Interview: Jack Foley
Q. It's been an exciting year for you so far, what with the
new album, The Half Chapter, and now a new single, in Heavy Soul?
A. Yeah, it has been kind of crazy; it got very busy, very
quickly, which is great, because I guess I was used to just sitting
in a room and demoing songs... It's kind of nice to get out there
and play to people.
Q. You started writing songs at the age of about 14, didn't
A. Yeah, even a bit before that [laughs]. I probably started
taking it more seriously when I came back from Amsterdam, where
I lived, and 14 was where I really started taking it seriously,
and I realised.
I entered a competition, actually, and this is the first time
I've mentioned this, but it was a kids' songwriters' competition,
judged by people like Phil Collins and Harvey Goldsmith, and I
got to the last ten. I didn't go any further than that, but that
kind of made me realise that I did have something, you know? I
had something that it seemed that people quite liked; so then
I started to take myself probably too seriously for a while...[laughs]
Q. It says in the PR, as well, that you deliberately didn't
take what you describe as the quick route to easy success? You
did your A-levels...
A. Yeah, yeah, and I partly kind of wondered about going on
to uni as well, you know? But I think, while I was dong my A-levels,
in the summer in between the two years, my brother's band, The
Dum-Dums, were kind of taking off. They were a three-piece and
they were talking about whether I might play keyboards for them
at one point, and I think then I realised that there were a few
kind of avenues I might take, to get myself into the music scene,
and, in the end, I did it the long way, by doing loads of demos,
and went out and got a deal, which takes quite a while. I was
fortunate to get a management deal quite early on and stuff...
Q. And do you feel that you have accomplished much more by
taking that route? Is the feeling of satisfaction greater?
A. I'm really happy, because it's all I've ever really seen
myself doing. You know, I toyed with the idea of, if it didn't
work, would I go into media, as I had done media studies A-levels.
Maybe I'd do some video editing of some kind, but never really
had a big passion for it; it was always, I'd come home from school
and write songs, and demo them. So it is really satisfying to
actually get to the point in my life where the record company
gave me the option of putting the album out. It was like, 'wow,
I've kind of done it, you know, the album's coming out in the
shops'! And we're not talking about one of the crap albums I'd
produced in my bedroom, you know?
Q. It's a really good album...
A. Thanks, and, as you say, it's been a really satisfying
year, this past year.
Q. So have you had any pinch yourself moments during that
time, or special moments or highlights you like to look back on?
A. Highlights... I'd day making the album is so much fun,
because I just love getting into the studio and just having a
simple song, that I've written on an acoustic guitar, and just
thinking about how am I gonna do this? And just being free to
experiment; I love that, that's what I really love about recording.
And I think obviously the live stuff... supporting Ron Sexsmith,
which was the first tour we did, and was great, because I had
always been a big admirer of his music as well. More recently,
we did shows with the Polyphonic Spree, which was good... We kind
of crammed onto the stage, because there's 24 or 25 of them, and
we have a little area to try and get on.
We also did a show with John Mayer, which is the biggest show
we've done, at the Hammersmith Apollo. I don't know what it was
about his crowd, but they seemed to like what we were doing, so
when you walk out in front of three or four thousand people and
they get it, you know, that's a good feeling.
Q. And you've got a support slot alongside Sheryl Crow in
A. I'm sure that'll top them all [laughs].
Q. That'll be a massive crowd, won't it?
A. Well, it's Shepherd's Bush, which is actually not as big
as the Apollo, but we're doing three nights, so, you know, it's
a really cool venue as well.
Q. It's big, but it's intimate as well, isn't it?
Q. Looking through you're biography, you do seem to have worked
with some really good people, such as your producer, Martin Terefe,
and other leading names in the industry. And you even have Travis
drummer, Neil Primrose, guesting on the album. How did you get
to walk in those circles?
A. Some industry connections have come through the Dum Dums
days, such as the main company people they worked with, that I
work with. And now Steve plays in my band, so it's sort of like
me and the old clan again, which is kind of funny.
But some of it's just... like my record company knew Martin, from
way back (he may have produced something for Wildstar at some
point), and we just had loads of ideas, about who would produce
We hooked up with Martin just to try out, for a two-week period,
which was when Neil came in and played. Neil was a sort of connection
through my record company as well, but he came down to a gig that
I did; he and Dougie were there, and Andy might have been there
as well, and I think they really enjoyed it, so when we asked
him to come and do it, he was happy to. Which is such a pat on
the back for me, there's nothing like that to give you a sort
of confidence boost.
