Live at CMJ: Foals

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photo by Doron Gild

review by Miriam Lamey
interview by DJ Shannon
photos by Doron Gild

Foals are currently based in Brighton, England, but met as students at Oxford University. Members Yannis Philippakis (vocals/guitar), Edwin Congreave ( keyboards), Walter Gervers (bass), Jimmy Smith (guitar) and Jack Bevan (drums) create a funky almost frenzied sound that’ highly danceable. Their sound nods to that of both The Rapture and their soon-to-be tourmates Bloc Party, yet Foals retain a certain playfulness thanks to their perky, high pitched guitars, that are intended to resemble the sounds of insects — apparently because they can’t play their guitars below the 12th fret — and electrifying, speedy bass and vocals. These lads are refreshing, rhythmic and presented a sparky confidence at the last KEXP in-studio performance today, as they whirled through crazy, blasting tunes such as “Balloons” and “French Open.” Foals play at CMJ with Band of Horses and The Brunettes Saturday night and about to embark on a major European tour, supporting Bloc Party. They will also be playing with other major acts such as Biffy Clyro and The Cribs.

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Outside the Gibson Showroom after the show, DJ Shannon talked with Yannis about recording the forthcoming album with David Sitek:

Shannon: You recorded the new album in Brooklyn. How did that come about?

Yannis: We got some time off to write an album. We were touring all the time and our label, Transgressive in the UK, were like, “How do you feel about recording a new album in the summer?” So we drew up a wish list. There were some people on the wish list who were totally ridiculous, like Timbaland, which would never happen, and Bjork’s husband who does these weird videos like installation art — all of these really retarded suggestions had come up, and one of them was David Sitek [of TV on the Radio]. We didn’t think he’d be interested at all. He heard about us and listed to our music and thought that we ripped off Senegalese guitar music, which we do. I had a friend call him, and it was probably the most intense phone call of my life. It was like an hour and a half long — it was so intense and all we talked about was Public Image Ltd. It was great. We decided to go with him. We got out here this summer for six weeks and it was incredible. I started losing my voice so we used that as an excuse to drink lots of whiskey. We pretended like it would make my voice better. The record was fueled on stuff like that. It had this weird communal feel to it, where members of Antibalas came to add texture to the music, and all of these other kind of weird, New York, crazy people who were just dropping by all the time. You’d be in the middle of a vocal take and look out into the booth and all of the sudden there would be all of these very strange shady figures talking about Fela Kuti. That’s kind of how it was making the record.

Shannon: You already had your songs written when you came out to record them, but did you come up with any new songs while you were in Brooklyn?

Yannis: We wrote one song right before we recorded, that love song we played today. That was literally done two days before and was very much molded while we were here. Dave worked with in this structure where we tracked tracked all of the songs and then he made all of the space around the sound. He didn’t really do much in terms of conventional production. He wouldn’t be like, “What tempo is this at?” or “We need to get a better vocal delivery.” It was more things to do with ambiance and making the timbre of all the sounds different. He was very conscious in taking out any common or trendy nature of our sound, which we thank him for doing. We never wanted to be that sort of band. Before we came out here, it was becoming a bit like that, and he all he did was reaffirm our convictions about what kind of band we should be. We trying to make authentic music that isn’t swayed by fashion and fickle, transient stuff.

Shannon: I wonder it would have been like if he was the other way and wanted to mold you into something else that was completely against how you thought the album should go.

Yannis: In terms of our relationship and how we worked out here and everything that he did, I think that he understood truly where we were coming from and he had our best interests at heart. And he wasn’t thinking about label pressure or any sort of commercialization of our music. All he was trying to do was make a great record that sounded like nothing else. The textures and the audio fidelity of the record is like no other record be made at the moment. It certainly has a lot of reference points to things that has been made in the past and it points to what kind of music should be made in the future, but it’s not an electro record or a dance record as such — it’s just a piece of music.

Shannon: When does it come out in the U.S.?

Yannis: It comes out in March in England and I think that it’s coming around the same time here, some time in the Spring.

Shannon: How did you get on the Bloc Party tour?

Yannis: Kele [Okereke] is like a patron of young bands that he feels need to be helped. I think that it’s really great, for a band in such a strong position to actually still care and want to help another band. They’re taking us on the road and they’re taking our best friends Metronomy. I guess he just likes our band. Unless he’s lying. [laughs]

Shannon: When you can choose your own supporting acts, you’d think you’d choose bands that you like?

Yannis: You’d think, wouldn’t you? [laughs] He’s cool. I’ve met him a few times and I think he comes from the right place.

Shannon: Are you going to any shows while you’re here?

Yannis: Well, we’re playing tonight so I’ve got to do that, but I saw this incredible band yesterday. I really don’t like going to shows any more and go very rarely, but I saw this band called Neptune last night at the Union Pool in Williamsburg. It was like the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. They had all of these hand-made guitars and they’re using the cylinder from a washing machine as a cymbal, and they had all of these home-made electronics. You don’t see anything like that in Britain.

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