The West

Religion informs the Foals new album
Religion informs the Foals' new album

When recording an album, trust between a band and their producer is vital. That's why it was a gutsy move for studio hounds Flood and Alan Moulder to trick English five-piece Foals into thinking they were simply doing a run-through, when in fact their jam was being recorded for the band's third album, Holy Fire.

"It eliminated the fear about the red light being on," says singer/guitarist Yannis Philippakis during an interview alongside guitarist Jimmy Smith backstage at the Sydney Big Day Out.

"Those sorts of things inform the way you play when you know you're under observation . . . it meant that the core of a lot of the song is this really pure, unconscious moment. It's really human. It's got imperfections."

The studio ruse was also brave in that the Foals members are a headstrong bunch. The Oxford lads famously re-mixed their debut album, 2008's Antidotes, after they were unhappy with the job done by high-profile New York producer Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio fame.

Flood and Moulder have an impressive combined history, having helmed albums from the Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Killers and U2. And Moulder mixed Foals' previous album, 2010's Mercury Prize-nominated Total Life Forever. The pair knew which buttons to press to get the best out of Philippakis and co.

"We've had a bit of a rocky road with our relationships with producers," the singer concedes. "They've got so much experience. If they can deal with Billy Corgan, then they can deal with us."

After recording Antidote in New York and Total Life Forever in Sweden, Foals stayed at home to make Holy Fire. The band began the writing process in Australia with their friend Jono Ma, from Sydney duo Jagwar Ma, but soon returned to their small studio in Oxford.

"There was just less distractions," Philippakis says. "It allowed us to focus on, like, pure creativity rather than thinking about what was going on in the external world . . . we're like hermits when we record, so it doesn't really make a difference where we record."

The quintet then headed into Flood and Moulder's Assault & Battery studios in London, letting the songs flow during long improvised sessions that they had no idea were for keeps.

"Often we would play at night and instead of playing a song and then having a discussion, we would eradicate discussion and just play something for six hours and they would be recording the whole time," Philippakis says.

"They'd allow us to do our own natural improvements to a song as a band, you know, which evolves from playing a song over and over again and it slowly gets better," Smith adds.

Not that the songs are rambling, loose jams - in fact, Foals have nailed tight, lithe grooves across the 11 tracks on Holy Fire.

"It definitely is not shy of the groove at all, or big riffs, or allowing it to be something that is muscular or satisfying on that caveman level," says Philippakis, who escaped London midway through recording to visit his father in Olympos, a tiny village on the Greek island of Karpathos.

"I just wanted a different perspective to write lyrics from, you know, somewhere that's purer than being plugged into the sprawling metropolis of grimy, grey London."

That connection with his "Byzantine guilt" - Philippakis was raised in the Greek Orthodox religion - had an impact on Holy Fire. "There are songs that are more mystical on this record, hence the title, and that's the palette, the imagery . . ."

First single Inhaler combines a slinky, quasi-disco groove with some bone-crushing riffage, with the singer alternating between a breezy falsetto and hair metal-worthy hollering.

Smith reveals that the track was almost left off the album. "It was like this big sprawling thing that had no shape," he says. "We gave it one last attempt in the studio and it came together."

"In terms of picking singles, it's usually like a self-sabotaging thing," Philippakis says.

"We like the risk, it's a nail-biting process putting that first track out there."

Inhaler has done anything but sabotage expectations for Holy Fire. Foals set out on a sold-out tour of the UK and Ireland later this month, with European shows and then a return to Australia for headline dates later in the year.

With the two previous albums climbing into the UK Top 10, surely Foals have some lofty hopes for album number three.

"Global domination," Smith deadpans. "It would be a bummer if it bombed, put it that way."

"I want to get a Hollywood girlfriend," Philippakis half-jokes.

"That's all I want out of this band, like a plastic wax model babe."

The West Australian

Popular videos