Sunday 17 December 2017


Catriona Gray

'I've heard some really strange rumours about myself," says the lead singer of Foals, Yannis Philippakis. "I read that I had a massive car collection; that I owned more cars than Bono. That was weird. I also read that I was tremendously rude and faintly patronising."

Yannis, along with guitarist Jimmy Smith, is sitting in a recording studio in Willesden Green, where Foals are embarking on the first round of publicity for their third album, Holy Fire.

The well-known British indie band, whose previous hits include Balloons and Miami, recorded the album just upstairs; the studio belongs to legendary production duo Flood and Alan Moulder, who have worked with everyone from Depeche Mode to the Smashing Pumpkins.

There's an impressive collection of platinum-selling records dotted around the dingy room where Yannis and Jimmy are sitting side by side on a slightly battered sofa.

"It took us quite a long time to record Holy Fire," says Yannis, "about three weeks here and, before that, we spent six months working in a little studio in Oxford."

Despite this, it's clear this studio holds happy memories for the band.

"Everyone was working from the same place; there was mutual trust and admiration," says Yannis. "Usually we're quite controlling in the studio, but [Flood and Moulder] pacified the more neurotic tendencies in us so we let things evolve organically. We're a bit more open-minded now, so we consider things before shooting them down."

It's a very different set up to the recording process for their last album, Total Life Forever, when the band spent months closeted into a house in Oxford, which doubled as a studio and accommodation, and where the tales of wild parties and hard living closely resembled something out of a Jack Kerouac story.

Indeed, the literary connotations of their former studio arrangements weren't lost on the band: "We used to have what we called Hemingway weekends – we would start drinking on Thursday and we would finish on Tuesday morning. It just got unhealthy," says Yannis.

Hence the name: "Ernest Hemingway was a hard-partying crazy bastard; he didn't do things by halves."

It appears that the band have grown up a lot in the last couple of years. "I was fired from every job I ever had before this," admits Yannis.

"Once, I was working at a café in Oxford and I put this toy cow in the bagel toaster because these girls told me to. I was trying to impress them, so I did it and then they grassed me up to the manager. Then I got fired.

"And the manager deducted the price of the cow from my last paycheck."

Yannis proceeds to reel off a list of other jobs that he was fired from: working as a barista in various coffee shops; packing medical books in a warehouse; mixing cocktails in a bar.

It's clear that the charismatic singer has had a long history of difficulties in dealing with authority.

"When I was younger, I used to steal a lot," Yannis says. "Some of my earliest memories is of my mum walking me back to pre-school to hand back all this Duplo I'd stolen. I think a little bit of shoplifting now and again is not a bad thing – like stealing the occasional Twizzler from WH Smith. I used to get into trouble.

"But I'm a reformed character now."

Listening to them speak, you get the impression that Foals have retained a healthy dose of perspective, and are not afraid of laughing at themselves.

"When I dance, I look like a badger with a farmer shooting at it," deadpans Yannis, when describing how he would dance to the new record.

On the subject of shooting, Yannis owns an air rifle and jokes that he uses it to "shoot the neighbours". Despite their urban appearance, clad in uniform black drainpipe jeans and scruffy T-shirts, it turns out that Foals have quite a fondness for country pursuits.

Although most of the band is currently based in London, when they're not jetting around the globe, it's clear that they're aware that there is life outside the music industry.

"I'm thinking about moving to the country eventually," says Yannis.

"Urban living gets corrosive after a while. I like gardening, Jimmy likes cooking and fishing, and we all have quite pure, old-time leisure sides to us that I think we'll get more in touch with as we get older. I don't see myself being in my 40s and hanging around in socialite circles in the city. There's something really undignified about it. It turns my stomach."

On the subject of stomach-turning experiences, Yannis suffers from a rare condition that means that he occasionally vomits unexpectedly – stemming from a childhood disorder called benign infantile paroxysmal vertigo, which meant that he had frequent dizzy spells.

This has led to some embarrassing moments for the singer: "I was on a date with a girl that I liked, but we didn't know each other that well. I started getting dizzy and then I knew that I needed to vomit. I had to essentially vomit in front of this girl without any warning or explanation and then I had to be like 'It's all right, this happens all the time."

It's lucky that this is an infrequent occurrence, given the gruelling tour schedule that Foals have lined up, including two Dublin dates scheduled at The Academy, on February 28 and March 1.

"We're looking forward to playing Dublin," says Yannis.

And what's their favourite thing about Ireland? "The white sausage," replies Jimmy, promptly. He's referring to white pudding, but Yannis collapses into laughter and Jimmy looks embarrassed.

"For this tour, we will be away from home for 116 days straight and doing shows basically every night," says Yannis. "My tips for surviving on tour are to take good books, earplugs and lots of Valium."

When asked where he gets his Valium from, Yannis grins. "It's hard to get it. Doctors don't like prescribing it because it's highly addictive. You need to have a really highly strung mother who will give it to you. My mum hooks me up – she's my dealer."

As for books, Yannis is currently reading Jonathan Franzen and a biography on David Foster Wallace, who is one of the Oxford-educated singer's favourite writers. Yannis also keeps a journal; he's had one since the age of 12.

"I write a lot on planes," he says. "You can't do anything else on long flights except watch Due Date for the seventh time. It's a good time to write lyrics as well."

"There's a type of rhythm to touring that's like an alternate reality; it's not like real life," Yannis continues. "Sometimes it can be alienating, but you experience so much in a condensed period of time that it is fulfilling in itself.

"And it's the dream, in a way, isn't it, to be able to leave your cares at home and go and play music every day and see the world at the same time. It's a beautiful thing."

Holy Fire is released on February 8

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