ACA International vice president and general counsel Robert Föehl rocks. While I’m sure many would agree in the figurative sense, I mean it literally. Of all the outside-of-work activities collection professionals engage in, Föehl’s involves rehearsals, concerts, television performances and recording sessions with his band The Sunny Era.
Music has long lingered in the periphery of the collection industry due to occurrences such as ACA’s CEO Pat Morris playing on stage with World Class Rockers at the 2013 ACA convention. Even more numerous were conversations between collection professionals about getting together to jam. One such conversation involving Collection Advisor’s editor Steel Rose, Search Net Corporations’ Marco Trezza (harmonica), Applied Innovations’ Albert Rookard (bass), and DialConnection’s Michael Vesper (lead guitar).
Föehl became the drummer for The Sunny Era in 2006 after meeting fellow bandmates, musicians Eric and Laila Stainbrook, through his wife. The following years involved numerous performances, the release of three full length albums and charting on various radio charts. However, Föehl’s dedication to music and percussion long predated The Sunny Era and his association with collections.
“I got started in my Mom and Dad’s kitchen,” said Föehl. “I was really young and I used to drag out the metal pots and pans from my Mom and Dad’s cabinets, grab utensils and bang on the pots and pans.”
Not long after the clatter of these early kitchen jam sessions Föehl began receiving formal percussion lessons. This eventually led to involvement in the high school marching band and playing drums in a rock band. As life often does, it got in the way. Föehl shifted focus to his studies to become a lawyer.
“Going into law school I had a period of time where I didn’t do much playing,” said Föehl. “I was really focused on getting through school and starting my career. For a period of several years I did virtually no music in terms of playing. I was like ‘oh my gosh! I get up, I go to work, I come home and I go to bed. I have 40 more years of this?’ What I realized was I had really squelched that creative side through those years. At that point in time I made the decision that I got to get back into doing that. It’s part of who I am.”
Föehl got involved with a drum and bugle corps to resume performing. He also got involved with high school marching again, this time as an instructor. He went about this balancing act for almost 10 years before quitting the drum and bugle corps for The Sunny Era then eventually committing solely to the band after that. Föehl’s exposure to music through multiple facets over the years allowed his musical taste to grow eclectic. Citing influences such as Stephen Glass and Rush’s Neil Peart, he learned to play music to suit even the most difficult to classify genres; a skill most useful for The Sunny Era.
“It’s really interesting,” said Föehl. “Some people classify our music as indie rock, gypsy rock, gypsy jazz, indie rock world fusion. There’s a number of different ways to describe it. I don’t know that we as a band fall into one category. We look at our music as being an extension of ourselves and what we’re interested in at the time we are putting it together.
“Anyone who listens to our full catalog chronologically I think will feel some ebbs and flows in direction. We started out squarely as a five-piece indie rock band; and in 2008 we paired down to a three-piece, Eric, Laila and I. At that point we were really interested in exploring world music influences within the context of indie rock.”
In this fusion of music from different cultures, Föehl described his role in the group and the creative process involved with writing a song.
“I’m very much what I would consider an ensemble percussionist,” said Föehl. “I serve the group by being the foundation for which Eric and Laila can put on all kinds of color. I approach each of our songs in a way that causes me to play what I think the music is calling for. You don’t hear any super large drum fills or solos or any of those types of things when you listen to The Sunny Era or go see us live.”
Föehl has been practicing law for over 20 years. Virtually all of that time has been in financial services. He was with Target for nearly a decade before coming to his current post at ACA. Such an involved work schedule leads many to wonder, if not ask, how does one find the energy and initiative to get home from work, pull up to a drum set and continue to create?
“That’s always the question that people ask me. ‘How do you do that? I can’t imagine you doing that.’ People think about when they go to bed at night and it’s usually not around two or three in the morning. What I tell them is ‘yeah, I’m human, I come in tired. But I’m mentally energized; and exercising that creative side of things is a nice rest for the heavy work that I do.’ More importantly, what I tell them is ‘I’m physically tired but I guarantee that by doing what I’m doing that I am not just a better employee for my employer but also a better manager, better father, better son, better husband by doing this.’ It’s worth it to me, the tiredness that you experience for one day after you’ve played a show and get home in the wee hours of the morning.”
As Föehl explains how a late night now and again helps make him a more effective person, he also attributes his support at home for allowing him to pursue his own definition of happiness.
“The other question I get is ‘how do I even find time to do this; what you do for your job and your travel schedule and those things and having a wife?’ I have two little kids. They ask ‘how do you even find time to do this?’ Quite honestly, it’s like anything else. You make time for the things that you love. I’m very very blessed to have a very supportive wife who understands that and understands this is a part of who I am; it’s part of the man she fell in love with. While it can be burdensome for her, she is on board with me doing this because she understands the importance of it. She has her things that she loves to do as well that I am incredibly supportive of as well for the same reasons. I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t have that kind of support from the best person in my life.”
If anyone were involved in this many projects it would be easy to call him/her a collection professional, drummer or musician. Many feel they derive identity from being a particular “blank.” However, Föehl does not wish for such labels.
“I have never defined myself as what I do for a living,” said Föehl. “Usually if someone asks me out of the gate, on a plane or at a party what I do for a living, I’m usually taken aback by that. That’s not how I usually define myself. It’s a part of who I am, don’t get me wrong. I’m not ashamed of it by any means but I don’t typically define myself that way. I’m not the type that’s very comfortable with being defined by what I do for a living or being just defined as a drummer for a band.”
The Sunny Era’s concert schedule has been light the past year as they are currently working on a new album, the first music to be released since 2012’s "Lost in the Sea of Ghosts." Föehl hopes to be playing more shows soon after its release. This seems to suit Föehl just fine as he thinks the ability to make and/or play music with others can be intriguing for anyone. He ties it to some primal urge in everyone to communicate with others.
“It shows you that there is a human communication and bonding through stuff other than words,” said Föehl.
To learn more about The Sunny Era and hear their music, go to www.thesunnyera.com. While Collection Advisor is still interested in forming a collection-based band, we would like to hear from other musicians and enthusiasts about what they do to pursue their own happiness be it in music, sports or art. Contact Collection Advisor at