Q. Just diverting for a minute, and talking about Neil, do
you keep in contact with him, and what did you think when you
first heard about the injury?
A. Well, he was supposed to play on the whole album, and we
were really looking forward to having him in. We did a thing in
June and the plan was to do the whole of August, and we had Neil
booked it, but then he had his accident a few weeks before that.
But he's a lucky guy really. But in terms of keeping in touch
with him, we cross paths more than anything, because we do kind
of work with some of the same people, so we tend to cross paths.
I bumped into him the other day and said it's good to see you
up and about. Because I think he had the same injury as Christopher
Reeve, so lucky to be alive, and lucky to be walking, so he's
a tough one.
Q. And now they're beating each other up in their video?
A. Yeah [laughs] it's kind of like, 'be careful with him!'
Q. How long did The Half Chapter take to put together then?
A. Well, I guess, the bulk of it was a month of just solid
recording that August. Then we kind of left it for a while, and
I just kept writing, because I always do, anyway, and we just
thought there were one or two songs that would really work on
the album as well. So, we got together again for a two week period,
so maybe if you added it all together, with the odd day here or
there, it's probably two or three months. It's not like hearing
of some bands... some of whom do it in seven days, and some who
do it in seven months, or even years, if you're talking about
the Stereo MCs, who took ten years!
Q. And you must be delighted with the critical reaction to
A. Oh yeah, well that was probably the only thing I really
worried about. Whether the album sells, and all that, is something
for the record company to worry about, and if I concerned myself
with that, I don't think I'd enjoy what I do. And I wouldn't write,
if I was worried about that all of the time.
The good reviews were an absolute pat on the back, especially
because we relied on good reviews from people like Q, because
that's the kind of magazine that should be understanding where
I'm coming from, and they obviously did. I was really pleased
with that. Uncut was good, and the Independent gave us a good
review, and it means that no matter how many albums you sell,
you can always come back and say this is the album who released
this album, which had good reviews, rather than trying to fight
against bad ones all the time. You see bands that are always trying
to live down their past, all the time, and I'm glad that's not
going to be the way for me.
I do see the first album as a starting point and I hope the next
album will be a step up from it.
Q. The new single, Heavy Soul, has lyrics which scream of
frustration, but which are defiant as well, while the song itself
retains upbeat melodies all the way through. Was that a conscious
decision not to go the way of, say, Radiohead, for instance...
A. Yeah, it's funny that because when you listen to songs
like Heavy Soul, or something, it's actually lyrically very frustrated.
But, I think, what I've found, and what a lot of people say as
well, is that it's a really uplifting song, but I can't quite
figure that out. Maybe it's because sometimes it's good to be
righteously angry about something, you know what I mean? And to
be able to express that, maybe that's an uplifting feeling...
Q. It's almost like writing about your frustrations but getting
something out of it as well, without dwelling on it, or bringing
the listener down with you?
A. Well, I'm not really like a messed up person, so I think
it would be wrong for me to put that across. But, obviously, just
like everyone else, I've got things that piss me off. I remember
when I was a bit younger, I was chatting to my dad about it, and
I used to write such kind of miserable songs. People tend to that
when they're younger, I don't know what it is, but he was saying
that I had to be careful, because people go through this stuff,
and writing a miserable song is just like poking a wound and not
really offering any kind of solutions, or help. And, as much as
maybe I didn't want to hear it at the time, because I wanted everyone
to love what I was writing, I think there is an element of hope
on the album, and maybe that comes from that. Maybe I realised
that you just cannot keep whinging about everything and depress
people. Some bands do it, but maybe we all shouldn't go down that
Q. They get a tag for it, anyway, don't they, even if they
try and move away from it?
A. Yeah, but I like those bands, too. I grew up listening
to Radiohead and stuff, but I just think I'm not quite that intense.
Q. So was Heavy Soul borne out of a particular experience?
A. Yeah, at the time, a sort of friendship. I really didn't
want to write the song for a long time, because I was so close
to this person, we were almost like brothers. And you know what
that's like, it's almost sort of love/hate? And I just remember
being so frustrated with him, on so many occasions, that I just
got the point where I felt I had to scribble it down, and it was
quite a quick song to write once I got going, cos I knew what
I wanted to say.
Q. And now you've released it as well...
A. Yeah [laughs]
Q. And are you still close to this friend?
A. Yeah, I am. Actually things are a lot better now, but it
was kind of weird for a time there.
Q. And talking of influences, musically you cite the likes
of Neil Finn, Bob Dylan, Beck. Have you ever had the chance to
meet any of these people, or see them live?
