Neigh Bother: Director Dave Ma On Making Videos For Foals

We talk to video director Dave Ma about his work with Foals. All pics by Ethan Scott

In these times of tight budgets and conservative record labels demanding videos with the band bobbing about in, creativity in the music promo is in increasingly short supply. One of the best new directors bucking the trend for the bland is Dave Ma, who has worked with Foals since they first appeared in 2007, and last year was responsible for the astounding video for Delphic’s ‘This Momentary’. With his video for Foals’ Miami one of his best yet, we spoke to Dave Ma about his ongoing collaborations with the Oxfordians, and how exactly he managed to get a bunch of bodybuilder, trannies and a few litres of oil into an LA parking lot.

How did you come up with the concept for the new video and how it related to the song?

The band and I had spoken about doing something that looked and felt really different to our previous videos but that would still feel like a Foals video. I wanted to do something that was a little weird and unexplained. Also… I’ve wanted to put bodybuilders in a video for ages. I just love them, all brown and sticky and sculpted. I really liked the idea of someone working out to the track while pumping iron. I guess really, I just wanted to have a bit of fun with the video… and there is still a lot of meaning in there too – it’s not just completely random. Without speaking for Yannis, there are themes of love and betrayal in the song and the idea of a false ideal you have in your head when you like someone. The video relates a lot to these themes by presenting two groups – one based on a masculine ideal one based on a feminine ideal. It takes some hip hop guardian angels spreading a message of ‘total life forever’ to appease their quarrel. It’s all a bit of fun really… a nice change from serious nature stuff.

You’ve worked with Foals for a long time now, how does this continuing creative relationship affect your work with them? Does it force you to keep pushing yourself creatively?

I think it goes without saying that Foals are one of the best bands out there to work with. Their songs really lend themselves to visuals and the fact that we have worked together on numerous videos and photoshoots simply means that things get stronger and stronger every time we do something. There is a lot of trust and I have a good dialogue with the band when it comes to the visual ideas that we might have. Does it push me creatively? Sure. But I feel the need to push myself with any video I’m working on. Sometimes you succeed sometimes you don’t. To be honest, it’s really not too different from working with other bands that I have made videos with. I still have to pitch an idea and they still need to approve it. If they do, we make it. I guess after so long, I have a good understand of where they are coming from and they know that. It’s a healthy creative relationship.

Has it been rewarding to see your work develop along with theirs?

Yeah, definitely. Seeing the body of work grow together is very rewarding. We were talking the other day about which one of the videos is our favourite, and no one could really decide – that’s a good sign. I guess, like any group of friends it’s good to see each other doing pretty well.

What’s your favourite aspect of Total Life Forever?

Firstly, I love the phrase ‘Total Life Forever’. Yannis came up with it a long time ago, and it’s pretty special really if you think about it long enough. It’s a way of life. The antithesis of 90s ‘teenage angst’ mentality. Highlights for me are: Yannis’ incredible delivery of every line and the meaning behind each one of those lines because I know how much he put into it // the kick drum in ‘Miami’ because it makes my guts turn //

‘Spanish Sahara’ because I watched them write that in the basement in Oxford in 2009 and it felt special even then // ‘Black Gold’ for the Tyson quote and change at 3:10 // AND the rest of it cause it is just good.

How did you cruise for the stars of the videos?

Well, we shot the video in LA, mainly because we knew we’d find all the characters for the video. I looked into going to Miami, but production values were better in LA – and we had a good contact in Jett Steiger from Team G there, who became our Producer in the States. We put out casting calls online and a lot of people responded. But ultimately Jett pulled it together though a connection he made in the Drag / Transgender world… and once we established that, it was easy. I think everyone in Hollywood wants to get in front of the camera so it wasn’t hard convincing people. Everyone was super patient and great to work with. Actually, some of the cast are quite iconic figures in Hollywood, namely Glamourous Monique, Calpernia Addams, Fierce Detox and Lauren Powers. You can find quite a lot on each of them if you look hard enough.

Can you tell us a little about the video shoot itself?

It was a lot of fun, very sunny, and super surreal the whole way through. Watching bodybuilders pump iron to a Foals track blaring out of a boom box is a delight to behold. We had a few passersby that must have thought we were mad. And the battle was just chaos… really. We had a problem with the gangsters when it was pointed out to me mid-shoot that the blue made them look like Cribs. I hadn’t even thought about it in those terms – to me their blue car and blue bandanas was a symbol of Total Life. I think one of the crew actually mentioned getting ready to duck if any bloods drove past. So we had to lose a few bandanas and tone down their colours a bit, much to our stylist Laura’s dismay.

Who oiled the stars? Did you?

Haha. Not me, no. I did lift a few weights throughout the day though. It’s a strange thing being able to call for more oil to be rubbed on a massively pumped bodybuilder. One of the bodybuilders had arms so big he couldn’t actually reach the back of his own shoulders to rub oil on them. His pectoral control more than made up for it.

What future/imminent plans do you have?

Imminently – about to cross the field of the Rock Am Ring festival in Germany to watch Cypress Hill. I’m pretty psyched about that. Future? – Make more music videos and hopefully work a bit more in LA. I love the palm trees down in Venice.

And what is your current favourite music video that isn’t by Dave Ma?

I’d have to say Andy Bruntel’s video for Liars’ ‘Scissor’. Amazing band. Amazing song. Amazing video. Everything Andy does is awesome.

Below: Dave Ma with really rather buff dude

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