Some albums happen by accident – years of work followed by one moment of sheer inspiration. Others are meticulously planned, a fastidious auteur burrowing away in the studio. On ‘Holy Fire’ though it seems that Foals were tricked into completing what could well rank as one of their finest documents yet.
“Flood and Alan Moulder essentially tricked us into recording the whole record without realising it” admits drummer Jack Bevan. “We had the first five weeks before a little mini break in the studio which was demoing, and realised by the time we had gone for our break that we had probably recorded – at least me and Walter (Gervers, bass player) – the backbone of all the songs”.
It’s an approach which seems to have served them well. A propulsive, immediate return ‘Holy Fire’ boasts direct, bombastic riffs – 70s rock filters through Foals’ math rock vision. “Something like ‘Inhaler’ came about because Yannis had this chorus riff that was used with the rest of the song, which is kind of like an old jam of ours which we had been working on” Walter Gervers explains. “So rather than try and make it polite and sound more like Foals instead it was this huge riff, which sounds like some huge, big 70s British rock riff - so let’s make it sound like that. Let’s not try and make it sound like Foals by smoothing its edges off”.
Continuing, Jack Bevans adds: “We wanted it to be unashamedly what it is rather than covering it with foliage, essentially. There’s a lot of music out there which hints at being this big direct, massive riff or whatever but then there’s so much other stuff.. A lot of bands seem to be ashamed that, if they write a proper riff they can’t focus on it.”
‘Holy Fire’ is definitely direct. Exploding with energy almost from the very first second, it’s a record which balances complexity and immediacy – fusing near metal levels of energy with some of Yannis Phillipakis’ most personal lyrics yet. The production team of Flood and Alan Moulder were seemingly vital to the album’s gestation, but were able to enhance – rather than dictate – the sound. “It just seemed like a partnership, a kind of dream team which we would never have expected to work with a few years ago. I think as a band we’ve reached the level where this sort of stuff. You can’t really turn that down” Gervers insists. “They’ve worked with huge, huge bands in terms of the records that they’ve done together so for them to team up on something meant that they were excited to do it together so that they were both involved. It definitely seemed like the right thing to do”.
Above all, ‘Holy Fire’ feels like a live record – in the sense that the performance, the presentation is key. At times, Foals literally feel as if they are galloping out of the stereo, with skittering drums and jagged riffs rebounding around the room. “I just think that we don’t really like too dry production, we want it to feel like you’re kind of in the room and it’s immersive. The album’s kind of going on around you” the bass player says. “We definitely went through a phase a few years ago when we wanted things to be too crisp and over dry sounding, using the studio like it’s been run through and everything was really punchy. You grow tired of that and it becomes quite brash, and just from the nature of the songs as well they need to be warmer and lusher, you want to actually appreciate the work that’s gone into capturing the sounds in the studio. You want to listen to a record which has been made in a cool room with cool equipment, not run through a Mac”.
It seems that Flood and Moulder’s commitment to the live sound even extended to allowing a few mistakes to creep onto the record. “There’s little sort of elements to some of the recordings which will always remind me of sitting there, making the record” Bevans reveals. “In ‘Late Night’ basically the whole way through the track my kick drum pedal broke and you can hear it squeaking. No one else is going to pick up on that but every time I hear it, it puts me back in that room. Once you find it you’ll never be able to un-hear it!”
Out today, ‘Holy Fire’ is a record which will surprise, delight and confound in equal measure. If the fan reaction afforded to lead single ‘Inhaler’ is anything to go by, Foals are set to instigate furious debate. “It’s weird because it seems that certain people get so rubbed up the wrong way when you put something different out” queries the drummer. “Equally, people get rubbed up the wrong way when you put the same thing out again. I’d rather they were shocked or whatever than to be underwhelmed”.
For now, though, Foals are looking towards two historic shows. Booking the Royal Albert Hall, the band were stunned by the result – selling out the venue within minutes, a second date provoked equal demand. “I thought it was a joke when our manager sent us a message fifteen minutes after tickets went on sale that it had sold out” Bevans admits. “So then the announcement came once again: right, we’re going to do two shows at the Royal Albert Hall. I mean, that’s going to be the most exhausting day of our lives to date but I’m super excited about it. We played there before supporting R.E.M. a few years ago and it does have this air of...” his voice trails off before Walter Gervers completes his train of thought: “It’s real character and history there. It’s a really nice space and it’s going to be quite nice for us to do something like that rather than going back to Brixton. Again. As much as I love Brixton and it’s always a good place to play if you’ve got the opportunity to do something a bit different... hopefully it’ll work.”
A stopping off point, a junction in their career, ‘Holy Fire’ is set to be almost immediately thrust into the live arena. Almost tailor made for live performance, initial shows have found Foals driven by a quite explicit energy. If a recent show at London venue XOYO is anything to go by, fans should expect raw, brutal music played by five people who know each other inside out. “We’re loath to change onto backing tracks and things like that, we’ve never done that – we’re not that band, really” argues Walter Gervers. “We don’t want to come out with sounds which aren’t being played by the five people onstage. We always have to re-invent the songs slightly, they never sound the same way they do on record and some bands you to watch and they do sound just like they do on record, so you might as well be listening to your hi fi.”
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'Holy Fire' is out now.