We’ve started up a spangly new feature series called Hall of Fame. Shining light on the best records of the 21st Century - all born within DIY’s lifetime - Foals’ debut album ‘Antidotes’ is the next album due for a love-in. Emerging in an almighty puff of fresh air back in 2008, it’s gone on to be a hugely influential album, and stands out as one of the best debuts of the last decade. Joining in the celebrations are Tim Dellow and Toby L, who founded Transgressive Records together, and released ‘Antidotes’ with the band. They very kindly joined us for a good old natter about their experiences working on an outstanding debut, with an exceptional band.
Do you remember the moment that you first heard Foals, and thought, we need to sign them?
Tim Dellow: I’d known Yannis and Jack from their previous band - we played some shows together and got on really well. They always struck me as such passionate, distinctive personalities and their playing was intimidatingly good. I always knew they were capable of greatness. Yannis sent me an incredible demo with early versions of ‘Hummer’, ‘Mathletics’, ‘The French Open’ and ‘Balloons’ on it, recorded in a barn in Oxford… I wasn’t sure if I had any objectivity on how great it seemed, but immediately playing it to Toby he was like “call your friend and offer him a deal - it’s genius.”
Toby L: I remember it was a normal-seeming Monday morning when Tim brought in the demo. After one listen, I immediately knew they were going to be one of the biggest bands of our time. I saw them perform a week or two later at Nambucca in Holloway, and they were incredible live as well. It was hugely exciting from day one.
What were Foals like to work with?
TD: We’ve always been close, but equally, they’re strong personalities and like to take the piss a bit…. they practically moved into our office when we were sorting out the contract, and started rehearsing in the room next-door. After a particularly intense day of practicing old material with no gig that evening I remember asking them what they were up to and they straight faced told us they had a showcase for Mute Records. But they signed with us of course.
Creatively ‘Antidotes’ was a great process, and we worked on it together a lot - but the band were always adamant that they wanted to re-work songs and material to ‘use the studio as an instrument’ and create a wholly immersive listen, rather than just create a document of what an incredible live band they were.
Could you shed any light on what went down with Foals and Dave Sitek, who produced ‘Antidotes’?
TD: It wasn’t the easiest of sessions, although the results are incredible in the end. David certainly gave the band some strong advice, and survival tips as a band which I think had a big impact, and a lot of those glorious keyboard swathes are down to him - along with the brass, of course - he brought in Antibalas to play on the record and added a whole new dimension to the sound that gives it some great character. Chris Coady who engineered most of the album was awesome, too - and has since gone on to produce Beach House amongst many amazing others. It’s no secret that none of us were happy with the final mixes, so we went in with Mike Crossey who pulled it together with Yannis into the brilliant album that it is now - but we were working right up until the last minute, with some great creative flourishes happening even in the mastering studio.
TL: Being in New York for the sessions gave the album a very international feel - many of the influences weren’t at all British, which given the timing of its release and the wave of guitar acts around at the time meant that they were quickly racing ahead of their peers. Their creative scope remains so vast and ambitious compared to other artists around right now. We should also reference Mike Crossey here, who helped complete the record - his work was invaluable to the project, and he gave it the finesse it required.
‘Antidotes’ was bold and had ambitions to transcend what everyone else was doing at the time
What was a highlight of working on ‘Antidotes’?
TD: It was such an exciting time - filled with possibilities. They were recording all Summer in Brooklyn, staying in this awesome hostel. I remember going over to a rooftop party with the band and looking out over the river to Manhattan thinking that this was going to be the start of a great adventure. We were all really young, self-righteous and romantic.
Why do you think ‘Antidotes’ is such a special album?
TD: Because it’s a brilliant debut! It was bold and had ambitions to transcend what everyone else was doing at the time, and build on what the public’s perceptions were of the band and the scene they were originally lumped in with. Foals are one of those special bands who always push themselves album to album, guessing ahead of your expectations, and hopefully bringing you along with them. For me they just keep getting better and better, and are a truly special band for this reason.
TL: Like all important debuts, it resonated because they were doing something different. We didn’t take any obvious decisions - we purposefully left off their first two singles, we filled certain sections with white noise, we were consciously trying to disrupt. It’s a powerful, propulsive album with so many amazing ideas. Right until the final mastering session there were so many ambitious and crazy suggestions being thrown around.
Did you anticipate how influential ‘Antidotes’ would go on to be, when you first heard it?
TD: Yes. The second we released ‘Hummer’, we were inundated with demos from a lot of bands (some of which have gone on to real success) aping that sound. For me, they’re like Talking Heads or Radiohead - innovative and surprising and real, and for that reason, they will surely inspire.
TL: As Tim says, sometimes you just know. When it went top-three in the charts, it was exhilarating, but did not feel surprising.
Antidotes is proof that if you take risks and don’t play the game, you can stand out.
How have you seen that influence play out?
Toby - A lot of it is evident in the passion mutually felt at live shows. They still play a lot of that material because it is simply so exciting. Ask any Foals fan about ‘Two Steps Twice’ and ‘Red Sox Pugie’, or ‘Olympic Airways’ and ‘Balloons’, in terms of the band’s live set - they are hugely powerful pieces of music and always have a place.
Is that excitement or pressure of knowing that you’re putting out something incredible something that you allow yourself to get caught up in with an album like that?
TD: It was an exciting moment, and i remember attending an in-store at one of the big Oxford St Record Stores with more kids than I’d ever seen in a shop, going mental, telling myself to relish and remember this moment. But it’s a moment. Creatively, we were thinking ahead - and I think on ‘Total Life Forever’ the band made a better album, that pushed things further in that realm. Retirement is when you reminisce. Or at an event like our 10th Birthday as a label last year, where we thought about these things a bit more. day to day, you’re fire-fighting and looking for the next thing, or working to make better records and more stability for your artists.
It served as springboard for Foals, do you think it was also a defining moment for Transgressive?
TD: Foals were definitely one of our early successes as a label, but I like to think we’ve never been defined by one act… even at the time we were working with The Shins, Noisettes, The Young Knives, Iron and Wine… All were doing great things in their own way that we were, and are, very proud of.
You’ve both said previously that you enjoy being there with an artist from the very beginning, What is it about debut albums - and ‘Antidotes’ in particular - that you really love?
TD: Starts are always exciting - there’s an immediacy and freshness and exuberance that can I think is folly to try and recapture in subsequent releases. But I enjoy working with true career artists, to try and develop them to expand and challenge themselves with multiple records. Certainly, ‘Total Life Forever’ and ‘Holy Fire’ are essential albums too. On ‘Antidotes’, I like the brashness of the band, and who they were as people then, but I love who and what they’ve become today even more. And I’m proud to have been an element in their story.
TL: The promise and spirit of a great debut is a special thing, however, being able to build and develop something is when the real magic begins. It’s a class act. Antidotes is proof that if you take risks and don’t play the game, you can stand out and be hugely successful, on all levels.
For DIY’s full Hall of Fame coverage on Foals’ ‘Antidotes’, head here.