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Foals’ Jimmy Smith talks overcoming nerves to develop his “naïve” style – and why ditching pedals helped him embrace a positive guitar attitude

Home Features (Image credit: Joseph Okpako/WireImage) When Foals first began, the Oxford, England-born band likely had no idea how their music would evolve over the next two decades. Today, they’re known for their intricate sounds over bright, danceable music, making them a beloved name since their inception in 2005.But over the years, the band have…

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Foals’ Jimmy Smith talks overcoming nerves to develop his “naïve” style – and why ditching pedals helped him embrace a positive guitar attitude

Jimmy Smith of Foals performs at O2 Academy Brixton on May 8, 2022 in London, England.



(Image credit: Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

When Foals first began, the Oxford, England-born band likely had no idea how their music would evolve over the next two decades. Today, they’re known for their intricate sounds over bright, danceable music, making them a beloved name since their inception in 2005.

But over the years, the band have been forced to evolve, losing one of their original singers and shaping and reshaping themselves, maneuvering between math rock, traditional rock and even funk and disco.

Now, the band are releasing their latest LP, Life Is Yours, and with it comes a fresh sound, but one that continues to encompass many earlier elements. But on this new album, the band – particularly guitarist Jimmy Smith – sought to find cleaner, less “distracted” tones and aesthetics. Gone were mountains of pedals and in their place are a clearer sense of melody and instrumentation.

We caught up with Smith to ask him about his journey with his six-string, how he approached the group’s new album and how his own playing has evolved over the years.

When did you first find the guitar, what made you want to pick it up and play?

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“Well, the first guitar I found, other than my mom’s classical, which is what I grew up playing, was a Mexican Stratocaster. And I got it from Denmark Street in London – it used to be like Tin Pan Alley in the UK, where they wrote all those songs. It was where all the music shops were. Sadly now, like a lot of other places, it has been gutted by gentrification. Now it’s just full of restaurants and there’s, like, two guitar shops left. But it used to be all guitars.

“I was like, ‘I have to buy a guitar from that street, and I have to buy it from this shop.’ I just saw it. It was a Wine Red Mexican Strat with a humbucker on the back. It was great. I still got it. I painted it blue years ago.”

What was it like for you in the early days of Foals? How did you approach the band, guitar-wise? How did you blend your playing style with the goals of the group?

We were basically trying to transcribe minimal techno onto guitars… we wanted to make clinical dance music with guitars

“I joined in 2005, right at the beginning of Foals. But there was also another singer then, Andrew Mears, who also played guitar and who also is a phenomenal guitar player. And between him and Yannis [Philippakis], our only singer [now], he’s probably the best guitarist I’ve ever seen, or one of them. I remember listening through the door and it was like, ‘Oh, good lord! What am I going to do?’

“So, I just sort of filled in the bits that they didn’t do. I kept being told to turn my amp up. I had my amp really quiet a lot of the time! And then once Andrew left, obviously there was a lot more room to figure out what I was doing. That’s when the Foals that we all know came alive, basically. And we were obviously interested in odd time signatures. And the genre, of whether you want to call it that or not, of math rock.

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“There were some bands from mainly Chicago, actually – like this band Sweep the Leg Johnny that was a big influence. But other than that, we were basically trying to transcribe minimal techno onto guitars. Or the idea of having loads of polyrhythms and then taking bits out. But you can still almost hear the missing notes. That was the very beginning of it. We kind of wanted to make clinical dance music with guitars.”

You mentioned keeping your amp’s volume down. Why do you think you were initially shy, and what broke you out of that mentality?

“I’m a shy person. I always say I don’t think I really should be doing this [laughs]. I sort of have to go through hell every time I go on stage! But actually, well it was Andrew. The first year I was in Foals, like I said, it was a different version of the band. And Andrew recognized that I was struggling with confidence and stuff. It really was a brave new world for me. I’d never experienced anything like it. You know, I’m a little bit of a country bumpkin.

“He made a point about always putting me at the front of the stage. Making sure the stage lights were on me. Making sure I turned my amp up. He kept doing it. Relentlessly. And now I can sit down and say, ‘Man, thank you so much. I really credit you with getting over my crippling stage fright.’ And now I can manage it when it comes along.”

How did you initially approach the writing and recording of the new Foals album from a guitar point of view?

