve: Tell us about your early work on “The Remarkable Adventures Of”, how did you meet? And how did you end up recording so soon after meeting? Were there any specific reasons why you felt you worked so well together?

Sarah Vitort: Sure, so Scott and I both played in rock bands here in Portland, and I had heard of his band and he had been kind of Facebook stalking me for a while apparently.

Scott Gilmore: I was perving pretty hard on her online. [laughs]

SV: Yeah, so he already knew who I was and my manager at the time was a friend of Scott’s as well. He’d [Sarah’s manager] done some work with his band and so he invited him to one of my solo shows. And so, Scott came and introduced himself and threatened to steal some stuff out of my purse. That was his opening line.

SG: You gotta find a way to stand out. A lot of guys out there so I had to differentiate myself.

SV: That’s how it started. He asked that night if I’d ever like considered co-writing or was ever interested in collaborating, which I had been interested in and hadn’t done yet, and so I was kind of intrigued by that, especially knowing that his band had had a lot of success in Portland and so a couple days later, well, we had planned to get together like a maybe like a week from the day that we met and a couple days later Scott sent me a song idea over Facebook Messenger and it was just like, you know, uh, first verse and some piano and then I wrote a verse and sent it back and by the time we hung out a couple days later, we pretty much finished our first song within the first week of knowing each other.

TC: Oh my God. He just jumps right in.

“We pretty much finished our first song within the first week of knowing each other.”

SV: Immediately. He was not kidding when he said he wanted a writing partner. So, we went for it and the rest of it, as they say, was history. The first song that we recorded was the 2nd song that we wrote, which was “Warm”. It was the first song that we put out. We made this really cool video and it was very simple and stripped down and just acoustic with two vocals. We knew a lot of the same people in town, and I think the idea of us coming together was exciting to people because we were already sort of established on our own, so I think that that also helped how we were able to just start pounding the pavement you know, getting in the studio, getting gigs and we went on our first European Tour nine months after we met.

TC: So, what were you both doing before you met?

SG: I was playing in a rock band called Just People, a psychedelic rock band and I was working in an aftercare place, a place for kids. So, I was just working with kids in the afternoon and playing music at night. It was good, a good life. But you know I think I wanted to get on the road more and it was tough too you know; you have to find somebody willing to pretty much leave their lives back home and 100% commit to music. So, when Sarah and I met and she was willing to give up the home life and hit the road, it just worked out.

SV: Yeah, Scott was in a six-piece band, so they got to the point where they would only have like a weekend of availability whereas he would want to go out for a couple months. I started as a solo country singer-songwriter and then I really wanted to move in a rock direction and so hired a band and was working on that. In fact, I released my first like rock record while Scott and I had already had this other project. So I was doing this whole transition in my own project while we were starting Fox and Bones, which was kind of an interesting thing, but I had been pursuing music for a couple of years pretty much primarily as my job.

TC: Now you both do it full time?

SV: Up until the pandemic definitely. It was paying our bills and it was our primary source of making a living. Obviously, lots of things have changed this year, but we still have not had to get other jobs yet thanks to grants and unemployment and all these amazing resources that we have, we’ve been lucky enough to continue to focus on music.

TC: Do you mind if I ask the inspiration behind the name Fox and Bones, is one of you “Fox” and one of you “Bones”?

SG: I think it started as less of identities at the beginning, but it kind of evolved into that. With our first record, we wanted to write an adventure Love story between two people and so we kind of identified as those characters and then we wrote songs that would be similar to the adventure we wanted to seek out. Kind of a manifestation vehicle in a way, but in the very beginning it was more just that the name felt right. It felt like a like a name that we could get into, but then everywhere we go someone would be like “are you Fox or you Bones?”. Eventually I think we just kind of merged into it.

TC: I heard that you funded a lot of your tours yourself and just took yourselves on the road. How did that work?

SG: Well, in in the US we started off by booking shows and places where we knew we’d have a bed to stay in, and so I think a lot of the big things about tours that get tough is, you know, if you have to stay in a hotel every night or figure out ways to make ends meet. But if hotels and then food and company are taken care of then it gets easier to make the bottom line. So our first US tour, we kind of just picked the cities that we knew people. Then we’d reach out to bars and venues and just send out countless emails until we found places that would book us and, especially the first time around, it was tough. We’d play any gig that we could take anywhere. If it was free or if it was not free, if it was in an alleyway, if it was, you know, at midnight on a Sunday, whatever it was, we’d take the gig. As we did it over and over, and we’ve done three or four US tours. Now we’ve started being a little bit more selective with shows and places that we go.

Performing at the Crystal Ballroom © Kat Nyberg

TC: Yeah, and this led to a European Tour I believe?

SV: Yeah, in fact, we actually toured Europe before we ever toured the US, and I think that kind of gave us that bug to like, “hey, we gotta do this”. We were lucky in that we do have a booking agent in Europe and it was somebody that Scott had been in contact with for his band for years and could never quite get all the guys to commit to it, and it just wasn’t like matching up, but he’d been making this connection with this booking agent for a long time, and I mean it was only a couple weeks after we started and had written our first song he pitched us to this booking agent and the booking agent was like, yeah, this is exactly the type of music I’m looking for.

