Foals’ Guitarist Jimmy Smith on the Benefits of Touring and Hairy Spider Legs
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There are two kinds of musicians — those who like being on tour, and those who hate being on tour. Foals’ guitarist Jimmy Smith (@jimmyfoals) is the former.
“You feel like a bit of a renegade, going against the flow of normal society,” he says over the phone, freshly off a recent set of shows across Europe. “The very first time I went on tour, I went to a service station and saw all these people commuting or picking up their coffees, and we were just operating on such a different time scale. Musicians are allowed to go careening around the world doing whatever they want.”
Well, successful ones like the members of Foals are. One of the buzzier indie bands of the late 2000s, Foals quickly became cool kid darlings, booked gigs at Glastonbury and Coachella and now trot all over the globe selling out big venues. Last month, they released their fourth album, What Went Down, which opens with the vicious, muscular title track that sees the guys taking a victory lap smack dab in its middle. Don’t be too intimidated by their swagger, though.
“Bands who seem so effortlessly cool always impress me. Because you know they’re going through the same stuff every band goes through. They’re probably nervous. You’re always a little bit nervous,” Jimmy says. “If you think about it too much, it is quite a strange thing going onstage and playing music for loads of people. It’s really easy to freak yourself out. The best thing to do is not think about it.”
In service of not thinking about it, the bandmates aim to spend their days on tour distracting themselves from the looming “black cloud” of the show. Their latest method is finding a basketball court near the bus and shooting hoops, but drinking cheap wine and eating tapas works, too. Or getting caught up in the animal world, like Jimmy.
“I was obsessed with nature documentaries as a kid,” he says. “I used to think I had some sort of special connection with animals. Even now there’s a spider on my balcony and it’s pretty amazing just to sit there and look at its hideous hairy legs.”
Jimmy grew up in and around Oxford, England, and played the piano and a classical guitar his mother left lying around the house. He joined the school band and bought an electric guitar by the time he was 15, but picked geography as his major in university. After he graduated, he joined Foals while working a “rubbish” data entry job.
In comparison to poking at a keyboard all day, the cons of touring — “trying to sort out what sort of condition you’re in, how bad the hangover is and whether a good juice will get rid of it or whether it needs a Bloody Mary” — are cake. So much so that when Jimmy’s off, all he wants to do is be back on.
“Sufjan Stevens’ album this year was a big inspiration, and I saw him play a couple days ago. There’s an absolute magic in watching a good band play a good show. I always get really jealous, especially if we’re not touring and it’s time off,” he says. “Touring is relentless. It’s really bad for you. Physically and mentally it can be draining. But I just wanna be doing it.”