By Joseph Mazzola
Foot Ox, originally from Arizona, has been making music for over a decade and a half. From the wildly collaborative to more solo works (their Bandcamp describes Foot Ox as “music by Teague Cullen and friends”), Foot Ox has been releasing unique music that captures the Elephant 6 ethic of creative soundscapes blended with high-quality songwriting. I got to talk to Teague Cullen on their stop in Athens during their tour with Crywank to talk about writing and making music, their time spent living in Georgia, and the most recent Foot Ox album.
I’m here with Teague Cullen from Foot Ox and we’re here to talk about their new album “Judee & the Sun.” So, Teague, how’s tour been going so far?
Um, it’s actually been kind of rough. The shows have been really cool and everyone’s been really kind. I’ve been having some really funny—not funny—I’ve been having some crazy migraine stuff happen with visual distortion, so I’ve been wearing dark sunglasses and hiding at most of the gigs. I also threw my voice out on the second show, because the P.A. was kinda weird and I was trying to be really loud. So, you know, as it goes. But things are looking up now. Everyone’s been super nice and really receptive to new stuff and singing along to old stuff and it’s been really heartwarming.
Like, you know, even the smaller shows have been pretty packed, so it’s felt really good.
I was going to ask, there are a lot of opening acts in different towns. I know you did something with Local News Legends pretty recently. And I know you did a show with Dana Skully. And I’m wondering . . . I know Dana Skully is a bit less folk than your work. So I was curious, with shows like that where there’s a lot of different genres and different sounds, how is the crowd reacting to more diverse lineups?
Um, I never really thought about it that way. I think it usually—my experience is that it goes really good. Growing up in Arizona, it would just be a punk set, and then an ambient noise thing, then a folk singer/songwriter thing. And then things blur together, so it always felt like really mixed bills—that’s what I was used to growing up. And everybody just loved everything. I feel like I’ve been fortunate in that way where it doesn’t feel clique-y.
Is this your first time playing in Georgia?
No, but it’s been a long time. I actually lived here for like, maybe 9 months or something, when I was like 20.
Were you making music at that point?
Yeah! Yeah I was. I wasn’t doing very much in town though. I didn’t play any shows while I lived here, I don’t think. But, I came through here several times on tour, way back when.
With the tour that you’re doing right now, because Foot Ox has been around for quite a while, and Crywank’s been doing stuff for a long time, but then there are a lot of these newer bands that are opening as local acts. How are the age demographics for the show?
It’s really funny. It’s like, there are definitely people in their 30s now, who are coming back from when, you know, I toured and played music a lot more when I was like 19, 20, something around then. So those folks are a handful. But mostly it’s younger kids. Like, we had a TikTok thing—we got TikToked. So there’s folks from that. But I really feel like—I figured out really quickly—most of the Crywank fans, and the Foot Ox fans, and the AJJ fans are the same people.
Yeah that seems to be the case, doesn’t it.
But yeah, it seems a lot younger. And, I know Jay was saying that it just seems even younger people are getting into Crywank too with them touring from Lovejoy, and they have a really young fanbase. So it does seem that the all-ages shows are really young.
That’s cool! So, you just released “Judee & the Sun.” Congratulations. How’s the reception been?
I feel like it’s been really great. I’m just not someone who’s online very much, but all the feedback I’ve gotten has been really positive. Like, first that I’m putting out new music at all. And people that weren’t familiar with my music before this seem to dig it. It feels really good. It’s been really positive.
No, I know I was really excited when I saw you were releasing new music, and I was listening to the singles leading up to it. It was really cool!
Do you have a favorite track off of “Judee & the Sun?”
Um, it kind of changes . . . I don’t know if I do have a favorite. I like them for different reasons. The last track on the record is called “Comet,” and I feel like that one really came through the way I wanted it to. I visualized something—and the title track, “Judee & the Sun”—I feel like those ones were like, “I wanna do this thing.” Then it came through, and it was like, “That’s the thing I wanted to do!” And it felt really good. And with other ones, with Chase on them, and it was a full band with the drums, those were more of a surprise. It was like, “Oh wow, these came together super tight.” I like different ones for different reasons.
With this album, you mentioned that there were other folks working on it. There were drums, and there was a really cool string section that I liked a lot. But, I’m thinking back to a lot of your early work, like with “Ghost” and “Like It’s Our Little Machine,” and they both had a lot of wind instruments, and what I would consider “composite parts,” with a lot of different instrumentation. And I noticed that—while this album, I don’t think it’s “stripped bare” in any way, it’s a lot more stripped back production. Why was that?
