Being from the rain-ridden lands of England, Foals are used to a different kind of festival environment: generally speaking, frontman Yannis Philippakis described them as "mud and wellies" ordeals. So we're sure they were quite pleased to travel halfway around the world to the California desert to perform for Coachella's music-hungry crowds. Prior to taking to the stage in Indio, however, Foals made a pit stop at our little poolside bungalow to perform a Festival Fever Session featuring songs off their highly-acclaimed, recent full-length Holy Fire. While you might have already seen the band's in-the-flesh transformation of "My Number" into a slow-burning beaut, we've expanded the session to include the subtle closer "Moon".
- I guess just the atmosphere of the festival is kind of different to European festivals. It's probably partly dictated by the weather being so good out here, and everything's kind of manicured because I guess of the horse polo environment. But the crowds all seem very discerning and kind of stylish. It's not just like wellies and mud. Yeah, and the line-up's always great, I think, so... When you're on tour, you're actually quite isolated away from other bands, except for the bands you're on tour with, so it's nice to kind of like... You start to over the years that we've done festivals, you start to kind of make festival friends. So like, you bump into bands that you wanna check or that you've made friends with before, so it's nice to hang with some people. It was pretty busy day, so it's nice, like today, there's kind of less going on so we can just enjoy the whole festival experience more, and we'll be maybe a bit less tired for the show, which is thankfully late. We're gonna play like a kind of subtler version of "My Number. " You don't have my number We don't need each other now We don't need the city, the creed or the culture now 'Cause I feel, I feel alive. I feel alive I feel the streets are all pulling me down So people of the city, I don't need your counsel now And I don't need that good advice, 'cause you don't have my lover's touch You don't have my number, we don't need each other now The creed or the culture, we can move beyond it now The wolf is knocking at my door, bang-banging, ask for more Stand here, we stand tall, we could move beyond these walls And I don't need your counsel, and I don't need that good advice And I don't need no one now, 'cause you don't have my lover's touch You don't have my number, we don't need each other now The creed or the culture, you don't have my lover's touch 'Cause I feel, I feel alive, I feel, I feel alive I feel the streets are all pulling me down 'Cause you don't have my number, we don't need each other now The creed or the culture, you don't have my lover's touch - Yeah, the album is our third record and it's called "Holy Fire. " It was produced by Flood and Alan Moulder in London, in the bowels of North London. And I think that it's probably, at least in the writing, it's the most kind of, it's the freest record we've made to date in some ways. I think it's got the broadest, like, spectrum of different kind of sounds on it. It's the least constrained album we've made. We wanted to do things in a different way, in a less, kind of, we didn't want to like micromanage every detail of the sound. And on this record we definitely wanted to let like chaos play its part, and chance, and be a little bit less neurotic about the whole thing. Because we love being in the studio so much that we kind of geek out on the journey of it that it's like... I think before there's been a tendency to labor on things and really try and craft something and get kind of...and layer up a lot of sounds that have then, when re-translated into a live environment, have been kind of basically impossible to play, or very like strenuous. And some of the songs have suffered in the live setting, but with this record, it was a pretty easy transition because they were basically just live takes. Perversely, like often the songs in their infancy usually start out in these sorts of environments, like not playing like by a pool or such, but they're stripped back, usually when we start writing material. Like one of the songs we're going to play today, "Moon, " was played just by me and Jimmy in a small little room with a Rhodes Piano and a guitar. So, in some ways, it's like taking it back to the seed of the song before it has all the kind of structure around it. So, yeah it can be pretty fun. Now I see you, trouble, it's coming up ahead Black dogs running through the fields, they're dripping red The world is quiet, there is nothing left unsaid A million image, million capture, million dead And now the birds fall out of the sky in two by twos And my teeth fall out of my head into the snow I am you now and you are me instead Then I see you with blood on your wedding dress And all by fooling round us, daisy chains in our heads But I know now that I'm not over, I'm not home And it is perfect. It's beautiful and still It is sorrow, it is water, it is cold And all by the fooling round us, daisy chains in our head It is coming now, my friend. And it's the end - I mean, it's two different things. The live show, you definitely want it to be this kind of cathartic spectacle that feels dangerous and out of control but also rewarding. The record I guess, I think it's hard to say... I don't know if there's like a purpose to it and such, but like any good music, I'd like to think that it would make somebody's day a bit better. There's an escapism to it, or you inspiration from it, and that it's not, it doesn't feel like we're just doing it like as a performance or thing, that it's got a kind of spirit or a soul to it and that it's one that you can engage with. - Hey, this is Yannis from Foals, and you're watching Baebel Music.
