Writing by Simone Ziada // Photography by Rashidi Noah
There’s that age old saying: never meet your heroes. And while I’ve been burnt before, it was incredibly refreshing to meet someone whose music I’ve idolised since my youth – music that defined my post-high school indie club rat self – and who is genuinely a lovely human.
I virtually sat down with Foals’ Jimmy Smith to talk touring Australia, finding solo time on the road, the British rock ’n’ roll scene, Heaps Good Festival and what advice he’d give his younger self. It all started like this…
S: Now, I’m gonna fangirl for just a second and then I’ll be professional, I promise…
Big fan! I’ve seen [Foals live] that many times, and I remember when Antidotes first came out I’d just finished high school and got deep into the indie club scene – your music was the soundtrack to my youth, so thank you!
J: Oh, you’re welcome! That sounds great. When was that?
S: So I finished high school in 2007, and 2008 is when it came out.
J: I should know that – when the album came out.
Foals are Australian fan favourites, and it’s no surprise as to why: true showmen, earnest, down to earth and always ready to put on one helluva performance.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been to Australia, but we do try and get there every album cycle, just ‘cause we really like it. It’s such a cool place to play…I feel quite successful touring Australia because geographically it feels like we’re conquering the world a little bit.”
Heading to our shores this New Years period to play the Heaps Good Festival in Naarm/Melbourne on New Years Eve, followed by a performance at Fortitude Music Hall in Meanjin/Brisbane a few days later, Jimmy can’t help but express his adoration for Aussie crowds.
“The crowds when you get there are really special as well. They always bring a lot of energy. I feel like they’re always really happy when bands make the effort to come across, and that usually translates into a pretty good tour with pretty good shows. Put that energy into a nice well-run festival with good weather, and yeah! I think that sounds pretty good.”
Jimmy is as chill, humble and talkative as you’d hope but might not expect. After all, he’s the guitarist in one of Britain’s most successful indie rock bands. And me? I’m just a writer respectfully fan-girling over the opportunity to talk to him. In his own words, he’s a “waffler” to which I assured him that he was in good company. We continued to waffle on.
I’m always curious about bands on the road and how they find time, peace and solitude away from one another. You know, to keep from rising tensions. I attempt to empathise with him, talking about how I’ve travelled with friends…
“It’s the realisation that you need…You’ve spent all this time with each other – especially in the early days – you’re in a van together, you’re sharing hotel rooms, you’re sharing hotel beds – there was no escape.”
“But, back then, you’ve got so much energy that it doesn’t matter. And then it changes quite quickly…you can feel when your tolerance levels are depleted and you can’t deal with another person saying anything, so you just have to check out and go for a walk, or go read a book somewhere…just have a bit of alone time.”
“[No one’s thinking] that you don’t want to hang out with [them]. Everyone’s like, ‘I totally get it.’ Everybody goes through it at different times, it’s just a fact of life—people are annoying.”
He isn’t wrong, people really are annoying. But as Jimmy points out, it’s about being upfront and honest about how you’re feeling, rather than letting it boil.
“Honesty is so good, I wish everybody was [honest]. Like, if I’m pissing you off, tell me I’m pissing you off because otherwise I’ll just carry on.”
Speaking with the guitarist, it was obvious that there was no ego. He’s just a dude that loves playing music with his mates, appreciates a good Aussie crowd and has some advice for his younger self, as well as bands wanting to start out.
Friends, I give you Heaps Good Advice with Jimmy Smith.
S: I want you to tap into young Jimmy, tap into early days of Foals. If you could go back and talk to your younger self – pre-success of Foals – is there any advice you would give to your younger self about navigating everything? The desire to make it, the stress, the loneliness on the road – all of that?
J: Well the first thing I’d say is get a bigger pair of trousers because those jeans are too skinny…they will not look good in ten years time.
I’d [also] say drink some water, and don’t worry – it’s okay if you don’t want to drink if you don’t want to. And don’t feel pressure to live up to some sort of cliche that doesn’t exist.
S: That’s actually a really good point, did you feel like you had to live up to this rockstar status especially back then?
J: Yeah, definitely back then. It seems to have really calmed down for young bands these days. When we were coming up, you had all these magazines like NME and all this British rock culture, like The Libertines and all that, and it was just all about partying and drinking and not taking care of yourself, and that was rock ’n’ roll. And that’s the thing, people try and live up to it and then you sort of realise – when the wheels start coming off – oh no, hang on a minute. This is just bullshit. Everybody’s just acting and it starts to get pretty unhappy. Well, it did for me anyway.
The sad fact of it is that so many bands broke up or burnt out before they did anything good because they just partied too much. They became accountants or something.
S: To your point about young bands in the scene, partying away, is there any advice that you would or maybe have given them in your travels?
J: Just try and be yourself, take advice from people but always be skeptical of it and, musically speaking, if you know what feels good playing it then just do that. Even if people are saying it’s no good, still keep doing it…If a lot of people are saying it’s no good then maybe it’s not very good.
I feel like I can hear it today, that a lot of young bands are getting boxed into a sound and getting pressure by labels…Oh yeah, and don’t sign a big record deal. Just don’t do it. Be realistic, I would say. Sign a small deal with no money to start with, then get your music right, and then sign the big deal when you’ve nailed the music.
Be wary of signing big things because they will pressure you into things and it is all about money, and if you don’t start making money then they’ve got you and they’ll start changing you. All the cliches are sadly quite true. And it would be incredibly hard being a solo musician, all on your own – you just have to fight everything, all the time, basically.
We’ve had a really good experience with the industry…We’ve still been screwed over and all the usual stuff, but having an extra four people to fall back on and share the blame, or talk about these industry people that you meet…you feel like you way more in a gang, and you feel way more confident in telling these people to piss off.
For anyone starting out and wanting to take it seriously, I would say just get a good manager – at least one person you vaguely trust, and then you should be okay.
Any final words, Jimmy? “Don’t do it for the money ‘cause there is none.”
Foals play Heaps Good Festival in Naarm/Melbourne on Sunday 31 December 2023, and Fortitude Music Hall in Meanjin/Brisbane on Tuesday 2 January 2024.
Tickets to Heaps Good can be purchased here.