SG: There’s Dominik Schmidt and ROLA Music is who that was. He helped produce some songs and he’s been one of our biggest supporters ever since those early days, and we’ve actually been to Europe four times.

SV:  So primarily we do Germany, Austria, Switzerland. We’ve played a couple of shows in Denmark, one in northern Italy like in the section of Italy that used to be in Germany and then and also the Alsace region in France. Hopefully someday we can expand that European Tour and go to some more places.

TC: Is there any show you remember as being particularly special?

SG: Glam in Feldbach in Austria is wonderful. We kind of feel like we have a family there and we’ve been there every year.

SV: It’s this tiny town, you know, just a couple bars. Everybody knows everybody and you never know who works there because everyone just goes behind the bar and like serves people when they’re drunk. [laughs] Those type of places for sure. We actually run our own festival in Portland, The Portland Folk Festival. So that has run every single year and has been one of the most magical experiences. It started with 150 people in this little venue and that was amazing; and then the next year we doubled that and the next year we even doubled that. It feels like this community aspect again with all the people in our folk circle, and then it keeps growing.

TC: So, tell me more about this festival. Why did you start it and how do you get something like that off the ground?

SG: A lot of a lot of time and a lot of sleepless nights envisioning how it can grow. With my psychedelic rock band, we used to throw adult Proms and masquerade balls and so figuring out a good concept to bring people out like something to kind of rally around and we just wanted something everyone we can invest in mentally and physically and bring the local scene together because everyone was working so hard and always had gigs and we could never see each other. We wanted to figure out a way that we could come together for one or two nights; the upcoming one will be three nights. It’s just a way to share music and to see our favourite bands altogether in place.

Fox and Bones at the Portland Folk Festival with Pretty Gritty

TC: Tell me about music your influences like who do you look to now, and has that changed from when you started?

SV: Because we were in rock bands when we started Fox and Bones, it really was supposed to just be our acoustic side project that like gave us the chance to have some of our gentler songs come forward that we like that didn’t feel were appropriate for our rock bands. We were very inspired by Simon and Garfunkel, the Civil Wars, a lot of simple harmony-laden singer-songwriter vibes, but I think as Fox and Bones kind of started to eclipse our other projects and become our primary thing, at least for me, I started to crave that rock sensibility. I love the energy and like the just like the “upbeatness” of a different style of music, and so we started getting inspired by a lot of bands like Lake Street Dive and Nathaniel Rateliff and bands that are kind of doing this retro folk-rock thing. We were listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac and we’ve been compared to them a lot where it’s not full hard rock or anything but it’s kind of like that classic soft rock 70s vibe and that kind of gives us the chance to keep these like slower, singer-songwriter songs and it still feels appropriate to have those in there. I think folk-rock is a great middle-ground for all of the things that we have to offer as songwriters.

TC: Yeah, so it means you can be very versatile in what you put forward and everything still fits under your banner.

SG: Also, this new record is entirely produced by Matt Greco from the Rye Room, where we record, and Matt brought in a particular set of musicians that have really helped us slide into a rhythm and into in a sound that I think we’ve always been searching for.

SV: He has a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and a piano player that he works with pretty much exclusively on all of his stuff, and so they come in and produce it together rather than each person coming in separately and overdubbing tracks, and because of that, I think that this was the first album that we really leaned on the whole team and working together, rather than in the past kind where everyone would come in and put their individual flair on it.

“Matt brought in a particular set of musicians that have really helped us slide into a rhythm and into in a sound that I think we’ve always been searching for.”

TC: So, tell me a little more about “A Changing of the Guard”. I’d love to know the inspiration behind the song, especially the lyrics.

SG: So, our tour had just been grounded and we were just at home, wading through the earlier months of the pandemic and we’re feeling it like everyone else. Just a lot of unrest. It was a scary time, and we weren’t quite sure what was going to happen next so we wanted to write a song about that which could bring people together as a global community.

SV: It’s very obvious to many of us that, no matter what side you’re on, things need to change and this last year we really saw that on so many levels; these systems and structures that have been in place for so long just toppling. It makes it look like it’s really messy and crazy, but we also have the opportunity to be like, “what are we going to build out of this?”, because it is rubble, and it shouldn’t be built back up the same way. One of the most important things is coming back together as a community and reach across the aisle and find the things that we have in common so that we can build something that works for the majority of people instead of only the people that we care about. It may have like mild political undertones, with our personal beliefs, but it’s really more about how we bring people together, which is something we’ve always aimed to do with our music. You know, we’ve toured in a lot of places that have people with a lot of different beliefs, and so we’ve always kind of had to tread that line of like how do we keep our individuality, but also have love for somebody who doesn’t believe those same things and not alienate those people if we can help it. This is kind of the next evolution of that. It’s a way of saying, this is what we believe in, but we also believe in unity and we hope we can create a better world together.

TC: That was the lead single off your new album, American Alchemy. Are there any other songs on the album that you’re excited for people to listen to?