Detroit. Willesden. Olympos, on the Greek island of Karpathos. "The inside of our skulls". These are the places that make up Holy Fire, Foals third album, their most direct and fully realised album yet. Foals have stepped up from, as Yannis puts it, "songs for indie clubs" to something much, much bigger. Their third album might not sound like Depeche Mode or Nine Inch Nails, but it has much of the same ambitious spirit and grandiose aesthetic that led to those groups touching the lives of millions. This is the sound of Foals arriving.
It's all a long way from the group's early years in Oxford, where Yannis Philippakis (26), Jack Bevan (27), Walter Gervers (28), Edwin Congreave (28) and Jimmy Smith (28) convened after spells in various well regarded bands such as The Edmund Fitzgerald, whose intricacies were a league away from the Libertines-influenced indie skiffle and American garage rock that dominated at the time. Debut album Antidotes (2004) attempted to capture the live energy and sense of spontaneity that had made Foals one of the most sought-after live acts in the UK. 2007 follow-up Total Life Forever was a surprise to many (Foals never sit still for long) dealing in more expansive, eloquent sounds and a more mellow feel inspired in part by Foals' long-time enthusiasm for weed. Now, as they approach their 30s, Foals are moving on from the "kind of lost boys club element to how we've lived for the past six years" to make their best music yet.
Yannis gives much of the credit for this huge leap forward to producers Flood and Alan Moulder. "The two of them have a knack of taking something that at its core is fairly leftfield or fairly idiosyncratic, and whatever they capture becomes a universal experience," he says. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't something that attracted us to them.
The feeling is mutual. Alan Moulder, who mixed Total Life Forever, says "I was impressed with their attitude to making a record and their ambition towards achieving something individual and unique but still wanting to appeal to the "masses".
During the recording sessions at Flood and Moulders Assault & Battery studios in Willesden, North West London, the producers encouraged the band to create the right atmosphere in the room. "One of our aims was to capture the feel of the band playing live and to be able to easily experiment," says Flood, "so we all helped to create an environment that the band felt was creative but also somewhere you could be 12 hours a day."
"The band couldn't draw on the external way that it could in the way that it did when it went to Sweden or New York, which were new experiences," Yannis explains. "Whether it was inside our own skulls or in the studio we formed our own worlds, and one way of doing that was to bring in vegetation. It was all quite tropical vegetation. It enhanced the feeling of the pestilence and the swamps on the tracks where it needed to feel sweaty and marshy."
This all became part of the influences that went into Holy Fire, described by Yannis as "The Delta, voodoo, the swamp, sexuality, byzantine iconography and music, syrupy rhythms, the mountains, the abyss, the decline of the bee populations, hip hop and stoner rock." Then there's the folk music of the American Deep South, captured by Alan Lomax just before it passed into history: "most of the players of the music are long deceased, but you can still be part of these moments that were recorded in fields in the Delta," says Yannis. "You feel like there's a direct communion happening between you and a ghost."
To capture this directness from Foals themselves, Flood and Moulder deployed the devious tactic of letting the band think they were running through demos of tracks, when in fact actual takes were being recorded. "Sometimes early takes have an edge to them," Moulder explains. "The band aren't over-thinking as they aren't aware they are being recorded and sometimes you get some gems; and we did!"
