Making a Scene Presents Gerry Casey’s Interview with Sunflower Fox and the Chicken Leg
In the beginning, or at least following the Big Bang of 1970s FM radio more than 50 years ago, there were three elements: Olympia beer, shag carpeting you can’t possibly vacuum, and unpasteurized rock and roll. Over the years, however, we have strayed from these essentials. Today, craft beer, Ruggables, and sterile, autotuned pop are contributing to the fall of mankind, but fear not for Sunflower Fox & the Chicken Leg intend to change things.
Like some sort of Naugahyde-dipped superheroes, Sunflower Fox & the Chicken Leg, a unique gathering of topnotch, working musicians, have banded together to bring back the thrill of undigitized rock n’ roll. While on its quest, the Minneapolis-based band has made it its mission to visit as many iconic studios in this great land to bring back the magic of a real rock n’ roll band tracking together in real time.
“We genuinely love the ridiculousness of the 1970s—the mistakes in the songs that make them human, and the over-the-top musical moments,” emphasizes vocalist Kaity Heart whose adopted surname shows you where she’s coming from musically speaking (hint: think “Barracuda”). “It’s been such a crazy time, and we’re here to be a fun and indulgent escape from modern living.”
Sunflower Fox & The Chicken Leg is Kaity Heart, vocals, James Gross, guitar, Mike Schmidt, guitar, Craig Holets, bass, Kyle Primus, drums, and Al Berg, keys. The band takes its cues from 1970s arena-rock behemoths such as Heart, Bad Company, and Thin Lizzy who specialized in imaginatively-arranged, tough-but-catchy tuneage played with swaggering virtuosity. Sprinkled throughout Sunflower Fox & The Chicken Leg’s tongue-in-cheek rock n’ roll are 1970s-rock Easter eggs, showcasing the band’s reverence for its bellbottomed forefathers.
Sunflower Fox & The Chicken Leg was born from the ennui, self-reflection, and paranoia of the pandemic when, for the first time in many years, the musicians in the band had nothing to do—no studio sessions, gigs, or corporate performances. Back then, Kaity began plotting a 1970s band, and asked her best friend of 15 years, James, who she played countless gigs with, if he’d like to help. The two sketched up musical ideas, and then they cherry picked the perfect musicians from their tightknit working musician scene to be in the band.
The six-piece band then demoed its album at Pachyderm Recording Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota where Nirvana and Soul Asylum once tracked. But the sextet eventually made a grand pilgrimage to Louisiana to officially record the 7-song album at Studio In The Country where Kansas recorded its string of platinum albums featuring “Dust In The Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son,” and Stevie Wonder tracked his album Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. “We did a destination recording so people couldn’t leave,” James says laughing. “When we got to the studio, they told us they hadn’t had a rock band there in years!”
The resulting album, Sunflower Fox & the Chicken Leg, is a beast of an album, roaring with Kaity’s arena-ready vocals; stadium-sized choruses; burly guitar riffs; dexterous-but-lyrical guitar solos; tastefully moody keyboards; an ultra-groovy rhythm section; and zany, over-the-top musical interludes. The lead single, “Breathe It In,” is a moody rocker with 1970s-Heart vibing guitars, soaring vocals, and some unique musical flourishes. “Ah yes, the unnecessarily complicated bridge,” Kaity remembers. “A lot of those classic songs would insert one measure of 5/4 or play some out-of-the-blue overly-complicated breakdown, and we thought it would be funny to also do that.”
The sleazy riff-rocker, “Naughty Little Girl,” struts forward with down n’ dirty, fleet-fingered guitar solos and Kaity’s wailing vocals singing menacingly vengeful lyrics such as: I’m a naughty Little Girl/Who’s a coming after you/Gonna stab you right straight in the eye/With a knife named Peggy Sue. “That song is about the music industry and how women were treated in that period,” James says. Kaity adds: “In the beginning of the song, you can hear a lot of Minneapolis female rock singers yelling all the creepy things music biz types have said to them over the years. It’s like a stripper song—if strippers had machetes.” Of course, no 1970s album is complete without an epic ballad, and “Take Me Back” with its stately piano playing, patiently-unfolding arrangement, and its tasty melodic lead guitar solo, more than fulfills that requirement.
Joining the sextet for its maiden voyage in recording its self-titled debut is none other than American record producer and audio engineer, Ron Nevison. Ron mixed Sunflower Fox & the Chicken Leg, and he is known for his work with The Who, Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, and Heart—many of Sunflower Fox & the Chicken Leg’s prime influences.
Up next, Sunflower Fox & the Chicken Leg will be chasing more Neve consoles across the country in pursuit of 1970s hi-fi bliss. And, of course, there is the sprawling 1970s concept album being written. Fantasy aside, though, this magic carpet ride has given these musicians a renewed love and passion for music, putting them back in touch with those feelings they had when they first started playing. Kaity shares: “I think we’ve all broken down in tears of joy at some point while recording this record. It’s been a dream come true.”
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