foreign figures

Interview: Foreign Figures on New Album, Sync Licensing, and More

Four-piece Foreign Figures stem from the lesser known city of Orem, Utah. They’ve got a natural ability to bring listeners a true arena pop-rock vibe to their songs within seconds of pressing play, such that it’s hard to believe the band is only a couple of years old!

Foreign Figures released their debut full length album, Paradigm, on Friday, April 1, and as TuneCore Publishing Administration clients, we were able to secure their song “Fire” on the hit series Younger.

As the group continues to accelerate past local and regional markets, bassist Seth Dunshee was kind enough to talk about their beginnings, the new album and how it represents the massive shift towards an independent band really going all-in and full-time, (and everything that comes with that) as well as Foreign Figures’ recent sync placement.

How did Foreign Figures come to be as a band?

Seth Dunshee: Eric [Michels], our singer, and Steve [Michels], our drummer are brothers, so they began writing together while in high school. Steve and Eric put out an EP together in 2010, and I met them soon afterwards through a mutual friend. We jammed for a couple months, but, Eric soon decided to volunteer for a 2 year mission for his church.

During that that me and Steve continued to jam and write casually, but mostly did acoustic covers at weddings and parties. When Eric returned in late 2013, we decided to form a band and record some songs together. I knew a great engineer and producer named Jonny [Tanner], and we soon went into his home studio to record our first song together. It didn’t take long for us to ask Jonny to join the band as a guitarist.

How do you feel the collective music experience of each member has played a role in developing your sound?

Foreign Figures’ sound is truly a collaborative effort. Each band member is a strong songwriter and vocalist, and our musical influences differ enough to spark extra creativity when writing.

Jonny comes from a metal/rock background, whereas I’m more into R&B and funk – a big fan of M.J. and Justin Timberlake. Steve loves dance/pop music, and Eric likes indie/rock pop a bit more. While we all like different genres, we can all agree on a few bands, namely Coldplay and Imagine Dragons. When we write, it’s typically a synergetic experience, but of course, is not without lots of bickering and disagreements. I think that makes us stronger songwriters, though.

Clue us into what the music scene around Orem, Utah is like. What do you think are some of the advantages of forming in a lesser known music city?

Not being from LA, Nashville, New York, or Austin definitely makes it a bit easier to be noticed on a local level, just for lack of saturation. Networking with the music industry is definitely a bit harder though. Orem is extremely close to Provo, where bands like Neon Trees, The Used, and Imagine Dragons have come out of.

Provo has an awesome and very loyal music scene with a lot of talented artists. A lot of our fans will call us a “Provo Band”, since Orem and Provo are sister cities and we play there often.

TuneCore landed “Fire” on Younger in February. How does it feel to achieve a sync placement just a year and a half into your career as a band?

It feels really awesome. We have really loved working with TuneCore, and were especially excited that “Fire” was used in a scene where a guy proposes to Hilary Duff’s character, (laughs). As a musician, it’s nice to know that you can make money without having to play a show, (although playing live is our favorite), so we were very excited about the placement.

How has the placement impacted interest outside of your established fan base?

I think it has legitimized us in the eyes of a lot of fans. To see a band that you’re a fan of on TV is an exciting thing, more so when it’s something that’s somewhat relevant on television.

In terms of outside our established fan base, we got a good deal of traction from people who follow Younger that found us from that scene. Pretty sweet.

In general, what are your thoughts on how independent artists lean on licensing as a source of revenue and exposure in 2016?

We always talk about focusing on making money “while we are sleeping”, which is such a rarity for a band trying to break out of a local market.

Given the current industry and the low payout for digital streaming and downloads, learning to make money through licensing is a must. That being said, we aren’t specifically writing with hopes to land sync deals, but it is a goal of ours to be able to get a certain amount of exposure and income from that area.

Collectively, how would you describe your understanding of the world of music publishing administration?

I feel like when it comes to educating yourself about the moving parts of the music industry, it’s easy for bands to just assume that a label or manager will come around that will make the tough decisions for them and get educated.

For us, we have really tried to run our band as a business, and that means doing our best to be in the know. We try and learn something new everyday. If I were to describe our current “understanding” of the world of music publishing administration, I would say that we have a base understanding of how things work with a desire to learn and network as much as possible.

Especially with this new album – there are so many songs that I feel would be so awesome as part of a movie trailer TV show, etc. It’s pretty anthemic and, at times, cinematic. As we grow, we are excited to work with royalties more as well and actually start to make some money there.

How do you think indie artists can better educate themselves in this area of collecting songwriter royalties?

Perhaps the best way to educate ourselves is to try and learn as much as you can on your own. Every artist has a team – whether that’s a legitimate management company, or a mom and a dad. I feel that indie artists will only gain from trying to learn about it themselves instead of simply trusting someone else to do it for them.

You can’t do everything on your own, but part of the excitement behind success in the music industry is knowing that you, (at least somewhat), knew what you were doing, (laughs).

Tell us more about your debut full length, Paradigm. Where are you guys coming from on this album?

Paradigm is basically the battle that took place for us personally as we decided to make Foreign Figures a reality. Bridging the gaps between, “Hey, we’re pretty good…” and, “Let’s do this for our full time jobs…” and,  “Hey (wife) I’m quitting my job to be a bass player in my band…” is definitely an anxiety ridden journey.

Lyrically, Paradigm confronts the uncomfortable emotions of knowing that you want to do music full time, and even feeling that you should do it full time, and then making that happen. Giving up grad school, comfortable careers, and supporting wives and families while deciding to do music full time is a scary thing, but so worth it.

Paradigm is the shift of vision that we had that went from unsure but hopeful, to confident and hopeful. Musically, the album has a “battle born” concept. It’s got some very anthemic moments, and a lot of emotional moments, all within what we’ve found to be our sound. We are so excited for this new album.

What are some of the benefits of having an ‘in-house’ producer playing in the band?

The most obvious benefit is the money we’ve saved – Jonny [Tanner, guitarist] has put in probably 2,500 hours of mixing, editing, mastering. And on top of that, all the production and writing sessions that we had as a band. He is so awesome – he never asked us to pay him anything extra.

He knows we all do things to push Foreign Figures forward, and his engineering and production skills are, in his words, “just part of his contribution to the band.” Besides the financial savings, being able to take time on songs and try things has been super cool.

It sucks to rush art, so it was nice to feel creative freedom. On the other end, it’s been a LOT MORE work than what a band that outsources all of the mixing, editing, mastering. One thing for sure, Jonny is the man. We’re super grateful for him.

What other plans do you guys have for 2016 in terms of promoting Paradigm and continuing to build a fan base?

2016 is our first year as a full-time band, and with the release of Paradigm we will get our first tour of national touring. So far we’ve got a few regional tours planned, and weeklong tour of the midwest as we head to Nashville this May. Our goal is to tour/gig like we’re unstoppable.

Of course, we know that just booking random shows in cities where people don’t know about us isn’t the smartest decision, so we are being strategic and working with a few people in the ways of marketing and PR to maximize dates we play outside of our home region.

Another goal of this year is to really get networked with industry people – so far all of our connections have been organic, but we are connecting a few dots within the industry.  We will also be releasing a few other music videos throughout the next year and a half of so. We are very excited to keep working hard to connect with people through our music.