Live @ Carling Academy Bristol
October 13, 2008
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman



They may seem like self-deprecating statements for such a young band to write on their MySpace page, but don’t let these mislead you. For Foals are a group with a keen sense of humour and sharp wit, which acts as the perfect foil to their barbed, experimental, polyrhythmic, off-kilter, minimalist and electronica techno-inflected music. That’s shot through with anguished, jittery and frantic guitars, and has been described as “intelligent but inviting, complex but easily accessible.” And like fellow ‘sonic voyageurs’ Radiohead, who are frequently cited as an influence, Yannis Philippakis (vocals / guitar), Jimmy Smith (guitar), Walter Gervers (bass), Edwin Congreave (keyboards) and Jack Bevan (drums), also call Oxford home – having now returned there after briefly relocating to Brighton.

But if you’re seeking further information on the quintet’s background, you’ll discover that it was actually Andrew Mears (now of Youthmovies), who originally formed the group with Yannis and Jack in 2005. And as the lead singer / guitarist, he even played on debut single, Try This On Your Piano (Try Harder Records), before the remaining (at the time) University students later hooked up with Jimmy, Walter and Edwin following his departure – consequently changing musical direction in the process. Of their name, frontman Yannis has revealed, “We christened ourselves Foals, as it’s a nod to my surname, which means ‘little lover of horses’ in Greek. I like Foals because it's a nice word and it doesn't give away what the band is about – it sounds fresh and new."

And with backing coming from two of the most respected record labels in the world, Transgressive and Sub Pop – who Foals are signed to in the UK and USA respectively – all the signs are looking good! Thanks in no small part to plenty of positive press coverage, an NME cover, TV appearances on The Culture Show, Later… with Jools Holland, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Skins. Along with celebrated gigs at house parties, basements, warehouses and Ibiza Rocks, and of course, the early singles, Hummer and Mathletics – all of which caused expectations for the group’s debut album, Antidotes, to reach fever-pitch! Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe, even called Foals “one of the most progressive of the indie contingent in the UK.”

However, the gestation of the band’s first LP did come with its problems. After relocating to New York to work with producer David Sitek (TV On The Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs) – who also drafted in the brass section from Brooklyn-based band, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Foals, who class themselves as “technical” and didn’t want a document of their choppy / dissonant live sound, were unhappy with the final mixes, and as a result, their perfectionist approach meant that they had to remix the entire album themselves, aided and abetted by Mike Crossey. But as from March 2008, Antidotes was finally available to buy and has long since been spun in many a music loving home! For some fans though, the group’s decision to omit both Hummer and Mathletics from the final tracklisting, was a controversial one. Although Yannis defended the band’s decision by saying, “We didn't think it was a big deal – we’d already released those songs, so why release them again?”

Lyrically, Yannis has attested, “I don’t write narrative lyrics, because I see them as a dream and sometimes I am very cryptic. The words I sing are meant to be the cracks in the wall of something bigger that's behind it. It's meant to obscure as much as it is to tease.” Married to the group’s musical compositions, this notion has also inspired Foals’ unofficial sixth member, Tinhead, to create all of the colourful and abstract artwork that adorns the band’s record sleeves. "He creates something visual that matches what we want the music to sound like," Yannis once ruminated.

At one time, the biggest misconception of Foals, was that they were anti-mainstream, but Yannis finally cleared this up when he said, “We want to make music that’s universally accessible and we like the way pop music can unite cultures. We want to prove that you can be alternative and have a big platform, without compromising as so many bands do. It’s not an album full of singles after chart positions, as we’re not like that.” So, at what is still a very exciting time in the group’s professional and personal lives, I caught up with the very polite Yannis at 3.30pm on board Foals’ Tour Bus, before the five-piece’s rabid and energetic performance later that evening, consumed the crowd and even saw Yannis take a 15ft leap into the ardent audience!

If to date, Foals’ ethos has been “to produce pop music that makes bodies move, as a reaction to the more serious bands they were involved with in the past.” Then this, they have already achieved. And after recently working with Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) – who knows where they’re going to go next?

