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Wednesday 1st December, 2010 10:29AM

When Foals released their debut album Antidotes in 2008, their danceable rhythms, angular guitar melodies and erratic time signatures won over critics and fans alike. In the two years since their debut, Foals’ creativity has ripened with age, something that is evident when listening to Total Life Forever. Written and recorded largely between Oxford and Sweden, the album showcases Foals’ mature, considered sound, and one that is more consistent than the excitable flurry of their debut.

Under the Radar spoke to bassist Walter Gervers about recording Total Life Forever and their forthcoming trip to New Zealand as part of the Laneway festival.

There is quite an obvious change in tone from Antidotes to Total Life Forever. Was that something you consciously set out to do when you were writing and recording?

I think most of it is a natural progression for a band. The first record Antidotes was quite frantic and energetic and was made almost like there was a set of rules that we had to make that album with. Total Life Forever was a lot more patient and we took a lot more time over it. We improved as a band and we learnt to enjoy having space on records. We didn’t feel like you had to fill every gap with noise and music so I think it’s a product of us having learnt a whole lot more about how to work in a studio and how to write songs. It has got a lot more heart and soul perhaps than the first record, which is quite cold. We didn’t go into the studio and say ‘OK, we’ve got to make a really different record now.” We’ve just wanted to anyway so it came quite easy for us.

What is your process for writing and recording songs?

It’s very different to how it used to be. On the first record five people would get together in a room and basically jam things out until a particular part came out of it and we’d trim it down into a song. Now with this album people take turns, with one or two people, or maybe three or four and we work on different parts and then take it to the rest of the band. It’s a little bit more individual than going to everybody with something that is more fully formed. With this new record, we’ve allowed it to have a bit more space because it wasn’t the product of five guys all playing until a song came up.

While you were writing this album the whole band lived together in a house in Oxford. Did being holed up in a house together affect the way you recorded the album? Was it hard to be objective when you were all so intensely immersed in it?

Yeah, I think you do start to lose perspective sometimes but that’s where having a strong-willed producer like Luke Smith is good. He was coming in and saying either, “This is going to work” or “We should try this” or “It’s not working on that”. Just to have an outside influence is really important because I think if it’s just the five of you all of the time you start to question what you’re doing. That can be quite destructive in itself. But I suppose we were, while we were writing, there was a lot of other people around, but it wasn’t so insular that we didn’t see people. We were living with friends of ours who are also in bands and were using a similar space to us in the basement of this house. There were different things going on and we would talk about it a lot. When we got to Gothenburg to record, it was a whole different experience because some songs hadn’t been finished and we didn’t know how we were going to put the record together, so that became a new challenge and then from that point once you have a new goal it refreshes it.

Did moving to a new location to record the album affect your sound at all?

Yeah, definitely. When we arrived there it was the end of summer. The longer we stayed there it slowly moved into a proper Scandinavian autumn and then eventually it got very wintery. We were there for two months in total, from the end of August. It started to get quite bleak there and quite dark and we were living above the studio. It was nice though because there would be a cosiness to the studio as the weather worsened outside, so it was definitely affected the sound. The studio itself was very spacious and home grown and a lot of the equipment was very old and analogue so I think that it was quite a calm space as well so that definitely had an influence.

The album artwork for Total Life Forever reflects those feelings of an eerie calm, do you guys have much creative input into the artwork that goes with your music?

Yes, we do, we always have. We always thought it was very important to work with people that we trust and that we like their work. This guy who has done most of our work is called Tinhead and he is always quite good at it. You can feed him ideas and words and he’ll create stuff out of it, which has always been really great. For Total Life Forever, we couldn’t decide on a cover and we were having trouble picking something that would work well and we had a photo shoot planned that was just supposed to be press shots, it wasn’t even meant to be for the cover and we were so happy with the way that they turned out. It was with a photographer called Steve Gillick and it seems to sum up the record so we went with one of the shots for the cover.

How did you take the photo?

It’s actually in a practice diving tank so it was somewhere outside of London and it’s a big, black cube basically. It was 20-something feet deep and there was a viewing platform down beneath the water, way down so instructors or whatever can watch people practising their dives. It was quite creepy actually because it was painted black on the walls so it wasn’t like being in a swimming pool where you can kind of see the bottom or the edges, it was really bleak and dark. We were in there for a couple of hours, ducking up and going down. It was quite scary really, we would sink down as far as we could go and he’d shoot off three shots then we’d go to the surface to get air then we’d go down and do it again and again. Some of us aren’t very strong swimmers either.

You’re playing at the Laneway festival in Auckland next year, have you ever played in New Zealand before?

No we haven’t actually, I’ve never been there. My parents used to live there and my sister was born there so I’ve always really wanted to visit but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

What can we expect from your live show?

It can be pretty raucous at points, and pretty loud. Because we’ve got two records under our belt, it’ll be a mixture of both albums so people can expect to hear old songs and new songs off Total Life Forever.

What do you enjoy about playing live?

Just the atmosphere and the experience of it. Being able to play music directly to an audience in a room is in itself an amazing thing, and to see the different crowds and the different reactions that you get everywhere that you go is really inspiring. There’s always a really good outlook, energy and emotion. It’s a really good sort of thrill.

Do you prefer recording your music or performing it live?

I think we prefer being in the studio as a band, the actual recording process is so much fun. But I guess we’ve always been very much a live band and how we started out was by playing tiny shows and getting bigger and bigger so that is something that we enjoy doing. You can’t really have one without the other, and we treat them as two very different things.

Ellen Falconer


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