Robin Pecknold is the lead singer and songwriter for Fleet Foxes. He’s been active as a musician for a long time, having started the band with his friend Skyler Skjelset over 12 years ago. His first full-length album with the band, their 2008 self-titled, garnered some attention and critical acclaim for year-end lists. Robin has remained as the bandleader but took a hiatus after the recording of Helplessness Blues. He spent the time off surfing, woodworking and going to school. The band got together again to record Crack-Up and they’re currently touring the album. The band has another album due for their contract due within the next couple years, but he also has a solo album planned. Check out his active Instagram (it’s just his name) to keep up with him or the band.
This guy’s voice is more or less perfect for the music that accompanies it. This is one of those statements you often read with Kurt Cobain or Mick Jagger, but I find it applies well here too. Instead of specializing in strain or bluesy belting, however, we have Pecknold’s pleasant tenor that works as a sole voice and in several layers. While he doesn’t experiment much with distortion and heavy singing, he’s at least tried it in some places. He has made a noticeable change to his voice and technique for each studio album by Fleet Foxes, and his ability to experiment with his voice is something I admire a lot. His thoughtfulness toward his lyrics and music is rather consistent with that of his singing. He takes good care of his voice and is generally a rather healthy guy to my knowledge. He will keep his voice in good shape for a long time, and I imagine he will develop a lot as a singer beyond his capabilities now.
This is a visual representation of Robin’s range:
2006-2007 – These years cover the first Fleet Foxes EP and some very early concert videos of them playing songs like “Anyone Who’s Anyone”. He gets a bit shrill on high notes but he is a very well-developed singer for his age at the time.
2008-2010 – His voice is mostly the same, but more refined. He uses more falsetto on material during these years. He has a pretty chest dominant sound in highs on songs like “Innocent Song” and “Oliver James”, which he complements with falsetto lines in songs like “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”.
2011-2012 – His timbre has brightened noticeably for the recording of the new album and subsequent tours. It sounds like he pulls less chest on high notes and his bridge is harder to distinguish. He sings a bit higher in some backing vocals and uses his low range a bit more. His tone is fairly distinct in backing vocals compared to his bandmates, having sung a lot of the backing on Helplessness Blues. Some of Robin’s softer singing now sounds more like light head voice than pure falsetto, which shows an interesting development in his voice. I’d be interested to ask him what he changed about his voice around this period.
2016-2017 – After a hiatus, Robin returns with an even more refined singing voice. He retains his techniques he developed during the last album, and his singing on Crack-Up is more subdued than usual. His midrange sounds excellent on songs like “Kept Woman”. You’ll notice from the first lines of the album that he’s learned to sing considerably low, reaching a lot lower than he did on previous albums. His tone down there is rather breathy, which is surprising to me considering how bright his voice is normally. He sings songs like “I Should See Memphis” an octave higher in live versions, which makes sense.
Ten Cool Vocal Performances, Chronological:
1. Anyone Who’s Anyone
2. Icicle Tusk
3. Ragged Wood
4. Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
5. Oliver James
7. The Shrine / An Argument
8. Helplessness Blues
9. Kept Woman
10. I Should See Memphis
This list is slightly different from a traditional best list. It lists ten songs that showcase different aspects of his voice to give an idea of his style.
Note that since Robin is still very much active, this sums up what I know about his voice and range so far, from what I’ve heard. I will update this post as needed as I learn more or hear any clips that would contribute to his range.
Photo Credit: Sean Pecknold