Foals were birthed in the quaint university town of Oxford, England, but they are taking steps to distance themselves from the environment and trends that prey on many an English band. “We try not to let the architecture of the music industry and fashion effect us,” points out Yannis Philipakkis their singer and guitarist.
The chaos the band portrayed at early house party gigs has been cleverly bottled along with a desire to make progressive, but not indulgent, music.
The band thrives on an internal pressure that led them to skip chic British producers and fly all the way to New York to record their forthcoming album with TV on the Radio’s David Sitek who bolstered their African influences by bringing in Antibalas and encouraged the band to take chances.
Next month they come to CMJ, and there is no doubt Foals will impress and surprise us as they have done in the UK.
We caught up with Yannis recently to talk about knife fights, Timbaland and playing in Senegal.
How did working with David Sitek come about?
Well, we really like TV on the Radio, and when we were asked who would like to do the album with we wanted him.
We could have worked with more in vogue producers, but with Sitek we could record a different sounding record. Our recorded output so far hasn’t been what we wanted.
Were you pushed towards or approached by any of the more ‘in-vogue’ producers?
We are pretty set on what we are doing. We pretty much only had two possible people we wanted to work with. I would like to work with Timbaland or something but that’s never going to happen. So we worked with the best, I hate to say it but "indie rock" producer around. Maybe next time we would like to work with someone who hasn’t worked with a rock band before.
Did you have a clear idea then of what you wanted Sitek to do then?
We chatted only twice before we went out. I’ve told others this before, but he did say to us “If you want to make a commercial record then don’t work with me.” Obviously my reaction was "Sweeeet."
You took a big risk going over there after only two phone calls. So it all fell into place pretty quickly when you got there?
It was really fun, he has a very good atmosphere in his workplace. People were just dropping in, like members of Antibalas, the afrobeat group. They would pop in and lay down some parts. It had an extended family feel to it all.
People were constantly pulling knives out and threatening to kill other people in the room. It was pretty exciting.
Did recording in this new environment change the songs you'd written originally?
Being on our own helped as well. We are not overly social anyway. But being in isolation from anyone you would want to go out with is pretty good. When I listen to my favorite albums I like to think I can hear the city in them. I like to think that you can hear the area in our record. There’s a lot of brass on it and piano stuff that isn’t necessarily "London" sounding. I think Sitek and being in New York made the final sound a little bit less culturally specific. The moment Sitek said yes, we were a lot happier knowing that we wouldn’t be recording in some studio in Old St. The whole situation lifted everyone’s spirits and made everyone stop worrying about food and money and girlfriends.
Despite the freedom of creating something untainted by the UK music industry and isolated from hometown pressures, do you ever get the urge to add aspects that may appeal to your UK audience?
We’re not really that worried. I’m expecting the record to perhaps alienate some people, but we are happy with it and the next record will be completely different again. When we play the songs off the record live they won't sound a bit like the record, and that’s just what we want to do. If our motive was some sort of careerism then I would feel pressure, but we’ve been totally taken out of that way of thinking. Sometimes there’s pressure when we feel things are running away from us like when people use grandiose terms to describe what our band's meant to be doing in the next year.
So what will you be bringing to the US with your live shows? Can we expect a different type of performance/sound to that of the UK shows?
There’s a lot we want to do but we have had the same equipment since we started so are somewhat restricted. There’s a lot of sonic stuff we want to play around with live which will be attainable once we get that equipment. With the record as well it was about creating a weird space around the actual sound. Sitek didn’t fuck around too much with the structure at all or the sound of the band but more the texture and the ambience of the record, and we want to portray some of that live. The live shows will always be different from the record, and live shows will always be different in America especially if we do get Antibalas on tour with us and get that brass sound out live.
Will you be worried at all about playing to crowds that might hold you up to bands like Battles and TV on the Radio?
I don’t know whether people in America will like it or not. We rip off so much stuff from everywhere that I don’t really worry. I would feel more intimidated if we went to Senegal and played in front of them and everyone would get pissed off a white boy indie rock band are ripping them off and be like "Where’s my royalties?" I would definitely be a lot more worried about that than America.