With ambition like this, Foals definitely won’t be standing still…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.When I first heard Foals’ music, it instantly stopped me in my tracks. Who was the last band that had that effect on you?
“I’ll tell you what, I went home the other day and I listened to a Smashing Pumpkins’ record called Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which I used to listen to when I was like 14. For the last few years, I’ve been really uninterested by anything that has been really rock-orientated like that, but then I listened to that and particularly one track called, Through The Eyes Of Ruby. I think that’s probably the most recent band or song, that has made me take heed!”

2.In Uncut’s album review for Antidotes they wrote, “A desire to do things differently galvanises Foals,” which I thought summed up your manifesto perfectly. But what has been the most inaccurate piece of information ever reported about you?
“(laughing) I think it’s probably partly of our own doing, but with some people, there seems to be a misconception that we’re kind of quite genteel – like calculating geeks or something. And I think that’s because of the whole idea of math-rock or whatever. But, I think if anyone actually sees us live, then I think they’d realise pretty quickly that it’s kind of the opposite and it’s quite chaotic – we’re not afraid to get hurt! So I think that’s probably the most inaccurate thing.”

3.For you personally, what makes a good group and do you hope that Foals will always be seen as an anomaly?
“What makes a good band? Um (long pause + thinking), well, I like bands that have courage and are clearly not pandering any sort of (pausing), you know, the whole reason why I wanted to be in a band and the bands that I look up to, are the ones where it feels like it’s a group of friends who have formed an enclave against the rest of the world! They’re not at the mercy of external forces – like Peter Pan or The Lost Boys – and that’s what a band has always been for me, it’s like an escape route. So if a band has that quality intact, then I think it’s doing the right thing!”

4.Do you think the Internet has taken away some of the mystery surrounding musicians?

“I think it has yeah, but I think that it’s a much bigger issue than just the Internet, and I think it’s more to do with the idea of instant gratification. That’s basically become the central driving force of all youth culture now – or at least in The West. I think everything is about satisfying appetites instantly! So say if you have an appetite for a band or a musician or an artist who isn’t in direct contact with you, it’s easier and it seems a normal thing now, to try and capture an element of that and have it instantly you know? To discover everything instantly. So yeah, I totally agree and I think the Internet is definitely a massive part of it – it triggered it! But now, I think it’s actually within human behaviour. I’m the same as well – I feel like if I meet someone in a band, the whole way the relationship works, it’s almost like the artist in some way owes you something and if they don’t (pausing), you know, like this idea of doing photos with people. I’m sure that did happen in the past, but I think the fact that now everybody has a camera on their phone, people want to instantly capture everything!”

5.What was the first instrument that you ever owned and is there an instrument that you would still like to own?

“I started playing guitar because my Mum had a classical guitar lying around the house, so that was the first instrument that I played. I would like to buy a musical saw, because I really like the sound of it (pausing), I really like the film Delicatessen and a guy in that plays the musical saw and does duets with the woman on cello – I like that (smiling)!”

6.If you could be magically blessed with any skill, what would you like to be able to do?
“Um (thinking), I’d like to be able to tap-dance like Fred Astaire! Or do you know Cab Calloway? We were watching him (pausing), he’s more of a singer, but in those old Betty Boop cartoons, he sings a lot of the songs and there’s one episode where he does like a dance at the beginning – before it becomes animated. So, I’d like to be able to dance like Cab Calloway (smiling)!”

7.Are there any musicians that you admire, who have told you that they’re fans of your music?
“Yeah, there are some people. I’m meant to be playing guitar for Steve Reich – obviously I don’t think he puts Foals records on at home or anything, but he’s aware of us and he seems to like us, so that’s cool! Working with Dave Sitek in itself, because we were massive fans of TV On The Radio and stuff, so that was cool, and I met Mani from Primal Scream who was complimentary. So yeah, there are some.”

8.Is there anybody that you would love to have a drink with?
“Not really, no (laughing) – just my friends at home. They’ll appreciate that I’ve said that… NOT (laughing)!”

9.And is your outlook on life that the glass is half-full or half-empty?

“I think it goes up-and-down you know? I’m probably more pessimistic than optimistic though.”

