The new Foals album «Life Is Yours» was written at a time when life didn't seem to belong to ourselves. Despite this, or rather precisely because of it, the trio from Oxford have made it their happiest and most uplifting work to date. In the interview which took place just before their concert in Zurich at the end of May, guitarist Jimmy Smith and drummer Jack Bevan talked about how the collaboration with different producers worked for them and in which soundtrack they would like to be featured with a Foals song.
Yannis Philippakis (voals, guitar)
Jack Bevan (drums)
Jimmy Smith (guitar, keys)
Indiespect: It’s finally time for your big release. Your album «Life Is Yours» is going to drop.
Jimmy: Yeah, finally.
Indiespect: It’s really upbeat and has a positive vibe attached to it. But sometimes the lyrics are also a bit dark, like in «2 am». How does that work in the writing process? Does the uplifting melody come first or do the darker lyrics?
Jimmy: Well, I can't speak for Yannis’ lyrical process because he does that alone. But we always really like that juxtaposition. You could do it the other way round as well. You can have a really dark sounding song with upbeat lyrics. It's a cool way to offset what you're saying. It can make a song, what would be quite a shallow one if it was just upbeat lyrics and upbeat music. Yannis finds it easier to write lyrics with an element of depth to them. Also, I feel like for the longevity of a record, it's good to have some lyrical substance. Eventually you do start listening past the music.
For the longevity of a record, it's good to have some lyrical substance.
Indiespect: Did you have to practice new elements for your live show since it’s such a new direction for the band?
Jimmy: Well, no. Because of lockdown and having two years off I actually played guitar every day. So I think I'm better – I'm definitely better at guitar playing now than I was two years ago. Actually it felt surprisingly easy. Normally, when you do rehearsals, you have no calluses on your fingers, you have to build it and that's really painful. For the first time ever,
I didn't have to do that this time.
Foals are (from left to right): Jimmy Smith, Yannis Philippakis, Jack Bevan.
Indiespect: Your music is featured in quite a lot of TV series. Is there one where you would love to see one of your songs featured on?
Jimmy: Oh yeah, anything with David Attenborough in. A nature documentary like that would be amazing. But that's the Holy Grail. We'll see. He's going to die soon... Hopefully not, but I'm preparing myself for it, because that's a big one. We actually had a Zoom meeting with all these people in America that organise stuff like that, syncs in film; getting your music elsewhere other than just the music scene. They were like: what's your dream scenario? And I was just like, I guess the opening scene of an amazing film, like a really cool film. If you get the opening credits, first shot, for me that’s it.
Indiespect: Like «Every You, Every Me» by Placebo in Cruel Intentions.
Jimmy: Yeah. Exactly. In the nineties films they did that a lot. An iconic song to set the scene.
If you get the opening credits, first shot, for me that’s it.
Indiespect: Do you have a song in mind that you already released?
Jimmy: Spanish Sahara is easy to put on anything. But it's a bit old. Some of the new ones I feel like would fit very nicely. The end of 2001 on the new record is begging for a film that's got credits written all over.
Indiespect: If someone doesn’t know you and wants to discover Foals, which album would you recommend to start with?
Jimmy: Just go in chronological order, start from the beginning. Because that's the journey we did. Take one month for each album.
«Spanish Sahara» featured in a documentary of David Attenborough – that would be a perfect fit.
Indiespect: Building up the energy for playing live again after the forced break because of the pandemic must’ve been quite hard. It's surely immediately there for the beginning but to keep the pace must be tough.
Jimmy: Well, I've just been noticing that (laughs). That's very perceptive of you. Certainly, for the first four shows of this tour I had endless energy because it was so exciting. And then, the old demons start creeping back in. Because of guitar playing I hurt my hands all the time. I might get cramps and you get quite tired. Like my legs, I'm playing more keyboards on this tour and it's quite hard to move, play keyboards and look cool. It's like a fucking workout from the top of my knees. Then I go back to playing guitar and I can't move. Yeah, well, I'm 37 years old. What can you do? (laughs)
I'm playing more keyboards on this tour and it's quite hard to move,
play keyboards and look cool. It's like a fucking workout from the top of my knees.
Jack Bevan is entering the room
Jack: Hello, how are you doing? I'm sorry to crash this a little bit late, I just had a swim. I’ll just jump in?
Indiespect: Sure! I saw your stories on Instagram and thought that you maybe wouldn’t make it.
Jack: I mean such lovely weather and I also just love coming to Switzerland. It's just such a beautiful country. Just getting in the water is something we don't get the opportunity to do everyday.
Jimmy: Especially like that, clean water. Oh my god.
Foals on stage at the X-TRA in Zurich
Indiespect: As said before your new record is really upbeat and happy. But while writing and recording it, the feeling wasn’t like this at all. Was it hard for you to get into that mood or was there a sense of escapism?
Jack: It kind of was escapism, I think. The time of year that we were writing was wet, cold and dark. And we were lamenting the loss of nightlife, parties and all the things that we used to enjoy, with lockdown. It was almost like a beacon of hope, making this record, to be remembering the old times but also putting a line in the sand like: this is going to be us in a year's time or six months or however long Covid takes. And we're going to be able to take this music out and the world is going to re-emerge.
Indiespect: And now it really fits the vibe that is around.
Jimmy: That's what we kind of hoped. We’re really happy with how it worked out.
Ironically, the most chopped up album we've made in terms
of different people working on it, I think is the most cohesive.
Indiespect: I saw that you worked with quite a lot of people on that album. I was wondering if this gives you more inputs or if it's also a bit more complicated for you. Why did you decide to work like that?
