Foxy Shazam's new album, The Church of Rock and Roll, is filled with echoes of classic rock: T. Rex, Slade, Sweet, Queen, and Mott the Hoople, as well as a little of the pioneering jangle/alt-rock of Big Star, the oversized gospel of "Gimme Shelter," and Todd Rundgren's power pop. This glammed-up, early-'70s vibe and superslick production is a slight, if not entirely unexpected, departure from the boisterous garage-rock rapture found on the band's previous three albums (2005's debut The Flamingo Trigger, 2008's Introducing Foxy Shazam, and 2010's self-titled effort).
The most direct influence on The Church of Rock and Roll, though, isn't any of the above. All those sounds are filtered through Justin Hawkins, frontman for British glam-metal insurgents the Darkness, who produced the album and earned songwriting co-credits on all of the disc's 11 tracks.
And the initial point of connection between the Foxy Shazam and Hawkins?
Meat Loaf, of course.
Foxy Shazam vocalist Eric Sean Nally and Hawkins were both part of the songwriting team for Meat Loaf's 2010 album, Hang Cool Teddy Bear. They quickly formed a friendship, and Hawkins invited the band to his home studio in England to record The Church of Rock and Roll.
"We met him and it was just perfect," says Foxy Shazam horn player Alex Nauth. "Creatively, we're in the same mind set. It just made sense and worked out really well, like working with best friends."
The members of the Cincinnati-based Shazam—Nally, Nauth, guitarist Loren Daniel Turner, bassist Daisy Caplan, keyboardist Schuyler White, and drummer Aaron McVeigh—wanted to make a big statement with their fourth album. That sense of purpose turned into a theme that runs throughout The Church of Rock and Roll, and provided the album's title.
"We were pretty upset, before we started writing the record, about the state of modern music," Nauth says. "We were just feeling really empty, that we weren't hearing what we wanted to hear, that we weren't getting what we wanted to get. So instead of being upset or angry about it, when you want something and you can't find it, you create it. So ‘the church of rock 'n' roll' came out and became the symbol for the entire idea of what we wanted to accomplish with this record."
It's hard to hear either anger or religious reverence on this new disc, but the band's ambition comes through clearly. From the gutter opera "The Streets" to the hippy-dippy folk-rock of "Forever Together," or the gospel-tinged Southern rock of "Freedom" to the ELO-inspired "Holy Touch," or the slinky Slade/Elton John mashup "The Temple" to the very Darkness-style "Last Chance at Love," The Church of Rock and Roll is an unashamed, passionate blare of smartly dumb pop-rock.
"We know what were doing, and we take it very seriously, but its also very organic," Nauth says.
For Church, the band retreated from major label Sire, which released Foxy Shazam two years ago, to a resurrected I.R.S. Records. It's a step back, but Church has received mostly positive reviews, and the band has been on the road for a full six months in support.
"We wanted to start the year doing really small clubs, almost like a step backward in that way, and then build the entire year, just to see how it goes," Nauth says. "So when we keep going back to cities throughout the year, we keep going to bigger venues, kind of build the intensity."
The band is already writing songs for its next album, with tentative plans for recording sessions in an unexpected new location: Hawaii.
"We've been writing since we were done recording the last album," Nauth says. "We're definitely onto something. We're thinking—what I'll tell you now is, we've recorded all our albums in different parts of the world, which we think inadvertently adds to the sound of that record, whether it was England or L.A. or wherever it is. That's a big thing to us."