All posts tagged british

  • A Conversation With Yannis Philippakis of Foals, 2010

    I interviewed Yannis Philippakis [pictured right], singer/guitarist of the British pop act Foals, for Scene Magazine in late December 2010, ahead of their Australian tour as part of Laneway Festival 2011 (which I reviewed for The Vine).

    Our interview originally ran in condensed form as the cover story of Scene Magazine #811. Here’s the full interview transcript.

    Andrew: I’ve got a confession to make. [Foals’ second album] Total Life Forever is one of my favourite albums of 2010.

    Oh, thank you very much.

    I discovered [Foals’ 2008 debut album] Antidotes a couple of years ago, but Total Life Forever sounds like an entirely different band. I like this band more. Do you?

    Yannis: It’s not a different band…

    I know it’s not, but the sound definitely has changed quite a lot.

    Yeah. I mean, I don’t really like the idea of making albums adversary to each other. I find the whole ranking, hierarchy that happens every year kind of repellent and equally… I don’t really have the same perspective on it, obviously, as an externalist, but to us in the band it’s a very linear progression. It never really felt like we had a break, even after we finished Antidotes. I think the production is a hell of a lot more fully realised on Total Life Forever. At least to me, I still have a fondness for a lot of the songs on Antidotes, but I don’t listen to that record largely because of the production. I think that it’s great that people are acknowledging the progression, but to us it is one linear thing. We want to make a body of work. It’s not us trying to eradicate our past, as such.

    Was there any self-doubt within the band, when your style of song writing started shifting after Antidotes?

    There’s self-doubt every day. Of course. Not to do with writing new things, but there’s just… most of them comes from a wish to complete something that isn’t whole. Self-doubt is part of the game. It’s been there always and unless we write ‘Symphony No. 3’ by Gorecki – which we can’t, because it’s already been written – I don’t think we’re ever going to feel sated or complete. It’s just part of the fun as well, the masochistic element of it.

    The moment we stopped recording Antidotes, we started doing b-sides for Antidotes, it started to change a lot, and there was much more experimentation. We started to implement a lot of the things that we learned from Dave Sitek, and make stuff that I think actually bridges the two albums quite closely. There are some b-sides; one in particular called ‘Gold Gold Gold‘, and another two called ‘Titan Arum‘ and ‘Glaciers‘. That’s what I mean; it felt linear. It didn’t feel like we ever stopped, we just always worked on stuff.

    All that really happened was that, at the beginning when we started the band, there was a very definite and conscious process. It was a conscious aesthetic, that we wanted, and it was to do with techno, it was to do with a style of guitar playing, a visual aesthetic. Everything was very conscious and we wanted to have parameters on it. We were in love with the idea of bands like Devo that had a distinct world that they occupied.

    Everything since then, once we felt like we attained that, everything now is about undoing that process and getting to a point which is kind of the reverse of that, where nothing is conscious and if I had the choice, I’d have a lobotomy and cut out the conscious part of my mind, so that I could just make music direct from the gut. I don’t know. Did that answer your question?

    For sure. You mentioned the style of guitar playing the band has. I’ve always been fascinated by those little needly, palm-muted riffs that you guys come up with. Were there any particular artists that inspired that style of playing?

    I think it was just something that we heard. I think there are a lot of bands, a lot of styles of guitar or even just playing strings [instruments], everything from string players in a classical piece, to [‘math rock’] bands like OXES and Don Caballero, and African Senegalese guitar. I think the main thing, at least personally for me, there was something about that way of guitar playing that just attracted me. I was never that fascinated by chords, and I actually neglected to learn how to work chord sequences and stuff. Instead, everything became about these ‘guitar tattoos’. It was more I had a lot of different types of music and different types of bands and wanted to cannibalise it and make it our own.

    That’s always been a main bit of the band. We start playing stuff lower down the guitar. We play with chords sometimes now, but I think that will always be part of the sound because that is just the way that I play, naturally. It’s become muscle memory, now.

    It’s certainly one of the band’s most distinctive elements. Did you always intend that to be the case, or did it arise when you started playing together?

