Foals: on the past, the present, and the surf-rock future
A psychedelic basement, a cheeky cigarette or two, and the reassuring red glow of a recording digital device – this is where Yannis Philippakis and I find ourselves one rainy August afternoon, ensconced in an inner chamber of the Cross Kings, a bar in King’s Cross. An hour or so from now That Fucking Tank will slay faces in the corner before us; after that, Foals will headline, playing the slightly larger main bar to a capacity crowd that, if the truth be told, may actually be beyond the legal limit.
This sort of (and size of) venue is rarely stopped at, the Oxford-based five-piece (call them alt-pop, math-rock, indie-dance, whatever; I prefer to deem them simply a band capable of making me dance like a loon) regularly invited to play the larger stages of the nation’s touring circuit as well as festivals home and abroad – days after our conversation, Yannis and company will play the Reading and Leeds festivals in front of a crowd that can only be called ‘enormous’. See their set for yourself on the BBC website here (aside: my fiancée has the same Wolf Eyes shirt as Edwin). They’re well into the promotional campaign for debut album Antidotes (review), released via Transgressive back in March, a campaign that’s seen them rack up the airmiles and make playlists at the country’s most-popular stations.
Minutes before vocalist and guitarist Yannis and I sit down, drummer Jack Bevan (the band is completed by Edwin Congreave on keyboards, Walter Gervers on bass and Jimmy Smith on guitar) tells me that an earlier meeting reached the verdict that touring for their debut will finally halt in December. After that, the quintet will begin writing their second album. And, as it turns out, explore a number of side-projects.
You’ve just had a meeting to determine the immediate future, and I learn you’re to finally stop touring around Christmas…
I think if we were to carry on touring past Christmas, we’d reach the stage where we felt very frustrated. We just want to get on with making another record now.
Which, as I understand, will be influenced by Krautrock?
I’d never really listened to things like Can and Neu! before Antidotes came out, and now I particularly like Can, songs like ‘Oh Yeah’ from Tago Mago. And surf-rock is something I’ve been getting into, and I mean that genuinely! A lot of what I’m listening to is down to guitar sounds, and that’s something that we want to look at. Basically we want to look at how to evolve, and incorporate new elements into our songs.
Antidotes coincided with some fans almost rebelling against the Foals cause – there were a few interviews that presented you in a slightly unsavoury light. What was all that about?
I think that something that’s still strange is… I don’t know how to say this… The more whingey side of our personality can sometimes work against us. We get nostalgic, sometimes, about being able to do whatever we wanted without there being any repercussions in the outside world. We could write a two-minute pop song, or the complete opposite. We worked with Kieran Hebden a while ago – one of the recordings was put out on a one-sided 12” – and that was brilliant, developing these pieces from their original forms. We’re now looking at doing stuff with Cornelius, which would be great. We don’t want to be well-intentioned only for label pressures to put pay to our ambitions.
I think that’s something that’s in your favour though – I can’t imagine Transgressive requesting another Antidotes.
I think you’re right. Sometimes, and I think this is a general thing for a lot of bands… it’s easy to feel uneasy with a fanbase that wants something from you.
You _do_ have that, though, a fanbase. And that feels…?
Scary. It feels scary. We’d really like to be able to act as a catalyst and take people with us, perhaps allow them to discover through us a lot of bands that they’ll love. We could show them that surf-rock isn’t something goofy that your dad would listen to – it’s key to contextualise and re-contextualise things for our age group, and to modernise in a way music that’s not of this time. We’re not going to make the same record again, definitely not.
I don’t think that anyone who has tracked the band since before Antidotes would expect that, anyway.
I hope not. When looking at our records, we look at them at something that should stand as a single piece. That’s why we didn’t put ‘Hummer’ and ‘Mathletics’ on Antidotes, because they simply did not fit with the time, and I want records to be time-specific, to capture the moment at the moment. We just hope the next one will be better.
Video: Foals, 'Red Socks Pugie'
I’ve not spoken to you ‘on the record’ since Antidotes came out – what was it like, that flurry of mainstream interest and the chart success?
It was a strange time, what with the album going to number three, and it did seem to divide people… I think the thing is that we don’t feel entirely satisfied with Antidotes. That’s never gone away since it was released – we have a massive tendency to feel trapped by what we lay down as a record.
You didn’t feel a sense of release, of a weight lifted when the album came out?
Not really. But we’ve been touring a lot, since before the album. I like the recording process – I love to see songs build – but I don’t like point where you say something’s finished. I think I have attachment issues – it’s like how you find it hard to say goodbye. Whatever people think about it… obviously we’d like it if everyone did like it…
If everyone liked it, that’d be boring.
It would be, I suppose. I like all the super-vindictive stuff, calling us sell-outs and shit guitarists. I like that stuff, because it’s so far-removed from how people actually interact as human beings, and it’s come about because of the internet.
A sea of faceless critics.
Everyone can become an assassin. Andrew [Mears, Youthmovies vocalist and guitarist] and I started a new project called Bins Are For Bombs yesterday.
Ah, I saw that mentioned in NME…
Yep. Jack’s doing some drum ensembles, too.
Do you have time to focus on side projects at the moment?
Yeah, definitely. We need to take some time off – it’d be really healthy for us. The danger at the moment is that we’re so inside of Foals’ world, which is a very unreal place. It’d be nice to have breathing space. And I think that having time apart will freshen things up when we do regroup, and there’ll be a different energy to the band. When we first started playing it was very fresh. Oh, something I’m also doing is that I’m playing guitar on a new Steve Reich piece. He’s getting rock musicians to come in and play on this piece. I got asked to do it, and that was pretty amazing. I’ve heard the piece and, genuinely, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to play it – for one thing I can’t read music, so I’m going to have to tab it… tabbing Steve Reich… Anyway, I’m super excited about it because I’ve talked about Steve Reich so very much in past interviews.
