Foals are back with their “eas­i­est” al­bum yet. They talk to Lau­ren Murphy,

Their new al­bum, Holy Fire, shows Foals are not afraid to ex­plore new pas­tures. Lau­ren Murphy can­ters down the in­side track with Yan­nis Philip­pakis

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

IS YAN­NIS Philip­pakis a mod­ern philoso­pher, or just a hip­ster who has spent too long trawl­ing the bargain bins at Ur­ban Out­fit­ters? Per­haps it all de­pends on where you stand on his band Foals, but both ac­cu­sa­tions have been lev­elled at the slight singer since they first skit­tered onto the in­die scene in 2008 with An­ti­dotes.

It glee­fully oc­cu­pied the mid­dle ground be­tween math-rock and dance­able in­die. There was no doubt about it: Foals were hip. Still, un­der­neath the an­gu­lar hair­cuts and ironic 1980s-themed jumpers, the Ox­ford band had real sub­stance and great songs. Philip­pakis and his co­horts ex­plored the more pas­sive side of their sound with 2010’s To­tal Life For­ever, and their new al­bum, Holy Fire, ven­tures even fur­ther into the ex­per­i­men­tal abyss.

“It was the eas­i­est to date,” he says of this al­bum’s ger­mi­na­tion. “It was less be­set by prob­lems than To­tal Life was, and it feels like we’re just in a good place as a band. We didn’t have any writer’s block, or any type of doubt about what we wanted to do – we were really hun­gry to get writ­ing once we’d fin­ished tour­ing the last al­bum.”

The ease of record­ing – some­thing that has come from ex­pe­ri­ence, he says – meant the band felt more con­fi­dent about broad­en­ing their mu­si­cal hori­zons. Sev­eral songs on the al­bum will come as a sur­prise to fans of their more fre­netic out­put; while there are good old­fash­ioned high-oc­tane tunes such as In­haler and Prov­i­dence, they are far out­weighed by the more re­flec­tive tracks, such as Bad Habit.

Step­son is pos­i­tively slow-set, while clos­ing track Moon is as min­i­mal­ist as its ti­tle sug­gests.

“One thing that had an in­flu­ence on the groove was just slow­ing the tempo down,” Philip­pakis ex­plains. “We were en­joy­ing play­ing stick­ier, slower, sex­ier kind of rhythms, rather than be­ing like the Du­ra­cell bunny all of the time. We wanted to get a bit sloppy on it. That was some­thing that came early on [in the writ­ing process], and I think that def­i­nitely af­fected it. We’re also just a bit older, so it doesn’t feel right to play at 150bpm any­more. It feels right to just turn down the speed, but turn up the heat a bit.”

An­other track, the groovy My Num­ber, for which Philip­pakis holds soul acts such as Cur­tis May­field re­spon­si­ble, fur­ther shows that wi­den­ing of their mu­si­cal net, but there is a sub­tle shift in their lyri­cal di­rec­tion too. Although he is re­luc­tant to go into de­tails, tracks such as Milk & Black Spi­ders (“I’ve been around two times and found that you’re the only thing I need”) and the swoon­some Bad

Habit (“I’ve made my mis­takes, and I feel some­thing’s changed”) show Philip­pakis is in touch with his in­ner ro­man­tic.

By open­ing him­self up to lyri­cal truths, he al­tered his ap­proach as a vo­cal­ist too. On sev­eral songs on Holy Fire his voice is laid bare in­stead of be­ing masked by re­verb or dou­ble-tracked.

“Maybe it’s a con­fi­dence thing,” he says. “I also wanted to feel a bit more un­com­fort­able as well, if that makes sense. I wanted to be in a place where lyri­cally and vo­cally, I felt out of my com­fort zone. Flood and Moul­der [the pro­duc­ers] pushed me into places I wouldn’t have nat­u­rally wanted to go to, but you re­alise at the end that it’s a worth­while thing to do. Def­i­nitely with the lyrics, I wanted to err on the side of be­ing too hon­est, or too vul­ner­a­ble, ex­posed in some way – so that I’d feel un­com­fort­able, not just hid­ing be­hind masks or lay­ers of re­verb. I wanted it to be a more raw ex­pe­ri­ence in terms of the vo­cals and per­son­al­ity that comes from the lyrics.”