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For the albums before, we were venturing into quite heavy sounds in some places. [This time] it was all about the guitar line itself and the melody and the tune

“The very beginning of it was me and Yannis – I was actually over in California because my girlfriend lives there. I got locked down, all that sort of stuff. So, I did a lot of writing in the first half of 2020 and so did Yannis. Then I came back over here [to the UK] and we got back into our tiny rehearsal space, which we’ve got in this place called Peckham in South London, where we all live. And it’s the classic rehearsal room: it’s just got grey carpet, grey walls. And nothing else. [Laughs] Not even a picture on the wall!

“And we just got in there and we had a couple of things already going and we just started writing. My approach to guitar this time was no effects pedals and just straight into the amp. Like it used to be. Before I could even afford a tuner pedal. And it was great. I loved it. I just had a Fender Twin and my 1965 Jaguar and it was so sick. I think the idea of that was to sort of get away from any distractions from pedals.

“Because for the albums before, we were venturing into quite heavy sounds in some places. And that was largely due to the existence of the fuzz pedal, really. You know, if you stand there looking at it long enough, you’re going to push it on! So [the idea] was sort of to get rid of anything within eyesight so there were no distractions. It was all about the guitar line itself and the melody and the tune.”

Jimmy Smith and Yannis Philippakis of Foals perform live on stage during their 'Life is Yours' tour at Olympia London on April 29, 2022 in London, England.

(Image credit: Simone Joyner/Getty Images)

The album features some rock sounds, like on the song Flutter. But more than that, there’s lots of fast-paced, funky, even disco sensibilities. What did you enjoy about the combination of all these sounds on the new record?

“Well, I find it kind of surprising sometimes the things that come out of us. Because we never really set off for any specific genre. It’s something about the combo of me and Yannis on the guitar where we just start – we’ll play some disco lines and stuff. And go, ‘Oh my god, that sounds a bit like that. Wow, cool!’ It just feels like you’ve come up with it again, you know?

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“You’re sort of inventing it again, which sounds a bit pretentious, but I mean that in a very naïve way. But obviously the landscape outside of the studio when we were writing this record was obviously, like, coronavirus. So, it was pretty bleak as everybody knows and remembers. I experienced coronavirus in California and I experienced coronavirus in London. And coronavirus in London is a lot bleaker! Just because of the weather.

“So, yeah, we were just generating these positive sounds, basically. Because we were kind of escaping ourselves, through the music. So, those late night upbeat warm disco palates with some of the original techno guitars coming back in, like you said, occasionally a slightly more rock-orientated fuzz guitar. But it was all positive warm sounds. There’s not really any nastiness on this record.”

What gear did you use on the new album? I know the band has used Travis Beans in the past.

“For starters, the Travis Bean is Yannis’s guitar. He’s got a few of them now. He’s always played it and it’s an unbeatable combo for the clean sound, which we love. The short, bright, snappy sound. But with some weight to it. His combo of a Travis Bean and a Hiwatt head and cab is just unbeatable! And sometimes in the studio, he’s got an old Selmer amp, which sounds really good.

“I pretty much did everything on a 1965 L Series Jag. And a Fender Twin. But I also had a Gibson Les Paul Custom 1971, which is amazing. I was using Princetons a lot for recording. For the actual recording, I found the Fender Twins to be a little bit too brittle. So the Princetons were great in the studio. And that was about it, amp-wise.

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“When we made the 4th record [2015’s What Went Down], I remember we set up an entire circle of amps with mics on, and it was every single type of amp. And we’d just re-amp all the guitars through each amp until we found the one that fit the song the best. But I think it was just a little simpler this time. And pedals-wise, I can’t really remember.

“I’m trying to think if any specific pedal was essential. I mean, there’s this pedal, the Microcosm pedal, by Hologram – I would say that was pretty, pretty great. But that was more used on synthesizers, thinking about it.”

Was there any trial and error in the studio when choosing sounds or equipment? Any suggestions from the producers of the album that affected the guitar sounds?

“You know, the downside of smoking a lot of weed during the recording is that it’s a little foggy!  [laughs] I feel, personally speaking, I played quite a lot of synthesizer on this record, as well. So, the main experimentation was on that side with the producers. Because they seemed more experienced. We’d have picked up a guitar sound from recording in the room for demos of these songs with some of these producers. We even used some of those lines.

“Actually, I will say we worked with producer Dan Carey, and we recorded in his studio under his house in South London. And his setup is kind of crazy. I didn’t use any of my amps. I literally just walked in with my guitar and just plugged in to whatever he had. I honestly couldn’t tell you what amp it was because I’d never seen it before. It was incredibly unique – and all his gear is like that. It’s all unique. And it’s all wired in.

