by Jeff Milo
Photo: Steve Gullick
It was surprising enough to have Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining massive stages for 20,000 fans in the middle of Belle Isle, last summer. But, it might have also surprised fans of those hard-rock icons to be exposed to the quirkier fare of Foals, who played a solid, sweaty set in the afternoon sun for Detroit’s trial-fun of the Orion Music Festival.
“I think (Metallica drummer) Lars (Ulrich)’s son is a fan of ours and suggested to his dad that we slip onto that bill,” Walter Gervers, Foals bassist admits with a slight chuckle. Whether Orion’s metal fans dug this Oxford England-quintet’s more eclectic indie-rock style or not, their mates back home in the UK named these fest-vets “Best Live Act” (at October’s Q Magazine music awards).
Foals know that music trends go in cycles. They spend enough time on the road, playing in city after city, in scene after scene, to appreciate that if they just keep doing their thing, someone, somewhere, will be listening. Their thing is an interesting blend of psych-rock and funk; sometimes a nervy knot of post-punk rhythms and sometimes a more spacious trip of heavily atmospheric dream-pop.
Actually, Foals (with Yannis Philippakis, Jack Bevan, Jimmy Smith, Edwin Congreave and Gervers) hit some of their heaviest rock-tilting moments on certain jams from their latest album, (Holy Fire). Singles like “Inhaler” achieved a charming jumble of grooves, where you could dance smoothly during the funkier cascades of its verses, yet thrash-around in a makeshift mosh pit during the crashing tidal waves of its chorus’ crescendos.
“It’s not like we sit around in a circle with acoustic guitars and write songs together,” Gervers casts away any flowery visions of formal constructions for their intricate song structures. “And ya know, also we don’t pay too much heed to what’s sort of popular at the moment because it just seems to be in cycles.”
Part of the post-Radiohead generation of experimental rock outfits from the UK (like compatriots the Arctic Monkeys,) Foals are known by the intrigue and the urgency of their both their music and its live incarnation. Suffice it to say: after Orion with Metallica plus rocking out at England’s Reading and Leeds Festivals three times, they’re used to bolstering big events, so they should be more than ready to help 89X Steal Christmas (for the regional radio station’s annual holiday blowout this week).
Metro Times: How do you approach big festivals or blowouts like Orion or the 89X show versus a headlining gig? Do they ever blur together, these Fests?
Walter Gervers: Well, we try to treat them the same; a gig’s a gig. Having said that, headlining tours can take their toll, you can’t just be ‘on it’ every night. I don’t think there’s a band out there that can say that they do. At festivals, you can’t just turn up on a bad day and have a bit of ropey set, you’ve got to impress ‘cuz you don’t have that long and people are expecting a lot. It’s great, though, sometimes to get 300 bands together for a weekend, you get to catch up with so many other friends and watch so many other bands.”
MT: What was your take on Orion last summer?
WG: I think we thought it was going to be weird, that maybe it wouldn’t be our crowd, but people turned up, it wasn’t bad. It was a really nice idea, they obviously cared about Detroit and wanted to do something specifically there. Good on them, too, they weren’t just holding a metal bill there. I hope it can continue
MT: Actually, Metallica announced last week that it’s on pause or something. It won’t be back next year. There’s a couple reasons but, I dunno, the city should probably worry about getting out of bankruptcy, first.
WG: Yeah, it sounds really tough out there. We hear bits over here in the UK press about Detroit. It’s a shame. We’re really fond of Detroit. Playing there, we were blown away by how derelict an area it was and yet how everyone we met was so upbeat and cool and excited, just about the prospect of touring bands visiting, bringing a bit of the light onto places
MT: Any influence from Detroit, from Motown or other American styles?
WG: I grew up listening to all those (Motown) records through my parents. I grew up on a lot of blues and soul, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Sonny Boy Williams through my dad. It wasn’t until later that I appreciated how Detroit was so famous for musical exports. We draw a lot on that stuff, that stirring nature of soul in Motown music, which every musician aspires to capture. It’s that essence of it, in whatever kind of music you play, where it’s about spirit and about telling stories. It’s a very pure music.
MT: Writers and listeners often remark upon the flavors of funk in your style.
WG: You’ve gotta be careful with funk because the flavors can be delicate, it can easily become total pastiche. So, we try to take bits and pieces of stuff and incorporate it. We’ve never been a band that says: Okay, let’s sit down and write a Funk Song and it’s going to go this way, in this chord. That’s not how we work.
MT: How do you work? Have you been working on a follow-up to Holy Fire?
WG: We let ideas store up and at the end of the year, we get home and sit down to write. There’s bits during soundchecks, though, coming out. If someone has an idea and we start playing along to it you’ve gotta be careful, cuz it’ll start to become a thing before it’s supposed to be. We’re trying to be sensible rather than just jamming something out,that could risk destroying what it was supposed to be.
MT: What are you looking forward to?
WG: Personally, Christmas. We’ve been at it all year. A breather first, getting healthy again and then getting stuff together for our next album.
Foals perform The Night 89X Stole Christmas, Tuesday December 17th at the Filmore Theatre (2115 Woodward Ave) with Cage The Elephant, Blue October and IAMDYNAMITE. Doors open at 6:30 pm - $35 – more info: thefilmoredetroit.com 89xradio.com/concerts