Foals interview

Highbrow, haughty, and with the release of their third album, the indie-rockers are here to stay

Horse power: Yannis Philippakis (centre) and Jimmy Smith (second left) with Foals

Horse power: Yannis Philippakis (centre) and Jimmy Smith (second left) with Foals

Two Foals walk into a restaurant. No, this isn’t the start of a bad joke about horsemeat burgers – Yannis Philippakis and Jimmy Smith are two fifths of one of the most consistently thrilling British bands of the last decade, and they’re sitting in Trattoria Sapori on Newington Green in north London wondering what happened to the rest of the indie rock class of ’08 – bands like Klaxons, Late Of The Pier and New Young Pony Club. ‘We’re the last ones standing,’ says Philippakis – singer, lyricist, and chief Foal.

He’s right, and it’s to Foals’ credit that, since their infectious staccato guitar pop broke through six years ago (with blistering singles like ‘Olympic Airways’), they’ve stealthily avoided death by hype. On the cusp of the release of their third album, ‘Holy Fire’, Smith, the band’s guitarist, still isn’t entirely comfortable speaking to the press. ‘It’s weird when you’re trying to say something heartfelt but you have to repeat it, like, eight times in a row,’ he laments.

That’s not a problem for Philippakis (stocky, navy blue fisherman jumper) who orders a beer and quickly takes charge of the interview. He is polite, but intense and very focused: during longer questions his eyebrows knit impatiently together. Foals are now among the elders of British indie – a band capable of selling out two shows at the Royal Albert Hall, and one that has inspired a new generation of guitar acts – but Philippakis is uneasy about being an influence. ‘Are people just allowed to come in and mine you like a quarry?’ he asks, acidly. ‘Do you feel like you’re waiting for a thank-you card?’

This directness is also the defining feature of ‘Holy Fire’. Produced by Flood and Alan Moulder, who’ve worked with Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and U2, it unites enormous post-grunge guitar riffs and choruses, funk-informed basslines and cavernous drums with Smith’s trademark ‘points of sound’. It’s Foals’ most accessible and immediate record to date. ‘If something felt good in the room then we would go with it,’ recalls Philippakis. ‘We wouldn’t analyse or intellectualise it. We wanted to just strip all the waffle away.’

He’s trying not to overthink his lyrics, either, and has taken to sleeping with a notebook so he can catch the words that arrive in his head late at night or first thing in the morning. ‘I don’t think that pop songs are really the place to be too clever,’ says the man who once wrote a song about tennis in French.

So what does he think of lyrically opaque bands like Django Django or Alt-J? ‘I think there are bands that are too clever,’ he responds diplomatically. ‘And I think that it’s self-defeating, being really arch and knowing about lyrics.’ Irony is one of Philippakis’s pet hates at the moment: ‘It’s just infected every pore of our generation,’ he complains. ‘From kids’ TV onwards, we grew up with this tongue-in-cheek ironical distancing, and if you want to make music that’s sincere, you have to navigate that.’

Speaking of sincerity, what’s with the album title? Have Foals found religion? Not quite. ‘There’s some elements of making records where you have to have faith in a greater power,’ says Philippakis, and Smith nods. ‘That may be just inspiration or, like, a vibe – it may be whatever you believe in. But you have to believe in more than just you twatting a banjo in front of a microphone.’ Amen.
‘Holy Fire’ is out Feb 11 on Warner Bros – pre-order it here.

See Foals live in London


  • Critics choice

Oxford quintet Foals graduated in the class of 2008, when their debut album ‘Antidotes’ set them out as the smartest of the indie punk-funk pack. Their last two records ‘Holy Fire’ and ‘What Went Down’ prove that they’ve evolved into one of the country’s finest alternative rock bands, matching intelligence and a knack for smart, danceable pop tunes with a new love for sludgy riffs, funk grooves and organic improvisation – all of which makes them a fearsome live act.

  1. Wembley Arena Empire Way, HA9 0PA
  2. Tue Feb 16
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