Tall in the saddle
Their new album, Holy Fire, shows Foals are not afraid to explore new pastures. LAUREN MURPHYcanters down the inside track with Yannis Philippakis
IS YANNIS Philippakis a modern philosopher, or just a hipster who has spent too long trawling the bargain bins at Urban Outfitters? Perhaps it all depends on where you stand on his band Foals, but both accusations have been levelled at the slight singer since they first skittered onto the indie scene in 2008 with Antidotes.
It gleefully occupied the middle ground between math-rock and danceable indie. There was no doubt about it: Foals were hip. Still, underneath the angular haircuts and ironic 1980s-themed jumpers, the Oxford band had real substance and great songs. Philippakis and his cohorts explored the more passive side of their sound with 2010’s Total Life Forever, and their new album, Holy Fire, ventures even further into the experimental abyss.
“It was the easiest to date,” he says of this album’s germination. “It was less beset by problems than Total Life was, and it feels like we’re just in a good place as a band. We didn’t have any writer’s block, or any type of doubt about what we wanted to do – we were really hungry to get writing once we’d finished touring the last album.”
The ease of recording – something that has come from experience, he says – meant the band felt more confident about broadening their musical horizons. Several songs on the album will come as a surprise to fans of their more frenetic output; while there are good old-fashioned high-octane tunes such as Inhaler and Providence, they are far outweighed by the more reflective tracks, such as Bad Habit. Stepson is positively slow-set, while closing track Moon is as minimalist as its title suggests.
“One thing that had an influence on the groove was just slowing the tempo down,” Philippakis explains. “We were enjoying playing stickier, slower, sexier kind of rhythms, rather than being like the Duracell bunny all of the time. We wanted to get a bit sloppy on it. That was something that came early on , and I think that definitely affected it. We’re also just a bit older, so it doesn’t feel right to play at 150bpm anymore. It feels right to just turn down the speed, but turn up the heat a bit.”
Another track, the groovy My Number, for which Philippakis holds soul acts such as Curtis Mayfield responsible, further shows that widening of their musical net, but there is a subtle shift in their lyrical direction too. Although he is reluctant to go into details, tracks such as Milk Black Spiders (“I’ve been around two times and found that you’re the only thing I need”) and the swoonsome Bad Habit (“I’ve made my mistakes, and I feel something’s changed”) show Philippakis is in touch with his inner romantic.