Foals' Jack Bevan on progress, jamming and tour life
Jack Bevan - Foals
Oxford-based quintet Foals formed in 2006, and soon expanded their sound away from their math rock origins, bringing their dance influences to the fore on debut album Antidotes. They consolidated their success with Total Life Forever in 2010 and Holy Fire in 2013, building their fan base one gig and one tour at a time.
Restless in search of inspiration, drummer Jack Bevan and his band-mates headed off to the idyllic surroundings of a farmhouse in rural France to record their new album What Went Down. Jack spoke to Rhythm about making party music, never doing the same thing twice and keeping sane on the big tours.
Party Music… keeping it fresh
“We never set out to be a dance rock band. That record [Antidotes] is just us, very young, very excited, never having made a record before. That was taking our live show at the time and putting that on record. And at the time we were playing a lot of house parties in England before we started playing gigs, so we wanted to make party music essentially.
“Every time we do a record, we have so much time touring those songs and travelling around that when you come back, the thought of doing the same thing again seems counter-intuitive. With the second record [Total Life Forever] we wanted to make something that had more depth, not ditching the whole dance thing but we wanted to try other aspects as well. I guess you could say that album was more textural, a lot more song-based and then with Holy Fire I guess we wanted to have elements of both – dancey tracks that would work live and also the song-based tracks as well. Now I guess we’re at a point where we’re not self-editing much when we write. All we decided was that we were going to write whatever came naturally and at some point down the line we were going to have to edit that into a cohesive record, because obviously if we wrote totally, wildly different tracks we’re going to have a bat-s**t crazy record that no one is going to want to listen to. But this time it felt like each song had a friend. Nothing feels totally out of place. It is a very diverse record but there is nothing left by itself, it does sit quite nicely together.”
What Went Down at the studio
“The first day we went into record, we set up with my touring kit, didn’t give it too much thought and just did two run-throughs of the song and the first one is the one that was used for the record. Normally we’d set up for a record and it would take a few days to get a drum sound, you do loads of takes of different songs and then you eventually get something that goes on the record but with that it was okay, we’ve got it straight away, so we moved on.
"I really like that drum sound [the Tama Starclassic Jack uses live], really dry but deep and big. That whole track was recorded everything at the same time, all live. Hopefully that comes across on the record.”
Slowly getting massive… Foals' steady rise
“It has been such a long slow progression from one size place to the next that it’s not that we haven’t noticed, because obviously it’s very different playing to thousands of people on the main stage of a festival to playing someone’s living room and wondering whether the floor is going to cave in. I definitely have a sense of pride in the way the band has got to where it is.
"We never had a big hit that has propelled us from a tiny venue to a massive venue in one album. It really has been the old-school case of we’ll go and play in a city in a 200-capacity venue, 100 people will show up. We’ll go back a year later and the venue will be full and the next time you go back a year later you’re playing at a 400-capacity venue. We’ve been really lucky in that it’s felt like it has always been progressing. It was really quite humbling, we did two nights at Alexandra Palace in London last year to about 20,000 people. We don’t feel any different as people, we just feel like the same five guys that we did in 2006, so it was quite touching to have all our friends and family there. It felt like a real celebration and that we’d really earned the chance to play a place like that.”
What goes down… being spontaneous live
“We do tend to jam at gigs like at the end of songs and we do try to have segues so it’s not just what you get on the record. I think it’s important to do that because when I used to see bands when I was younger, I wanted to see them riff out and do something I didn’t know. If we go totally improv, I’ll start something, Yannis [Philippakis, guitar, vocals] will know exactly what to do, all it takes these days is to look at each other to know when we’re going to change. It’s really fun playing with those boys.”
And we have Foals live in the studio…
“I think live on-air radio and TV stuff is probably the most nerve wracking thing that you can do in a band. All of a sudden you’re live to possibly a million people on the radio: ‘And we have Foals in the studio,’ and it’s like you have to crack into your most energetic song. It’s a very different, bizarre way of doing things. It’s not what we’re natural at. You get a different kind of jitters when you know you’re on camera and it’s going out. I have to make sure that all my parts are in muscle memory by that point. The moment that I’m concentrating on what I’m doing is when I find it hard.”
Muscle memory… for Foals' back catalogue
“We’ve been going through our old songs while we’ve been rehearsing and I wouldn’t even be able to hum you how the song goes because I haven’t listened to it for ages, yet the moment Yannis starts the riff, my arms and legs start doing the work. It’s kind of amazing. It’s so ingrained in my muscles now that even the jam stuff that isn’t on the record is just happening. I’m like, thank you, arms, thank you, legs, thanks for stepping in because my brain wasn’t there.”
Jack and Walter… Foals rhythm section
“It’s got to the point now with Walter [Gervers, bass] where we’re so used to playing with each we’ve got almost a telepathic power of communication. Most of the time if we communicate at gigs we’re making funny faces at each other to make the other one laugh at the wrong moment.
"Walter is just the most solid bass player. We’re learning how to play the new songs from the record at the moment, he’s like metronomically solid with everything he plays. Also he’s not showy either. I’m not being sent off course by some twanging slap bass coming from the left. It’s really good. I can’t really imagine playing with anyone else on bass. Having someone so solid there sometimes gives me the chance to veer off course a little bit.”
Tour life forever… the strange lifestyle on the road
“Tour life is like five 30-year-old babies on tour. You don’t have any responsibility and that’s nothing to aspire to. If you don’t make the effort to go and explore cities, you can find yourself sleeping in really late, going straight into sound-check, straight into a gig.
"I DJ as well, so straight into an after-party and doing the same thing the next day. You just feel a bit hollow after a while if you don’t see any culture. When you don’t really have to think a lot of the time, apart from when you’re on stage, because you’re getting ferried around, it is a really strange lifestyle. I love it but you do need time off and breaks. We’ve been playing together for 10 years now and that sounds so long on paper but I guess time flies exponentially as you get older.”
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