Foals’ second album, 'Total Life Forever', has received a veritable avalanche of acclaim since its release last year. Now, as the band tour America, the album’s showpiece track, 'Spanish Sahara', has been nominated for an Ivor Novello award.
Gigwise caught up with singer, Yannis Philippakis, to discuss what the future holds for Foals.
So where are you right now?
“We’re in Austin, Texas. The tour has been going really well. We’ve been here a week so we’re over the jet lag, but it’s very arid here. We’re having bit of trouble staying hydrated. That can have an effect on inter-band relationships.”
You’ve just been nominated for an Ivor Novello award, how does that feel?
“It’s a really good feeling. It’s a really great award because the title is 'Best Song Musically and Lyrically' and not many awards really have that lyrical element. I definitely feel lyrics aren’t generally given enough credence, so this feels very good. It’s also nice because you get nominated by your peers and other writers, rather than it being just some random industry people. It’s not a case of men in suits controlling everything.”
You’re one of the few bands whose lyrics do seem to get a lot of attention. When 'Cassius' came out a lot of people were putting out there interpretations of it. Is it ever uncomfortable, being under the microscope?
“No, it never feels like that for me really. Obviously, when I was younger I did spend a lot of time puzzling out other people’s lyrics, trying to get something out of them that I could adapt to my situation, but when it comes to writing I just try and communicate. I feel I’ve gotten a lot more honest with my lyrics.”
The song that’s up for the award, 'Spanish Sahara', has already won awards. Does it surprise you that that track has been picked up on so much, or did you always feel that song was special?
“Well, we have some songs that we’re not really satisfied with, that we never play live, but other than those, I find it hard to differentiate between my feelings for our various songs. But, that song did always feel special, there was something poetic and intuitive about the making of it, which Luke [of Clor, who produced the album] captured brilliantly. It has a real fidelity to the feeling that was present in the basement when we were first recording it.
“Some songs seem to collapse on themselves after a while. Their spaces and dimensions seem to fall flat, but whenever I hear 'Spanish Sahara' played back, or whenever we perform it live, it feels like it’s retained its breadth.”
Talking of the live environment, do you find that, being over here in America, audiences respond differently to you, as a British band?
“We definitely feel more British. I mean we are a British band. We’re from Britain and that’s that. We’ve been listening to things like Future Sound of London and early nineties Groove Armada compilations recently and that’s been adding to it. Not that I’m going to start wrapping a Union Jack around my head anytime soon, we’re not that tethered to specifics, were not social commentators or anything.
“In terms of audience response, there are subtle differences. In America stuff from 'Total Life Forever' seems to go down better, whereas in Europe they seem to prefer stuff from 'Antidotes'. I think they’re still firmly into their indie guitar disco dance swing thing.
“Either way it’s such a privilege to get to take these songs from our mildewed basement in Oxford and play them in Australia and stuff like that.”
Foals - 'Spanish Sahara'
You’ve had a positive reception worldwide, which is perhaps down to the presence of various musical influences from around the globe in your own sound. Foals have always had a sort of poly-rythmic nature that strays away from the typical structure of western pop. Did you have any particular influences in developing that?
“We’re really into a lot of Senegalese guitarists. We’ve been listening to South African township music and stuff on pennywhistles as well. I’ve got this cassette archive of Cambodian pop music. I’m getting a lot of mileage out of that. I don’t know what any of the songs are about, but it’s great. We definitely have a healthy hunger for all types of music.”
“It’s been almost a year now since 'Total Life Forever' was released. Has much changed for the band since then?
“Well we’re listening to more Jungle, baggier sounds, looser grooves. That’s it really.”
Do you think that will effect how your next album sounds? There are rumours you’d originally wanted the last record have more of a funk feel…
“I wouldn’t want to plan it too much. I prefer things to be instinctive and natural. When we started out everything we did was so considered and strict and meticulously planned. I think now we’re able to operate a bit more spontaneously.
“As long as the band continues to work like one ten-legged animal, with the drums as the backbone, the bass as the muscle, the guitars as the flesh and the vocals as the soul, then it’s just a case of capturing that animal on record.”
On your first two albums your choice of producer seems to have been very important. With TV on the Radio for 'Antidotes' and Luke (of Clor) for 'Total Life Forever', you had producers who understood the band. Do you have anyone in mind for the Third album?
“No, I haven’t given it any thought. I think it’s important not to try and force ideas on an album before it’s really formed. So, no, we’ll just have to so what feels right when the time comes.”
A lot of the tracks on 'Total Life Forever' have an eye fixed on the future. Is there anything particular you want to achieve with Foals over the next year?
“Yeah, but I’m not telling you…We all need secrets.”