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Interview: Walter Gervers from Foals

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on April 12, 2013

For those that have followed for the last few years will be aware of the attention we devote to our beloved Foals. They’ve been a favourite of the website since its inception and we’ve loved every little gem this Oxford five-piece has produced. So when I received a call from Secret Service last week, offering for us to conduct an interview with bass player Walter Gervers, I nearly dropped the phone. After immediately accepting, the following transpired. 

After the release of their third record Holy Fire, Foals have been touring madly through UK, Europe, Australia and have now made their way to South America, where we caught up with Walter. Walter Gervers, Foals’ bass player and accompanying vocalist, was kind enough to field questions from us concerning touring the new album, the ever-changing use of space in Foals’ recordings, if he ever sees Foals becoming a stadium-rock Kings Of Leon and much more!

SCENEWAVE: Walter, where are you calling from?

WALTER GERVERS: I’m in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the moment. We just started a South American leg on this tour, starting off in Sao Paolo, Brazil for Lollapalooza and we had our first solo show last night. Lollapalooza was a bit weird because we were on very early during the day and it’s always a bit strange for us to play in daylight, so we find that hard. Buenos Aires was sweet though, we had a cool theatre to play in, good people, good crowd, we had a great time.

SW: You say that you can be rusty after not playing for a while. What’s a song that always gets you relaxed and back into the swing of things? Does “Prelude” act as a good warmup? 

WG: Actually yeah, for opening sets, “Prelude” really loosens us up. It’s probably more of our older songs at the moment that have that effect for us. Once we have a few of them under our belt, we’re good. At the moment, we’re starting sets with a couple of old ones just to get back into the swing of things. Songs that we’ve been comfortable playing for a couple of years. “Olympic Airways”, “Blue Blood”, “Miami”; those kind of Foals standards if you like.

SW: You’ve just finished your tour of Europe. How was the tour as a whole and particularly, how were Jagwar Ma to tour with? We interviewed them last week, do you have any dirt on them?

WG: Haha yeah, they stay up too late and they need to stop partying so hard. We had such a great time with them. It was a joy touring with them in Europe – I think for them it was really cool to go around to different countries they’ve never been to before and you know, we match really well. We closed with Jono (Ma) and its really exicting for us to see a band like that from Sydney doing so well over here. There’s a feeling of pride there. We understand that it’s really hard for a lot of Australian bands to get noticed, and Europe is a long way away. It’s kind of a big deal to come out and do tours and stuff over here, wheras for us, it’s just on the doorstep.

SW: The last time I saw you was at Gold Coast Big Day Out, and you’d only got half the Holy Fire songs down live. How does the song “Moon” come together live? Tell me about how the crowd has reacted to such quiet and intimate songs (“Late Night” included) being added to what is a traditionally manic Foals’ set. 

WG: Yeah, I think its starting to work really nicely. We’re starting to realise, as a band, that we don’t have to play relentless sets that don’t let up. The songs and materials we have now kind of lend themselves to lulls in sets. We’re still learning to embrace that live. Sometimes we feel that if we don’t get the crowd interaction like we do in our really upbeat songs, that it’s not going so well – but it is, everyone’s just listening. I mean, you can’t really lose your shit to “Late Night”, can you.

“Moon” works really well, we’ve been playing it pretty much every show as the start of the encore. It’s the only song in the set where we use a backing thing. It still features the original loop to when we recorded the song back in Oxford from a loop pedal. It’s cool because we haven’t tried to create some weird backing track for it, we’ve just used the original guitar backing loop with a bit of a clip, which is kind of sweet.

SW: We can see that you guys value the use of space. We’ve seen a massive progression from Antidotes to Total Life Forever to Holy Fire in terms of dynamics. Will that trend continue do you think? Or will you have an album that’s all ‘go go go’, just to keep everyone guessing?

WG: Well we haven’t really figured it out ourselves yet to be honest. We’re just going to take our time because we haven’t actually written any more material, purely from being so caught up in the release of this record. We really like to keep people guessing and it sounds silly but it sort of works for us as well because we don’t know what we’re going to write next. So we’re not going to get all together and go, “Ok, now we’re going to make a jazz record”; there’s no conscious kind of direction to it. We’ll start writing again eventually, and see what sort of stuff comes out; what direction it’s going in, what’s working, what’s not and just go from there.

SW: On this same note, and forgive the rhyming, sometimes the extra use of space means less use of bass. How has this affected your role in the band? I is more chilled out, or do you find other ways to make your impression known?

WG: Good question. I mean on “Moon” and stuff, there’s obviously no bass. There was originally bass on “Stepson”, and then we kind of realised that it was totally unnecessary. We’ve got to that stage of the band now where no one’s going to be offended if we go, “You know what that’s not actually adding anything, its just doing the same job as something else”. This goes for drums, guitars and keys as well. Sometimes it’s better to subtract stuff than to keep adding. This was different to the first couple of our records, where we always thought that because there are 5 in the band, the recipe for the song has to be drums, then add the bass, then guitar then vocals, etc.  We learnt over time that we didn’t need all those elements to put a good song together. It’s kind of cool though for me personally, like in the studio it means that sometimes I can have a break and have a beer and just chill out, or lay down some backing vocals, etc. It really works for me.

SW: In terms of backing vocals, how do you feature as a backup vocalist on Holy Fire? 

