Math rockers with an appetite for destruction: Foals gallop up the charts

The band have an intellectual hinterland – but they like a bit of chaos. So can their sound survive domestic bliss? As they set off on a new British tour

For all the disappointingly polite, middle-class rock bands you meet in this job, who tell you that their tour bus is a civilised haven, involving tea, digestive biscuits, and DVD box-sets, it's refreshing to meet a band for whom touring is just as unruly as you'd imagine.

"It's 24-hours, seven-days-a-week, just absolute, untrammelled carnage," states frontman Yannis Philippakis, who is well known for clambering on stage-monitors and hurling himself onto the young, heaving crowds. He goes on: "The way that we play shows requires getting to a heightened state that then, after a show, has to be let out. Usually that's when the trouble occurs." He recalls such trouble – a show in Vancouver at the start of their last US tour which resulted in a letter of warning forwarded by the Canadian venue to every venue down the American West Coast. "I swear you weren't kicking a security guard in the head while we were playing," he says, facing guitarist Jimmy Smith. "There was all sorts of stuff that they definitely made up… Or at least I can't remember happening. We don't have NutriShakes and go to bed early, put it that way."

In person, Foals are intense and brooding. Live, that intensity translates to feral; ferocious attacks on their guitars in performances that buzz and effervesce with energy. Next month they play the Royal Albert Hall, but it's the tiny, cavernous XOYO in the back streets of east London, throbbing with pogoing fans, where they played a secret warm-up gig this month, that's their more natural habitat. When I first saw the frenetic guitar band, it was at the tiny Buffalo Bar in north London in 2007 – long before the release of their debut album. Amid the hype, it was clear that their focused energy and distinct polyrhythm-driven math-rock would lead them to big things.

Since, the band have achieved a Mercury nomination for their 2010-released second album Total Life Forever, two Top 10 albums and are now celebrating their highest-charting album with Holy Fire (a No 2), while their Albert Hall gig sold out in 10 minutes and their single "Inhaler" racked up 2.5 million views on YouTube. But when the band began, after four of the five quit university, including youngest band-member Philippakis after a year of English literature at Oxford, it wasn't with fame in their sights. "It might sound disingenuous to say this, but there really wasn't," says Philippakis. "We were a ramshackle punk outfit playing house parties. It's not like we come from slickly corporate real go-get-'em type backgrounds. We're slackers from Oxford that spent a lot of time listening to records, being nerdy and smoking pot and being left off the sports team, and that's where the band came off."

Ramshackle they may have been, but there has always been a serious work-ethic and high quality-control to the band that have, at their helm, a perfectionist for a frontman. Philippakis, the 26-year-old son of a South African academic (his mother) and a Greek architect (his father), has a reputation for being a spiky interviewee, but when I meet him with Smith at a north London cafe near their home, I find a man who's complex and opinionated, fiercely intense and intelligent, sometimes pretentious, and keen for his band's music to be understood. After their 2008 urgent math-rock debut Antidotes and its 2010 follow-up, the muscular, direct Holy Fire sounds their most relaxed album to date.

"It's definitely the least encumbered by thinking. It was much more of a gut and spleen record than anything else we've made," says Philippakis, adding by way of an explanation: "Maybe on Total Life Forever there's a feeling that we were allowed to wormhole a little bit too much and it became too introverted and lethargic. At heart we're an energetic band, we're a live band, and I think there was something clear-headed about this record." It was also the time for Philippakis – creator of abstract lyrics – to explore more personal writing.

"I felt there was something cowardly in remaining in a place lyrically where it was easy to obscure sentiment and I wanted to push myself to write from a place that felt emotionally exposed and sincere," he pontificates. "In order to be able to play a song night after night, for it to mean something to other people, it has to be genuine."

The sense of liberation in the album is partly due to its producers Alan Moulder and Flood, whose north-London studio they packed with £400-worth of plants – ferns, ivy and creepers. "It made the space our own; sometimes you can go into the studio and the vibe can be tainted by who's recorded there."

But there was also the contentedness and confidence the band felt when making the third album. Having lived together as a band in Oxford since their inception, that Philippakis and Smith both recently moved in with their girlfriends – and each other – has prompted the ever-questing frontman to wonder if this could be a negative move. "I do worry about becoming too content", he says. "It's like magnets that repel – you can't have a fully balanced and contented domestic lifestyle that's full of the joys that that brings, and then be able to write records that have power to them. I don't know how we would do that. I think there's a certain amount of creativity that's predicated on being alone or being melancholic. It's like: 'Do I take the blue pill or the red pill? Do I have this rosy future with like a Buddleia and two grinning kids? Or a life where you don't have that, but what you do have is the ability to keep making art?'"

Philippakis took up a vast array of interests to balance his frenetic touring life. He went back to Greece, to see his father, and also to escape. "It's just a great place to go to when you need to get away from something", he says. "The landscape is beautiful and raw. It's got a primal power to it; it's sheer cliffs and wild ocean." And he took up gardening and the challenging task of growing roses.

"It's something grounded to make you feel normal. I like growing things. It just feels like the perfect counterbalance – it's private, like a sanctuary, away from the traffic and the smog." And with that they're off, back into the traffic, and the smog.

'Holy Fire' is out now. Foals tour from 2 to 28 March

Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker