Cover Feature Foals: Never Looking Down

It shouldn’t be rare for bands to improve with each record, but it’s a strange reality. Foals buck the trend. Trace their early steps and it’s easy to see why.

Foals’ greatest strength is their ability to shatter expectations. It became a habit of theirs, from the early days of jagged math rock demos, to play the unlikely hand. They managed to get TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek to produce ‘Antidotes’, but they did the unthinkable by scrapping a big chunk of those sessions. ‘Total Life Forever’ saw them submerged in electronics, suddenly capable of penning heartbreaking numbers like ‘Spanish Sahara’. Change is what they thrive on.

These days, Foals’ potential is black-and-white. They’ll either go one bigger and create something more vital, or they’ll finally hit the hurdle that many bands crash into at an early point in their careers. “Every time you go into the studio, the odds are stacked against you making a good record. Harder each time,” admits frontman Yannis Philippakis. Somehow, with every album, they emerge with something that dwarfs what already existed. ‘Inhaler’, from 2013’s ‘Holy Fire’, had them louder and more bloodthirsty. ‘What Went Down’’s title-track is the evil sibling of that beast. Just when it looks like Foals can’t possibly hit bigger heights, they knock out the next level boss before even making eye contact.

It’s there to see in Yannis’ rabid delivery, the way ‘Mountain At My Gates’ doesn’t stop short at an arms-aloft chorus, instead racing towards a breakneck crescendo. Foals are chasing bigger things with every record they make. Whether that’s for self-fulfilment or a festival headline slot is another question, but 24 hours with the band reveals the inner-workings of their pursuit.

“Particularly at the moment, it’s increasingly rare for a band to progress album-by-album,” states Yannis on a blow-up, grass-stained sofa backstage at Kraków Live Festival. “Even if I’m wrong, it’s unusual for a person in a band to feel like that four records in.” Just as he’s speaking, Orlando Weeks from DIY’s August cover stars The Maccabees walks past. Orlando and co. can also count themselves as part of a small pack of bands making headway with every record. They initially struggled with chart-topper ‘Marks to Prove It’ (“I think they made a whole album and canned it. That’s harsh. And then to come out with a great album is testament to that,” notes Foals guitarist Jimmy Smith later on). But that’s how it is - fight to the last to make something better or get ready for music’s grim reaper to knock.

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As featured in the September 2015 issue of DIY, out now.

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