A. I've seen Neil Finn, but not Beck or Bob Dylan. They are
two that I'd really love to see at some point. I mean, I've seen
stuff that they've done, but never live.
I remember watching a Beck concert on a flight back from America,
when we were in Nasvhille doing some strings for the album, and
it's just awesome; I'd just love to see him live. You don't expect
someone like that to be involved in dance routines, onstage, but
he does it and pulls it off, and he's just brilliant.
Q. And he's so diverse, as well...
A. Yeah, I mean, you can't really compare Mutations to Midnight
Vultures; they are completely different...
Q. Is that something you would like to strive towards, maybe
having a different sound for every album?
A. Yeah, I'll definitely move on. But Beck is unique like
that and I don't think that he can be copied.
I probably take more influence from his acoustic side, whereas
I can't see myself releasing an album as kind of far out as Midnight
Vultures. Some of the songs on that are... well, I don't know
how you write songs like that, to be honest. How you come up with
those ideas and put them all together, I don't know. He has a
very creative mind, that guy. There are so many musical influences
all merged into one on that album.
Q. He's almost like the Johnny Depp of the music industry,
because he's not afraid to experiment and it always works...
A. Yeah, it's a good comparison...
Q. So what are your future plans? What are you working on
at the moment?
A. I'm writing a lot at the moment, which I'm really excited
about. I'm thinking about doing an acoustic EP, even though I
haven't mentioned this yet to anyone I work with. Even if I just
have to do it in my bedroom, you know, it's fine. But that's the
one thing that, I find, keeps me sane in the whole thing, what
with being so busy now, is just looking forward to the next lot
of recording; because that's something that's like a comfort zone
for me. That's where I'm most at ease, when I'm writing and recording,
so it helps to look forward to new projects. I mean I've still
got a way to go promoting this album, and I'm committed to doing
that, but I also think I need to think about the next thing.
It's probably a little bit premature to think about album two,
so maybe like a little EP as a stop-gap between the two.... It's
the kind of thing I could do, and produce at home. It doesn't
have to sound like a complete finished article, that's the beauty
of it. Maybe I'll just do it on a four-track or something, just
to try and capture that.
And it just keeps me sane, writing, I think, because I just love
it. It's quite natural, I think, for artists to get to the point
where you sort of outgrow you're work. I've been proud of this
album, The Half Chapter, for a long time, and most of the album
has been around for over a year, so it's unusual for me to be
proud of something that I've done for that long. And I still am
very proud of it, but, at the same time, I've just turned 23,
and I think that this kind of age, you grow, a lot, all the time,
and a year's like a long time for your influences to change. I
guess you kind of grow up a lot in that time, as well. Late teens
and early 20s, you grow up and awful lot. And I feel like I can
write about different things, as well. Maybe see things from a
slightly different angle.
Q. And I guess so much is happening at the moment, which provides
A. Definitely, but I also look back on things that happened
ages ago, but I had a different take on them. So, it can be things
that happened ten years ago, or five years ago, but maybe I understand
them better these days, and it's fine to write about them in a
different way. And that's what I've got to keep doing, otherwise
I'm going to get swallowed up by this industry, because it's a
weird thing to get used to.
Q. Yeah, I read in your bio, that you once described yourself
as a bit of a depressive. Now that you're successful, is it easier
to feel happier, or easier to feel depressed if, say, you look
at the charts and wonder why something so manufactured can dominate
over something which has been created by an artist?
A. That's been there for a while. In fact, this year, has
probably been a slightly more healthy year than most, musically.
It's been great to see a band, like Kings of Leon, for instance,
who have just kind of exploded. I think this year's not been too
I'm not sure if I get depressed, but then I think being busy,
in itself, is good. I don't feel as depressed, at the moment,
as I have done. But I've not got a lot of time to think about
the things that depressed me before, you know.
Some people say that's not a solution, but it's a means to an
end. If you can get through your day and feel like you've achieved
something that day, then that helps.
What doesn't help is being a musician who sits at home and writes
songs, and then goes out for a coffee, and comes back and watches
TV, or plays PlayStation, and are in your own company all the
time. That's when you hit the spiral, and I'm glad that I've not
got too much time to do that at the moment. It's helping me.
Q. So what are your plans? You have a mini tour, which visits
the Underworld this week, and Sheryl Crow at the beginning of
December. Any touring plans after that? Are you going into Europe,
or maybe America?
