“There’s a kind of an arrogance in thinking that you can dictate who you can write your songs for,” explained Foals’ Yannis Phillippakis in a recent interview with Radio.com. The British rockers have recently found themselves playing to both large and very diverse audiences as a result of their sophomore album Holy Fire, released back in February.
“I do think it’s a good thing having a more diverse crowd,” Phillippakis continued. “Since the early days when we started out we only played to cool kids at house parties that were in the know. And it’s nice to have transcended that kind of clique or that niche. I like the idea that our songs can mean an equal amount to someone in Indonesia or some guy in the North of England who are in very different conditions. I like that it can transcend those types of boundaries.”
This is an issue with any band that equates cool factor with audience size. The bigger the audience, the less cool the band must be. And when you place a high value on remaining cool, it’s a battle that requires real introspection.
“It seems the more successful you get, your quality of life or the quality of your musical profession is diminished. It’s made up for financially but in terms of the fun of music for us of playing and touring and being able to feel like we’re connecting. At that [arena] level you can’t [connect].”
Phillippakis continued: “We’re pretty content with the place that we’re in. It feels like it’s right. We don’t have a particular burning desire to become an arena rock band. “
Holy Fire was produced by legends Mark “Flood” Ellis and Alan Moulder after sessions with another producer failed. Flood and Moulder were key ingredients to artists like Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and the Smashing Pumpkins.
After shifts at the local bagel shop, Phillippakis explained he’d often choose to walk the long way home in order to listen to Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral or Smashing Pumpkins’ Melancholy & The Infinite Sadness. When the band was asked if they’d like to work with Flood and Moulder, the response was almost reflex (“We knew we were in a safe pair of hands,” he said). The band ended up with what they believe is “tasteful rock production” and are proud that they steered clear of making “corporate rock.”
Addressing the album’s “raw, brutal elegance,” Phillippakis added that the album is not exactly a happy frolic, despite the upbeat punch of tracks like “My Number.”
“I think it’s hard to write happy songs well,” he said. “Even songs that seem like they’re written from a positive place, aren’t. In fact, most good pop music is not necessarily from a morbid place but from a melancholic place that’s ambivalent. I quite like the fact that our songs are never one mood.”
(Interview by Courtney E. Smith, Radio.com)