WG: Well we’re doing quite a lot of things with choruses at the moment, where just to chunk them up a little bit where I’ll often sing with Yannis. It’s just this thing where it’s more of a support thing rather than throwing in fancy harmonies because we’ve never been really very good at that. I sing with him on “Out Of The Woods”, “Bad Habit”, “Late Night”, “Inhaler” because the verse is kind of tricky because it’s all in falsetto… yeah so I’ve definitely got my hands full put it that way.

SW: You’ve already played one Australian tour this year, and have plans for a second in September. Are three appearances in one year too many or is Splendour in the Grass on the cards?

WG: Yeah you know what, I’m not sure it is. We wanted it to be, but I just think it didn’t work with the timing. We didn’t really do any festivals last year, so we’re sort of catching up on ourselves this time round. We really wanted to, but we’re sort of more focused on our own tour, which is a bit more important to us. If this means missing some festivals, we can cope with that because we always feel more comfortable being a bit more in control like at our own shows. We’re a bit controlling like that.

SW: Where did you find that awesome film clip for Providence? It’s one of the funniest music vids I’ve ever seen.

WG: Haha it’s good isn’t it. Yannis showed me that a couple of months ago. Someone did it, it’s nothing to do with us, someone did it as a kind of mashup. So good on them. I like the way these days that these kind of things happen all the time. Same goes for that Village People remix with “My Number”.

SW: Are there any tracks from the setlist that you were gutted to drop to make way for new album songs?

WG: Yeah, another good question. I think we’re missing “Black Gold”, I was really wishing we’d still play that one, but we’ve left it a bit long now so it would actually take some rehearsal. I think that’s the thing with us; if we don’t play things for a while, we lose them a bit. It’s hard. We have to keep juggling all these songs or they fall behind. “Afterglow” is another one, although we’ve promised ourselves we’d play that again. “2 Trees” as well, where hopefully we’ll start playing that again in America. So hopefully when we come back to Australia, there’ll be a lot of Holy Fire but also throwing in a lot of songs that we haven’t played there at all yet, so that’ll be kind of cool.

SW: I sometimes think about Kings Of Leon and wonder what the fuck happened there… Do you ever think that a band’s popularity can detract from what they’re trying to accomplish? Is there such a thing as being too popular for you guys? 

WG: Yeah I mean it’s weird; we keep getting asked questions like this, like if you guys are going to get massive and turn into a stadium band etc, but it doesn’t feel like that to us at all. This record does have more mainstream attraction, that’s for sure. But it isn’t a forced thing. I think our band will always be difficult and challenging enough not to capture the minds and tastes of everyone out there. There are plenty of people that don’t like our music and don’t like what we do and that’s fine. I don’t think we should be worried too much. We want to be in a comfortable place where people that actually care are still being surprised and want to keep with us. We definitely don’t want to worry too much about reaching out to everyone we possibly can. The fans we’ve had from the start are the fans we want to keep impressing.

SW: I only ask because “My Number” has just become massive over here. While I don’t want to sound like a dick, Foals fans are a very protective species and if they’re anything like me, they want to make sure that your fans get your music and don’t just jump on a bandwagon.

WG: Haha oh, that’s sweet man. I hope people understand that a track like “My Number” was a lot of fun for us to do. It was a kind of release in a different way for us, and was different to most of our tracks in that it wasn’t all that intricate or introverted. We take just as much pleasure in writing tracks like that, and it’s still us being ourselves. I know what you mean though, haha it must be weird.

SW: You say in an interview in 2012 that you don’t feel famous and that in the event that ‘Hello’ popped around for some dirt, that you would have plenty on each other. Can you pretend that we’re ‘Hello’ for 30 seconds and expand on this?

WG: (Laughs.) Oh god. Well I could give you from the last few hours that we all got in at about 5am this morning except for Jimmy and our guitar tech who were seen down in the lobby at 10.30am this morning. Haha and I haven’t actually seen him since. So I guess that’s the only goss at the moment, that he stayed up all night and fully experienced Buenos Aires. I think he’s got his tail between his legs a bit.

SW: Guess you could say he had a bit of a “Late Night” then…

WG: … (crickets…)

SW: Top 5 favourite Walters?

(laughs.) That’s really good. God, I don’t even know if I know 5 Walters.

Walter Freefels in Quicksand; Walter the Softy a guy who was a cartoon character in a British comic… You might have to give me a few…

SW: Walter White from Breaking Bad? Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski? I did a bit of homework in case this went pear-shaped… 

WG: Haha of course.. yep I’ll leave it at 4.

SW: Yannis has openly come out and expressed his hate of David Guetta’s music. What are the top bands that annoy you?

WG: Ummm. Without trying to avoid the question, I don’t really want to go down that road. I sort of just sidestep things. Like I’m sidestepping the question. No one really annoys me, I just kind of don’t let it into my world and don’t get irritated by it. The general thing that pisses me off though, is those people who are quite happy to recycle stuff that has already been covered. People that don’t use their imagination and have the chance to be in a band to do something different, that just want to churn out the same stuff which other people did better. That annoys me.

SW: One lasting comment for those coming to see you this coming September and October in Australia?

WG: I wish we could announce who we’re going to bring with us, but unfortunately we don’t know them yet. How about: Bring us some smiles and some good cheer and you’ll get it back!

So while Foals won’t be playing Splendour in the Grass, their Australian tour in September and October is not to be missed. The dates are below!







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