    You kind of progress, but yeah, it’s always been there, it predates the band. It’s how I learned how to play the guitar. I used to mimic and ape the guitar lines I liked, and they usually were like staccato, tight little phrases, that’s how I liked it. As I said, I was never really attracted to chords, or distortion pedals. I like the idea of a transparent guitar sound; a guitar sound that’s unashamed to be a clean guitar. I think that you can get as much power out of a clean guitar as you can out of a distorted guitar.

    You’ve been touring pretty heavily this year, as we discussed. You’ve played a lot of shows. I’m interested to know how you keep it sounding fresh and feeling fresh night after night.

    Just do loads of drugs, basically. That’s pretty much it. [laughs] Do you mean like the shows, or the actual lifestyle, or my body odour? What do you mean?

    The music. If you’re playing the same songs each night, does it feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over?

    It depends. I definitely think there’s a point at which bands stop touring and sometimes you can’t tell when that point is going to be, and you have to keep on playing for a bit longer. But that rarely happens. Each show is different, and we don’t play exactly the same set every night. Even if we were playing a similar set, we have quite a lot of room to improvise… well not improvisation, exactly, but we have negative space that we’re allowed to do different things. We allow space for chaos in the set, so that it’s not so tightly rehearsed, that it’s mechanical. It’s not choreographed, in that way.

    I think that helps keep it fresh. I get tired of touring sometimes, but it’s not really often to do with the shows, more to do with the kind of… I don’t know, I’d probably be able to answer that question later on in the year because we’ve still got two more tours [note: this interview was conducted in mid-December 2010]. At the moment I feel pretty good about playing. I’m starting to feel restless about writing new things. I’ve been writing so many things and I think the more that appetite opens, the more pedestrian touring seems in comparison. The further we get away from the completion of the last record, the more difficult touring becomes, I think. Not because of playing the same stuff, just because there’s a new appetite that emerges, of wanting to do things.

    When I was researching for this interview, I was surprised to discover your age. You’re two years older than I am. Was it a challenge to get people to take a bunch of teenagers seriously when the band first started?

    How old are you?


    What do you mean? For who to take us seriously?

    People in the music industry, as you were getting introduced to labels, and so forth.

    I don’t know. I think that for a lot of young bands, that’s when the prime is, sometimes. I think people are savvy to that in the music industry. They kind of want to feed off young blood. You have a naivety. You’re not jaded in any sort of way. I think, if anything, it wasn’t an issue of persuading them, it was more like trying to have them not suck our blood. I’m the youngest, but I wasn’t that young. We’ve all been playing in bands for a long time. I don’t know, I didn’t really feel that. I don’t feel as young as I used to, though.

    Do you feel that as you get older you’re being taken more seriously?

    It depends on what you mean. Are we talking about people that listen to records, are you talking about critics?

    All of the above.

    Yeah, I think so, in some way. I think the critics, there is something that make critics recoil if you seem like a young, cocky upstart. When we started doing interviews and stuff, I really didn’t have that much of a filter on my brain. A lot of time I really didn’t know where I was, in terms of how things would be relayed in the press. I think that with time comes an understanding. I understand myself better now. I think as you get older – what were you like when you were 19?

    I was a dumbass.

    [laughs] Things change. I think it’s not just to do with age. It’s to do with the fact that we made the second record, and hopefully it didn’t stink, and the people believe in you that little bit more because you’re not just putting out a hype record that, in theory, is a one-hit wonder, and also a compilation of songs that you spent 10 years to write. I think that we’ve conducted ourselves, at least since the beginning, in a way that we feel proud of, and hopefully people have a belief in a certain type of integrity – or an attempt at integrity – which will mean that we gain some respect in that field.

    Yeah, sure. Before we finish up, I wanted to ask you about Oxford briefly. Earlier this year I came across a documentary called Anyone Can Play Guitar, which I note you’re involved with. I’m particularly interested in Oxford because I love both Ride and Swervedriver.


    When you were growing up in the city, was there a sense of wanting to follow in the footsteps of other Oxford bands like those two perhaps?

    Yeah, it wasn’t those two, but there were other ones. There was a band that was pretty much our contemporaries, but a little bit older: Youthmovies. Oxford definitely was like a big factor in the way we started to think about music. I obviously knew about Radiohead and Supergrass, but Ride and Swervedriver in particular, I wasn’t that aware of. When I was growing up I paid attention to local fledgling bands. Those bands [Ride and Swervedriver], I don’t think they were really playing Oxford when I was growing up, so I wasn’t that aware of them. A band called Youthmovies had pretty much the biggest influence on Oxford in general and people my age, and it’s still being felt now. I think it’s a very interesting place to live, if you’re not an academic.

