Foals : “We dont feel famous.”
Being signed by Warner Bros. Records, Foals is not a band to be taken lightly. After 7 years and 3 albums, the Oxford based quintet finally makes their way to the land of the diverse – Kuala Lumpur. We managed to catch Jimmy Smith and Yannis Philippakis back stage before they went to the stage for their show in Kuala Lumpur last month to pop them some questions on the bands progressions and latest success with their third album ‘Holy Fire’.
So you guys are done with your third album, how do you feel after?
Yannis: It felt pretty good, it surprises me all the time really that it’s still going. When we started the band it was for fun really – We wanted to play for parties. I think we were always ambitious musically but I never expected to release three records or even be signed. In many ways the ride is easier, there’s almost like a telepathic thing between the five of us now. We understand what we want to write, how to write it but at the same time it gets more difficult because its harder to find something new to say in a way where you feel like you surprised yourself. Like when you first enter a band, you get excited from the moment you play the first note. At the beginning everything sounds good to you and over time it becomes more and more difficult to make something that you enjoy something worthy of putting out. The stakes also get higher.
So how do you think your sound has evolved?
Yannis: It’s just sort of broadened out. At the beginning it was a very specific thing, one aesthetic that was repeated throughout the record and that was because we just started the band. It was quite rigid, so ever since then everything has been about exploding that, and doing something different. It’s a rather difficult question to answer to be honest. You’d probably know how to judge it better than us, listening on the other end – to us it’s just notes and music.
* Jimmy walks into the interview room *
Have you started writing for the new album yet?
Jimmy: Yeah, a little bit. Not much though, since we’ve been touring a lot we don’t have much time to focus on writing. It’s just little bits and bumps.
After the success of Antidotes in 08’, several new bands came up with similar styles of play to Foals. Do you have any comments?
Yannis: They’re not any bands that impressed us for the most part to be honest.
So would you guys consider yourselves trendsetters?
Jimmy: uhhhhh……no. We like to listen to stuff that’s different. We don’t really listen to that much of indie music or any guitar based music. We listen to a lot of dance music, classical music – anything that’s different. It’s flattering that some elements of our sound got to the culture in some ways. It’s a pretty good feeling but it’s not something that we would listen to or be interested in.
What about the critics? Foals have received favorable reviews – NME gave your album Holy Fire a 9/10. Does it matter what the critics say?
Jimmy: We don’t really care that much about critics. The first few reviews always come out really weird and we don’t really care much about what they say, after all it just one persons opinion.
Yannis: I think generally we’ve been pretty lucky, we’ve never really gotten mauling critics. There are some bands who are great but never really get good reviews and there are others who are bad but get really good reviews. We’re just lucky that we’ve been getting generally good reviews, so it’s easy for us to say yeah its pretty cool, whatever. If we we’re getting pounded by the press maybe we would feel differently about that. I think that the roll of critics isn’t that interesting for us because if you pay too much attention to it, it can affect the way you think and when you’re in the room and you’re resting with making a record after months and months on it. It’s very easy for some people where they’re behind a desk being in a suburb in London writing something when they don’t understand what you’ve been through. Someone once said that critics are like people that sit up on the hillside and watch the battle go down, to then come down after and shoot the survivors. So yea, they’re not my favorite people.
Do you think this fame that you guys have in this industry effect how you create your music?
Jimmy: Nah, we don’t feel famous so it’s fine.
Some people have said that your work is quite emotional – you wear your heart on your sleeve. So as a musician, how does this affect your personal life or your relationships?
Jimmy: It can make it awkward, particularly with the lyrics because if you write something negative – I often find my lyrics to be quite melancholic no matter how I really feel. What I end up writing is always a bit down in some ways. Yeah, that could be quite awkward with people who are involved with your personal life.
Are the lyrics related to stories about them?
Yannis: Yea sometimes. I think that its kind of your job if you’re making music, there should be a form of sincerity to it. The irony of being detached from what you make is kind of evil but it’s something that is really common at the moment with loads of stuff. I like reading, listing and watching things that are honest. Where there is a lot of emotion, more direct. There’s no bullshit, it’s just about something that’s deeper than what irony is about.
Holy Fire has been released for about a year now – do you guys get more critical when you play it live?
Jimmy: We’ve been playing it for so long now. I feel like we’re playing it better and better but when it comes to the record we just don’t listen to it. We leave it, its done, its gone. We’re just thinking about the next one now really.
Yannis: It’s not an enjoyable process listening back to the records. Once you made it you kind of have to fall out of love with it. If we listen to it all we can hear are the things that is wrong with it. So it’s just better to not listen to it. Were proud of the records we’ve made, its just that it would be weird after making the record and we went back going “yea this is awesome! This is great!”. It’s just rather strange.
Foals has collaborated with David Ma for your music videos, how does his directions enhance the experience of your music?
Yannis: It’s like having somebody who can translate the images in your head and making it a reality – somebody you can trust. He’s already part of our family basically so if we say something today we know that it will be conveyed in the right way rather than working with different directors. They can mistranslate the vision that you have. A lot of the time he’s been there when we’re writing the songs right at the beginning, with Spanish Sahara he was there when we first started writing it so he shares the emotion of it all. It’s just a good thing to have people and artwork under your control. It’s much easier when you get people you know. When you’re working under a record label they want you to use specific directors and stuff but I don’t necessarily think that’s the right thing for us, since we want to take control of our art.
Is there anyone else that you would like to collaborate with?
Yannis: Yea, loads of people. We have started to make videos with other people now. Friendship is an important part to it. We have to be close to the people we work with. With producers there are so many people we’d like to work with but sadly we’ll never get the chance to work with everybody that we’d like to.
It’s interesting you mentioned that you don’t feel famous, but life must have changed since Foals started. What could you do now that you couldn’t before?
Jimmy: Well, there’s roaming the world, paying the rent, and living in a house. There are times when we do feel famous in a way when there’s a lot of people watching your band play so I guess that means we’re kind of famous but it all boils down to us being back in that tiny studio in Oxford with our friends.
Yannis: It feels like the band has gotten bigger, but my life hasn’t gotten any bigger. We still live in the same way we always have. When we go home I still go and get some grub from the store, smoke a cigarette, and see my mum. Life at home is the anchoring factor and when we’re on tour it’s a different thing with the band. It’s for the better, much more enjoyable and fulfilling now. It’s crazy for us to even be here and get to play for people. That’s something I never really thought of. It’s a good thing.
Ps: We’d like to say thanks to Juice Malaysia, Gumball, Hitz.fm, BFM, Elle Malaysia, New Man, 8TV Quickie, Poskod.my, Time Out KL who were also doing the interview with us!