10.What are your memories of the day that you signed your record contract?
“We went out for a meal (smiling), we went to a restaurant called Youcha, which is in London. I remember that there was definitely a celebratory feeling – we just got drunk basically (laughing), we got really, really drunk on the label’s money, so it was perfect (smiling)!”

11.Is there a particular record label that you admire?
“There are a few. I mean obviously I grew up listening to Sub Pop and Dischord Records – which is Fugazi’s label in Washington – and I also like the idea of classic labels like Motown. But there aren’t really any labels at the moment that I’m that into.”

12.What have been some of your personal highlights so far?
“Getting to make a record, getting to play music everyday, getting to go to Japan and America and playing there. Playing Jools Holland, because it’s a show that I used to watch, so I guess getting on it was strange, and the fact that we’re going to make another record. I just think the fact that we’re still doing this (pausing), we’ve exceeded our expectations!”

13.You once said, “I used to be very obsessed with bands. For ages, I’d read everything about a band, check out all the bands they were friends with and find out who took their photographs. It makes your position as a musician more fulfilling if there’s a greater architecture to it. If there’s an aesthetic.” Do you hope that Foals will been seen as a group with a rich musical / visual tapestry?
“I would hope that we’re seen like that, but I don’t know whether we are or not?”
*I mention to Yannis that I’ve always thought of Foals like that*
“Oh cool! We definitely want to create a world that’s more 3D – we don’t really want to be a band that just plays instruments and sings songs. I like that Public Image Ltd. (PiL) idea of making a band this enormous, structureless thing, that can do whatever it wants basically. I think the aesthetic will change, but it will always have some thought going into it – definitely!”

14.A number of music critics have stated that “rock ‘n’ roll didn’t become interesting until the British got hold of it.” Would you say that’s true?
“What, originally in terms of the history of rock ‘n’ roll? I don’t think so, no. I think there’s an incredible self-mythologizing around the British music scene. I think there’s an incredible tradition of good music coming out of Britain, but right now – and it has been for a while – it’s in danger of turning into self-parody and it’s fuelling itself on this idea of the great legacy of British bands. I think it’s incredibly imperialistic and I really don’t feel that much of an affinity to that idea, like British bands and stuff – I mainly listen to American bands anyway. I think I would have much more time for the idea of the British music press blowing its own trumpet, if they actually did something to kind of ease musical progression, and help bands who are doing something interesting and moving things forward. Rather than championing bands that are replicating an exact image and a whole set of facets to their sound and their look. You get rewarded for repeating history at the moment in Britain, and I don’t think that’s anything to be proud of at all.”

15.Which artist / band could you not imagine music without?

“Prince (without any hesitation)!”

16.In reference to your debut album title, what would you like there to be Antidotes for?
“Um (long pause + thinking), I don’t know? I’ve got cuts on my hands at the moment, so I’m actually going to go and ask for some plasters, so an antidote for that would be good (laughing)!”

17.Which LP in your collection is the coolest / most cutting-edge, and which LP is the most embarrassing / a guilty pleasure?
“(laughing) Sinead O’Connor is probably my guilty pleasure, Nothing Compares 2 U – I’ve got that on 7”. I do have worse stuff than that (smiling), I’ve got like old Haddaway records and a lot of old early ‘90s cheesy dancefloor stuff (laughing). I don’t know about the most cutting-edge thing, but I find rare vinyl and buy it, so I’ve got some collectors’ stuff like Arthur Russell 12”s and things.”

18.What’s the best book about music that you’ve ever read?

“Probably the Nirvana Biography by Michael Azerrad, which is called Come As You Are. It’s all about the Sub Pop scene and Nirvana.”

19.If you were to text an ‘Ask Us Anything’ number, what question would you ask… is there anything that you’ve always wanted to know?
“Is there really such a thing?”
*I say yes and that you can either send serious or joke questions to be answered*
“I didn’t know about those – do they work? I’d probably ask them if it would be advisable to get spoons on the next record (laughing)! It’s something that we’re debating at the moment.”

