Foals: “It was a mixture of caffeine and red wine that led to a lot of the songs”

Foals bassist Walter Gervers chats to PERRI CASSIE about their upcoming album Holy Fire, and when the band will back on our shores.

Oxford quintet Foals have just wrapped up a national tour with the Big Day Out – playing on a side stage but making a strong case for a mainstage upgrade on their next visit according to FL’s reviewer.

Some of the biggest reactions the band received from fans at these recent shows was in response to songs from new album Holy Fire, released today in Australia. The highly anticipated record is the follow-up to 2010’s “game change” Total Life Forever which saw the band explore a darker more introspective sound than that of their debut. When I reach bassist Walter Gervers fresh from a stroll along Sydney’s Oxford Street he sounds relaxed and buoyant, talking passionately about the band’s new creation – which he tells me, sounds like “a nice, warm, deep, bath.”

Hey Walter, how are you? How’s the tour so far?

I’m good man, just slowly getting over the jet-lag and starting to feel more alive. The tour’s been good so far, we had a bit of a rocky start. The Sydney Big Day Out was a bit hard for us, we’re not used to it, not used to playing big shows, but yeah we did a good one in Gold Coast, and now we’ve got some sideshows tonight in Sydney.

Now, I don’t need to ask you what to expect from Holy Fire, because I’ve just been listening to it, and it’s immaculate, you guys should be proud. People are going to love it.

Thank you dude, we’re really, really pleased with it. It’s weird at the moment because people still haven’t heard it yet, it’s that nervous kind of stage where people finally get to hear what you’ve been doing for the last year, so we’re a bit anxious, but we’ve had really good responses, we’re really pleased with it. We’re proud of it, man.

“It’s not supposed to be too sort of biblical”

Tell me about how the title Holy Fire got pitched, and why is it so meaningful to Foals?

Well actually it was one of the last things to get picked, that’s why it was so difficult. You make this record and you become so familiar with the songs and the whole kind of feel to it, and then all of a sudden you have to put a name to it and we’ve always found that very hard. We ran through a lot of things, Yannis had a big list of stuff that were like working titles, and we ended up settling on it because it had this nice, slightly purification sense to it. It sounds like something cleansing. It’s not supposed to be too sort of biblical or anything [laughs]. We’ve had a few people ask us about that already, like “Is this like the Foals prophecy?” or something like that – no, not at all. It’s just a quite a bold title as well and we thought it suited the record and the way we were quite brave with the track selection and stuff, so yeah, it just seemed to work.

Before the release of Total Life Forever the band said the album sounded “like the dream of an eagle dying”. So, what does Holy Fire sound like?

[Laughs] It sounds like a nice, warm, deep, bath.

Total Life Forever, by most measures, is quite a blue album, very somber. Holy Fire is a more high energy and all around brighter affair, what are some of the factors that can take credit for this movement in tone?

Well I think definitely the influence of Flood and [Alan] Moulder, the two guys who produced it. We were huge fans of the work that they’ve done individually as well as a co-production team. The flavour of the album is quite a split personality between the songs, things that have just been allowed to be themselves. So if we have a song that’s quiet and delicate, we’d be like “Let’s not try and Foals it up, and mask what’s going on with too many other details. And if it’s something big, and brash, and loud, then let’s let it be like that and not try and smooth the edges.” So if anything they just made us confident enough with the songs like “Let’s push this to where it’s heading, rather than try and soften the blow for anybody.” So the result is a very colourful record in the sense that we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this on our own devices.

You seem to be a band that have really reinvented themselves, how do you look back on the sounds you first created on Antidotes, because you really have evolved so much from that album.

I think first time round we’d lived with those songs for a while and they had this specific energy and they were all written in the same sort of style which was songs that worked in front of a few people at a house party or show. We were really into the idea of crisp, minimal, kind of compressed music, we had a very specific idea of what we wanted to do – this kind of organic techno field that we could follow. After a while you start to relax a bit and open and that’s what eventually happened with Total Life Forever. We realised we could write more open songs that were more sort of groove-based, and didn’t have to have such sharp edges. Moving on from there I guess this record is sort of a product of what we’ve learnt over the last few years, you know we’ve changed as a band we didn’t want to repeat ourselves.

There was a chance on this record to take all the things we’ve learnt from studios in the past and maybe not followed through on, and experiment with more straight-forward, simple grooves, and more big-sounding, string-backed moments. It is a natural progression for us; we get bored quite easily if we try to do the same thing over and over.

“We’re kind of like the tortoise from The Tortoise and The Hare

In 2010 you said of the new album, “We want a really pop record in the vein of Talking Heads, but better. But we were saying we wanted to make a surf pop album for Total Life Forever and that didn’t really happen.” Can you reflect on these quotes for me today?

I suppose the Talking Heads thing is that they actually managed to make poppy, catchy tunes without sacrificing any of their aesthetic. It still sounds fresh and exciting because people still use those same song writing formulas now, it was nothing ground-breaking. We were listening to a lot of laid-back surf, and we wanted to go away somewhere really hot and record it by the beach, and we ended up in the deepest, darkest parts of Sweden [laughs].

I guess that kind of goes to show how you can be listening to something so completely different to what you’re making and that it can still influence it. You can go in listening to industrial music and make something really bright and poppy because it’s kind of a reflection of what’s going on and what the five of us are listening to at the time. So sometimes it relates to it and sometimes we end up doing the complete opposite.

Interview continues on page two.

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