Interview: Foals

Ever since their first release “Antidotes” in 2008, Foals has been continuously pushing the boundaries of math-rock and ultimately creating their own type of sound. The British dance/punk outfit always seems to impress us with their catchy riffs that have become somewhat of a staple for the band on classics like “Olympic Airways” and “Casius.”

Their second effort, “Total Life Forever,” saw the band mature. Recorded in Sweden, the album was much more emotional and instrumental. Garnering much critical acclaim, the album was different from their debut as the band was in a different place at the time. Recorded completely in a residential studio in Sweden, the album was a departure from their normal recording process.

Their third album “Holy Fire” comes out next month and I was lucky enough to get to sit down with keyboardist Edwin Congreave. Mark your calendars, because “Holy Fire” will turn out to be oen of the most exciting records of the year. It combines some of the best parts of the first and second albums, creating some excellent music.

Congreave and I discussed the process behind the new album as well as what we can expect to see from the group in the future. We chatted about the ups and downs of recording in Sweden away from their friends and how they learned from that experience. Most importantly, however, I got a quick glimpse into Foals and what inspires them to make music.

Tell me a little bit about your new record.
Well we recorded it in London last year which was a bit of a departure from our second album. Our second album was recorded in Sweden during a short period of time. It was nice to be able to record our album near our friends and family.

Tell me a little bit about your sessions in Sweden and how that affected your second album?

Well it definitely was an interesting experience that I would probably not do again. We rented a residential studio in Gothenburg and were isolated from our friends and family. We were pretty much living on top of each other. There were definitely positives and negatives that came out of those sessions that made us evolve as a group.

When we got up in the early afternoon the sun was already going down and it is like negative 10 degrees outside which it does not put you in a good state. So it was quite hard to do. It was really nice to record in London and hang out with people we knew and feel at home with so that when we do go into the studio on a daily basis you really felt like you could work hard at it. I guess it is basic separation of work and life. I think now that we are a bit older we really appreciate the importance of it.

So when did you start the process of recording “Holy Fire”?

We recorded March of last year through June, and then bits and pieces were added after that. It was by far the longest recording process we have done which was a real privilege. I think it is amazing that we were given that amount of time.

Where did the name “Holy Fire” come from?
Yannis [vocalist] came up with it. His dad is Greek Orthodox- although he was not brought up in a strictly religious sense. I think he has absorbed a lot of orthodox religious imagery and sentimentality and he is a big fan of it. I think he was going through some album titles and this is one he presented to us really struck out to me. I like it because I think it is quite an arrogant statement, kind of full of itself and I think we have been quite tentative in selecting album titles in the past. I think it is fun to just sort of present this album with this sort of violent type of imagery.

I have had a couple of listens to this new album and I get a sense that it is almost taking parts of the first album and mixing them with parts of the second.
Yeah a few people have said that.

Could you expand on that thought? Do you agree with that?

I agree with that to a certain extent. We certainly did not realize at the time or think much about it. While working on the album I thought about the record as a natural continuation from the second one. I think what we have rediscovered is the importance of writing pop sounds. There are a couple of songs on the record that have a kind of like useful energy to them. A similar energy to what was on the first record, which I think to some people ears sounds like we have kind of blended the styles. I think on the second album we did not really lose it, it was just the selection of songs that we went with were a little different.

When we recorded the second album we had a big body of songs that we had written and the ones that we decided that were more coherent and fit together went on the album. I think if we would have included two or three other songs we were writing at the time it probably would have been a much more mixed pile of songs like this one. This time around we reminded ourselves how important it is to represent all the different sides of the band-which I think has made for a slightly less coherent album but I think it has more color to it.

What inspired the video “Inhaler”? Whose idea was that?

It was directed by the guy who has done all of our videos, Dave Ma. He has been following us and hanging out with us since the really early days of the band. He is kind of tuned into the visual style- he knows Yannis pretty well- they have quite a good dialog going on. A lot of the imagery comes from Yannis’ head but is also referential to a lot of kind of youth rebellion style videos. I think the idea was to put them altogether and have a lot of different things that kind of kept balance as well. It would have been quite easy to do a sort of very angry rebellious video that was kind of monochrome. There was a deliberate intent to introduce other elements as well; you had the dancers and the fireworks and all these different things that give it originality.

You have this pretty heavy UK tour scheduled for March and I noticed on it that you are playing The Royal Albert Hall.
Yeah we are actually really excited about that. When it was suggested to us as an idea I think a lot of us were quite nervous. Personally I was a bit dismissive of the idea because I was worried that it was too far away from our natural element. I think we have always associated ourselves with kind of grungy rock venues such as the Brixton Academy. That to me is my idea of the natural environment for our band.

But the argument was that we should move ourselves out of our natural environment and do something challenging and also do something that no one else has done before. We are actually playing two shows at the hall on the same day which is going to be absolutely crazy. It is going to require a whole different level of stamina. We added a matinee because the main show sold out in 20 minutes.

That is got to feel pretty good. I mean looking at some people who have recently played The Royal Albert Hall.; the Cure, Adele, and The Killers. When I saw that you are playing there I was taken aback a bit because you guys are such a different type of band then those who usually play there.
Yeah I know. We felt that way as well. That is why I think it was a good idea because, in itself, just announcing the fact that we are playing there is such a shock. And it is kind of provocative as well. We definitely feel like we have the ability to pull it off but I guess time will tell.

Can we be expecting any remixes in the future from the singles off this album? Are you in the works with any artists?

Yeah we have got a few remixes. We have not really finished working it out. We have got Hot Chip, Friendly Fires, and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaur on deck. We are really excited about the work TEED* has done. He is from Oxford as well and is one of our mates. They will be on the internet in the next few weeks. With Inhaler we were not really looking for big club remixes because I do not think it would make sense for the song. The second single is going to have a lot more remixes.

On a different note, what music have you been listening to lately?

Well my music taste is quite dramatically different than the other members in the band. I grew up listening to a lot of dance music. I think my music taste has opened up in recent years but in many ways it has also closed down. I have really been listening to a lot of house and techno from the UK.

What is your opinion then on the recent surge in popularity of house music?
It is kind of weird to come over to America and think about that because I think the term house music means something totally different over here than in the states. The people I hangout in London are really into the deep house scene. In America there is this thing called EDM and it is blowing up and I do not really know what to think about it. On one level it is great that America has apparently got into dance music, then I hear a lot of it and I don’t really know what it is. To me I think we have different definitions of house music over here.

When can we expect to see you guys in the United States?

Well we will be touring from April through June. The tour is going to be absolutely crazy. For us it will be our longest tour.

Thanks Edwin for taking the time to chat with me.

Their album “Holy Fire” comes out February 12th via Warner Bros Records and check them out on their upcoming tour.

*At date of publish the TEED remix to “My Number” has been released and is streaming below.