A year ago Foals were playing ‘Mathletics’ and ‘Try This On Your Piano’ as a band very much still in their infancy. Well this is no more.
Clash caught up with Foals as they embarked on their own tour - as well as tearing up a Levi’s Ones To Watch event - to witness their metamorphosis in completion. Almost twelve months ago, Foals had the confidence to leave those singles off the album (which makes perfect sense in hindsight given how good ‘Antidotes’ is), they have gone from strength to strength, and whilst any new material is still some way off, they have honed their live show to anarchic perfection.
Like the world’s greatest method actor, they appeared to improvise through ‘XXXX’, ‘French Open’ and ‘Olympic Airways’ to warm the crowd up. The walls creaked as ‘Cassius’, ‘Balloons’ and ‘Hummer’ gave the crowd more than they bargained for, and a few songs, grungy guitar jams and stage dives later they got that bit of extra entertainment they had craved so much.
Leaving the rest of the band to finish up ‘Electric Bloom’, singer Yannis decided to take out his frustration with the sound quality on the soundman, the fans, his drum, his mic stand, some more fans, the bassist and the bassist’s amp stack, the drummer and then his own guitar stack before fleeing amongst a sea of guitar leads and adoring arms through the crowd and out the main door.
We weren’t up for making commercial decisions regarding previous recordings and the new album.
Foals are clearly revelling in their burgeoning talents, and look very much like the next young band to make the leap to global domination. Foals are growing up fast.
At the time the fact Foals were leaving the previous singles off of the album garnered a lot of attention, what was the thinking behind leaving early singles off the album?
A few things we felt like in England we had released those singles and people knew them. If we had put them on the record we would’ve anchored ourselves to something we weren’t it would have been restricting. I like to think of albums as a document of something at a particular point in time, and that wouldn’t have been right had those singles been on their.
I like albums to capture an energy and those songs had been written and recorded so much earlier that the idea of going to New York and re-recording ‘Hummer’ negates the whole process. AT the time we instinctively didn’t want those songs, but we try not to analyse things too much. It seemed like the right thing to do and we haven’t had any regrets.
I don’t think the album suffers from not having those songs on it.
Do those recordings sound out of date to you?
Definitely. As a group we have quite short attention spans regarding the band itself, we get jaded and want to move on quite quickly. All the excitement when we went to New York was about trying to make this afro-beat inspired record that was distinct from any previous Foals material. We weren’t up for making commercial decisions regarding previous recordings and the new album.
If I live to be 40 I don’t wanna look back at the album with any regrets. I want to look back and say we went to New York smoked loads of weed, got Antibalas to play on horns and sat there with Sitek and made an album. It didn’t bomb because of that and the album was a different perspective. When we wrote ‘Hummer’ we weren’t aware of the dance-rock ish thing that was going on. It didn’t really represent what the band was on and although it might have fitted, in some people’s eyes we weren’t part of a scene or riding a specific wave.
Was it unintentional that your sound coincided with the popularisation of dance rock music and edgier sounds?
Yeah I think it was the same in a way for everyone. Through the decades cultural and geographical ideas emerge, bands from similar areas moving in similar directions it just happens like that. Maybe it is something weird to do with astrology or something.
Whose idea was it to work with Dave Sitek?
Ours. The label were totally supportive. Transgressive knew when they signed us that we were like that. They have had faith in us and trusted us to do our own thing. This occasionally might mean we make a wrong decision but it also means that they backed working with someone like Sitek. Something many labels might not have been so sure about. As a band they are one of the most important bands of our time.
It was weird going over there and even though Dave kind of locks himself away in his studio, he isn’t around, he isn’t a scenester, but you can definitely feel the presence of TV On The Radio and the effect they have had. ‘Cookie Mountain’ and the new record are truly incredible records. I can’t really listen to them anymore without feeling tainted, I liked their records before but know we have worked with him I like them even more. Especially as I know how intense it all is.
What is it like returning to a small venue now you have experienced the reaction to the record and playing huge festivals?
I think once we have the rest of this tour out of the way and we have played most of the bigger indoor venues in the UK we might go back to small, spontaneous gigs and house parties again. I like playing at night indoors, where we have been on, especially in the States, earlier in the day it isn’t as exciting. It demystifies the experience of seeing a band, seeing them in broad daylight.
