Foxy Shazam: The Explosive Keyboarding of Sky White

FOXY SHAZAM IS EVERYTHING THAT ROCK ’N’ ROLL SHOULD BE: BRASH, raw, unapologetic, and coming for your children.

By Robbie Gennet

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FOXY SHAZAM IS EVERYTHING THAT ROCK ’N’ ROLL SHOULD BE: BRASH, raw, unapologetic, and coming for your children. Magnetic singer Eric Sean Nally may be the eyeball glue for most fans [At his best, he’s like a young Freddie Mercury—Ed.], but your plundered pupils will inevitably stray towards keyboardist Sky White. Beneath the bearded visage and unhinged performance of this stage animal beats the heart of a trained musician with the chops to re-energize the role of keyboardist in a 21st-century rock band.

How do you describe Foxy Shazam to the uninitiated?

I’ve given up on a complicated explanation. It’s what rock is supposed to be like: different and artistic and powerful and meaning something. It’s supposed to be scary and fun and include every emotion in the music. I don’t think rock ’n’ roll really does that right now, so we’re trying our best.

There’s certainly nothing safe about your live show. . . .

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You have no idea how many injuries I’ve had! I have scars all over, I’ve had carpal and dorsal tunnel. I’ve had sports-like injuries from the way I play piano. I had my head split open by a bass tuning peg and cried blood for a set. I put every single bit of everything into the show.

Did you come from a musical background?

I grew up at bluegrass festivals with my parents playing. The first rock show I saw was Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. All I remember is it smelled really bad.

What was the first show you went to that made you say “I want to do that”?

I know exactly the show. It was the band that eventually took us out on our first tour ever: Tub Ring. When I was 13 or 14, I was a little classical and jazz player, but I saw them play and their keyboardist Rob Kleiner was amazing.

What did you learn from jazz and classical that you bring to Foxy Shazam?

From classical, it would be knowledge of the tonal things I want to accomplish onstage. From improvising in jazz, it’s that I can get that across while mixing in showmanship. For example, I can spin around real fast, throw a foot in the air, and still land on the right chord.

You play a Roland RD-700NX onstage. How does it hold up to the abuse?

Amazingly, this keyboard hasn’t broken! I’ve been doing everything I can to put on the craziest show possible and this thing is not breaking. I always want to be really grateful to Roland because of the way I’ve treated their instrument.

How do you balance precision of execution with the insane energy of the performance?

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It’s a hard battle. For performing and entertaining, you want to do everything you possibly can. I want my body to be collapsed somewhere after the set.

Are you using any custom sounds?

I use all stock piano sounds on the RD—no reverb, just straight piano. I grew up a piano player. Though I did recently buy an 88-key 1975 Rhodes. It’s sitting in my basement and it’s beautiful.

What keyboards did you use on the new album, The Church of Rock and Roll?

A third of it is piano from the RD, another third is organ that we got from either the RD or soft synths, and the rest was done on a real Wurly in the studio by miking the little speakers.

Is the whole band involved in songwriting?

It keeps changing around. Between the six of us, we all write all the time. Before this last record, we had hundreds and hundreds of songs.

How did you pare that down for the record?

With all the writing before, there were certain melodies and vocal ideas that we knew could be better and we focused down to make them as good as they possibly could be. Nothing that we started off with ended up being on the record. Nobody will probably ever hear those dozens of songs, but we had to do that in order to get to this record.

What are your favorite tracks and keyboard moments on the record?

“Streets.” Every time I hear it, it sounds like touring and being poor and struggling. That one means a lot to me, but honestly, all of them are great. With some tracks, we were wondering if they were too weird, but they made it on. There’s some weird pop stuff inside of us that needs to come out artistically.

“I Wanna Be Yours” has a mean organ sound. It was a random organ patch run via MIDI through a [Tech 21] SansAmp. A stock ’70s organ, superdistorted with a ton of tape saturation and the mids and lows super-boosted. It just sounds like a horrible monster. I’m a big fan of the sounds on “The Temple.” It’s part super-heavy, part lovemaking music. Everything on that one was from the Roland RD-700NX.

How do you translate the intensity of the stage performance to the studio?

The live stuff I’m a little afraid to do in the studio is where I’m purposely smashing chords down and letting up the painful notes just to get some more impact. When recording you’re supposed to do it “correctly.” On this record, I tried getting a lot of stomps in there and weird dirty chords, things that I want to happen that are not exactly correct things but that get the feeling across.

Spending so much time touring, is it hard to stay creative?

We tour 300 days out of the year, so when I’m home, I try to write at least one song every day. I have a few hundred sitting around from the last couple years. At some point in life I want to compose symphonic music. I have an eight-bit video game project I’ve been goofing around with. I have a gigantic string section thing with accordion, clarinet, and harp that I’ve been working on for a while. I call it Traveler Music. I’ve been composing it all in MIDI so far.

What’s next?

We’re going on tour in the U.K. opening for Th e Darkness. When we got signed to Warner Brothers a few years ago, we spent all our tour support flying to the U.K. four times. It’s been going a lot faster over there. Over here it takes word of mouth. Most people are afraid or confused the first time they see us.

Isn’t that the essence of Foxy Shazam?

Hell, yeah! We’re supposed to be frightening and confusing and hard to digest. We’re trying to do something that hits people hard.

***Music videos, live performances, and humor from Foxy Shazam. (Warning: Not appropriate for work or kids.)