The forked road

UK band Foals visit Ohio with new album, Holy Fire

By Alan Sculley
Photo: Foals will visit Cincinnati and Columbus on May 14 and 15 in support of Holy Fire

Edwin Congreave says the Foals’ recently released third album, Holy Fire was easily the least stressful and smoothest album the group has made.

“This album, we made it in London. We were living kind of at home,” Congreave, the band’s keyboardist, said in a mid-April phone interview. “We were much more in our element. For that reason, I think we were a lot more laid back, a lot more experienced. We were able to work much more productively and positively.”

Such a description would not have at all fit the band’s 2008 debut album, Antidotes. After finishing the album with producer Dave Sitek (of the band TV On The Radio), the group members received the finished album only to find they disliked the mix – enough so that they remixed the album before it was released.

“There was an enormous amount of stress because there was a very short space of time (for recording),” Congreave said, putting the project in perspective. “The record label had the release date scheduled. At least in the UK, there was a lot of hype surrounding the release. We basically thought we had f***ed it up. So, there was a long period of time right before that came out where we kind of thought we had ruined everything.”

Fortunately, fans and the music press didn’t agree. Antidotes was a hit in the United Kingdom, debuting at number three on the album chart, while the album was well received in the United States as Foals quickly became touted as a band to watch on the alternative rock scene.

The second album, 2010’s Total Life Forever, came with different kinds of issues.

“We went to quite a dark place in Sweden in the winter, and we had a residential studio,” Congreave said. “And basically I think we spent a bit too long there and we all sort of lost the plot a little bit. We did feel like we were working very hard, but also sometimes not working to win. I think we felt like we were losing a little bit.”

The second album marked a significant shift musically for Foals, moving away from the angular rock of Antidotes to a more spacious, ambient sound. Congreave said it’s his favorite Foals album, but he is well aware that Total Life Forever confused its share of fans, some of whom, Congreave said, seemed to have since warmed to the second album.

Holy Fire, while it has its own identity musically, has elements of the first two albums. Songs like “Everytime,” “Late Night” and “Milk & Black Spiders,” have some of the spacious feel of Total Life Forever (but enough rhythmic tension to keep the songs grounded), while the new album gets a harder edge from songs like “Inhaler,” which mixes glammy rock and Depeche Mode-ish synth-rock, and “Providence,” a propulsive rocker that builds in intensity as it reaches a sweeping finish.

As Congreave noted, the making of the latest album came without much of the difficulty that characterized the first two Foals albums.

The keyboardist said producers of Holy Fire – Flood and Alan Moulder – deserve a lot of the credit for keeping the recording process on track and moving forward smoothly for the band. Flood (real name Mark Ellis) and Moulder are among the top names in producing, thanks to their work on acclaimed albums by the likes of U2, the Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and the Killers.

Flood and Moulder helped get Holy Fire off to a proper start by helping the band get its new songs in shape during pre-production.

“They (Flood and Moulder) spent about a week going through all of the music that we had and sort of, essentially telling us how it was going to be, like ‘You can’t do this.’ ‘This isn’t working.’ ‘I don’t’ know what this is,’” Congreave said. “We didn’t lose valuable studio time. We didn’t waste money. We didn’t get to that difficult point in the studio, like four months into an album recording, when suddenly everyone realizes that they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Instead, the band – Congreave, singer/guitarist and chief songwriter Yannis Phillippakis, guitarist Jimmy Smith, bassist Walter Gervers and drummer Jack Bevan – came out with the band’s most accomplished album in Holy Fire. Now, Foals is getting to tour behind the new album and the band figures to put on a dynamic show, so long as it settles on what songs to play each night.

“It makes for an interesting conversation every night as we argue. I don’t think we’ve actually come to any kind of agreement yet about how we should be balancing the set,” Congreave said. “There are definitely more new songs than old songs, but that’s mainly because we want to play the songs we feel proudest of and we feel we can pull off the best, which happens to be the new songs. Our heads are still within that space, but we mix it up. I think we play roughly half new songs and the other half is made up of (earlier) songs.”

Foals will perform Tuesday, May 14 at Bogart’s in Cincinnati and Wednesday, May 15 at Newport Music Hall in Columbus. Both shows will also feature Surfer Blood and Blondfire. For more information, visit foals.co.uk.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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