British rock band Foals heats it up with Holy Fire

Photo by STEVE GULLICK -- Foals Show caption
Photo by STEVE GULLICK -- Foals

Passionate vocals, explosive energy, monstrous riffs and engulfing atmosphere distinguish the aptly titled Holy Fire, the third full-length album from 21st-century British rock band Foals.

Foals’ two-month North American tour includes appearances at the Coachella music festival in Indigo, Calif., The Fillmore in San Francisco, Mexico City’s El Plaza Condesa, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., and the House of Blues in New Orleans.

When the band from the British university town of Oxford plays New Orleans, bassist and backup vocalist Walter Gervers will be back in a place that has stayed in his memory every since his first visit to the city at 14.

“I visited New Orleans as a kid,” Gervers said from a Phoenix hotel. “It was one of the first times I’d been to America, one of my earliest experiences of traveling far away from home. I saw the Superdome and the French Quarter. It was amazing. So, yeah, it’ll be nice to swing by again.”

When Foals makes its New Orleans debut Sunday, April 28, the band will be in the region of the U.S., the Deep South, that partly inspired its Holy Fire album. During recording sessions for the project in London at producers Flood and Moulder’s Assault & Battery studio, the group sought to create a swampy, humid atmosphere.

“We’ve always been fans of Alan Lomax’s chain gang recordings and things like that,” Gervers said. “And when we were recording the album, we were thinking there was a swampy sound to a lot of the sonics. There was a sticky heat in the grooves.

“While you’re in the studio, it’s fun to be thinking about those kind of things, even if they don’t directly come across in the songs. It’s like a little reference point for everyone to be on the same page. We tend to do that, but it’ll be nice to actually to see the place for real.”

Most of the members of Foals are from Oxford or thereabouts. Gervers and drummer Jack Bevan met while they were studying art at Oxford Brookes University. Singer-guitarist Yannis Philippakis and keyboardist Edwin Congreave attended the famous Oxford University.

“Yeah, Oxford was really good for us starting out, because there’s lots of small places where you can play,” Gervers said. “We’d put on shows with our friends’ bands. There’s a good little community and there’s still exciting things happening there. Now we have a little studio there, which local bands can use.”

Foals began making Holy Fire at the band’s Oxford studio. Far from the maddening London crowd, small-town Oxford is a good place to write songs.

“We’re away from quite a few distractions,” Gervers said.

Getting much work done in Oxford was a plus once the group went to London to work with Flood and Moulder (P.J. Harvey, The Killers, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails).

“In the early stages we’d send them loops and things from Oxford,” Gervers said. “And then they’d drive down and spend the day in our tiny little studio. It was a quite cool process, because we didn’t actually go to London to start the recording. Then, all of sudden, by the time we got into their studio with them, we’d achieved quite a lot already. So then it was about getting sounds and getting us all in the room.”

After Foals completes its American tour, the band goes to Moscow for the Subbotnik Festival, to the British Isles and Japan for more festivals, back to the U.S., on to Australia and New Zealand and then Europe.

“It’s going to be fun to do the festival circuit again this year,” Gervers said. “Every festival is unique.”