After the critical success of their first album, British quintet Foals are currently touring to promote their sophomore effort, Total Life Forever. The album marks a maturing from their relatively conventional sounding first album, Antidote, to a fully original collection of new compositions. While each song on the album has different textural and rhythmic qualities, lead singer Yannis Philippakis’ haunting voice and the tightness of the ensemble run throughout the entire album. Just as the band is about to enter into a conventional chord progression or time signature, they introduces a new sonic quality or feel that keeps the album fresh and impossible to turn off. Glide spoke with bassist Walter Gervers about “Total Life Forever” and Foal’s current tour.
How did you approach your sophomore effort with the success of your first album?
Well, I think the success of the first record was not huge. Certainly there was a lot of hype, but it wasn’t like we were coming off a huge success, so we were still building something up. We managed to create something with the first album that we were pleased with. The second one, it [our question] was, “How are we going to move on through here?” It was kind of natural, I suppose; we approached it in a way where we had bits of pieces of material that we hadn’t used and when we started writing, everyone moved into this house together in Oxford. We made it our headquarters. where we would write in the basement sort of on our own time and not have to subscribe ourselves to band practice out somewhere else and have to move equipment. We could just be where we were, which was great. That was kind of the approach- put ourselves in a place where we’re comfortable, give ourselves sometime, and stop touring.
How did you record Total Life Forever?
Once we decided that we were going to work with this producer, Luke Smith, we did one track in London and then we moved out to Gothenburg in Sweden to this great studio which had been hand built by a bunch of people out there who its their pride and joy. It’s an amazing industrial building in Sweden. We moved out there for two months to do the album and we lived above the studio. It was all quite close quarters and intense. Both records we’ve made we’ve put ourselves in a different environment. It’s more of an adventure and you go somewhere with more of a mission to come back with something complete and you don’t really leave that place until you’re done. Making records abroad is really fun because the environment definitely has an effect on the record.
Can you explain how you thought up the album title?
It was difficult at the time, we hadn’t really had any strong ideas about it. We knew we wanted to make a bold statement, something that was strong and kind of felt like it was filled with hope and stuff even though it’s a ridiculous concept. It’s obviously not achievable, Total Life Forever, but it has that living in the moment feel to it, kind of a fist in the air, triumph statement. That was on the feeling side of it. The other bit was that we were thinking a lot about the future and even within the music industry and how things are being built to last and they hang around and they can’t possibly stick around forever and that’s kind of terrifying in a way. Yeah-it’s a kind of statement of hope and the future of music.
It seems like you pull from a variety of musical sources like African music on songs like “What Remains” and disco on “Total Life Forever”. Is that a conscious choice or a result of your eclectic musical interests as a band?
The influence was definitely true. We’ve often been sort of playing African guitar and interlocking parts and all those things that draw from things you have listened to – anything from the Police to Talking Heads, that sort of funk stuff. Anything that people would introduce to the rest of the band is great: “You’ve got to hear this and that”. We become obsessed with certain tracks for a couple of weeks at a time and we’ll all listen to it and then something else will come along and will kind of replace that. It is kind of a melting pot.
It’s quite dangerous to try and emulate things too much with regards to influences and with regard to bands that you love and care about. You need to be able to extract what they do well or what’s good about them rather than trying to mimic things directly. Bands can get in trouble when they try and rehash ideas and we definitely aren’t interested in doing that. We want to be making something new and ever move forward and progressing like the best bands around.
What was the inspiration behind the song “This Orient,” specifically when Yannis sings, “It’s your heart that gives you this Western feeling?”
That’s quite tricky actually. Anything to do with lyrics is more Yannis’ territory but it I think it came literally about toying past a little bit and feeling alienated and in a place where you might have met somebody because of this distance and the barriers culturally. There’s a little bit of that in there- it’s kind of like a strange little love story. Actually, directly, I can’t comment too much on it because lyrically it’s kind of his territory.
How would you characterize the differences between your first album, Antidote and Total Life Forever?
I think a lot of it is just natural progression. We changed as people since making the first record. A lot of it was that kind of growing up. And just getting better as a band, learning new techniques in the studio, more about sound and how to record well, listening to new records, writing new material together having already have been doing it for a couple of years. All those factors go towards it.
It was also a conscious decision of course. We weren’t interested in going over the same ground that we already had with Antidote so we captured the moment of what we wanted to achieve with that album. So with this record, what we want to achieve is an album that from start to finish is a piece of work, not just a collection of songs. We wanted it to have more soul and more meaning and be more lyric based and to make a decent record just like any band would want to do. It’s far from perfect and no bands think they’re records are, but its definitely a step in the right direction for where we want to be as a band.
Is there a difference in your performance styles in America and the UK?
The audiences that come to our shows are always great. That’s a solid thing to say. Its a real joy to play in front of 50 people or in front of 2,000 people wherever you are, it doesn’t matter, it’s still a show to us. Differences between audiences at home and here [in the US] is that audiences at home are a bit younger probably because maybe the people have been listening to us for longer and picked up on us when they were teenagers and now have come to be students with the new record. I suppose we don’t really notice much. Maybe the crowds are a little older in the states, but that’s about the only difference I can tell.
What is your role as the bass player in the group?
Playing very closely with Jack (drums) is obviously really important, in kind of locking down things. I try to be as solid as possible. A lot of the songs are way more groove-based based than perhaps more of the ones earlier. They’ve got much more of a feel of solid grooves and things so that’s obviously super important. Writing more, quite often someone will come to me and be like, “This needs to be the bass line or it needs to be this,” or its a lot more free and I just write something myself. We try and be reasonable about it. If some pianist gets there quicker and it’s the part that suits, I’m not too fussed about having to write my own thing. You have to compromise a lot, but its a fun band to play bass for, definitely.