Foals are having trouble with some friends, their Facebook friends to be precise.
When I ask guitarist Jimmy Smith and drummer Jack Bevan about playing a hometown gig at the Academy, Jimmy says that it’s “always good playing oxford”.
But the two of them seem preoccupied with louche acquaintances begging for tickets. Jack has “stopped checking Facebook” – it always starts ‘sorry to be cheeky but-‘” “ –you are being cheeky,” interjects Jimmy.
If “friends” on Facebook did really want to brownnose for guest lists, they needn’t play the transparently mercenary short game; Foals’ success hasn’t seen them abandon Oxford yet.
Jack reminds me that their new album, Total Life Forever was “recorded in a house in Jericho” and that it was all “a bit more relaxed”, with the “ability to try things out away from” the other members of the band.
Jimmy argues that this has really helped and that Foals have “made more of an effort to write better songs…in a more traditional way” with “less tacking of things bit by bit…we tried throwing shit at the walls to see what stuck”.
The key exception to this is the album’s lead single, “This Orient”, which uses a human sequencer for the opening and closing vocals.
This involved Jimmy drawing “this big chart” and taking lead-singer “Yiannis [Philippakis] on this musical journey”, whereby he seems to have had all of his vocal range sampled note-by-note. It’s effective and leaves a very distinctive mark on a great song.
Although the band has played the Academy on a few occasions, one major event in Oxford music has occurred since their last visit: the break-up of musical pioneers, one-time colleagues and friends, Youthmovies. Yiannis played guitar on stage at their final gig in Oxford, and the raw emotion was palpable throughout the venue.
But what of a music industry that allow such bands to fall away? Well, while financial considerations were important in their demise, Jimmy says that “there were a number of other reasons…they’d had major label interest for a while” but without result.
Jack says that Andrew Mears, Youthmovies’ centre after quitting Foals, has “got a really great side project coming up called Pet Moon…they’ve managed to sample a berocca pill fizzing in a glass of water and chopped it up, using it as a high-hat”.
This sort of experimentation has earned bands like Foals and Youthmovies the music media moniker “math-rock”. Jimmy says these “journalists didn’t understand what math-rock was…if they’d heard any actual math-rock bands” they’d realise the stupidity of such a label.
Rather than indicating seething times-signatures in the space of a song, Jack chuckles that these journalists “were trying to say that we looked like we did maths or something-” “- but I was so shit at maths!” exclaims Jimmy.
Still, they’ve come a long way since such easy pigeonholing. They supported Blur at one of their Hyde Park dates, which Jimmy admits was “actually a little disappointing…it was amazing but we’d built it up so much”.
The summer’s festival dates – Fuji Rock and Reading/Leeds being the most exciting for the band – will surely be a change from their hectic tour schedule. Perhaps it will give them more scope for tour stories?
“Well,” Jack confides, “back stage we once had a karaoke room…we came back and there were three totally naked guys…singing along with the karaoke”. And the song of choice? Jimmy smiles – it was mostly “The Final Countdown”.
If Foals can stomach that, then perhaps they really are destined for great things.