Foals

author PP date 11/04/08

So I had heard that the UK based electro-pop/indie rock band Foals guitarist/vocalist Yannis was one of the hippest and \'coolest\' people in the UK music industry at the moment. After all, he had been voted #45 in NME\'s cool list, and Foals\' music is remarkable for its quirky strangeness and its trendy sound. When I sat down with him in the backstage of Loppen in Copenhagen, Denmark, I was introduced to a pretty regular young guy who was slightly confused and surprised about how all of this was happening to the band. Read on to find out about the life in a new band that has in no time become the band that everybody is talking about in the UK.

RF.net: Hi and thanks for doing this interview. Could you please introduce yourself for the readers?
Yannis: Hi, I\'m Yannis from Foals. Is this a podcast?

RF.net: No, I\'ll just type it out later on.

RF.net: My guess is that the majority of our readers won\'t recognize the name Foals yet. If you could maybe give a brief history of the band from its formation until to date, and describe your sound to the readers as well?
Yannis: We are from Oxford, are we\'re five drop outs who smoked far too much pot when they were growing up. We\'re pretty much reclusive, and we try and make pop music.. our idea of pop music, in order to escape from the teeth in our head, pretty much.

RF.net: The teeth in your head?

Yannis: All the bad things in our head, you know, the \'teeth\', the things that eat your head.

RF.net: So you guys have just released your debut album \"Antidotes\". What are your thoughts on the album?
Yannis: What are my thoughts on the album? [chuckles]

RF.net: How do you feel about it?

Yannis: Umm.. pretty good. We feel like it\'s nice to make record, and I\'m really glad we got to work with Dave Sitek [Ed note: producer, TV On The Radio]. We wanna make a better record, but we feel like we made the record we wanted to have made, so we didn\'t falter on external pressure, be it media or label or otherwise. It was what we wanted to do. Just for us to be making music every day and being able to tour is kind of like.. beyond.. you know, it\'s beyond what we thought was ahead of us, so in that respect we feel proud that we\'ve managed to put out an album.

RF.net: I understand there was some tension in the band while you were writing and recording the album...
Yannis: Between the band?

RF.net: Well, I read that you guys were really critical of each other and things like that?

Yannis: Oh yeah yeah, but that\'s just what we\'re like, though.

RF.net: Can you expand on that a bit though, like what was actually going on then during the recording?

Yannis: It wasn\'t during the recording, it was before. We were just always like that, me and Jack pretty much grew up playing.. I played guitar and he played drums, and we always played together. And we had a relationship that was.. abusive, basically, in the sense that we would both criticize each other so much that we would try and get better. I think it\'s the way a lot of bands work, it\'s just that we\'re probably more vocal about it, because we\'re degenerates, so. We like picking at scabs, you know, we\'re perfectionists basically. We won\'t spare each others feelings to try.. not each others feelings, it\'s just the way we work. I can\'t really explain it. It\'s the way we hang out, the way we behave as friends as well. We bitch each other!

RF.net: So what\'s with the Tennis obsession? The promo sheet has references to your love of Tennis and the first track is even called \"The French Open\"
Yannis: Yeah. It\'s not really a big deal, it\'s just like.. it\'s not an obsession. It\'s something that has been put out of proportion to be honest. I guess it\'s just an example of stuff that we like to take artistic influence from that isn\'t an artform necessarily itself. So we like to watch nature program and then watch Tennis instead, and then try to translate that into something that\'s a musical language, in some way. The only thing about \"The French Open\" is just that I wanted to use Andy Roddick as a symbol of failure, so he\'s a symbolic character. I think he is an amazing player, I like watching him play tennis. But for me, he is a symbol of something that\'s doomed.. he\'s like a doomed player. There\'s like a doomed heroic quality to him, like shakesperian tragic hero.

RF.net: Does he know about your band?

Yannis: No I don\'t think so, I don\'t care whether he knows about my band or not. He\'s just a character for me in the world of the album. I just like to have characters and places and scenes, and he\'s one of them. He best personifies what I\'m trying to get at, which is like this doomed hero.

RF.net: What were some of the influences for \"Antidotes\"?
Yannis: A lot of afro-beat, and a lot of steak. Dave Sitek\'s voice, smoking pot, listening to Arthur Russell records.. wanting to get away from England.. umm.. street basketball late at night, roof parties and umm.... I don\'t know. That\'s it.

RF.net: You guys are signed to Transgressive Records in the UK, which is some kind of subsidiary thing of Warner.....
Yannis: Kind of.

RF.net: ...because the press contact is from Warner.

Yannis: Yeah, we\'re on Warner in Europe, and Transgressive has links. We\'re on Sub Pop in states, Transgressive in the UK, and Warner everywhere else pretty much.

RF.net: Right, and you just started on a tour around the world where you go to Europe, obviously you are here in Denmark now, and US and Japan. I think that\'s pretty impressive for a band who only has a debut album just barely released. So how did all this happen?

