Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Interview with British buzz band Foals

This story originally appeared in Inland Empire Weekly (Corona, Calif.) on Sept. 11, 2008. Photo by: Guy Eppel

By George A. Paul

Destruction is a common occurrence at a Foals gig, whether it’s from fans or the musicians themselves. “We almost smash our equipment the way Sonic Youth do,” says guitarist Jimmy Smith in a recent phone chat from across the pond. “We’ve got a tendency to break things at the moment just for fun.” When I bring up the expense involved, he notes “luckily, we’ve struck up some deals with guitar companies. I’ve never actually totaled a guitar. It’s working out ok.”

Formed three years ago, the young British band initially performed at friends’ house parties and word spread quickly among local college students in Foals’ hometown of Oxford. “Some of them were really intense. Once we played this London squat where people demolished an entire wall and went berserk. I smashed a tooth; there was furniture going everywhere. They got evicted the next day. We stopped doing them for awhile because it was so out of control, but we’re going to start up again.”

Considering the indie rockers’ U.K. popularity (mesmerizing 2008 debut Antidotes entered the charts at #3 and garnered a Best New Band nod from NME), those gigs should be quite the ticket. For Foals’ first I.E. appearance, fans can expect the songs to be “heavier and more raw; kind of punky in places.” Unusually, the quintet faces each other instead of the crowd. “That’s the way we’ve always set up,” explains Smith. “We feed off each other’s energy.”

Antidotes was produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars) in New York. A few jittery songs feature the horn section from Brooklyn Afrobeat ensemble Antibalas. “They came down and Dave conducted through the glass like some old ‘60s Motown producer. We were blown away when we heard it.”

Foals (the moniker is derived from the English translation of yelping singer/guitarist Yannis Phillippakis’ Greek last name) took a “less is more” approach to making its highly danceable music. “The best way to record a song is to get as much sound down as possible, then strip loads out,” said Smith. “You shouldn’t be afraid to take away stuff.”

Inspiration came courtesy of German minimal techno. “We tried to incorporate techno using traditional instruments and dry polyrhythms…we listened to bands like the Talking Heads when we were growing up and drew to that naturally.” These guys play notes (not chords), unorthodox time signatures and make chirping sounds (see: “Mathletics”). Standout track “The French Open” (Phillippakis is a tennis enthusiast) contains a rubbery groove and peppy rhythms. Smith also cited such experimental groups as Shellac and Don Caballero as formative influences. “In England, they don’t really know about those bands. I think it gives us a hidden advantage.” (George A. Paul)

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