    Is there a sense of being able to give something back to the scene that helped foster Foals, now that you’ve got some attention?

    Yeah, we take bands that we like on tour with us, and I try to talk about them in interviews. But not really out of a sense of… there’s nothing magnanimous about it, it’s just that we like the bands and a lot of them are our friends. I’d rather talk about my friends, because it’s more personal to me.

    Last question. A friend asked me to say “pretty please, will you leak the Dave Sitek mix of Antidotes?”

    [laughs] Ehh, maybe.

    Okay, good. Thanks for your time mate.

    A pleasure. Thank you.


    For more Foals, visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Blue Blood‘‘ is embedded below.

    Elsewhere: a review of their 2010 album, Total Life Forever, for The Vine.


  • The Vine interview: Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, February 2011

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview – Swervedriver

    “In their nine years together, Swervedriver released four startling albums, ranging from storming guitar experimentalism to mind-blowing psychedelia – all dedicated to the nihilistic joys of the open road.”

    That’s a line from the band’s 2005-released two-disc compilation, Juggernaut Rides: ’89-’98. It’s an entirely apt description of the sounds and imagery summoned by this British four-piece, whose core duo consisted of singer/guitarist Adam Franklin and guitarist Jimmy Hartridge. Formed in Oxford in 1989, they soon prospered in a time when interest surrounding guitar-led alternative rock and the nascent genre of shoegaze was at an all-time high. They were signed to Creation Records – home to My Bloody Valentine – and released two genre-defining albums within two years: 1991’s Raise, and 1993’s Mezcal Head. Despite their British upbringing, Franklin et al were fascinated by American muscle car culture, and sought to provide the soundtrack to imagined high-speed jaunts across the States. Their first single, ‘Son Of Mustang Ford’, sums up Swervedriver’s ethos in four minutes of scorching guitars and breakneck percussion.

    Label woes and band instability eventually brought them to a halt in 1998, following underwhelming sales for Ejector Seat Reservation (1995) and 99th Dream (1998). As it turns out, the band’s final shows took place in Australia while supporting Powderfinger, ending in December 1998 with a last show in Margaret River, outside of Perth (or “self-destruction on a desert highway just outside the world’s most isolated city,” as the Juggernaut Rides liner notes dramatically put it).

    In the intervening years, Franklin continued to record and tour as a solo artist, also under the name Toshack Highway, as well as under Magnetic Morning, a collaboration with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino. Swervedriver reformed in 2008, and three years later – ahead of their first Australian tour since 1998’s ill-fated expedition – TheVine connected with Adam Franklin.

    To begin, Adam, I want to quote a song lyric. “And the photographs of God I bought have almost fade away”. [A line from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Snakedriver’.]

    Oh, yeah. That’s a good line.

    I mention this because I read your Magnet Magazine guest editorials, and I was particularly interested in what you had to say about that song. You said it’s one of the greatest lines ever in a rock and roll song, which is pretty high praise.

    Yeah, I think it is. Like I said in that blog, the lyric is a surreal sort of thing, and I wonder how it crossed Jim and William’s mind to have that lyric in there. I guess they might have thought of all these things that could happen that’d really suck, and one of them would be if you bought these photographs of God, and then they faded away. I thought it was a great tune, as well.

    I’ve got a favourite Swervedriver lyric: the opening two lines to “Last Train To Satansville” (“You look like you’ve been losing sleep’, said a stranger on a train / I fixed him with an ice-cold stare and said, ‘I’ve been having those dreams again”). To me they’re a wonderfully evocative couple of lines. Are you particularly fond of those lyrics?

    We probably were at the time, because I think that those lyrics were reproduced in full on the [Mezcal Head] album sleeve. But it was inspired by this song ‘They’re Hanging Me Tonight’ which was a song by a country singer named Marty Robbins. They both have a similar sort of narrative. The key line in that song was “They bury Flo tomorrow, but they’re hanging me tonight.” He’s in a prison cell, waiting to be sentenced. That song just seemed to have that twangy sort of vibe.

