Foals on its rigorous touring schedule and what it means to connect with fans
The thought of being in a globally touring band is often romanticized by people that have never actually been in a band or even learned to play an instrument. Most everyone wants to be a rock star, but few put in the work to become one.
In this instant-gratification obsessed society that we’ve become, the idea of the prize is too often more appealing than the work necessary to achieve it. Most are perfectly content just thinking of the glory and living in the eternal state of what if rather than actually working for it.
Though this reality plagues many, no one can say that the English indie rockers in Foals haven’t worked for it and gotten there through the process.
Foals has come a long way from its early days in Oxford, playing gigs at house parties for a handful of people. Just this year alone, Foals is on track to play over 100 shows, in 24 countries, across four continents. Rarely taking more than a week or two off the road at a time, Foals tours with a voracity rarely seen among bands at its level.
While such a rigorous touring schedule partially reflects the demands of the modern music industry — where royalty checks are as rare celibate groupies — it equally reflects the mindset of Foals bassist Walter Gervers and his bandmates.
We spoke with Walter as he stewed in the March heat of a “quite weird place” known as El Paso, TX, as the band prepared for their fourth show of its Spring Fling Tour with Cage The Elephant.
The 15-stop tour, which ended at the beginning of April, is a welcome break for the members of Foals. Both they and the guys in Cage The Elephant have toured multiples times together over the past decade or so, and have become good friends in the process. But this tour is a unique one, says Gervers, in that they are a supporting act, which he admits is a little strange for them now, but a welcome kind of strange. There’s less pressure, he adds, and they get to hang out with friends — they all also like playing in the states as much as possible.
As its reputation grows, Foals is focusing more and more touring efforts in the US. The fourth studio album, What Went Down, was released last summer and has been the band’s highest charting album thus far in the states. The single, “Mountain at My Gates” dominated radio waves across the country, which has noticeably “helped to reach a different audience that probably wouldn’t normally hear us before,” says Gervers.
This stands in stark contrast to the early days when the guys relied almost solely on word of mouth promotion and people happening to see a show of theirs at a bar or a club. Times sure are different now.
Foals will again be playing both weekends of Coachella this year amidst other appearances in the region. As of late, the band has been receiving spots noticeably higher up on festival bills, a perk Gervers attributes to the act’s extensive touring and efforts to grow a fanbase. Overall, the band loves festivals.
“Festivals are great because you get to see other bands if you want,” he says. “The atmosphere amongst other bands is also really fun; I really like the buzz of festivals. Of course its great to play for really big crowds.”
Festivals provide the rare opportunity for busy acts to go see other bands play, something that isn’t typically possible given rigorous touring schedules. Gervers says he and his peers are especially excited for the opportunity to see one of their favorite bands this summer: Radiohead, who so happen to be from the same town as Foals.
But while the guys enjoy festivals the world over, Foals isn’t one to forget where it came from, says Gervers. They all still very much enjoy the vibe of smaller shows.
“We started off playing really really small shows,” he says. “We’ll never lose that feeling of intimacy, being close to an audience is really good.”
He’s one to admit, however, that those huge productions can create a disconnect with the audience. “If there’s too much distance away from the crowd it’s quite hard to connect with them,” he says, adding that it’s always something they try avoiding as much as possible.
As the band has gained more experience and maybe a tinge more maturity over the last 10 years, they’ve grown better at taking care of themselves, too — at least when they feel like it. Not afraid to admit that they like to drink and have a good time, Gervers acknowledges the fact that there is a balancing act between being a rowdy live show and keeping things together to ensure that the show goes smoothly.
But a rowdy show is to be expected. Foals is known for its crazy and near-acrobatic live shows. The band takes a beating during each performance no matter what. The act’s lead singer, Yannis Philippakis, is pretty much guaranteed to end up in the crowd at every show. He’s well known for jumping from balconies and stage equipment mid-concert into the crowd and generally turning up. Recently, Philippakis fell off the top of a subwoofer mid-song but escaped mostly uninjured. The show went on.
Overall, Gervers says he is happy that the band tends to escape a show with only bruises and a few hangovers.
Such is life for the raucous band from England. Their aggressive tour schedule and on stage antics serve as proof of the band they want to be. Never too weary to support the grind, Foals embraces the work of a 30-city tour if the opportunity comes and the dreaded tour bus lifestyle.
“Depending on the journey, you can actually sleep quite well,” Gervers adds. “It’s quite comforting, you know, the motion of the bus. It’s usually in a couple weeks time it starts to get weird in there. Mid-tour crazy eye.”
With that kind of attitude, it’s no surprise that Foals has seen the success it has. The members’ willingness and desire to put in the effort has gotten them where they are now. For Foals, success is no longer a romanticized goal they dream about, but an active and ongoing process that’s happening in the moment. While many bands might find comfort in their position, something tells us Foals won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
// FOALS W/ KIEV @ THE OGDEN THEATRE - TUESDAY, APR 26
photos by: Miles Chrisinger and Neil Krug