SV: I wrote a song last summer about the protests that were going on in Portland well, going on everywhere, and just a kind of call to action around that. I started teaching myself to play the piano this last year and so I wrote that song entirely on the piano, which was an exciting thing for me.

SG: So right around that same time, I think we were both in a writing mode, and so both building up these songs and a folk song that I wrote right here at my parents’ house in the Bay Area called “Be Born in the Ashes of your Aging”. I was looking to write an old school folk song and I brought it into the studio and the musicians really just brought some life to it. So those are kind of sandwiched together on American Alchemy at #6 and #7, and I think those are two of our best solo offerings that the album has.

TC: What’s the inspiration behind the name behind the name American Alchemy?

SG: We were having a hard time figuring out an album name, I’d thrown a bunch out there that didn’t quite fit. I think Love Emporium was one of them that Sarah thought sounded like a superstore, yeah?

SV: Well, you said Love Imperium and I kept calling it Love Emporium, which sounds like an adult store on the side of the highway. [laughs] And now you’re even saying Love Emporium. That’s what I was worried about!

SG: I was throwing out a lot of subpar album title names and it was tough. So, we finally we sat down outside Sarah’s parents’ house, we’d had a bunch of drinks and we finally brought out our whiteboard with all the names on it and one of them was American Alchemy and I had always liked that idea and the idea of alchemy. It’s just turning lead into metal or turning something that you can’t use into something that’s valuable, which I feel is a lot of our career and the plight of artists in general is turning nothing into something.

SV: It’s the new American dream. It’s like, how has our generation, who was given nothing, turned it into something?

SG: It’s printed on the record. Can’t go back to the Love Emporium.

TC: As much as you want to.

SV: But we’ll sell it at the Love Emporium! [laughs]

TC: What’s it like working as a duo?

SG: I think we’ve gone through many cycles with it. We’ve had times where we work really well together and times where we’ve had to learn how to work together better, but it’s definitely amazing to have a partner who is equally committed to the work as you are, and so that’s something that I think we’re very lucky to have because we’re both uncomfortably hard working. There’s a little bit of luck in a career in music, but it’s mostly just hard work and being willing to dedicate yourself to it.

SV: When you’re in a relationship and also working together and then you’re in a tiny car and you really only have each other that brings up a lot of issues. We’ve certainly had to learn how to navigate a lot of those things over the years. Anytime that you’re in a partnership in any way with other people you have two personalities that are coming together and like trying to smash their ideas into each other, but for me, the partnership makes it so much better. Having somebody to share the good times with, commiserate with when things aren’t going well.

Another eclectic live show

TC: So, what are your goals for the next six months and also then in the next couple of years?

SG: We’re excited to release the new record on May 7th and actually have that album out with the public. That’s been our focus for about two years and so having that weight off of our backs will be wonderful. I think during album promo periods it’s really tough to also then think about writing, but I think once the album you’re able to shift towards the future a little bit and start opening up to writing something new.

SV: A return to playing live too. We still don’t quite know what that looks like and we don’t know if we’ll be like doing any massive tours. There’s a lot of venues that have shut down in the time that we’ve been off and don’t really know what their return to music is going to look like, so that’s a bit of an uncertainty. But in the next couple years I know that you know we’d really like to get a US booking agent. You know, maybe do open for bigger bands and just kind of start moving up to that next level. We’ve been doing the groundwork for that for years and this record always felt like this is like our level up. The pandemic shut it all down and so I’m hoping that like we didn’t just lose that momentum forever and that that will continue to grow and put us back in the place where we were.

TC: A lot of artists that I meet, they always say that when they play a particular place, or go on a certain talk show, they’ll know that they’ve made it. Do you guys have a dream place to make it to?

SG: Well, that that place for us I think was the Crystal Ballroom and we didn’t know how to play there and then we just made the Folk Festival and so we played there last year

SV: I think like making it onto SNL or like any of the late-night shows would be awesome. It’s hard to say one place because, like with the Crystal Ballroom, it’s like, yeah, we’ve played in this big Portland venue one time for our home audience. My dream is to play venues like that and be able to have an audience and be selling it out in multiple cities, and I think that’s how I’ll know I’ve made it.

TC: Do you have any advice for artists new on the scene wanting to find an audience and release their own music?

SV: When I was in that stage, I just never stopped trying and I think putting yourself out there is the most important thing, reaching out to other bands and networking and meeting people and not being too worried about your first offering being perfect. If you’re always sitting and holding on to things thinking it’s not ready yet or that it must be perfect, very few people’s first album makes the charts.

SG: Don’t get in your own way by over analysing it, your record is supposed to be a record in time of you at that moment and so if you have something, just put out in the world and then learn from it and then write more. I think continuing to work hard and dedication will bring you farther than any other thing in this. In this industry you just have to keep trying and keep working and being willing to put the work.

SV: And keep learning. When I started, I ordered all the books and I took the webinars and all that kind of stuff and, well, a lot of that is a lot of nothing. I’ve gotten some really great nuggets out of these. Maybe I listen to a podcast and get one nugget that has stuck with me since then. Be willing to learn, ask questions and be willing to do it wrong and then figure out how to do it right.

You can follow Fox and Bones’ journey here:

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