Cool on fame
Oxford band Foals have become the rockers du jour, helped by appearances in the TV series Skins and on the NME’s “cool list”. But, really, the music is the most important thing, they tell Tony Clayton-Lea. Really
T’S OFTEN the kiss of death – the ‘Next Big Thing’ title has knobbled better bands than Foals. The Oxford five-piece realise, however, that they are in an industry that pins the words “rock’n’roll saviour” onto anyone with a new haircut, so if they don’t show at least some deference to it, then they may as well as go back home, sit in front of the television and watch repeats of the Channel 4 drama Skins.
Skins, the series that sloppily documents the sex/drugs/rock’n’roll goings on of college teens is at least part of the reason for Foals’ success. The band appeared in an online-only episode of the drama last year.
Lead singer and general mouthpiece Yannis Philippakis is not thick enough to totally ignore such fringe benefits. “The connection with Skins means that a lot of people, younger people, now know about us. We have no intention of being a cult band, so we’re glad people are hearing about us. We’re going to take the money and run, we’re going to use the tools of the music industry for us, as much as they use their tools for their benefit.
“We’re not rabbits in a headlight; we’re going to take what we need to take. We like antagonism, and having a polemic attitude towards stuff – it’s more fun. It’s good to have external things to buck against, because if you don’t you end up kicking yourself.”
University friends in Oxford, Foals pooled their resources and passions, mixed in influences ranging from Public Image to Talking Heads, and set about trying to gate-crash Bloc Party. Before they knew what had happened, NME had Philippakis sitting on their Cool List. Which brings us back to the “kiss of death” tag.
“My perception,” stresses the gobby but articulate Philippakis, “of the word ‘cool’ is
Ithat it’s like an unwanted mink fur. The place I’m in at the moment, I take playing music pretty seriously, mostly because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do with all of my time. Now that I’ve been given the opportunity to do that I’m going to grab it.
“I think there’s a certain arrogance in some bands. They think life is going to be fine once they sign a record deal. We’ve seen too many friends of ours in amazing bands that haven’t been signed not to feel some sort of responsibility or some weird guilt complex in regard to the part that luck has to play with success. What we’re doing now is what we daydreamed about in boring science lessons.
“Now that it’s happened, I feel you should have the freedom to allow yourself to be consumed by music every day. It’s a rare opportunity and it’s one that we enjoy massively; it gives purpose to our lives, so making music and playing live, the artwork and so on, is something that totally consumes us.”
Other parts of the job, he implies, are vacuous and potentially corrosive.
“They are never what you think about when you pick up a guitar at the age of 12. The more you keep it away, the more you can remain naive about everything. Is it good for a band to appear on a cool list in a magazine? You can’t change it, can you? That said, it isn’t something that any of us would take seriously. Does anyone?”
Oxford five-piece Foals: ‘We like antagonism . . . it’s more fun’