Work­ing with such an ex­pe­ri­enced pro­duc­tion team – Flood is a reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tor with U2, Depeche Mode and The Killers, while Alan Moul­der is known for his work with Nine Inch Nails, Smash­ing Pump­kins and count­less other bands – was an im­por­tant fac­tor, given Foals’ for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences. The orig­i­nal mix of their de­but al­bum, An­ti­dotes (pro­duced by TV on the Ra­dio’s Dave Sitek), was in­fa­mously scrapped when the band de­cided that he had cap­tured the wrong sound. There were no such prob­lems this time around.

“It was a very smooth process; they’re not

“There’s a hunger in the band to move for­ward, and to write mu­sic that we feel is bet­ter than what came be­fore, and that’s really the driv­ing mo­tor be­hind ev­ery­thing”

ego­tis­ti­cal in the slight­est, and they’re not con­trol­ling, and they don’t have any­thing to prove,” he says. “I think they’ve made so many great records in the past, that for them, pro­duc­ing an al­bum is just an ex­plo­ration with a band, and the whole thing be­comes an ad­ven­ture where nei­ther party knows where they’re headed. It’s not like they had it mapped out, or we had it mapped out, but to­gether we built some­thing with­out a blue­print or an in­struc­tion man­ual. And hopefully at the end of the process, you know when it’s fin­ished and you feel like you’ve made some­thing beau­ti­ful out of noth­ing.” Did work­ing with pro­duc­ers versed in sta­dium rock sig­nify a de­sire to es­cape the “tightly-coiled, shouty math-rock” tag they’ve been sad­dled with over the past few years? That thought didn’t even cross their minds, says Philip­pakis.

“We don’t really pay that much at­ten­tion to stuff like that,” he says, shrug­ging. “When we do in­ter­views and you get re­ferred to as some­thing, that can be­come an­noy­ing – but it’s the last thing you think about when you’re ac­tu­ally in a room play­ing mu­sic with your friends. With all due re­spect to the press, we don’t really give it the time of day, so we don’t feel a need to coun­ter­act it. There’s a hunger in the band to move for­ward, and to write mu­sic that we feel is bet­ter than what came be­fore, and that’s really the driv­ing mo­tor be­hind ev­ery­thing.

“There were no dis­cus­sions. The only rule was to have no rules. Well . . . the only other rule was to not talk about it too much,” he smiles. “We wanted it to be­come as tele­pathic and in­tu­itive a process as pos­si­ble. Be­fore mak­ing this record, some­times we would shoot ideas out of the sky be­fore we’d even tried them, but this time there was def­i­nitely an ap­petite to ex­per­i­ment and to just free up the process, and not have any pre-de­fined ideas about what we should do. And the re­sult of that is hav­ing a big­ger di­ver­sity in the record. Be­tween a song like

Moon or In­haler, there’s a huge dif­fer­ence in sound – and I think that came from the fact that we felt com­fort­able in try­ing out dif­fer­ent ways of writ­ing, and dif­fer­ent ways of play­ing. Just not be­ing neu­rotic about it.”

Their sonic evo­lu­tion now well and truly un­der­way, Foals are in­tent on re­veal­ing their new di­rec­tion to the rest of the world. Hav­ing es­tab­lished fan­bases in Aus­tralia and the US as well as the UK, Europe and Ire­land, the only thing to do now is to sad­dle up and con­tinue to im­prove.

“We just really want to make mu­sic that’s ful­fill­ing for us, and that’s also ful­fill­ing for the out­side world,” Philip­pakis says earnestly. “So when you lis­ten to it, it will have some sort of im­pact on your life, or it’ll act as some sort of es­cape or con­so­la­tion. Or even just en­ter­tain you. But all of that is kind of sec­ondary to us. It’s kind of a self­ish process in a way, be­cause you have to write for your­self – but also, by do­ing that, you’re writ­ing for the out­side world. But there’s never a spe­cific goal. You just have to fol­low your heart, I sup­pose.”

Philoso­pher or hip­ster? Per­haps a bit of both.

❙❙❙ Holy Fire is re­leased on Fe­bru­ary 8th. Foals play Dublin’s Academy on Fe­bru­ary 28th and March 1st

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