FOALS – Interview

Foto-© Elliot Cooke

Es ist einer dieser Freitagabende, an denen man sich als Musikjournalistin mal wieder in einem der Berliner Luxushotels wiederfindet und sich komplett Fehl am Platz fühlt. Als der Foals-Bassist Jimmy Smith aus dem Fahrstuhl steigt und mir die Hand reicht, ist das unser erster Bonding Moment. Heimlich fällt mir ein Stein vom Herzen, dass meine Lieblingsrocker aus Oxford noch immer nicht abgehoben sind. Am Abend nach unserem Interview spielen sie in der ausverkauften Verti Music Hall ein Wahnsinnskonzert.

Was folgt ist ein Gespräch, in dem viel gelacht wird und sich selbst die ernsteren Themen — das Ausscheiden von Pianist Edwin Congreave, Pandemie, ein halb-verlorenes Album — nicht ganz so schwer anfühlen. Passend zum dieswöchigen Release des neuen Foals Albums Life Is Yours, unser Interview!

I’m happy you guys are back!
Yeah. Nice to have had a break as well. But it feels good to be back! Feels like everybody wants it again now.

And now it feels a bit more normal than like last year.
Last year was weird! We did four shows and none of these should have happen, it was way too early.

But every time I see you guys, there’s one less of you. We need to stop this trend please!
Hopefully that’s it. You know, no one’s gonna jump out. There’s not many more people that can go. I don’t think anyone else can go, or the band will cease to exist. But that’s it for now.

I’m happy to hear that.
I threatened it to the other to keep me. It’s a trio now. You’ve got a power play.

Do concerts feel any different now? The three of you plus additional musicians?
Well, obviously apart from not physically seeing Edwin or Walter, I would say the difference is way more noticeable offstage, because 90% of a band’s time has been hanging around and just being with each other in a van or backstage or whatever — I really miss them. It’s like, I miss the sort of larger gang going around and there’s always someone doing something silly. It’s a bit more streamed down now. But onstage, it’s great. I actually think we’ve never been better, musically. We’ve got Jack from Jagwar Ma and got this keyboard player called Joe who’s just really good. We’re musically on fire.

I’m so excited for tonight!
Every single show so far has been really good. I’m not boasting, it’s just perfectly personal experience.

Don’t be shy, Foals are like…the best live band I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot.
My friend the other day, who’s really honest to me, he’s seen god knows how many Foals shows, like 20 or something. He was at one of our London shows. He was like: that was your best one. So it’s good. And then the LED lights. On stage it’s really bright. And then you look at photos and you’re just a silhouette.

The LED screen I’ve seen on photos is MASSIVE. I only know you with your banners.
Tame Impala spend all that money on an amazing light show. Now everyone’s trying to copy.

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And do you think your role in the band has changed now that they’re just three of you?
Well, you have to do more stuff. You can’t get away with stuff as easy. I just feel musically, it’s always been kind of the three of us. Most of the creative ideas come from certainly Yannis. So that hasn’t changed really, in some ways. It’s nice to streamline that. So you don’t have people sort of not wanting to be there but being there because they’ve got to be there. You know, it’s weird, so weird. There’s nothing worse being in a studio when you don’t have any ideas. It’s really depressing. I feel like it’s much healthier now.

Okay, and you told NME that you finally feel comfortable to call yourself a songwriter?
I wrote a lot over the last few years. I’ve always wanted to do and never really had the time. I think that was a real benefit for me locked down and things like that results just uninterrupted. So yeah, I’ve started. I’ve got a load of music, and I’ve started to really push myself on writing a proper song.

Does that match with Yannis?
Well, yeah, obviously, some of it is on the record, but like, no lie, but I haven’t heard it actually a lot.

So there’s something else cooking there…
Yeah, definitely. It’s gonna take a while. Because now you’re touring again. Yeah, but it’s great. I’ll start doing more stuff on tour.

Tell me the band’s secret: The new album is again, such a genius record. What’s so crazy to me, your sound is so diverse. And still, every single song feels like a Foals song.
Well, I guess this is just us isn’t it? I would say Yannis’ voice is a pretty big thing. I’ve always kind of said we can do anything. As long as he sings on it, it will be a Foals record. But maybe there’s other stuff. But it’s not considered anymore. It’s what happens when we make music together.

I’m happy about that.
Yeah, it makes life very easy. With this record, what have we been writing sounds pretty positive. And kind of dancing. It’s cool. Off we go. And it’s just like, that’s it. It’s never really spoken off again until like got around 15 songs when we’re having to decide which ones go on. Yeah, we’re very lucky.

