Foals' third album is heavy, but all the more enjoyable for it, writes Lydia Jenkin
Since releasing indie rock hit Spanish Sahara and getting a Mercury Prize nomination for their 2010 album Total Life Forever, spirited British five-piece Foals have found themselves rather in demand on the touring circuit, spending many months on the road, and even making it Downunder to perform a ferocious set at Auckland's Laneway festival in 2011.
Somewhere in 2012 they found time to retreat to the studio to record their third album Holy Fire, an album more expansive and more ambitious than their previous releases. It came out in February to great reviews, debuting at No2 in the British charts and at No1 in Australia, and they now find themselves with an even more manic touring schedule.
There are 90 shows to play before the end of 2013, but speaking from a recent tour stop in Buenos Aires, guitarist Jimmy Smith is fairly chipper about the musical marathon that's stretching out before them.
"We've been building up to this kind of level of touring for about six years now, so we're sort of used to having someone else plan our lives out - but not on this scale before. Obviously it's very exciting getting to play in so many different places, but it is daunting. It's going well so far though, and no one has died yet."
Following up an album that took them from relative obscurity to No8 in the British albums chart might have been an anxiety-laden task for some bands, but Foals seem to have had a fairly smooth run in creating Holy Fire - which debuted at No2.
"I think it did come quite easily" Smith says. "We did actually do quite a lot of it while touring Total Life. By the time we got off the road again, we had all this energy and ideas stored up, so when we got into the studio it was pretty quick.
"I don't want to say it wrote itself, because there were still some troublesome songs, but it was refreshingly easy in places."
They kept the writing process relatively varied, and though frontman Yannis Philippakis still takes charge in the lyrics department, the rest of the band are intrinsically involved in the songs. The album's first single, the somewhat unexpected hit, Inhaler, came out of a soundcheck jam that they had been working on for a couple of years, while second single My Number was written all together in a room in about 20 minutes.
"Then I wrote some songs on the Rhodes, just me and Yannis, and then sometimes we write with loops. So it's definitely more varied for this record than ever before. We always try to maintain a sort of 'best idea wins' policy - it can come from anyone. I think Holy Fire is definitely more of a product of the five of us though, each of our twisted brains."
It's a weightier album than their previous efforts, more brazen, dystopian, reeling, and words like heavy and brutal have been bandied about - though only in a relative sense; it is still a pop album after all.
"I think we could probably go a lot heavier if we wanted, I think it may only be the beginning of that sort of thing" Smith laughs. "I think it's pretty heavy and brutal live, that's for sure, and Holy Fire goes some way to capturing our live performance."
Part of achieving this intensified, heavier sound was bringing in two producers they hadn't previously collaborated with - Flood, and Alan Moulder, who've worked with acts like PJ Harvey, Nine Inch Nails and The Killers, and have a knack for understanding acts who want to sound big, without getting too much of a polish.
"I guess they're like the weirdest normal people I've ever met" Smith laughs. "They're very straight-up, no-bullshit people, but they're a bit odd as well. They were amazing though. They clearly got what we wanted to do, and they were keen, they wanted to share the experience and put their names on the line."
As for what local fans can expect come October, when they arrive to play their first headlining show in New Zealand, Smith says their live performance will be equally expansive. "We keep the chaos and brutality of our earlier shows, but we're more dynamic now in that there's quiet moments too, and it's the contrasts and building between those moments that make it really energised. We'll be an absolute machine by then too!"
Who: British five-piece Foals
What: New album Holy Fire
Where and when: Playing in Auckland on Saturday October 5 at the Auckland Town Hall