By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Red Fox Grey Fox
From the Land of Bears,
Ice, and Rock
Before I actually listened to Red Fox Grey Fox, I checked out the band's picture on the internet: one, two, three, four members, all dudes. But after I slipped From the Land of Bears, Ice, and Rock into my car stereo, I was so certain I heard a girl's voice coming out of the speakers that I ejected the disc to make sure the friend I borrowed it from hadn't accidentally given me the wrong album.
Nope. It turns out that Red Fox singer Peter Miller's voice is just really high for a boy's—and thin, so thin that at times it becomes somehow shiny, like the membrane of a soap bubble. His featherweight falsetto floats over multiple guitar lines that weave speedily in and out of each other. Hasty 16th notes race over rock drum beats, interlocking and replicating themselves until they form a spider web that captures pop warmth and emo angst and rocks them in a swaying wind.
"I have a hard time singing in what is mid-range for most males," explains Miller, whose speaking voice is also an octave above what you might expect by looking at his solid frame. Our conversation takes place after a midsummer cloudburst has left the world slick with perspiration, and the seats of our clothes become slightly damp as we sit in the backlot of the Firewall, an all-ages venue in Stillwater.
Miller carries himself with his shoulders rounded over, as if cowering just a tiny bit. There's an uncertainty about him, but with a lift of lightly worn happiness—when he sings, he rolls his weight forward onto the ball of his left foot and bounces his body on it in time to the music. "I hope it doesn't sound too forced," he says of his unusual voice.
And it doesn't sound forced. It sounds a little tense, maybe, but that tension somehow suits the endless flow of notes that run under it. Red Fox songs are lush with guitar melodies and keyboard parts that ripple outward as they repeat and spatially expand. The air seems to shimmer and vibrate with the introspective energy of the sound. Without the contrast of Miller's voice, it might come off as too hypnotically repetitive. But his voice isn't the only possible source of tension in the band.
Either God or Jesus is thanked in the liner notes on From the Land of Bears by every member of the band—except for Miller. He seems to be the group's only nonbeliever. Yet he is the frontman, and the sole lyricist. How did a man with doubts come to lead the faithful?
"I came from a Midwestern, evangelical Christian background," Miller says quietly. "All of us went to Bethel, which is an evangelical school, so we all have deep roots." But the only Bethel graduate in the band (the two teenaged members of the group, Stephen Lindquist and Jeremiah Satterthwaite, are still at Bethel, but bassist Benjamin Pien transferred to art school, and then to Century College) couldn't discount his lack of first-person connection with the divine.
"I don't like to make claims about what's true and what's not true," he explains. "I think a lot of religious belief is based on subjective experience, and I haven't really experienced that," Miller says cautiously. Listening to him, I get the feeling that he probably put more soul-searching into leaving the church than most people put into belonging to it.
His fellow Foxes seem respectful of this. Guitarist Satterthwaite, his sun-whitened blond hair falling into his eyes, explains how he thinks about the difference. "Pete's songs are more challenging of Christianity. The dynamic of the band is to challenge each other—I see it as a challenge to Christianity."
Ben Pien, the eldest and most reserved member of the band, admits, "Even being a Christian, I feel there are a lot of problems with it."
"We've all played in worship bands at one time, but I don't feel like it's a call to ministry," Satterwaite points out. "I like making music."
Boyish, playful drummer Linquist confirms that the band's agenda isn't really religious. "We see it, like, it's art."
And yet you get the sense that the whole band, Miller included, is still searching open-eyed, expecting that if they keep trying, they can coax some grace out of the universe.