Foals: ‘It feels like we’ve entered this new, scary realm’
Foals are part of a dying breed of guitar bands. And it’s working for them, as they make the leap to being festival headliners
Jack Bevan, far right, of Foals: ‘Writing a record is such a heavy-going process and it takes a lot out of you. We’ve never compromised or taken the easy route’
In the 18 months that have passed since Foals released their last album, the Oxford band have played a heap of gigs, seen a lot of cities, spent tons of time waiting around festival backstage areas, and have generally been away from home quite a bit. It comes with the territory of establishing yourself as a global indie-rock band.
But what do rock stars do in their spare time? Well, if you’re Jack Bevan, you binge on Game of Thrones.
“Have you seen the last episode?” he asks excitedly from his London home. “Oh my God, I’ve just watched it.”
See? Just like us, these hip musician types. The amiable Foals drummer has snatched a few days off in the midst of the band’s hectic summer-festival schedule, and such breathers give him time to reflect on their recent fortunes.
They are especially happy about how their third album has been taken to their fans’ collective bosom – especially since it was something of a departure from their usual high-octane, tightly wound rock tunes.
“We’ve been really lucky with all of our records,” he says. “It has felt like we’ve always been climbing an upward trajectory, in terms of reception and the amount of things we’ve been able to do, but especially on this record. It kind of feels like we’ve entered this new, slightly scary realm.
“We’re headlining a few festivals and that’s a huge step up for us. It’s really exciting that festival organisers and promoters have that kind of faith in us.”
Bevan puts the album’s success down to a number of factors. Experience and camaraderie played a part, he says, describing his bandmates as “brothers” and attributing their creativity to an ability to “have arguments when [they] need to”.
Primarily, however, the casual, organic manner in which it was recorded by producers Alan Moulder and Flood played a big role. “They told us we were going to spend the first three or four weeks doing demos, so we just showed up and played through the songs like no one was listening – and then we basically found out at the end of the month that they’d recorded most of the album,” he says, laughing.
The live influence
That approach is something they’ll bring to their next album. “Nothing’s finished yet; we tend to get loads and loads of ideas, and then the writing process becomes about editing after a certain point,” he says.
“I think a lot of writing is influenced by which songs have worked best live and which songs worked best on the previous record. So in terms of this record, Inhaler and Providence are going down very well live, and Late Night – both on record and live – have been great. It’s nice to play songs that are gratifying for us to play, as well as what the audience like. When you’re out on the road for two years, if you can connect with the audience with a song that you also enjoy playing, it’s pretty much the best possible scenario.”
Talk turns to the fact that Foals are, in a way, one of a dying breed: the guitar band that has refused to turn to electronic means when many of their peers are traversing genres willy-nilly.
“Being in a guitar band when you’re young is a pain in the arse, basically,” he says. “It’s a really good way to spend your teens, in terms of friendships and that kind of thing, but it’s very time-consuming to organise. So I guess a lot of teenagers that are interested in music just find [the idea of a band] too difficult. Instead, they can just get music production software for their computers and do it by themselves.
“There probably will be fewer guitar bands [in the future]. There really aren’t that many big guitar bands from the UK any more, are there? I mean, I guess you have Biffy Clyro, Muse, Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian . . . but then not much else at that higher level, which is a shame.
“But there are also other exciting bands coming through, like Royal Blood and Drenge. I think there are bands still surfacing, it’s just that it’s so much harder to make it at the moment, because the general popular consensus is that people are just listening to dance and electronic music a lot more.”
Bevan says it is more difficult for musicians to earn a living as part of a band these days; in this era, bands need to tour to make a living, but also need time to write new material to tour, and that vicious circle can become a little defeating.
Objections to Spotify
Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis has been vocal about his feelings on streaming services such as Spotify in the past, claiming that he would “rather that someone stole the record on vinyl than bought or streamed it on Spotify”. Bevan is of the same mind.
“This year, I decided to start a vinyl collection from scratch because I want to have ownership of my favourite albums and not be worried that I’m going to lose all of my music if my hard drive crashes.”
“Music should be treated as the art form it is and I just feel like Spotify does something dangerous. It gives people a chance to listen to us basically for free – because the royalties they pay are so low – but also to not feel guilty about it, because it’s presented as this legal thing. It might be a slightly controversial argument, but I feel that at least someone who has pirated our music will probably feel guilty about it to some extent and might be more tempted to come to a gig, or buy some merch.
“The problem with Spotify is that it does screw bands over, but it also does it in a way that everyone else – apart from the people in bands – thinks is fine.”
Nevertheless, he and his bandmates will keep chipping away at album number four, which is tentatively scheduled for release “some time next year, but who knows how long it’ll take to write? Maybe Yannis will need to take time out to travel the monasteries of India to find himself, or whatever,” he says, laughing.
“We’re always going to have musical itches, so I guess the end goal is to keep doing this for as long as the itches are still there.
“Writing a record is such a heavy-going process and it takes a lot out of you. I think we just want to continue what we’re doing, and for it to be noted that we’ve never compromised or taken the easy route.
“We are a real band and we are one of the only ones left, I think. We’ve all been in it together since the beginning, we’re all friends, we don’t play to a backing track, we all play our instruments: there’s only a handful of bands left that are like that, that are able to play the size of venues that we do. That in itself is kind of sad,” he says, pausing.
“But I’d be quite happy to be known as one of the last of the dying rock dinosaurs. I’d take that.”
Foals play Electric Picnic on August 29