"It's pure expression, from the emotion, into the instrument, into the microphone, out of the microphone, into the speaker and then to the listener - it feels like raising the dead for three minutes." Yannis says. "There's something that's exciting for us to feel that every time you put on the record, you commune with something that's in the past."
This approach was an unqualified success. You can hear it on the astonishing, almost bombastic 'Inhaler', the first track to be released from Holy Fire. "It's heavy, that song; it was liberating," says Yannis, adding that it is the sound of the band shedding their inhibitions. "Those songs have always been in us the whole time, and there's always been a self-censorship that's been prior to this. One thing that was liberating was to feel that we could do whatever we want, there could be a radical freedom to it, but it still ends up sound like we do. We could express a new range of emotions, rage or claustrophobia. There's less head going on and more heart."
Yet this is never at the expense of Foals losing the love of rhythm and pop melodies that made them who they are that much can be heard in the earworm hook of 'My Number, about which Yannis says "it could be a very literal thing in terms of people not having each other's numbers and being unable to communicate, then on a broader sense being part of a community where you're misunderstood. I like the cocksurety of the emotion, the flippant nature of it."
Yannis feels that Holy Fire features his strongest lyricism to date. "The lyrics for the first album were like a kiss chase with no payoff," he says. "It was just abstractions. There was genuine emotion behind it but I wasn't willing to verbalise it." Now, though with a philosophy of refusing to self censor, it's all there, for everyone. "There might be some utility in that for a 15-year-old who's going to listen to it and get solace from it," Yannis says. Foals have not made a record for those who might think that it is "going to look great with their latte and their loafers. I want to make songs for people who I feel like have been disenfranchised by alternative rock music".
Take 'Late Night', for instance. "Some of that is to do with my grandmother, and to do with ageing, and being on the verge of passing over into something else, and having remorse and guilt." Catholic guilt? "Byzantine guilt bloodlines, and disappointment, and the unwinding of genes."
Much like the classic Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins albums that Flood and Moulder have previously collaborated on, Holy Fire finds Foals uniting the personal with bigger themes specifically feelings of contemporary dread. So album closer 'Moon is one of the most affecting pieces the band have written, "describing the end of the world, the destruction of your body and everything disintegrating," Yannis says. "It's acceptance, a beautiful type of destruction, you're in a pacific state with no resentment or sorrow."
This developed from an experience on Foals last tour of the US. "We went to Detroit and it affected me like no other place has before," Yannis says. "I saw these blue collar workers who you could imagine 15 years ago working as these honest Americans, but everything had obviously been collapsed in by crystal meth. Opposite the venue were these tenement blocks where most of the windows were smashed out and there'd be lights flickering inside, and it was just freakish, it was dystopian. It was the embodiment of the fall of the Empire."
Yet in contrast to this observed hell is Yannis own personal place of solace. Halfway through the recording of Holy Fire, Yannis felt the need to retreat to Olympos, the remote village in Greece that is his familys home. "I was getting a bit lost being in Willesden and the studio the whole time, whirlwinding a little bit," Yannis says. In Greece, he says, "I've got a duel identity. I start to get lost and tie myself in knots when I've been here too long, and I forget that there's this whole other thing that I can plug into and it feels like this archaic backbone that's I'm part of." There, where his father still makes traditional musical instruments and "creative values are paramount", people participate in songs, sagas and dances that date back hundreds of years to the Byzantine Empire. "It's very evocative of this long gone time," Yannis says. "Plugging in makes me feel connected to this bloodline. It makes me sturdy again."
So Holy Fire is a record of contrasts, of Foals feeling themselves liberated to create a record that perhaps they didnt even realise they had within them. "It's been the least harrowing of all the records," says Yannis, before adding, "in a lot of ways it's not been harrowing at all, and I think a lot of that has been Flood and Moulder. We vacillate between our experimental side and the side that enjoys the possibilities of what pop music can do, that it can speak outside it's own barrier. If anything we feel that we've made a record that doesn't exist between those two subsets. I feel content that we've made a record that is just what it should have been."