That’s a whole world removed from this pop world you’ve been in since the release of Antidotes.
There’s that, and Bins Are For Bombs, and Jack’s thing… I don’t know much about that yet, though. Jimmy and Walter have formed a thing with each other called Infinity Penis – I think it’s mainly going to be sub-bass, bowel-quaking stuff. That leaves Edwin to do his DJing and remixing, which he loves. The Bins Are For Bombs thing we’ll record in December – we don’t know what it’ll be yet, but we started on it last night. I went round to his house, he brought out a homemade bong he’d put together while at university, we smoked that and made some loops.
Have you heard any of the new Youthmovies stuff, as they were recording recently?
Yeah I have – it sounds really good. You know Al [English, Youthmovies guitarist] lives with Ben Power of Fuck Buttons?
Yeah, they recently moved in together. Do you like Fuck Buttons?
I do! I really like them, and I am in awe of how well they have done with the music they make. They’re as big as Growing already, if not bigger. It’s pretty incredible. I saw them live in France and they played a new track, this really fast track. It sounded amazing, and they’re lovely boys, so they’re cool.
Do you get the chance, being in this bubble, to check out many new bands?
Definitely less than I used to, and I think this is true of all of us, but we’ve recoiled from the influx of so much new music. I have never listened to so much stuff that’s old – I’ve been going back to stuff like Can, and it’s almost like a defence mechanism where we feel we can learn from these older bands, stuff that we can’t hear in the newer bands.
Video: Foals, 'Olympic Airways' (live session)
I guess you’re in the position now where you can actually afford to go and buy records…
I do buy records, yes.
And you’re how old right now?
There you go – why would you have listened to Can before now? What 19-year-old actually honestly listens to Can? I don’t know any. You’ve this whole new field of music to explore… and I don’t mean to patronise, although I may sound like I am here…!
No, no, not at all, and you’re making me excited talking about the music that is out there to find.
I saw Harmonia this summer, and it was amazing.
I’ve not heard of them.
Michael Rother of Neu! is in them. They were really beautiful, and playing this wonderfully esoteric music that was first laid down in the ‘70s.
I’m going to check that out. What’s it like?
This real blissful sound… sort of drone, sort of electronica…
Wow. In terms of new bands though, the bands we’re to take on tour with us soon we’re obviously massively into – Dananananaykroyd, Wild Beasts, Holy Fuck, Maps & Atlases… I’m so happy that we’re in a position where we can put bands that we love, like Wild Beasts, in front of a big audience that will hopefully be responsive in the right way. I hope people like Wild Beasts.
Were you instrumental in bringing Maps & Atlases over, or were they already coming?
I think we played a massive part in that happening, after we toured with them in the US. They’re going to be great – people are going to love them. It seems they’re enjoying their music a lot more with their second EP, which is a stylistic progression from the more math-rock nature of their first. They’ve taken a bit of stick for it, from some fans, but they’re happier with it. It’s restricting for them to stick to their old material, and in some ways we’re similar as I’m sure people will say the same things when we release our next album. That purist mentality can count against you, but playing music is meant to be fun! Maps & Atlases are never going to produce something wholly generic, so for them to have fun with their music is really exciting. I definitely prefer their new stuff to their old stuff.
I’m amazed they’ve not been picked up here.
I’m sure they will be soon enough.
And you, personally – is this all still fun to you? The touring, the promo…
It _is_ still fun. It’s going to be even more fun when we start writing again, and I’m really pining for the studio. It’s fun in the studio. Have you heard the new TV On The Radio album?
Is it good…?
Video: Foals, ‘Balloons’
If you are keen to know what the new TV On The Radio album is all about, do click to our special track-by-track preview. With conversation turning to a tone more social than interrogational, my recording device of choice is stored away in my soon-to-get-soaked backpack, and drinks are finished prior to a scurry into the summer (if you can call this summer) downpour.
Find Foals on MySpace here and see the band live as follows:
30 Jersey Jersey Live Festival
31 Stradbally Electric Picnic
5 Isle of Wight Bestival
27 Aylesbury Civic Center with Wild Beasts, Maps & Atlases
28 Cardiff University** with Wild Beasts, Maps & Atlases
29 Norwich UEA with Wild Beasts, Maps & Atlases
30 Nottingham Rock City with Wild Beasts, Maps & Atlases
2 Hull University with Wild Beasts, Maps & Atlases
3 Liverpool Academy with Wild Beasts, Maps & Atlases
4 Aberdeen Music Hall with Wild Beasts, Maps & Atlases
5 Glasgow Barrowlands with Holy Fuck, Dananananaykroyd
7 Newcastle Carling Academy with Wild Beasts, Maps & Atlases
8 Manchester Academy with Holy Fuck, Dananananaykroyd
9 Leeds Academy with Wild Beasts, Dananananaykroyd
10 Lincoln Engine Shed with Wild Beasts, Dananananaykroyd
11 Southampton Guildhall with Wild Beasts, Dananananaykroyd
13 Bristol Carling Academy with Holy Fuck, Dananananaykroyd
14 Birmingham Carling Academy with Holy Fuck, Dananananaykroyd
15 London Brixton Academy with Holy Fuck, Dananananaykroyd