Jack: In the past we tended to sign up to do whole records with one producer, so that we get a uniformity to a record. But producers are people with opinions. And sometimes you write songs and the producer might just not like one of the songs or not feel like they can do something with that. So, by working with cherry picking different producers, we were taking songs that we felt like would work with specific people. If they liked them, then there was mutual excitement. John Hill was very respectful of the different paths we'd taken with different producers earlier on. He was kind of the guy that was trying to put it all together and lynchpin it into one.
The new Foals album
«Life Is yours»
- Life Is Yours
- Wake Me Up
- (summer sky)
- Looking High
- Under The Radar
- Crest of the Wave
- The Sound
- Wild Green
Jimmy: Executive producer role.
Jack: Yes. And that's something we've never really done before. Ironically, the most chopped up album we've made in terms of different people working on it, I think is the most cohesive.
Indiespect: That’s what's so special about it. It’s not that easy to have an overall experience of an album when you work with that amount of people.
Jimmy: It’s a testament to the songs. We wrote all of them in this little room together, just the three of us. You could give it to anybody and it would still stick together, hopefully. Because the very basics of every song are cohesive. But John Hill should take some credit for keeping it under the umbrella of what we were trying to do. Even just the amount of fucking computer data between all those different studio sessions. I mean, hard drives were flying backwards and forwards on motorbikes across London all winter. It's a small logistical nightmare. So, he did well.
«2 am» – happy music, slightly dark lyrics
© Eva Pentel
Indiespect: Are all of you the driving force when it comes to exploring new musical directions? Or how are the roles within the band?
Jack: It felt kind of amazing. Jimmy had been living in America for quite a while and we'd all been locked down and apart from each other. I remember meeting you for the first time after you got back from America, and we went for a few beers.
Jimmy: Yeah, we talked about this the other day.
Jack: I was just like: wouldn't it be great to just make it a really fun, kind of dancy, happy, positive record? And you were like: I've been feeling exactly the same thing.
Jimmy: It was amazing. There's a lot of serendipity. I would say this is easily the most serendipitous record we've ever made because every piece has just come in and it’s being right. That's where the concept for the whole record started. It was that conversation between us. Talking about albums that do a cohesive feeling, with ten tracks. It's not too much of a challenging listen. You just want to put it on in the car like the White and Blue album by Weezer. It's ten great fucking songs that are all part of the same world. I'm really proud of it. I think it's the closest we've ever come to get doing the thing we set out to do. I don’t know if we 100% did it because there's always room for improvement. But we were pretty close.
I think it's the closest we've ever come to get doing the thing we set out to do.
Indiespect: In general, do you think that lockdown helped musicians to improve and be more creative? Or do you think that records that came out are more tied to this time
and later it won’t be remembered?
Jimmy: I don’t think anybody wants to be remembered of that time.
Indiespect: But there were some that made this their main topic.
Jack: The pandemic affected everyone differently. And I think it's not going to be apparent as to who and how much for many, many years from now. The effects of the pandemic they’re gonna last for years. We didn't want to languish in it. We wanted to look forward to the future good times rather than to escape from. It.
Jimmy: It highlighted how important music can be.
Foals in Zurich
Jack: I just feel really sorry for any bands, especially young, newer bands who put records out in a time where they couldn’t tour them and then just got lost.
Jimmy: It was obvious who, in the record release cycle of the industry, had gone too far into it to stop the release of their albums. And it was almost just like watching people jump off a cliff. They couldn't stop the release of their album and it was all done. Our friends, Everything, Everything, released an album during Lockdown and it sort of disappeared. So, they did the best thing which was to make another one which was even better. They aced it.
I was joking about having a cooking show at some point.
Indiespect: Jack, before you arrived, Jimmy said that he practiced guitar every day during that time. Were you also playing more drums than before?
Jack: Oh, no. I never get to play drums. I don't have anywhere to play drums. At some point in my life I would like to be able to have a set up where I can go and play drums every day
because I love playing drums. I live in London and it’s hard to have a kit. I play loud as well. I might try to get an electronic kit set up. Sometimes, having time away from drums is good because it means that I love it when I come back. I used the pandemic to cook loads of food. Just got really into doing that. I got pretty nerdy about it. I bought loads of machinery like sous vides, flamethrowers and a sausage maker.
Jimmy: Best kitchen I’ve ever seen.
Jack: Oh, thanks, man. When it's finished – I've been renovating a house as well, so it's kind of a lot of what I've been doing in Lockdown. I was joking about having a cooking show at some point because my kitchen would be a good place to do a cooking TV show or a YouTube thing.
Jimmy: I saw Joe Jonas’ old kitchen in America and Jack’s is nicer.
Indiespect: One last question. Do you have a specific memory of a Swiss show? You played here quite often.
Jack: I actually have a pretty knock-out memory of a Swiss show. Years ago I was the best man at my friend's wedding…
Jimmy: Oh god…
Jack: …and I had to organise a stag, do you say that in Switzerland? A bachelor party. We went to Montreux early – me and 15 guys. We just had this wild three days stag party thing. But then we played Montreux Jazz Festival on Sunday and it was hands down the hardest gig I've ever had to play. Because I had three days of a bachelor party. I was honestly broken, mentally and physically. Half the bachelor party guests were missing in different parts of Montreux – in the lake or up in the hill. One was in hospital. Then we played a show. We’ve had lots of amazing shows in Switzerland. But that was the most memorable.
Half the bachelor party guests were missing in different parts of Montreux – in the lake or up in the hill. One was in hospital.
Jimmy: The most distinguished, calculating, bloody stag party. I’m pretty sure we’ve been banned from that festival.
Jack: You know what? They did ask us back.
Indiespect: Do you know what year that was?
Jack: That would have been 2015, I think. It was the first show, the actual first show of «What went down».
Jimmy: That’s true. I remember a fondue up in the hill, sitting next to Toto. (laughs)