First off, I see the Fader Eds have taken the puns off my column headers. [Ed: What are you talking about?] This is a fair call. Initially they were meant to illustrate us limey’s fondness for crap puns (for instance, say there is a pap photo of Robert De Niro looking a bit chubby on the beach, the tabloid headline will read You Porkin To Me?—never fails to amuse, our brains are just wired that way) but of late they were becoming so lame that even I was flinching as I emailed the copy over. More importantly I’ve been listening to that stirring Foals album a lot recently and while we’re all excited about the Afrobeat trumpets and the fact that they had the temerity to record it all in Dave Sitek’s studio and then sneak the tapes back to London to remix it themselves, I wanted to know what Yannis was on about in the lyrics about tennis and aviaries. So I phoned him up.
Hi Yannis. What’s the noise in the background?
I’m standing in front of this enormous five-story metal ball that sings. It’s really weird. Really fucking weird. It’s part of some science complex in the suburbs of Paris and someone thought it would be a good idea to build this enormous reflective metal ball that sings at you. It’s the kind of place where it’d be nice to have a joint.
So, your album Antidotes—are there any overarching themes?
Musically, the record is sequenced so it starts and closes with horns. The first half of the record is poppier and more direct, us at our happiest, those hints of melancholy that we’re trying to suppress at the beginning then start to attack the record. At the end of “Like Swimming” there’s a glitch, like the CD’s dead. The album pretty much almost destroys itself. The whole point of [ the last song] “Tron” is that everything’s coming back together and, in a way, its lyrics summarise the rest of the album. It’s meant to be the sound of the record piecing itself back together.
What about lyrically?
There’s a lot that ties in with the album cover, the idea of clutter, of us being full of stuff that isn’t organic. The idea of waste comes up a lot. In “The French Open” there are “wasted games” and “broken racquets” and then the end of “Tron” goes “a waste is a waste is a waste.” It’s about clutter and abundance and wanting to escape from the sheer amount of everything.
Is that an anti-consumerist message?
It’s more about bombardment of information. There’s no political agenda. Consumerism is one aspect of it but it’s not meant to be against materialism because we’re products of that, it would just be stupid. A lot of people have said my lyrics are cryptic. But if you’re expecting a narrative about going out to a disco or breaking up with my girlfriend…
…then you’ve got the wrong man, right?
Right. I tried to make the lyrics more visual than story-based, so they’re like Polaroid pictures. I wallpaper the inside of your skull for 45 minutes and then leave.
There seems to be a lot about escapism too, but presented quite uneasily.
“Olympic Airways” is about trying to build this nest for yourself: “An aviary for today”, “We wait all day while the hell outside is kept away.” It’s the idea that you don’t let anything in through into this secure nest you’ve made. But like any form of escapism, if you become too secure then you become isolated. It’s all about the balance you have to find between getting away from it all and becoming a total solipsist.
Why the album title?
An antidote implies that there’s been venom beforehand. The album’s about recovery and sickness.
One of the last lines on the album is “If something won’t heal, our children can’t help you out.” Is that a "seize the day" type instruction?
Er, yeah, yep. That’s kind of it. There’s the idea that we can’t leave things up to anyone later, we need to do it ourselves. I don’t want to say totally yes or no because that would go against the whole point of the way the lyrics are written, which is so that people can bring their own meanings to them. Fuck, this ball’s singing at me again!
To prove what a good sport he is, here’s Yannis sparring with snarky presenter Simon Amstell on “Never Mind The Buzzcocks”