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Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Wednesday 10th April, 2013 2:05PM

Now one of the UK's foremost indie bands,  Foals released their third album Holy Fire earlier this year which is bringing them back to New Zealand for their first headline show in October. We caught up with guitarist Jimmy Smith while on tour in South America to discuss the band’s intimidating rise to fame and how they’ve changed because of it...

How are you?

Oh yeah, I’m alright.

That didn’t sound particularly confident: have you been in interviews all morning?

No I’ve just done a few now, but I’ve been really hungover all day because I didn’t get any sleep last night. But, I feel surprisingly good despite that.

Are you guys on tour at the moment?

Yeah we’re about to go to Columbia.

Have you just started or are you in the middle of a massive tour?

We’re still at the beginning of a massive tour. We’ve done about a month-and-a-half and we don’t come back until June.

And you’re obviously still in the throes of enjoying it at the moment?

Yeah I’m still enjoying it at the moment. Buenos Aires is pretty cool.

Is this the biggest tour you’ve ever done?

Yeah this is by far the biggest one. Even the American tour on it’s own is the biggest tour we’ve ever done I think.

I guess that’s reflective of how popular your latest album, Holy Fire, has been. Tell me about writing and recording that one.

Yeah, well, it was a relatively painless experience as much as writing and recording an album can be – there are always moments of utter despair. I think we approached it with a clearer head than last time – we didn’t question it too much in the early stages and just let the juices flow so-to-speak, letting whatever happens happen and deal with the intricacies afterwards in the studio.

I’ve been reading a lot of interviews online with Yannis Philippakis and he discusses his shift from writing pseudo intellectual lyrics to honest and open ones. Is that something that you discussed as a band going into this album?

Yeah totally. He wrote the lyrics while we were writing the music so some of the lyrics came before the music, and the songs took on that complete identity quite early on. I think both things influenced each other: the sonic palette of the album is a lot broader than last time and the lyrics definitely are as well.

How did you develop the sonic palette from earlier albums? It’s changed quite dramatically.

We just keep buying new guitar pedals every album. The biggest one for me was that I wrote some of the songs on a Rhodes piano so that was immediately a different sonic thing: not quite so guitar-heavy as before. It’s a lot heavier in some places and a lot lighter in other places. We were just pushing forward.

Musically it suits your live aesthetic more because you’ve always been heavier live than recorded right? Is that something you thought about?

I think so, we recorded quite a lot of the album live actually. Not like it is when we play a live show, but the bare bones of the album were recorded as a band in one room which is pretty cool so I think, while there was stuff put on top, the pulsing heart of the album is a live one.

And it sounds like – from other interviews – your producers had quite a lot to do with that, right?


It was recorded by Flood and Moulder and they’ve got so much experience and history in music between them so they know all these little tricks to get the best and the worst out of musicians. They’ve been around people like Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor so they know what they’re doing. They must have a little list of tricks to make things better.

And the main trick they employed on you was being recorded when you didn’t know you were being recorded right? Was there anything else?

Yeah that was the main one, maybe they did other ones we didn’t even know about – probably. They like their laughs too so there are probably some pranks in there too.

It seems like being more extroverted has come at the appropriate time for the size and breadth of your audience. As it has continued to grow arguably your sound has become bigger and more stadium-like. Was that purposeful?

I don’t know, I don’t think it was conscious, it just kind of happened that way. We definitely didn’t write these songs to be like “massive”, but then, maybe subconsciously we were thinking that we wanted to play it to a lot more people – it’s a weird one that I can’t really put my finger on.

I’m interested in your experience being part of the modern music machine. You had a successful first album and proceeded to tour a lot, and write successive albums in-between touring. How have you found this process?

Well what happened with the first album was an absolute dream come true. I think now we’re growing a little bit wary of the ‘machine’, so-to-speak and the whole going on tour for a year-and-a-half, going and writing a record, going back on tour two years later, et cetera. It’s all pretty laid out and it gets a little bit worrying after a while. I think we want to try and change things up but it’s hard because we want to tour everywhere and that takes a lot of time. We want to take our time in the studio too so I guess we’re just stuck in the machine at the moment. But we absolutely love it – there’s not a lot to complain about really?

What do you think has been the hardest thing about spending the last five years touring as a band?

Not trying to kill each other. I don’t know, I think the most difficult thing is to try and maintain a normal life outside of the band. It’s always a kind of push and pull thing with the band because it consumes everything – everything’s always about the band and it’s hard to ignore it. If you’re someone who is close to the band but not in it, it’s probably quite trying. I think the longer we’re in the game the better we get at it.


Foals play a one off Auckland show in October so there is plenty of time to get acquainted with their new album Holy Fire which is out now - see below for more details about the show and here is a clip from the new record.


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