Yannis: I don\'t know. I think a lot of it is what happened in Britain, you know. We snowballed in Britain, and the British media pumped us up or something, you know. I don\'t know if you have the same hype culture in Denmark so much with the music, but in the UK, bands get hyped and often it can lead into an incredibly short shelf life. But for us I think it\'s kind of weird, cause it\'s like an anomaly for us, cause we didn\'t.. we\'re not the kind of band they normally would hype, really, I don\'t think we are, you know. So we feel a little bit like, it\'s all kind of this weird joke gone wrong, that our band is even playing. The kind of venues we\'re playing at England anyway, like Astoria and Brixton Academy, and getting to go to Japan. This band was not intended for like.. we just thought we\'d play house parties for a year and then do something else. And now it\'s like, we have to be this proper band [laughs]. It was always a serious band, we\'ve always been really serious about our music, but the commercial aspect of what\'s happened, and the fact that people know who we are and stuff, is kind of something that\'s pretty, you know, alien to us. But we did wanna be in a pop band, and this is what happens if you\'re in a pop band.

RF.net: You sold about 25k copies on the first week in the UK, and went straight to #3 in the charts. I think that\'s a lot of album sales in today\'s industry, especially for a new band.
Yannis: Yeah it\'s weird. I think what\'s strange about what\'s happened to our band, and lucky as well, is that people seem to think.. people don\'t know who we are really in England, they think they do, and they\'re buying this record and it\'s actually a lot weirder than they realize, and it\'s getting to #3 in the charts. It\'s actually quite a peculiar record, if you listen to it. So we feel quite happy that.. because we wanna take something is from.. we wanna make pop music that\'s weird, and I think in some ways it proves that it can be done, that you can still do that. And hopefully even if just ten of those people, who would otherwise be buying like a Panic At The Disco record will then go and find out about TV On The Radio, and then go find out about Liars or something, and then us.. Above and beyond of us having a good time, it validates the actual goodness in the band, in what we\'re doing. Does that answer the question?

RF.net: Yeah I think so. So a continuation of that, the NME magazine, the big one in the UK, voted you guys as #45 in their 2007 \"cool\" list. So what makes Foals so \'cool\'?
Yannis: It\'s not Foals, they do it as me. And I have no idea why they put me in there at all. And having met me, you should be similarly surprised as well [laughs]

RF.net: [laughs] Why is that?

Yannis: Well just cause I\'m not cool! It\'s just bollocks. Anyway it\'s just a joke, that cool list thing is just a joke, you know.

RF.net: All of this, though, must put a lot of pressure on you guys when you eventually write your next album?
Yannis: There\'s always pressure from ourselves to make something that we felt was authentic, so the only difference now is that there\'s an extra pressure to that. And it\'s one that we wanna just block out, and we wanna make the record we wanna make the record that we wanna make on the next one. And it\'ll probably be a lot weirder than this one, I think. Or it might not be, we\'ll see.

RF.net: If it\'s weirder, what do you think your label\'s gonna say about that, considering you had such high sales success on this one?

Yannis: Well the label... I don\'t know, I don\'t really care what they\'ll say, because they\'re not, we\'re not.. we\'re on a label set that distributes our records, you know, I have no interest artistically in what they think about what we make musically and tours.

RF.net: So you have complete freedom, in other words?

Yannis: Yeah we have total creative control. Everything from the videos, I mean our friends do the videos and do all the artwork, our friends from home, who are not a part of the music industry. For me it\'s like, being signed onto a lable is getting what we want to mean that we can come self sufficient. The same way as they use bands, we\'re gonna use them, you know.

RF.net: You mentioned the artwork just now, in the front cover you have a man, and he has some really colorful things inside his mouth. I\'m just interested in what it is? What\'s the symbolism in it, or anything like that?
Yannis: It\'s loads of stuff. It kind of ties into the doomed hero thing, and the idea lyrically on the album.. cause all the artwork is tied into the lyrics rather than anything else, it\'s always tied into the lyrics. Same with the videos. So anything that\'s weird on the videos, is always a symbol for some of the lyrics. It\'s mainly about clutter and modernity and the idea that we\'re the first generation that really has had this level of prevalence of ease, everything is easy and available for us. And there\'s an idea in at least that cover artwork that maybe it\'s not such a good thing, because you\'re full of everything else, but you can see the actual guy is like.. I mean, there\'s nothing there, there\'s no color. He\'s transparent, he\'s almost a ghost. And everything.. where all the color should be, it\'s just in his mouth, and it\'s not even his own mouth, it looks superimposed. But that\'s enough clues, I think, without giving it totally away. Because I wanna keep it.. have some of that mysticism, man, you know [laughs]

RF.net: How does rest of the year look like for Foals?
Yannis: Touring.. endless touring, until Christmas pretty much. And then we\'ll hopefully take a quite long break. Basically we\'ll go back to Oxford and we\'ll have like a month off to re-attach ourselves to our former life. Because this is the problem with the way that music industry works in my opinion. The way they treat bands, particularly new bands, and particularly how they\'re treating us, is that we\'re made to tour and we\'re made to do so much stuff that\'s in this other weird rock world, it\'s a suspended reality, it has nothing to do with actual life, the way that we live now. It\'s like being Peter Pan and Rufio in Never Never land. And that\'s got it\'s massive good sides because it\'s fun. But from the perspective of the way that a label will work, they\'ll tour you so hard that you become severed from anything that means something to you in a concrete way. That\'s why so many bands have a difficulty writing second albums, because everything you wrote about the first time, you\'ve been taken away from, and you\'ve been put in a different, weird world, you know. So what\'s important for us, is once we finish this tour, we re-attach ourselves, and then we\'ll write a second record that\'ll be better than this one. And that\'s the plan.

RF.net: That sounds good. Thanks for the interview. Any last comments for the readers and your fans?
Yannis: Winners don\'t do drugs, probably! Yeah, that\'s my last words!

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