    Speaking more broadly, what do you think when you look back to some of the material you recorded as a younger man?

    Well, I think most of it stands up pretty well. I haven’t really listened to the recordings that much. We’ve been searching around for slightly more obscure b-sides and album tracks to play live, and there are some good things tucked away. There is quite a good catalogue for Swervedriver, really. I’m quite impressed by how many songs were written in that short two years, or whatever, because I think we released four EPs that all had four songs on them, and a nine-song album [Raise] as well. It’s actually quite a lot of stuff. And that stuff was written – it wasn’t like we had songs lying around for five years before. They were all pretty much written around that time.

    We got quite prolific. It’s quite different now, because now I have songs I’ve had lying around for two, five, or ten years. And it’s good having those things, because every now and then you think “Oh, actually, I finally found a way that this song might work”. Our recent albums are sort of a mixture of new songs as well as things that can be up to 10 years old.

    I came across the compilation Juggernaut Rides. I had to order it off eBay because there’s pretty much no other way to get it these days. It’s great, I love it. It’s a really good summation.

    People ask me what my [Swervedriver] favourite album is, and people think you shouldn’t say compilation albums, but to me it’s a good selection of everything, really. It doesn’t have all the best stuff on it. I quite like the fact that it’s not chronologically laid out, so you just jump straight into the middle.

    What does it mean to you to know that songs you guys recorded together are still extensively a part of peoples’ lives?

    Oh, it means everything. It’s great. The music proves it has longevity. In the early nineties, you’d get little snipes in the press sometimes and people talk about the bands that supposedly were more important that I suspect aren’t still being played by anybody 20 years later. It never ceases to amaze me when people say this song or that song moved them in a way, or helped them through a period of time, and all that kind of stuff. Or that they sort of rocked out to it or whatever. It’s great.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine. For more Swervedriver – highly recommended – visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Son of Mustang Ford‘ is embedded below.

  • triple j mag story: ‘Friendly Fires in the studio’, December 2010

    A story for the November 2010 issue of triple j mag. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Garage Days

    A lack of recording venues gave Friendly Fires licence to get creative

    “I don’t think I’ve had a day off in the last two years,” says Ed Macfarlane of the British dance-punk trio Friendly Fires. That’s no complaint, though: since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2008, the vocalist and his bandmates (Jack Savidge, drums; Edd Gibson, guitar) have been in demand, making a 2009 appearance at Splendour In The Grass. Though they’ve been writing and recording on and off since January, the band only recently set aside time to work in earnest on their follow-up LP: in the same garage as the first album, no less.

    “It feels really informal,” says the singer. “We’re not a band who’ll just set up the drums and guitar, and write and record in a day. We like to spend a lot of time really getting into the production, and trying to create weird and interesting sounds. I’m probably the band’s biggest perfectionist; I produced the first record and I’ve produced most of this one, too.” Ed admits that sometimes he needs Jack and Edd to slap him around the head and say “‘stop messing about with the hi-hat sound – the song is the important thing, let’s focus on that!'”

    The decision to self-produce was born of necessity: the natives of St Albans, Hertfordshire, weren’t keen to record in their hometown’s sole recording studio. It was a blessing in disguise: you’re entirely responsible for the output when you do everything yourself. Almost everything, that is; their debut’s opening track, ‘Jump in the Pool‘, was produced and co-written by famed producer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Florence and the Machine), and Paul’s working on three new songs. ” Maybe that will affect the sound of the record, but I’m still pretty sure it’s gonna sound like us, not a producer,” Ed says.

    When it came to writing for the album, due out in February, Ed spent a productive month in a cottage in Nomandy, France. “I can’t speak French, and I don’t have any friends in Normandy, so it was just me on my own, trying to be creative. I got cabin fever about three weeks into it. There was definitely a point where I was questioning what I was doing.”

    Ed’s dance moves feature in live shows, and he confesses to indulging sometimes while recording. “It’s also particularly embarrassing if I’m working on a track alone, then my Mum or Dad opens up the garage and see me dancing to my own music!”

    For more Friendly Fires, visit their MySpace. The music video for their song ‘Kiss Of Life‘ is embedded below.