A. Well, we're in Japan at the moment. I went there for the
first time a couple of weeks ago, and we're going back in between
the gigs at the end of November and before Sheryl Crow. So there's
that, and we will look at doing things in America and in Europe;
we will get to that, but I suppose we just have to see how things
If all this takes off massively, here or in Japan, there will
be a lot to do. But I think Heavy Soul will build on what we did
with the first single, Secret File, which was more of an introduction
song. If Heavy Soul builds on that a bit, which is what I expect
it to do, then we have our biggest singles that we're holding
on to until next year. So I would have thought it's just got to
be a steady build until we start hitting the chart positions we
want to be hitting.
It's a process, in itself, because it's difficult for bands that
are just sort of coming out of nowhere at the minute. We haven't
got a TV show we're a spin-off from, you know. You have got to
do it the hard way, and keep touring.
Q. The exposure you're getting from the likes of Xfm and Virgin
must be useful, though?
A. We've had a lot of support from Birmingham stuff, as I'm
a Birmingham boy. I'm really pleased that Xfm played the first
single an awful lot, while the regional stuff has picked up on
this one, so if we can get it all combined, as time goes on, it
would be good. But it's very rarely an overnight thing...
Q. So what are you listening to at the moment?
A. I'm listening to a lot, actually, and been buying a lot
of CDs. I bought the Damien Rice album, which I like. It's really
my kind of thing, emphatic songwriting. Fairly simple in a lot
of ways, but I like the way it's produced. It's not too slick,
which I think a lot of acoustic artists make that mistake. It's
all too polished sometimes, and sounds over-produced.
The Flaming Lips, as I was making the album, which I have on vinyl.
I think it sounds brilliant on vinyl. I'm constantly enlarging
my Bob Dylan collection, and I bought some music by The Band recently.
I have kind of embraced music, especially from the Seventies,
I think, which is something that I've really taken to, because
of the production element. I mean, things were generally recorded
to tape and it was a lot more real.
Q. What sort of advice would you have for anyone wanting to
follow in your footsteps? What are the virtues needed?
A. Patience and just to do what you do. There's always a lot
of pressure to write hits and stuff, and maybe we all kind of
succumb to that a little bit, and we're all looking for that killer
idea that's going to relate to loads of people. But I just love
it when you hear bands that are obviously just doing their own
thing, because you need balls to do that.
That's definitely not the way to quick stardom, but I think if
you're really into your music, and in it for the music, then just
stick to your guns.
Michael Stipe said, recently, when asked the same question, just
follow your heart, don't listen to me. And I liked that. No one's
got the recipe; you've just got to go on your instincts, I suppose,
which is something I'm learning to do a lot more.
Q. Talking of having balls, I read you walked into a record
company when you thought you were ready and just started playing
your material in order to get a contract?
A. Yeah, it wasn't the first record company I went to, I did
it for a little while. I guess there were different points where
I felt, well, this is a good song and I've got a few of those
now, so my management used to hook me up with different record
companies for kind of like 15 minutes out of their day, and I
would just go in, say 'hello' and literally sit in front of one
person, or two people maximum, and play what I was working on.
I always had a good response, which helps, it wasn't a really
disheartening thing. No one was ever, like, 'you're shit'.
You can tell when people really got it or, well, that's not for
me, and you always get a bit of that.
But with Wildstar, it was great going to their office, it was
such a natural process; from the moment I walked in. I remember
breaking a string in the middle of one song and carrying on, with
the guitar completely out of tune, and thinking they're probably
hating this, and they'll show me the door at any minute.
But they phoned the next day and made a verbal offer, and we got
the contract sorted. Since then, they've been great. People tell
all these horror stories about the music industry, and it's not
been like that for me. I guess I'm just lucky, because I'm sure
it has been crap for some people, but I've been lucky with who
I've coming into contact with.
I really feel that my managers, Micky Modern and Mark Wood, are
a massive part of what I do, which is just a huge help. I don't
know what I would do without them, to be honest, cos I'm not very
good with diaries, and such, so they are my diary, basically,
and they've been involved right from the beginning, since I finished
my A-levels, and I just think it's like family, really. We treat
each other like family. When you have someone that's close to
you like that, and really honestly looking out for your best interests,
that helps the whole thing. They can protect me from a lot of
the things that you don't want to experience, cos it's largely
about not putting yourself in certain situations. You need at
least one or two people that you really trust and I've been lucky
enough that my management has been that.
Q. And a family member, in your brother, helps too?
A. That also worked out perfectly, because I wasn't sure whether
it was going to work, with regards to getting him involved, partly
because of what he was doing. It didn't seem like Steve would
want to be my bass player, but as it's worked out, it feels more
like a band these days; I don't stamp my way on things, I let
people get on with it, and he's a good bass player.