20.A recent report on musical genres, discussed how different parts of the UK like them in different measures – but where have you found audiences to be the most receptive to your music?
“I don’t know? I think there probably is an element of the North / South divide in Britain at least. It’s only something that we’ve recently become aware of, like this summer doing Festivals, where you’d see certain bands go down quite well in Reading and then not perhaps do quite as well in Leeds you know? I haven’t really felt that as much (pausing), I’m sure we’re more popular at home in and around Oxford. And we have a massive fanbase in Greece – we’ve never played there, but Greeks can become quite patriotic of anything that’s going well about Greece. I just like playing, so I don’t really know?”

21.When asked about Foals’ live shows, I once remember reading that you said, “It's like we're all battling for supremacy on stage.” But what is it ideally, that you would like people to ‘get’ from your songs, either when they listen to them played live or on record?
“I’d just like them to be, “Wow, this band’s great (laughing)!” No, I don’t know? We make music to communicate and we’d like people to like it and realise that anything is possible really. Hopefully, that will become more apparent on the next record, the idea that you can form a band and still get signed by a major label and take it for a ride and do whatever you want!”

22.What are the best and worst things about being on the road together?
“The best thing is (pausing), we’ve been on tour for so long now, that we don’t even really need to talk to each other anymore, there’s this kind of innate understanding. I think the worst thing is just being away from home – it’s not like you necessarily get homesick, but things just change while you’re away, even in terms of friends and social situations. It’s very nomadic and you’re very much on your own on tour – at least I am – I find it difficult to remain grounded, so that’s probably the worst thing.”

23.I know the idea of stretching yourselves, experimenting and the evolution of Foals’ sound is incredibly important to you all, with you yourself adding, “What people often don’t realise, is that for a band to get to that point, they’ve probably been through a dozen evolutions.” But do you think a lot of artists / bands conform to music’s formal structures?
“I think there are just as many bands who would never dream of writing conventional pop songs (pausing), there are some bands who write music to become mainstream and to become popular, even subconsciously. So I don’t know? It’s just different horses for different courses really. But I definitely have a lot more time for bands that don’t try and tow the party line, if you know what I mean? I don’t think the pillars – like pop song structuring – need to be reinforced anymore. There’s enough radio music out there I think.”

24.Do you think it’s a good thing how musicians such as Alex Turner and Jack White, can cross between bands and still be successful?

“Yeah, it’s good for them I guess, they’re just super-famous aren’t they (laughing)? And that’s why! I think it’s cool and I think it’s important if you’re in a band, not to let it become your sole creative outlet, so I think it’s admirable that they do that. It’s not like, “Good job Jack White, you’re in another really high-profile band,” because he’s already famous, but I think it’s cool!”
*I ask Yannis about his musical collaboration with Andrew from Youthmovies*
“It’s called Bins Are For Bombs, but we haven’t really started doing it. I mean mine and Andrew’s relationship, was getting stoned and playing guitar and that’s what we’ve always done (laughing)! So, that’s just the name for what we do basically, we don’t want to be careerist about it (smiling).”

25.Can you reveal any details about new Foals material – musical direction, song titles etc.?
“I think we just want to make a really great record, and I think it will have some influences that weren’t on the first record. We’ve been listening to more Krautrock kind of stuff, Can and a lot of instrumental American bands like The Ventures, and some British stuff like The Tornados – older music. I’ve been going backwards in terms of musical listening, rather than listening to current stuff, so it will have that and I think it will be a stranger record as well. We’re writing at the moment, so we have fragments of songs, but song titles come last usually, and after we’ve finished touring at the end of this year, we just want to disappear for ages.”
*I remark that I feel lucky to have interviewed Yannis before this happens*
“Well, thank you for doing the interview (laughing)!”

26.Lastly, chips or cream buns?
“I’d go with chips – definitely (smiling)!”

A very special thanks to Yannis, to Foals’ Tour Manager Nick and to Ursula @ Pomona, for all of their time and help.

Bristol Set List

The French Open
Olympic Airways
Heavy Water
Red Socks Pugie
Electric Bloom

Two Steps Twice

“We fly balloons on this fuel called love”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?