It’s been 14 years since Foals released their debut album ‘Antidotes’ in 2008, and since then the band have had a sprawling and successful career consisting of all seven of their albums reaching the Top 10, six Glastonbury slots and lengthy tour schedules across the world.
On the back of their latest release, Foals have re-emerged from the pandemic with a new sound on ‘Life Is Yours’, a sound which can be described as a love letter written from the time of recording amid the pandemic, with best wishes to today. It’s a love letter to those glorious summer days with friends and sticky dancefloors that we all dearly missed during that terrible time and are now so grateful to have again.
For Foals frontman Yannis Philappakis, his feelings are still overwhelmingly positive despite losing band members and losing the ability to play live thanks to COVID. “We’re feeling great about it,” begins Yannis, “it’s great to be playing live again. This record had one of the longest gestation periods of any record we’ve done. We had no idea who we were appealing to, when the record would come out and we didn’t know what the world was going to look like after COVID.” When this album was recorded in Foals windowless studio amidst the pandemic, the songs were their windows to a world without restrictions and the bright euphoria of life that was back in full swing. Now we’re here, this record is purpose-built for our first full unrestricted summer and the summers beyond.
“The fact that the album exists now and the world is here to meet it feels like a real relief. I hoped the record would be matched by the reception, and it has. We wanted it to come out in the summer, and wanted it to be something that we all missed during those times. I think what’s exciting is the debate surrounding this new record, you’ve got some Foals fans that like the heavier side of things we’ve done which isn’t really present on this record, and I sort of enjoy astounding certain expectations. This record might take some people by surprise, but me and the band are really excited.”
The bright summery sounds of ‘Life Is Yours’ put Foals into a whole new world they’ve never explored before, clearly demonstrating the ways their world was shifted during the pandemic. “I think we reached the end of an era with ‘Everything Not Saved’, in the sense that ‘Holy Fire’, ‘What Went Down’ and ‘Everything Not Saved’ all played an equal emphasis on the many ways that we write songs, they were all evenly balanced in terms of songwriting and we just couldn’t repeat that way of structuring an album again. We took every sort of plan out of the band’s sound and left ourselves in the middle of a field not knowing where to go. At that point we’ve then got to sort of start again, we stripped everything right back and made things more focused and unified.”
Despite the summery sounding album releasing in the summer, the summery sound wasn’t planned. “It wasn’t planned, but I think it just sort of came out because of how bleak everything was when we were writing. Usually we would demonstrate that in the lyrics, or at least I would. Our inspiration for songs would usually be a positive charge in the here and now. But there was none of that going on this time around, COVID was just this weird airless void, and the vibe had to come from somewhere else. We had to escape the bleakness.”
Foals did everything to escape the bleakness of the pandemic, not only with the sound, As well as Foals taking a new sonic adventure, its subject matter also joined in on this new optimistic sun-kissed sound. Whilst this is most definitely a pop album, frontman Yannis Philippakis doesn’t pair the pop sound with those party starting tropes of the modern pop song. He conjures evocative images of far-flung places, from the boreal coastal forests of the Pacific North-West (‘Life Is Yours’) to the beguiling beauty of the mountains perched upon the sea in St. Lucia (‘Crest Of The Wave’). Escapism can also be achieved via time rather than place, as shown by the sugar rush nostalgia of ‘2001’ or a rumination on the changing face of their hometown Oxford’s club scene on ‘Looking High’.
“Instead of having things to write about in the here and now, the pandemic was just nothingness, so instead I was thinking about the past, the future or semi-imaginary landscapes and got a song out of those thoughts. It was a bit of a challenge that I wasn’t really used to. In the years before, I was literally writing about things that had happened five minutes prior. I’d write in the pub, I’d write driving about London, I’d write about where I was living. This was a new challenge but I enjoyed it.”
Upon release last month, ‘Life Is Yours’ flew straight into the Top 10 and was well received by critics. This is now the seventh Top 10 album in Foals’ discography, a streak they’ve managed to keep with every album for 14 years. But looking back at his prosperous career with Foals, is there anything he would do differently if he had the chance? And is there anything he wouldn’t change for the world?
“There’s probably stuff I’d do differently, a lot of it’s probably technical stuff like mixing and changing the mixes on certain tracks in the past, lots of early albums I’d love to go back and tinker with, but I’m happy with where we are now. It’s important to be accepting of the past, and I miss Walt and Edwin. I think something I would’ve done differently is making sure they had stayed with the band until today, but everything happens for a reason. That entirely changed the trajectory of the band and sometimes that can have benefits, but I probably would have wanted to have kept them together, the original muchachos.”
The departure of two members in the last four years is certainly a sad affair, but as Yannis states, things happen for a reason. Back in 2018, Foals’ bassist Walter Gervers left the group after his 12 year tenure, under amiable terms. “The parting has been sad but we remain firm friends,” the band wrote in a statement on Instagram. Last year, their keyboard player Edwin Congreave decided to do the same thing and hang up his musical boots to pursue other avenues of life. Edwin is currently studying a postgraduate degree in economics at Cambridge.
So how well have the band adapted without Walter and Edwin? “Thankfully the songwriting hasn’t necessarily changed much as it was mainly me, Jimmy and Jack that did most of the writing anyway,” continues Yannis, “but socially, things have changed. Being on tour without them is very different and things feel quieter without them both there. It’s a feeling that’s changed without them, but still we’re having a great time at the moment. We still love doing what we do, we’re having a laugh and we’re playing better than we’ve ever played before. What’s important is that the band is still going. Thing is, not many bands can lose two members then headline The Other Stage at Glasto and still rock it. I feel pride in the fact we’re still going, we’ve just got a couple of shrapnel hits but fundamentally the mission goes on. I think it’s good that we exist, and I don’t want it to end.”
As Yannis says, Foals have taken a couple of bruises with the loss of Walter and Edwin, but they’ve kept calm, carried on and are better than they’ve ever been. With that in mind, a new record recently released and a heavy touring schedule until the end of the year, what’s next for Foals? “I’ve got some musical projects to finish,” says Yannis, “I’ve got a project to finish that I did with Tony Allen who sadly passed away two years ago now, and I’ve done some solo projects, but I’m not really sure what I want them to be yet. Apart from that, it’s just continuing this Foals stuff, we’re gonna be touring well into 2023 and we’ll start thinking about new music from there, but without a doubt we’ll be keeping productive.”
After a successful 16 years since their formation, after shrinking from a five-piece, to a four-piece and now a trio, after the pandemic stopped everything they wanted to do – Foals didn’t allow themselves to be shot down. They’ve adapted, picked up the pieces and fought on by creating a masterful new record that’s a result of the journey they’ve been on in the last few years. They tell us ‘Life Is Yours’, because their strength as people and a band has made those lives their own.
‘Life Is Yours’ is out now.
Words: Kieran Macadie
Main Pic via Press; Internal images, Storm Walker