It is a difficult process writing and compiling the loops into actual songs, but there is always room for a bit of improve of we feel any particular night is going really well.
I am not to keen on standing there sweating in the ridiculous mid-day heat. But I do like both, but we feel at home in smaller venues ,but those that present stranger and weirder spaces, some small venues can be just as faceless and empty as bigger places we have played. As far as secret gigs are concerned, who doesn’t like surprises? From a geeky point of view some of the smaller places have far less sound issues and far more atmosphere.
What do you think of the adulation and idolisation? That the band and you as a front man have received in the last year or so?
It is strange I never really grew up reading about music all the time so I wasn’t really aware of cool lists and stuff like that until very recently. I find it a little bit weird, I was never one of those 14 year old kids sitting at home reading NME hoping I could be in there one day. It just doesn’t mean that much to me. I was obsessed with bands, I definitely looked up to bands just not the same way as everyone else did. I heard a band called the Oxes on John Peel and just became obsessed with them. I remember meeting them one day and just being the ultimate fanboy. I can understand people’s idolisation, but I find it funny as we find ourselves really uncool and we go out of our way to stay at home in Oxford.
There are rumours about a record made up of your previous band Edmund Fitzgerald being released. How likely is this?
It will happen. Our friend Andrew Mears at Try Harder has everything Ed Fitz ever recorded, but it is pretty weird talking about that as it was essentially an after school band, practising after lessons and then tour during half term. It was a lot of fun but I don’t know how digestible it is, we we’re writing it when we we’re 16, it sounds very different to Foals. I don’t think anyone should get there hopes up about it.
This is more about the music. That had a scene around it and Oxford and the DIY thing became very self-satisfied at one point. Luckily it isn’t like that anymore; the music around there has changed quite a lot. When we were doing that band it became part of something we didn’t want to be a part, it felt like something that was our own then it became a badge of honour to be math rock and I felt like it lost its currency, everyone took themselves too seriously.
You don’t seem to buy into scenes
I buy into some scenes. Something that is changing is the rise of various geographical scenes. With Grunge it was very much a Seattle thing so there is a lot to be said for geographical scenes. I appreciate ‘scenes’ like that and there are plenty of others I don’t have time for. I don’t think we are part of any scene; here and in Oxford there is a weird musical landscape at the moment, one we don’t subscribe to.
What have Foals got planned as far as new records are concerned?
We haven’t brought anything together to a finished song. It is a difficult process writing and compiling the loops into actual songs, but there is always room for a bit of improve of we feel any particular night is going really well. But we will be playing songs we haven’t played before from the record like 'Tron', we have tried that once before a long time ago but it just fell apart, and maybe ‘Big Big Love’ and the B-side ‘Gold, Gold, Gold’. We take a lot of time over the B-sides. They act as experiments for the next record so they may feature a lot during the tour. They are quite hurried so count as half or ¾ an experiment, very different to the album but still just testing the water for the next record.
When you dropped out of University, did you ever worry you had made the wrong decision?
Four of us out of five dropped out, but there wasn’t really any worry but more because we didn’t like university. If we had liked university then we wouldn’t have dropped out. It was an easy decision to make. I didn’t ever dwell on it as ever since I was 14/15 I have been making music, painting taking photos. There was no careerist aspect to it, I didn’t like music as part of a curriculum and there were no Dick Whittington dreams of success. We, were just attracted to the though of not having normal jobs and being able to make records. Thinking long term about being a band is another strange idea but I think we will always be making music. There will be a limit to Foals, we want to make lots more records but we all also want to do other things in music.
Before Foals became what it is we used to do other things in music. I think there is an element of progression needed for the next record. I don’t want people to put on the next record and feel instantly at home. At the same time there is always going to be certain chemistry between the five us that no matter how much we progress that will still be there. Unless we ban guitars and drums and all the other elements; The way that me and Jimmy play guitar with each other has almost been ingrained in us and would be pretty difficult to undo no matter how much the next record progresses. The band should be like an etch-a-sketch where you build something up and then shake it all up and do another one.
It is difficult to say how much the next record will be recognisable as Foals. I am sure there will be elements people will find distinctive, but we don’t always want the same people at the controls. We are quite an obsessive band. I would be disappointed if it was a similar sounding record.