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Foals' guide to being rockstars

Ahead of their Reading & Leeds headline slot, we talk excess and boozing with the Oxford five-piece

Foals' guide to being rockstars
10 August 2016

You might not realise it, but Foals are huge. Massive, in fact. You’ve probably found yourself humming one of their tracks over the last eight years, whether it’s the frantically mathy-indie gem Hummer, which encompasses everything that was brilliant about the late-Noughties era (fluorescent pink, jolted dance moves, tight tennis T-shirts). Or Spanish Sahara, which soundtracked that steamy Misfits episode (with a pre-Ramsay Iwan Rheon). And Inhaler, the mighty first single off third album Holy Fire, sits at 14 million listens on YouTube.

Thing is, they’ve never had a colossal hit. “I don’t think any of our singles have got into the Top 20,” Yannis Philippakis tells ShortList while digging into a lunch of chicken pitta gyros. “But we’ve built up slowly and organically through our live reputation. We’ve developed every record in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to if we’d had an overnight, intense pressure.”

The band will top the bill at the Reading and Leeds festivals for the first time this month, which is great news, obviously. But news that also might be a tad awkward, as Philippakis has previously bitched about old-timers clogging up festival line-ups. This year, then, it’s time to put his money where his mouth is. “We’re bored of seeing some dude from the Nineties headline,” he complained back in 2013, as it means newer bands don’t get a look in. Lots of people would agree. Festivals book the big hitters, the world-touring, wrinkled-by-rock OGs, the Chili Peppers of this world (who are, by no coincidence, the Saturday night headline act at Reading) because they present risk-free ticket sales.

Today, however, Philippakis is confident. “I’m glad, even just selfishly, that we’re headlining Reading rather than some old heritage band who have already headlined every festival on the circuit,” he says. “Hopefully it shows, without sounding too worthy about it, that you don’t need to do X, Y and Z in order to become to a bigger band. You don’t need to sort out your image or get your teeth whitened or start hanging out at the right place to be in a rock band.”

So what do you have to do? How do you earn your rock stripes? Luckily, Yannis is here to fill us in with a helpful 11-point guide.

Act like private jets are boring

“We’ve flown on a private jet before, but it was pretty underwhelming. I liked that you didn’t have to go through security – that was the main perk. The actual flight just felt like we were in a little plane. And it’s the same old faces. Like, you know, Jack [Bevan, Foals’ drummer] was to my left, Jimmy [Smith, rhythm guitarist] was to my right. No surprises.” 

Expect a few pre-show drinks

“We’ve never played a gig fully sober. There’s a part of me that’d like to do it sober. I just don’t know whether it would be any good. Most nights are mental. I missed a flight recently because we were drunk. In terms of how we operate, it’s not a problem, but booze is imbued in the band because we started out playing house parties. And anyway, I’ve got the rest of my life to clean up.”  

Be open to alternative business ventures

“Our rider is pretty boozy. It’s an inhuman amount of alcohol to be drinking. At the end of a tour the bus pulls back up in London and you could throw 40 parties and a couple of weddings off it. All the champagne gets smashed pretty quickly but there’s lots of bourbon and beer left over. We were thinking about starting a wedding catering business on the side.”

Outgrow the underdog mentality

“I can be quite grumpy backstage. I have a high bar of what to expect and will focus on any little mistake. But I think I’m lightening up a bit, and the shows are getting better. After headlining Latitude for the first time [in 2013] I remember we all came off absolutely buzzing. It felt like we deserved to be there. We’ve always perceived ourselves as being the underdogs, or slightly on the outside, so to be in that place where we were closing a festival just felt right.”

Always tour in an unruly fashion

“As we’ve gotten older, it’s not that we’ve got soft or anything, but you start to live two lives. The tour life is hedonistic and self-destructive, and… fun. And home life is a comedown. You can’t sustain it. Without going into details, there’s a lot of partying. After we’ve finished touring this record I’m going to have a bit of a break. I want to get healthy. I don’t actually drink that much when I’m at home.”

Embrace DIY surgery

“One night on tour in the US, I caught my knee on the edge of the stage. I was coming back from being out in the crowd and my shin split down lengthways. I couldn’t see the bone but there’s not much flesh over your shin, you know? Anyway, I got back [to the hotel] and Jimmy and some of the guys were like: ‘It’ll be fine, let’s just leave it,’ so we poured some vodka in the cut and wrapped it up. But then it got infected. It was a fucking nightmare. I went to a doctor about a month later – he had to pull the rotten bits of skin off.”

Face your own fears

“I’m terrified of heights. I jump off stage during shows but it’s a different thing, partly because I’m p*ssed. But it’s in the moment, you know? I don’t think of it as being high. If I went up to the same stage during the day I’d probably be freaked out. But also I trust the crowd. I know that I’m not landing on a hard floor. They’ll catch me.”

Get sniffy about silly Americans

“Coachella is not my idea of a good festival. You get celebrities at Glastonbury, sure, but people don’t go for that. If anything, what’s great about Glastonbury is that they’re made to trudge through the mud like anybody else. Whereas at Coachella it’s like: ‘Where’s my private buggy?’ It attracts people who want to live this aspirational lifestyle and to take a similar selfie that [fill in the blank space with celeb] also took there with their flower crown on. People don’t rock out, and you can’t drink in the actual festival. I don’t hate it; I just think it’s a bit sanitised. It’s like LA.

"UK festivals are the best. Glastonbury feels tribal. All of the realities of day-to-day life have truly gone away. It’s some bizarre Alice In Wonderland meets Lord Of The Flies type of thing. I never really feel like I’ve lost my mind anywhere else.”

Attract maniacs

“There are some weird people that follow us. The closest person who came to being a stalker was a woman – this was in the MySpace days – who would send us fucking up to 15 messages a day. They didn’t say anything, but she wrote our names in capitals and each letter would run on for several pages. So it was like: ‘Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y’ again and again. One time we flew from Poland, to Paris, to Portugal and ended up in Norway – and she was at every show. I’d clock her in the front row – she had intense eyes – and she’d stare at me. It was like: ‘How the fuck did you get from the last show to this one?’“

Fetishise boredom

“After we’ve finished touring I’m going to leave the country. I want to get really bored again. The boys want to go off into their private spheres and regain that feeling of being truly and absolutely gasping to get back in the room and create something. There’s so much stimulation for everybody these days. I might be romanticising this, but I can remember being young and thinking: ‘I’ve got nothing to do.’ When the weekend was just this yawning period of time because you couldn’t get into a pub. I was so bored I’d fucking read Teletext. Remember that thing? Right, that’s it; I’m going to make an anti-Teletext record.”

Set the bar (almost) unachievably high

“Headlining Reading festival is a big deal for me because I grew up down the road. I was too young to go, so I used to watch this VHS tape of Nirvana playing in 1992 in my Mum’s living room. I’d never been to a gig – Reading seemed so big and crazy. It was one of the reasons I wanted to be in a band. So to play there now is going to be pretty special.”

Foals play Reading and Leeds Festival on 26-28 August;

(Images: Sebastian Nevols/Rex/iStock)