Steve Gullick

Oxford, England, five-piece Foals make a self-sharpening indie calculus of rock music. As a singular image, Foals' sound is an aircraft-carrier-sized flying machine made out of razors that produces snowflakes. It's piloted by painter Chuck Close, and each snowflake jettisoned is different from the next. Inside this floating fortress of cold steel is a clockwork maze of automated razors, ice shavers, and blades. Gears of cutlery spin in logarithmic rotations, forming snowflakes by the million.

In June of 2010, Foals released their second full-length, Total Life Forever, on Sub Pop Records. Their signature Battles-fashioned guitar angles are still there, but Total Life sees Foals becoming a bit more malleable and sensitive. Singer/guitarist Yannis Philippakis's vocals are less shouted, with the mantle of his falsetto revealing itself as somber, meditative, and beautiful. Foals' sound may be rooted in a math rock foundation, but they've learned to flow within their rigidity. Songs like "Spanish Sahara" and "2 Trees" seem open, deeper, more felt, less brunt. In "Balloons," Philippakis touts, "We fly balloons on this fuel called love." (And then they make snowflakes.) Drummer Jack Bevan is astoundingly hefty and clean. His nail gun shuffle beats are the engines in the hull of the Foals' snowflake maker.

Total Life Forever gets its name from the theory of singularity and Philippakis's interest in futurology—the premise is that the future becomes uncertain due to the technological superintelligence of microcomputers and molecular nanotechnology. Basically, computers will become smarter than we are, and they will evolve into the Terminator. For now though, Foals make snow. Keyboard player Edwin Congreave spoke.

Foals are an ocular band. Meaning your music makes me see things, such as a gigantic flying machine made out of razors that makes snowflakes. Is it visual for you, too?

In some senses. I personally don't experience it in that way, and I can't really relate to it. I know Yannis claims some kind of synesthesia, and he's talked about the color of the last record being a rich, deep blue—and while I embrace this and will happily repeat it interviews, I don't really understand it. Maybe I had a small-scale lobotomy when I was born. Or maybe I'm just an accountant at heart.

What do you think about while you play?

Hitting the right notes. Whether I've had enough to drink, or too much. How loud the snare drum is in my right ear, and how I'd love to be able to hear my future grandchildren laugh. The finely tuned position of every hair in my fringe. Okay, no, I lied about the last one. I think. We try to put everything of ourselves into the performance, and I suspect for the most part we don't really think about anything at all. It's a deliberately visceral, unintellectual performance. At least that's the idea.

If you could be trapped in a painting, any painting, by any artist, from any time and place, which painting would it be? Why?

Definitely not Guernica. Off the top of my head, I'd say The Siege by Lucy Skaer. It was part of the Turner Prize exhibition in 2009. It's huge, cloudlike, and claustrophobic, made up of intricate inked patterns. It's hard not to get trapped in it. I'm not sure it would be a fun place to be, but it would at least be entertaining to try to get out. It's also stunningly beautiful.

Do Foals ever puke onstage?

Jimmy Smith [guitar] has a habit of puking onstage. He drinks too much beer and gets too excited. At one show, I had for some reason left my suitcase at the back of the stage, half open, and yeah, he wandered in that direction toward the end of the set and spewed into it. The crowd loved it, of course. I think he'd been rendered temporarily blind, so I can't hold him too responsible.

How do Foals get their sound? Does it come from being trapped in paintings?

Yannis definitely has entrapment issues. It's been an obsession of ours to structure songs almost too tightly, and to overthink that process. We've been attempting to dismantle our songwriting recently, as is I think evident on a few songs on the last record, as opposed to Antidotes, and I can see that continuing in the next few years. The sound is definitely changing. Hopefully not drifting away.

How does Yannis get his words?

Most of our songs come out of band jams. Yannis will have a riff, or Jimmy will have a chord progression or whatever, and the rest of us will sort of optimistically throw things at it. What sticks, sticks for good, until we go into the studio, at which point everything that wasn't meant to stick doesn't. The vocals always come last, but as Yannis moves toward more programmed songwriting, I think that will change.

Talk about how the song "2 Trees" came together. Who produced? The video is mind-blowing. Who came up with the idea for it?

Jimmy wrote most of it on a loop pedal. It's his big hit. He's still waiting for it to get bought up by a major telecom corporation. He'll be set for life. He wrote it on headphones mostly, while sunbaked somewhere or other. Yannis wrote his guitar part on top of it, which comes in at the beginning of the second verse, and Jack did the drums in various jams. The end bit was sort of thrown together by everyone, but primarily by our producer, Luke Smith, while recording in Sweden, under Jimmy's instruction of making it sound like a synthesizer dying. The code word was Chernobyl.

The video was made by an Israeli kid who had some connection with Sub Pop. I think he'd made a video for another one of their artists, and, I dunno, it just sort of came into being. We didn't know about it until it was finished. He's made a series of videos featuring the same puppets. For us, it was a nice change to see a video made totally out of our realm of thought or influence. I think it works brilliantly.

Drummer Jack is beyond a beast. He is such an engine. I can't think of too many better drummers. Where does Jack's engine-beast-ness come from? What adjectives do you use to describe him? What does he think of Rush drummer Neil Peart? Because I think he's kind of the Neil Peart of now. But in a good way.

It comes from a childhood of Ritalin, Sunny Delight, and chronic masturbation. Actually, no, I'm not sure. Maybe it's God-given talent. Whatever. I used to stand and just watch him in practice, basically just marveling. I'm over that now. The adverb, adjective, and verb I'd use to describe his style are always, fucking, and playing, in that order.

I'm not sure if he knows much about Rush's drummer, as I think it's safe to say that Rush rank as one of our collectively least favorite bands in the world. But drummers have a remarkable ability to absorb and retain opinions of other drummers. I might ask him tomorrow. Or I might not.

Support The Stranger

What is Oxford, England, like?

It's okay. Small. Everyone in the scene knows everyone else, like you'd expect. There's a very close bond between a lot of musicians and artists there. In fact, some of them recently organized themselves into a collective called Blessing Force, and have hosted a few house parties and warehouse gatherings. It's working out pretty well, primarily because a lot of them actually make really good music. As a town, it's a bit odd because it's so heavily dominated by the two universities, and of course it's so expensive to live in that you need to either be committed to a life of Bohemian suffering or be a spoilt little shit. Getting on the train to London is one of my favorite things to do there. recommended

Celebrate 420 at Hashtag with 30% Off Storewide, 4/15-4/20 and Dance with SassyBlack & Ilana Glazer!
Place your online order early, then party on 4/20 with SassyBlack & Ilana Glazer, 4-5pm! RSVP here.