Foals’ ethos is to produce pop music that makes bodies move as a reaction to the more serious bands they were involved with in the past. Consisting of Yannis Philippakis (20, vocals/guitar), Edwin Congreave (22, keyboards), Walter Gervers (23, bass), Jimmy Smith (22, guitar), Jack Bevan (21, drums) the band compose tight, sharp danceable tunes with abstract lyrics about Roman conspirators and personal anxiety.
You could call it dance-punk, post-punk, even math-rock. Whatever you call Foals’ music, once you hear the Oxford quintet you realise they are a rousing prospect. After a clutch of feted singles (‘Mathletics’, ‘Hummer’ and ‘Balloons’), an NME cover feature, and placings on various ‘Ones to watch’ lists, the band are gearing up to the release of their impressive debut Antidotes on Transgressive Records on the 24th March. State talked to keyboardist Edwin Congreave, about the the year past and the months ahead.
Edwin’s voice is croaky and scratchy when we speak on the phone thanks to the previous night’s rock n’ roll antics of, er, a large meal supplemented with lashings of sake. He’s in a jovial mood yet, from the outset, an undercurrent of uneasiness of the band’s current situation is evident when Edwin discusses Antidotes’ anticipated reaction from the public -‘A lot of our fans got into us through our early singles. I do feel a lot of them won’t be into it which is a shame.’
This reasoning is largely down to the result of recording sessions for Antidotes produced by Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio) in the beaten-up part of Williamsburg, Brooklyn last summer, ‘Like no-where else I’ve ever been’, Edwin ethuses. Sitek pushed the band beyond their limits and added a few surprises to the recording sessions by drafting the brass section from the Afro-beat band Antibalas – ‘Musically, they were told what to do by Dave waving his hands and singing in a really atonal way. Like play this: ‘Blah Blah BLAH!’. They managed to interpret it. We tried to get them to sit behind our music and I think it works really well.’
Despite some subsequent re-working of the final Sitek mix by themselves (a fact which has been blown out of proportion), the overall experience was vital to the band, spurred on by advice from Sitek about how the band should consider themselves – ‘TV on the Radio are a very hardcore band in the old sense of the word. They do everything themselves and deal with labels in a totally minimal way. That was basically what he was trying to tell us we should be doing; ignore press, ignore what our label wants, make music for ourselves and obviously, people who want to listen to it as well. That sounds kind of abstract to the point of obviousness but we felt a lot more confident about our band when we came back. I think that is lasting.’
Antidotes has a very accomplished tone which works as an album proper, and Foals have managed to differentiate themselves from bands like Klaxons, a band which they were unfairly and lazily compared to. Still, the band are anxious -‘A lot of people we know were certainly surprised by it [the album] and not in a good way. They view horns generally as quite cheesy!’.
The apprehension is further compounded by NME’s recent championing of the band which Edwin admits none of the band have ever read. Despite this, Edwin is keen to accentuate the positives – ‘We’ve been working on some songs in the studio which are a progression in terms of production so we’re really excited about the future.’
Foals are insistent on progression, a word which appears in various guises throughout our chat, most notably when discussing recent sessions with Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet for upcoming b-sides: ‘We see as our biggest achievement. A lot of us are more comfortable with, I wouldn’t call it experimental music but we’re all in to prog music basically. We prefer making pop music as it’s more of a challenge but the sessions were more an exploration of what we want to do. One of which was album track ‘Tron’ which was very much Kieran’s own thing. He took away a lot of the parts of the song and just built this massive.. I guess you call it a club anthem! It’s kind of directly opposed to a lot of dance music. It’s just fucking weird!’
Dance music in it’s various guises is something Foals are keen on, citing Matthew Dear’s Asa Breed as a recent influence. Techno is one of the bands shared passions and has inspired post-album sessions – ‘We’ve been doing some b-sides and one of them has a proper ‘techno with guitars’ feel which I don’t think we ever really accomplished before. It’s about interlocking rhythms, sometimes polyrhythms. It comes from a desire to make people dance all the time when we play.’
The last time Foals played Dublin they supported Bloc Party in the Phoenix Park last November. At the other end of the spectrum, Foals are knowing for playing chaotic house parties, events which may prove scarce in the coming months – ‘We’ve done a couple of house parties that were totally manic and spilling out onto the street. It can be dangerous, so if we do them again they’re going to have to be totally spontaneous.’
The band are due to return to Dublin to play Whelans on the 6th of March with superb single “Cassius” following on the 10th of March.
Foals – ‘Balloons’