Foals have been taking math rock in a whole new direction- straight to the dancefloor. Their geek chic approach has won over the indie contingent in the UK with appearances on trendy new television series Skins, not to mention, by supporting Bloc Party on their winter tour. The Oxford-based quintet, led by Yannis Philippakis, has the brains to match their musical brawn. Now signed to Sub Pop, Foals were the instant fave of most indie music connoisseurs in NYC during CMJ 2007.

Did you initially prefer to be in New York or at home in England recording?
Initially, we were happy to record in a tumbledown barn in Oxfordshire—but that was a while ago now. Record labels and management naturally step things up somewhat. When we were told that Dave Sitek was a realistic option as a producer on our record, our expectations sort of… changed, and suddenly New York made sense to us. It actually turned out to be cheaper than London, what with the rotting dollar, so the label were pretty keen to work it.

You stationed yourselves in Williamsburg to record the full-length album this past summer. What was the best part of the recording process in the US?
Getting away from London and the music press here was a blessing. We got tagged as a “new rave” band here pretty early on, I guess because we use dance beats, and have a keyboard or two, and had that house party thing going on pretty early—but really none of us have any interest in that scene. We don’t really like electro and we’re not big fans of the Klaxons. So getting out to Brooklyn and working with all these stoners into punk and afrobeat—and specifically Dave who’s simply into making new sound—was perfect for us. We got some fucking perspective, so to speak. We also had a great time—again, partly because of the exchange rate. We all felt healthier and happier than we had all year. Regardless of what actual Brooklynites think of Williamsburg, it was an amazing place to live for a month.

What was it like working with Dave Sitek of TV On the Radio?
Obviously awesome. We all love TV on the Radio, and we’re well into the Liars album he did. He smokes a lot of weed and eats a lot of steak, but he also speaks a lot of sense. He explicitly said that he didn’t want to make a dance-pop album for 2007—he wanted to make something progressive, difficult, and potentially timeless. He listened to our stuff and talked about PiL, Talking Heads, and Fela Kuti, rather than Gang of Four and disco—and that worked for us. Because he approached the album having never seen us live, he took us in a somewhat different direction to even the one we were expecting, but that had a positive side as well as arguably a negative one. The album sounds a lot more mature thanks to his input. It doesn’t sound like the band that a lot of people in the UK know thanks to all our touring; we think it sounds a lot better than that. There are these levels of ambience on all the tracks and these harmonic trails between songs that we’d never have even considered.

Were you inspired being around such influential Brooklyn-based musicians? Did that add anything to the album you weren’t expecting?
Yeah. Horns. None of us envisaged that. Some of the guys from Antibalas just rocked up one day and plastered the record with these amazing harmonies. We’d always seen ourselves as primarily a guitar band, so that blew our minds. Suddenly the record sounded like a serious musical statement. Generally there was this feeling that anything goes—that we could make whatever we wanted to make.

What is the outlook for once the album drops in the US?
It’s being released some time in the spring I think, so we’ll be touring in a big way then. We’ve all got our hats and denim shirts ready. Before then, I think in February, we’re going to play a short tour in support of some sort of EP release. None of this has actually been confirmed, but we’ve only just signed with Sub Pop, so I guess stuff is still being worked out. We’re incredibly excited. A year ago we had no idea we’d be touring outside of the UK.

What did you think of playing CMJ?
Yeah, it was fun. None of us can get enough of being in New York to be honest. The festival as a whole seemed pretty spread out and hard to really pin down—unlike SXSW which is the only other thing we’ve played in the US—but it was cool. We played some crazy little venues, stayed in some whack hostels, and saw a couple of awesome bands. None of us got any sleep, but I guess that’s the idea.

Do you think performing on teen drama ‘Skins’ has helped boost your popularity in the UK with the NME-oriented teen crowd?
No question. We’ve acquired this weird kind of rabid teenage fan-base now just around the one song Hummer that was used on the show. It’s cool, I guess. It also comes from playing a lot of all ages shows in the last year. Some of the shows we play now can be pretty intense—arms and legs everywhere. It’s no bad thing, though we think we have a lot more to offer than making kids jump up and down.

Are the house parties you gained notoriety for in the beginning of your career still in full effect?
Not in the same way. We only started doing them because of how hard it can be for new bands to get proper shows. At the time, in that summer, it seemed natural to play our friends‘ parties instead of spending loads of our money driving up and down the country to play to 10 or 15 people. Some of the best shows we’ve played have been in people’s kitchens, our amps taking up more space than the audience. But they’ve got kind of crazy recently, spilling into the street, injuries everywhere. And apparently the media can’t get enough of talking about it, as if it’s “our thing”. Loads of bands play house parties; it’s just not that big a deal. We’ll still play them in the future, but they have to be spontaneous and fun for us. We’re not getting booked through MySpace for some little spoilt shit’s 18th birthday party or anything like that.

Having been associated with Try Harder Records, do you feel there is a strong unity among bands that hail from Oxford? There is a very vibrant scene going on in the city it seems.
Yeah, there is. Andrew from Youth Movies used to play in Foals, so we’re bound almost by blood to them. And we’re friends with people in Jonquil and Fuck Buttons. All those bands are going to do really well next year I think. Then there’s Nightshift magazine, which does an amazing job of pulling everything in the city together, and Vacuous Pop and Truck…. The scene used to be quite introverted and kind of difficult, but I think it’s opened up loads, and there’s a lot of progressive pop music about to come out of it.

Finally- do you prefer mathletics or athletics?
Uh, mathletics. We’re not so great at jumping.

www.wearefoals.com  

–Andrea D’Alessandro, Photos by Tear-n Tan

 
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