Learn how to re-create ‘Foals’ math rock sound with Guitarist Jimmy Smith telling you about his Les Paul Jnr and what else he used to create songs like ‘Mathletics’ of the debut album ‘Antidotes’
Eschewing any labels such as indie, techno or math rock, Foals guitarist Jimmy Smith describes the band’s sonics as being “very clean, with very little effects, and then with an added synthesiser on top. My style is all based around rhythms and interlocking patterns. I’ll play a certain rhythm and Yannis will play off that.”
Having played Fender Telecasters, Jimmy’s main guitar now is a Gibson Les Paul Junior Special. “It’s a rhythm machine that has a clean sound with depth to it. I stick to the rhythm pickup.” He plays through a 1970s Vox AC30. A Crowther Audio Hot Cake overdrive pedals gets used occasionally. “There’s also a Boss DD-3 Delay used at the beginning of ‘Mathletics‘ and on little bits on ‘Hummer‘ but it’s all used sparingly.”
In The Studio
TV On The Radio guitarist Dave Sitek produced Foals’s debut album ‘Antidotes‘. ‘He wanted us to experiment a lot, getting us to do things different ways than what we’d originally planned – and we were all into that,” explains Jimmy. “I’d feel bad giving away Dave’s secrets but a couple of them are the use of tape loops and a Mu-Tron Bi-Phase; the Mu-Tron makes everything sound magical.” Although recording went well, when the band got the finished mixes back from Dave they felt it necessary to do some remixing of their own. ‘It was more about a clash of style, I suppose,” says Jimmy. “He kind of soaked everything in reverb, which sounded good, but we wanted the rhythms to stand out a bit more than they did.”
Jimmy possesses a tight, precise single-note style that allows him and fellow guitarist Yannis to play interweaving melodies and harmonies off each other. “Our guitar parts are so reliant on each other, but we don’t find it hard to do. It’s just a case of sitting down together and coming up with patterns that work together. And something that’s influenced us more and more is polyrhythms,” states Jimmy. Simply put, polyrhythms are using two rhythms at one; for example, bang out five equally spaced beats whilst someone else bangs out four equally space beats that start and finish at the same time as the five. The five beats will need to be sounded out quicker, giving a different rhythm. And what about this “math-rock” label that gets applied to Foals? Well, without getting bogged down in too much detail, it’s based on the use of such things as odd-numbered time signatures (e.g. 3/4 or 7/8 as opposed to the 4/4 of standard rock) and dissonance (notes that don’t sound conventionally right when played together; e.g. F and B when playing in the key of C produces an evil-sounding dissonant interval called a “tritone“).
“Get rid of all your pedals. Also get rid of your Marshall amp and get one with a clean sound. Finally, don’t go below the 12th fret – it’s easier to play up the neck and you get a better sound.”