Inquiring Minds

Foals: The Beat Goes On For These Oxford Dance-Rock Scholars

Hailing from Oxford, England, the five-piece group known as Foals have danced their way into acclaim with their second album, Total Life Forever. Musically, dance is where their rhythms lie, imitating beats from techno to funk to hip-hop. Instead of using conventional electronics, the band early on to convert these hits and polyrhythmic hiccups into beats produced by acoustic instruments and live drums.

Foals' music has a hint of world music and rhythms, sometimes labeled as "tropical prog" or attributed to the eclectic nature of bands such as Talking Heads. Although electronic sounds and keyboards still support the texture with ambient sheaths of sound, the twinkles of guitar in mesmerizing patterns and generous folk-like vocals offer emotions of color. Lyrics range from the subconscious elements of daily moments to reminiscences of past love. Combined with the body-moving grooves, these elements make a memorable aural experience.

For those of us that won't be attending this weekend, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Foals promises to be a mega-rock dance party, if you will, upstairs tonight at Fitzgerald's, where you'll be moving your body around to their swirling beats instead of the throng of crowds shoving you to get near Sonic Youth or the old-timers screaming in your ear over the Eagles.

Fresh off sold-out shows in Brooklyn and up north, Foals guitarist Jimmy Smith took time out to speak to Rocks Off while soaking up some Florida sun before their show:

Rocks Off: What was the common musical thread you five had as a collective when you formed the band? You all have a distinctive sound with a lot of variation of beats and colors. What was happening in the writing process early on in the rehearsals?

Jimmy Smith: We kind of had an idea to start with listening to a lot of techno and dance music, and we were interested in trying to transpose that into a band format. We wanted to make intricate dance music but with guitars and keyboard instead of on a lap top so we tried to do that and it actually kind of worked. That was the intial idea and it was exciting to go in our little practice room at Oxford University where Yannis was studying at the time and then we went to record.

RO: Tell me about the latest record and how you all came up with the material.

JS: It was a pretty interesting process, actually. We wrote most of the record in this house in Oxford and it was really nice for we were all living there and it had a basement that we soundproofed and we could play all our instruments in there and write any time of the day, that kind of complete freedom without the neighbors getting angry.

We wrote most of the record there and then went to Sweden to work with a producer named Luke Smith and went to hell and back and came back with a record! It was a stressful experience but a very rewarding experience."

Rocks Off: Let's talk about a few tracks on the record. One of my favorites and a popular one on the album is the title track. It starts off immediately with this 4/4 pounding rhythm and funk guitar riff moving into this layered vocal magic. How did that one come to be? You all have a way about subtly building colors and having a lot of dynamics in your music as well.

JS: Yeah, well that was mostly Yannis' song I think; he did that in the basement. We were listening to some old school funk music at the time and some good soul music. That is one of the songs off the record that shows a direct transition from the last record again with all the layers and the polyrhythms and stuff.

This time Yannis put a really good vocal line over it and we tried to go for this kind of chain gang effect because one of our favorite records is this Alan Lomax Chain Gang field recording from the South in like the 1930s i think. All you can hear is their voices and the pick axes, so it's sort of a rip off of that.

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Meghan Hendley