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“So, sound was coming out of everywhere, and he was sending our guitars in through his modular stuff and then back out through the amps! And he had a sidechaining reverb on a lot of stuff. Recording with him, the slightly wilder guitar sounds were just recorded direct. And that was it: they were done. There was no tweaking after.”

And now how are you thinking about the future in terms of your own journey with the guitar?

I would love someone to show me some tricks. Someone only needs to show me one new chord, and that would just open up the door and that will be me for the next five years

“That’s a good question, certainly for me. Because, how long have I been playing guitar? Like, 30 years or something. And I’m frustratingly bad at it in certain areas because I’m self-taught. I feel like I have this thing, every time I pick up a guitar, it takes me about a minute to get used to it again, even though it’s something I do every day! [Laughs] So, I would like to in some way learn some more stuff without jeopardizing my style. Because it is a sort of naïve way of playing the guitar. I don’t want to lose that.

“But I would love someone to show me some tricks. Someone only needs to show me one new chord, and that would just open up the door and that will be me for the next five years. I can branch off from that. I need a little more stimulation!

“And certainly with the guitars themselves, I’ve got this pair of ’60s Jaguars now and I think I just want to stick with them for a decade or so – they’re so nice and I just want to wear them down even more and get to know every single sound they can make. That’s where I’m at the moment. I want to really go deeper into the actual guitar itself and not distract myself with amplifiers or pedals. Certainly pedals can be a big distraction, I find. It’s a great distraction, though!”

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What do you love most about the guitar and the way you play it?

“It fascinates me. I can pick it up and I can do something new on it every day. And it’s not just me doing that; it’s millions of people. The guitar’s been around so long now, the electric guitar, as well. It’s just so amazing that you can still do so much stuff with it. It just blows my mind.

“I love doing a bit of an Elvis at the moment and just sitting on the sofa, watching TV and just playing guitar! I think maybe that’s a lockdown thing for me, and I really like it. I’m just really enjoying playing a lot of simple guitar at the moment. There’s a romance to it that I love.”

  • Life Is Yours (opens in new tab) is out now via Warner/ADA.

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Ireland Baldwin Revealed Her Abortion Experience In A TikTok Where She Also Talked About Being Raped As A Teenager

“It’s your life, it’s your choice.” This story contains discussions of rape and sexual assault. Ireland Baldwin is opening up about her past to help others. Axelle / FilmMagic / Bauer-Griffin / Getty Images In a TikTok captioned “I’m here for you,” the model and actor revealed that she was raped as a teenager, and…

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Ireland Baldwin Revealed Her Abortion Experience In A TikTok Where She Also Talked About Being Raped As A Teenager

“It’s your life, it’s your choice.”

This story contains discussions of rape and sexual assault.

Ireland Baldwin is opening up about her past to help others.


Axelle / FilmMagic / Bauer-Griffin / Getty Images

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In a TikTok captioned “I’m here for you,” the model and actor revealed that she was raped as a teenager, and that she also had an abortion later on in her life.


“I’m not here to tell this story today,” she said, “but I was raped when I was a teenager, and I was completely unconscious when it happened, and it changed the course of the rest of my life.”

Ireland says she didn’t tell anyone about the incident “for years” except a nurse who treated her after it occurred, and that being raped continued to affect her life for years afterwards.

“Seeing so many other brave women share their stories, got me thinking what my life would have been like if I had become pregnant,” Ireland explained, “and if I had to raise a baby during everything I was going through at the time.”

“Mind you, I have medical resources, money, and support that a lot of women do not have access to. It would have simply been traumatizing and impossible.”

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Ireland also shared that, later in her life, she did become pregnant and chose to get an abortion.

“At that point in time, I would say we were very unhappy together,” Ireland said about the relationship she was in when she got pregnant. “And he made it clear that he never wanted kids or marriage. He barely wanted to be in a serious relationship.”

“I chose to get an abortion because I know exactly what it felt like to be born between two people who hated each other.”

“Could I have had that baby and put that baby up for adoption? Maybe. Maybe not. But choosing to raise a baby without my own financial security, without a loving and supportive partner, that wasn’t gonna work for me.”

“I chose me, and I would choose me again. It’s your life, it’s your choice.”

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You can watch Ireland’s TikTok here.

You can learn more about how to still access abortion in the US here.

Editor’s Note: BuzzFeed supports a person’s right to an abortion. If you, like us, feel impassioned about abortion rights, learn more or find a local fund to donate to here.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here.