I could have a really long-winded explanation, but I really do feel like it was intentional. I love messing around. A big part of it was, the earlier stuff was all home recording. And I feel like the process was just a lot of f***ing around, and I really loved exploring all of those things. But this one felt more like I wanted to capture a certain feeling of something. And for me, that was about sparseness, and emptiness, and big open spaces. So this thing that I was after didn’t have a lot of clutter.
No, I think that makes perfect sense. Because the earlier stuff has a bit of a freneticism to it, I think. And I think that really adds to what was going on in that late-aughts indie scene, I think. I’m thinking about Jordaan Mason as well. It was full, almost orchestral. And I feel like now . . . I think maybe in a post-pandemic world, I wonder if a lot of folks are trying to scale back a little bit? I dunno. But that was something I noticed.
Thanks for noticing.
Any time! Speaking of your earlier work, how does that work hold up to you?
Well, you know. It’s kinda hard. People have come up to me at these shows and have really heartfelt things to say about how much it meant to them at certain periods of their life. But on the other side of the coin, it’s like, for me, this is stuff that came out of me being 18, 19, that age. It’s not that I dislike it, it’s just that I’m a different person. It was interesting to go back. But just recently, getting ready for this tour, playing the old songs, it’s like a time machine for me. It’s like going back and thinking about stuff. It kind of has this nostalgia even for me, because I don’t typically sit around playing these old songs all the time. So, getting ready, that was nice.
That’s rad. I remember a couple of years ago I read that you would find old cassettes or old pieces of audio in like, thrift store bins, and you’d use them for older music. Is that true?
Yeah. Actually that happened here. On that “Our Little Machine” one, the kid talking.
“The A, B, Zuppers?”
Yeah. And the stuff from the end of “Eat Up.” I think my friend Stephen Steinbrink, we were here and they found that at a thrift store. We kind of were able to guess on the date. And we were like, “This was when WE were that age.” Like it was perfectly in line with our childhood, and when the Fisher Price home recording thing came out.
That’s so sick!
I love found sounds. I think we were always just scraping at everything. Like, weird instruments, and weird bits of sound, and weird bits of culture. We were just scraping the edges, trying to find stuff that expressed something that we wanted to.
I love that. So, in the years that you’ve been making music, how have you seen the experimental indie-folk scene change with touring and playing live shows and releasing live music over the last couple of years?
You know, I’m probably the last person to ask. It’s just these little snippets. And I live under a rock. I’ve just been gardening and doing other stuff. So, I don’t know. It feels like people are keeping it alive. It feels different. I miss Arizona, I miss how it felt. The house show kind of thing, and the vibe of that. But, you know, we just played a show in San Diego last fall, at a house show, last minute. And it felt just like I was right back there. So I have no idea, I don’t think I have any good insight into that at all. It’s really interesting. I feel more like a passive observer, but I don’t know if I’ve drawn any conclusions.
I know you guys are touring with AJJ in the coming moths—which I’m so excited for—but outside of that, what does the future hold for Foot Ox?
I wanna make another record, and I wanna tour in Europe. I mean, I wanna go play music there, but I’ve never been. It is nice, it furthers one to have somewhere to go, kinda thing. Then you have a reason to go. Kind of like the record, it turned into that—having a reason to get old friends together, which turns into a vehicle for something else. I think about that. I want to travel to new places. But yeah, I already have another record forming that I can start to visualize and see what’s coming up.
Cool! I’ll be on the lookout for that.
Finishing up, what are some artists that you’ve been listening to, or artists you think more people should be listening to?
You know, it’s stuff that people already know about, probably. But I’ve been listening to a lot of early ’70s folk music. And one weird kind of subcategory of that, I’ve been finding weird thrift store early ’70s Christian records that were put out by churches and stuff. Like folks that didn’t really have . . . Obviously, it wasn’t a passion project or anything. It was just like . . .
Yeah, like, “This is what you do.”
Yeah, they were church-funded things. And I’m not Christian, so I have this interesting, outsider thing where I’m able to look at it without any real associations that people probably have that were raised within those religions. But, just to look and be like, “Ah, these really interesting recordings.” And nobody seems to want them, so they’re piled up at all the thrift stores across America, and I just have been really fascinated with that.
I hesitate to bring it up, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Judee Sill. But the record is not named after her. I’ve already gotten that a few times. Only very indirectly related. Yeah, I’m drawing a blank. Lot of old ’70s stuff and country, a lot of The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Gram Parsons, and stuff like that.
Lastly, where can we find your music and where can we find you if you’re anywhere on social media?
I have an Instagram. Just “@f_o_o_t_o_x” on Instagram. The music is streaming through DistroKid. So it’s on Spotify, all the streaming platforms. And the record, physical copies, you can buy from Lava Socks Records.
“Judee & the Sun” is out now. Foot Ox is currently on tour with Crywank, and will be touring with AJJ later this summer.