From the pomp and circumstance city of Oxford, comes indie rock band Foals that have stolen the many hearts of the indie scenesters upon their formation close to 10 years ago. From their amateur Antidotes days to the breakthrough Total Life Forever, and finally, the recently released Holy Fire – Yannis Phillippakis and his mates have ridden through the Spanish Sahara desert right up to the doorsteps of KL Live for the first Upfront Arena concert last month. JUICE caught up with the swarthy lead singer of Greek ancestry to talk about the Blue Blood that runs through their veins as they settle in to the bad and the good that comes along their ride to fame.
Life must have changed for you guys thus far. How has fame treated all of you individually in the last few years?
To be honest, I don’t think we are famous at all! I mean, sometimes we do feel famous; when we go on tour, and we see all these people coming out to watch us play live. But I guess, at the end of the day, it all boils down to when you are back home and crammed inside a tiny studio, or when you’re off to meet some friends for beer – you don’t feel famous then. It does feel like the band has gotten bigger; touring with the band has definitely changed for the better, and it is more enjoyable and more fulfilling now. But individually, I don’t think my life has gotten any bigger at all. We still lead the same kind of lifestyle we have always been living in. When I go home, I’d still do ‘normal’ things like hanging out at the porch with a cigarette in hand, or go visit my mom. Life back home is the anchoring thing for us, especially when we are on tour for long durations.
How are you guys feeling – right here, right now?
I feel pretty good! It surprises me all the time that it’s still going. When we first started the band, it was really just for fun. I believe that we have always been ambitious people, but I never really thought that we would get signed or anything. In many ways, the writing gets easier. There’s almost like a telepathic thing within the band mates now on what to write, and how we would like to write it. But at the same time, it does get more difficult in finding something new to say, or doing something that you’d surprise even yourself. In the beginning, when you first started a band, you’re easily inspired, even just by playing a single note. Everything sounds good to you. But, you know, overtime, it gets more difficult to feel like you’re creating something that you feel you would enjoy in the long run, or you feel is worthy to lay down the tracks permanently. The standard gets higher, as the stake gets higher.
Do you get more critical now of your music, including the earlier ones from Antidotes and Total Life Forever?
It’s not an enjoyable process, let me tell you, listening back to your old records. Once you’ve made them, you kind of have to fall out of love with them. If we were to listen to them again, all we would hear are the things that are wrong with them. So, it’s better to just drop them and continue moving forward. Don’t get me wrong, we are proud of the records we have made thus far, but I think it would be weird if we’ve finished the records, but we’re always looking back and saying, “Yeah, that was awesome!” It would be a bit strange, wouldn’t it? (Laughs)
It seems that you aren’t your worst enemies; there are plenty of music critics out there who would gladly fill in the spots for you guys. Despite that though, Holy Fire has gotten rather “favourable reviews”, and even NME, considerably the harshest music critic out there has given the album a 9 out of 10!
Well, we paid NME a lot of money for that! (Laughs)
Does it matter to you guys as a band though, what the critics say, be it good or bad?
To be honest, we don’t really care that much anymore what anyone says. I mean, when the first few reviews came out, we did mind. But after a while, it’s mostly just a lot of one person’s opinions, isn’t it? But I think generally, Foals have been lucky. There are some bands out there that are great, and they’ve never gotten great reviews for their music ever. We have been lucky, because we have never felt like we have fallen to the bad side of these critics. I mean, if we were getting pounded by the press all the time, then we would feel differently about things. But, you know, the critics have never been all that interesting to us. They’re not exactly my favourite people in the world. If you pay too much attention to them, it could affect the way you think. It’s rather easy for someone behind the desk on the other suburb of London to write something, without understanding what you have been through, all those time you’re in a room, wrestling to make a record that you have been spending months and months on. Somebody once said: “Critics are like people who sit up on the hillside, and watch the battle happening down below, and when it’s all over, they would go down and shoot the survivors.”
Well, like it or not, it is through these critics that we deduce that your work is quite emotional, and they sound like they are on a rather personal level for you. How does your music affect your personal life and relationships?
(Laughs) It can make things awkward. Often, I do find that my lyrics tend to be quite melancholic. No matter how I really feel, what I end up writing will always turn out a bit on the down side, for some reason. So, it does get quite awkward when the people you wrote songs about find out that they are about them. But then again, you know, that’s kind of your job, isn’t it, when you’re making music or any form of art? I think that the irony of being detached from what you make is something that is quite common nowadays. I believe that there should be some sincerity to it. There should be honesty in your work. I have always liked reading, listening, and watching things that are honest, in which there are a lot of emotions, that they are direct about them, and there is no bullshit in relaying those feelings… something that’s deeper than what the irony is about.
Foals inaugurated the Upfront Arena concert series at KL Live on Tuesday 4 March ’14.