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Kanye West Joked About His Divorce From Kim Kardashian During A Surprise BET Awards Appearance And Said He Wanted To Declare Himself “Legally Dead” Following Their Messy Feud

The rapper took to the stage to honor Sean “Diddy” Combs at the BET Awards on Sunday, making reference to Kim for the first time since their public dispute earlier this year.Posted 13 minutes ago Kanye West looks to be making a return to the public eye. Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for Sean Combs…

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Kanye West Joked About His Divorce From Kim Kardashian During A Surprise BET Awards Appearance And Said He Wanted To Declare Himself “Legally Dead” Following Their Messy Feud

The rapper took to the stage to honor Sean “Diddy” Combs at the BET Awards on Sunday, making reference to Kim for the first time since their public dispute earlier this year.

Kanye West looks to be making a return to the public eye.


Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for Sean Combs

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If you’re a fan of Ye’s, you’ll know that he recently took a step back from the limelight after his split from Kim Kardashian hit a major rough patch.


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After filing for divorce fairly amicably back in February 2021, Kim and Ye’s breakup took a messy turn in November, around the time that things started getting serious between Kim and her current boyfriend, Pete Davidson.


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Of course, in light of Kim’s budding romance with Pete, this made for quite the awkward situation, and as a result, Ye wound up taking his frustrations to social media.

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Starting in February and posting regularly until mid-March, Ye harassed Kim and Pete on Instagram, sharing their private messages and even encouraging his fans to yell at them in public.


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Ye’s constant posts sparked major concern among his followers, with many accusing the rapper of exhibiting abusive behavior toward Kim and Pete. And in March, his Instagram account was suspended for 24 hours after he violated the platform’s harassment policies.


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Flash forward to today, and Ye is yet to make a full return to the public eye, having only been spotted on the occasional public outing.


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Interestingly, reports in the aftermath of their feud claimed that the Yeezy founder was actively seeking “behavioral” treatment, in order “to be a better human and a better dad.”


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Taking to the stage to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to his longtime friend Sean “Diddy” Combs, the Donda rapper — whose face was completely covered by a black mask, hat, and sunglasses — was met with loud applause from the crowd.

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“How do we crown our kings? How do we appreciate our kings?” his speech began, before going on to praise Diddy’s work in the music industry.


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“To see Puff in real life at the ‘Missing You’ video, just like me tapping free like a little kid — I just need to meet this man. This is my favorite artist,” he said, sounding noticeably upbeat.


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“You see I’m saying ‘favorite artist,’” he clarified. “Everything — not specifically production, the drip. Back then there was so many rules to hip-hop, and he broke all of them.”


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Reflecting on what he learned from Diddy in his own career, Ye even made reference to his failed marriage to Kim, sparking mixed reactions from the crowd.


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“He inspired so many of my choices. So many of my life choices. My wife choices,” he said as the audience erupted into noise.

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“And here we are,” he added with a laugh. “Thanks for that, Puff.”


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What’s more, Ye also appeared to corroborate reports that he wanted to take “a year off” in the wake of his public feud with Kim, confirming in his speech that he recently took “a little hiatus.”


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“I said, ‘I want to just declare myself legally dead for a year,’” he told the audience, seemingly referring to his absence since being banned from Instagram. “Nobody messin’ me. You know, I just want to be off the grid.”


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But, despite his hopes of keeping a low profile, Ye seemed to suggest that the opportunity to honor Diddy was reason enough to return to the public eye.


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“Puff is pretty persistent,” he explained. “Any of us in this room, if Puff ever need us, we need to jump and be there. This man has been through and survived a lot of stuff. Broke down a lot of doors so we could be standing. I know for me, that I could be here today.”

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He finished the emotional speech by telling Diddy in the audience: “If I never told you, I love you. You’re my brother.”


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So, in light of his absence from the spotlight, fans were certainly glad to see Ye sounding so positive, with this marking his first awards show appearance since he pulled out of Coachella in April and had his Grammys performance scrapped in the same month due to “concerning online behavior.”


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The speech is also the first time that Ye has made reference to Kim since they came to blows on Instagram, and coincides with reports that the exes are currently working on rebuilding their relationship as co-parents.


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In fact, just over a week ago, Kim gave her ex a rare shoutout too, praising him for being the “best dad” to their four kids in a sweet Father’s Day tribute.


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Well, if Ye’s joke about their failed marriage is any indication, it seems like things might finally be looking a little more friendly between Kimye as they navigate the final stages of their split.

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