And surprisingly, not another doomsday album after the last two…
…and then the actual doomsday happens. Yannis didn’t want to write lyrics about that. I don’t want to hear anything like that. Certainly when Corona virus was in full swing, it was like any long epic doomsday shit. I was like: No way! I need like short, poppy, colorful songs. It sounds kind of cheesy, but we’re writing pop songs, let’s do that. Let’s not do any like miserable stuff.

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I was so happy when Wake Me Up came out because it was exactly what I needed. People started to release their lockdown albums. And a lot of that was like, “Oh, I’m so alone.” Yeah, and I mean, I get that because what else could you have written about?
Are people really going to want to hear about the Corona virus?

And you don’t want to stay on stage and like play it all over again.
So take everyone back to the worst years of their life. But I get what people did.

With another album to release: When do we get five hour long Foals concert setlist?
Well, we’re starting to get longer. Nobody wants to see us for five hours straight, but maybe two. Maybe next year we’ll get to the two hour mark. We can’t add too many new songs. Maybe we made a mistake of not rehearsing enough old songs. But there are reasons we need a new keyboard player. It was hard work getting everything into shape. Ready for tour, especially after years off.

For you it’s not just in between albums, but the band goes through a lot of changes.
We’ve been through massive changes. But it feels very much like the beginning of the Life Is Yours tour. It’s not that Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 tour. There’s plenty of time in the future to revisit it, but right now it’s I’ve got to be forward thinking forward looking. But I think the set will get longer and longer in the end, once the album’s out. When we are start playing more new ones, which I know everyone doesn’t like, but they’re good new ones.

Well Jimmy, stop producing so many hits then.
I could say something really ego centered, right. Do you ever seen that film Dig!, about The Dandy Warhols und The Brian Jonestown Massacre?

I don’t think so.
It’s amazing. It’s them in the early 2000s. Courtney Taylor-Taylor, the singer The Dandy Warhols was like „I sneeze and hits come out!“. Basically after he said that, no more hits came out.

Oh, okay, forget what I said earlier! But yeah, everything changes but Two Steps, Twice will always close your sets.
We have changed it a couple of times. There’s been festivals where we’ve only had half an hour. And we keep talking about not doing it. And then we just always end up doing it. We were talking about maybe moving it from the end because originally on record, it’s much shorter, and it’s a quite tight little song. If it doesn’t end the set, it’ll go in as a shorter song, which would be wicked.

People will start panicking because they think the concert is already over…
You’re right. I don’t think many bands have traditions like that. So it’s nice to have that.

But there’s no special reason behind it?
It’s always done the energy of it. We were thinking: „Let’s end on What Went Down“ but that’s a bit more negative energy, it’s angry, you can throw stuff around. But there’s an optimism in Two Steps Twice, which is, I think why everyone loves it at the end because it feels like a party and it’s like you leave smiling rather than like growling. We’ll probably do it forever.

Has COVID taught you something in regards of touring? To do things differently?
Definitely. I don’t drink anywhere near as much as I used to. Made quite a few lifestyle changes like that. Enjoy it more. Stop worrying. I also made a promise that I’m just not going to get nervous. You know, it’s silly. There’s a lot of anxiety with touring that’s just all self generated, and it’s kind of done out of boredom, because you’re sat on in a venue all day and you’re working towards this big show, and you could wake up feeling a million dollars, but slowly you’ll be like „Oh, I was bad“. No! That’s had a big impact on me during the shows. It’s just like doesn’t matter. It’s just enjoy it.

I stopped to look out for mistakes and stuff like that. If you do make a mistake, good because it shows that it’s a real instrument. That’s plugged into a real amplifier. I made one during this tour and it should have ruined the show, but it didn’t. I have a complete fucked up an old song, but it was great. And everyone was just like: it’s just live, just no backing tracks. So it’s very dubious when a band plays their set and there’s absolutely nothing no mistakes.

When a band sounds like straight from the record? I mean, that’s a talent…
It’s also pretty boring. I always like the difference. Live rendition where the guitars are a bit louder.

Not trying to hard to be perfect.
I think that’s what it is. It’s like this stupid quest for perfection, completely unrealistic question that everybody seems to be going through at the moment. And you certainly apply it to all aspects of life, but certainly with music. Who wants perfect music? It’s not where the fun is. All the imperfections and the humaneness of it. That’s what I’ve learned. Just enjoy it more. Also be really grateful for it. It reminded me again, how lucky we are, everyone was going through sheer hell with work and money in Coronavirus and we weren’t. We were like: Yeah, boohoo, we’re not touring. Yeah, that’s the only negative thing and it’s like so felt very lucky.

Foals live:
21.06.22 Köln, Palladium

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