Q&A: Wearing Wifebeaters, Growing Roses And Wu-Tang-Inspired Spirituality, As Told By Foals
By Cynthia Orgel; Photos by Steve Gullick on February 11, 2013
Foals toured Australia at the beginning of the year (in late February they will embark on a sold-out UK leg) as well as perform all over Europe. Come April, the Oxford quintet heads to the states, giving as many fans as possible a live taste of third LP, Holy Fire, out February 11 (UK) and February 12 (US).
FILTER spoke with singer/guitarist Yannis Philippakis about working with renowned production duo, Flood (Mark Ellis) and Alan Moulder at Assault & Battery studios, the wisdom he gained from a dying bonsai tree/ gardening in general and how Holy Fire is the ideal soundtrack to literally any activity.
I read that Flood and Moulder recorded what you thought were just going to be demos in the studio, but they were actually real takes. Can you talk a bit about that type of recording?
We had a lot of material when we went into the studio. We had like 20 songs, and then other fragments and snippets of music. They wanted to create reference versions that were recorded in the studio because everything before then was just really lo-fi, crackly kind of cassette recordings and stuff.
So when we did these reference versions, there was no pressure. There was no knowledge of the red light being on. It just meant that we played really freely and without consciousness, or without any of that anxiety that can set in when you know you’re about to record your take.
After we did a bunch of these references, he was just like, ‘that’s the take!’—-for quite a few of them. There was an imperfect quality to the takes, which is what we wanted. We really wanted to avoid the temptation to micro-engineer every kick drum and build this kind of horrible, perfect monument of our own music ambition. We wanted to do the anti-that, and this is the way we got tricked into doing it.
What’s this I hear about bringing vegetation into the studio for a more tropical and swampy vibe?
It wasn’t really to make it tropical; it would require a lot more than that to make North London tropical! We just wanted to have stuff growing around us. I know it kind of sounds weird maybe, but we just didn’t want to be playing in some clinical studio space.
We’ve done some recordings out in Sydney, outside near this river house that our friend had. It was really amazing recording and hearing the music, out in a kind of natural environment, surrounded by insects and sticky plants. We wanted to remain in touch with that. Also, as we would build this album, we also wanted these plants to grow with us. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
What kind of plants did you guys get?
Mainly ivies. There were some creeper, kind of ivy-things and a couple of dragon plants. Because the studio space was really huge, we just basically opted for all of the biggest plants we could get. We got some aloe vera and stuff.
Everything survived really well. The one thing that didn’t survive was the bonsai. We bought one bonsai tree and that died like within a day. I think that was kind of fitting in a way because [the bonsai] is really perfect and it’s been really contained, and it required too much labor to keep it alive. Same with the songs—-we chopped off, or stopped working on a lot of the songs, in order to get it down to album-size. It was like natural selection: whatever went well, kind of grew freely with the thing that survived, and made it onto the album.
You shouldn’t feel too bad about the bonsai. I think only Mr. Miyagi knows how to take care of those.
Yeah, and whoever the dude is who works at the IKEA plant section as well.
I was going to ask if you guys personally took care of the plants or not...
Yeah, we did! I actually got really into growing roses, to balance the craziness of being on the road for so long. When we finished touring Total Life Forever, I just had this real urge to garden, so I went and got a load of roses and I kind of spent the whole of that summer tending to them and enjoying them. I got really into digging the garden over and just wearing a wifebeater.
I’ve noticed that you have a huge love for Wu-Tang. You rep them quite a bit, whether it’s on Twitter or Facebook. Do you play them all the time?
Yeah, I listen to a lot of Wu-Tang. I listen to a lot of 36 Chambers, and I really like some of the solo material. My brother was of that age where he was quite a bit older than me. My brother was really into hip-hop. 36 Chambers came out at that time where it was sort of a seminal release for him.
I was instilled with this humble admiration for Wu-Tang—-not just the music, obviously the music, but just the whole shtick: the mythology, the way they carried themselves, the way they dealt with the industry. I just found it all inspiring.
I don’t know if there can be many parallels drawn between our world and the Wu-Tang world, but the one thing that we’ve always had is a sort of gang mentality within Foals, and we had a sort of skepticism towards the industry. Obviously I started reading up about Wu-Tang, and I was like ‘yeah, that’s right!’ It gave me a kind of confidence to remain like that and not to succumb to the pressures of yes-man and suits—-to follow that sort of spiritual course.
The album comes out February 11 and 12, depending on the UK and US. Do you have a sort of message for fans to keep in mind before listening to it or while listening to it?
No, not at all; not anything other than just ‘open your mind and enjoy it.’ I don’t think it should come with an instruction manual. You listen to it how you please: you listen to it crying in the rain alone, you listen to it in your car on your morning commute, mowing your neighbor’s lawn, watching the ball game, [ripping] a bong. F