Foals want to keep things local.
Arranging to meet Clash at a pub close to their Peckham studio, they arrive a few hours early, deciding to sink a few libations and unwind as the launch of their new album lurches perilously close.
Perhaps you’ve already heard it – and if you haven’t, then you really should. ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part One’ is stunning, the sound of Foals throwing away the rules, accepting new methodologies and reaching back towards the root of what made them so special in the first place.
Right now, though, we’re relaxing in the corner of the Montpellier pub; it’s 5pm and office workers are charging towards the bar, while the band greet Clash with a knowing look on their eyes.
Yannis Philippakis is the first to greet us: “So this,” he beams, “is the neighbourhood”.
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It’s less like a band and more like a gang, a bunch of friends with past histories intertwined. We start by mentioning someone who isn’t here today – bass player Walter Gervers left the band in 2017, the start of a period of introspection for the group.
Yannis immediately grapples with the topic. “I think it was kind of revitalising, in a way,” he explains. “I think the danger with having a comfortable unit, and a unit where we all feel close, is that is can get predictable. So even though obviously his departure was sad on a personal level, the creative result is that it shook the can up.”
It seems strange to use the word ‘predictable’ with reference to Foals, Clash points out.
“I would never use it!” he laughs. “I think that’s a danger that’s looming on the horizon, like it would for any band that’s been around for as long as we have. So having the change thrust upon us meant that we had to adapt, we had to work in a different way. And you come out of it a new entity. This is a new version of Foals.”
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It’s bold claim, but it’s born out by the music - ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part One’ contains some familiar reference points, but it comes from a distinctly new creative place. Far from simple evolution, it both leans on and breaks utterly with the past.
2015’s ‘What Went Down’ was a bruising, Led Zep riff experience, something born from those relentless touring runs. By way of contrast, this new album was built entirely in the studio, a ground up creative endeavour that found these four musicians locked away from the watching world.
“We had an idea anyway that on every prior recording experience the magic had happened in the early stages when we were just rehearsing, jamming material,” Jack Bevan says. “In some ways the act of making the album was an attempt to re-claim the initial outburst of the song at first. This time we wanted to basically roll tape, as it were, from Day One.”
“But because Walter wasn’t around as well there was a double emphasis on that because it was the thing that enabled us to actually build the tracks without actually relying on the live structure of the band. Which is why the record is more textured and more layered. You can tell that it’s been constructed more in the studio because it doesn’t have the parameters on it that a live band… it hasn’t been written by a live band in quite the same way.”
Co-conspirator Jimmy Smith leans in. “Often when we’re writing we’re so inside the songs as players that some of the new ideas and judgement calls are based on the fact that you’re inhabiting the songs from the inside as a performer and as a player.”
“And on this record… obviously there were aspects of that, but there was another added dimension where we were listening behind the mixing desk to the speakers. We would be sitting, appreciating the material, appreciating the sound, and then making calls from that way round, in a way that was different. We allowed ourselves a distance from the songs, as well.”
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Rooting themselves in Peckham, Foals worked entirely without constraints – there was no limit to how long sessions could run, enabling them to devote themselves utterly to the project. At a moment’s call Jack Bevan could race to the studio, and in turn call his band mates for assistance. It’s something he warmed to, telling Clash: “I think space is a good thing.”
“It was more fluid and by doing it in Peckham, that added to the fluidity,” Yannis insists. “It wasn’t like, right, we’re going with a mission statement into this bunker to come out with something at the other side of it. We went in with fragmentary ideas, we had probably five or six loops, a couple of things jammed out, and we didn’t know where it would end up. There wasn’t parameters on it”.
Yannis took the lose role of organising this creativity, assisted by engineer Brett Shaw. Iinitially we went in for two weeks just to try it out,” the singer explains. “Lo and behold the guy is there two and a half years later saying, please, will you finish the record! So all in all a great experience.”
Jimmy starts to crack up: “Not for Brett, though...”
Yannis puts down his pint, and looks Clash half-solemnly in the eye: “We aged him!”
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‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part One’ was built across two and a half years, a near endless cycle of experimentation, songwriting, and editing, editing, editing. Indeed, this last process was perhaps the record’s most vital segment – if ‘What Went Down’ was dedicated to songcraft, then this new album is about editing as a creative process in its own right.
“When you’re recording for so long, recording for a year, there’s so much,” Jimmy comments. “I’d love to see the percentage of stuff that was recorded and didn’t make it on to the record. There’s a vastly, much bigger, percentage than what’s on the record that was recorded and then discarded. You have to be very wary of not letting stuff stack up too much. And within the song structures themselves try to stay on top of editing because otherwise you’ll be up shit creek with an incoherent mess.”
Yannis continues: “The two album idea came about because we had completed this many songs, and we thought they were great, and we thought we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot if we didn’t put everything out because you didn’t get the complete picture.”
“We wanted to make a record that had a better journey within it or was more coherent in some way. And I think that by working on this dual album form on a broader canvas enabled us to make two great cohesive records rather than one record where you sacrifice the flow of it for putting the songs you want into it.”
Creating endless USBs of demos, material, snippets, and full songs, there came a point when the album suddenly came into focus, when Foals realised that, maybe, this could actually work.
“I felt the pressure at some points,” Yannis admits. “There were a couple of times when I remember thinking, fuck, it’s a lot of work. A lot of work.”
“There was a point at which the crosses were filling up on the white board, and we felt, actually this is feasible. It’s one of those things where it was giving us a lot of energy. We felt like: oh we did that. We actually went in there. There were times when it felt like… there was something huge to ascend. There was so much still ahead of us, and now being on the other side of the mountain, it was like...”
He grapples for the right phrase, then starts to laugh: “We’re in the grasslands of promise!”
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The results are astonishing. ‘On The Luna’ is math rock twisted on its head, ‘Sunday’ is an epic ecological house jam, while the electronic-soaked ‘In Degrees’ is “the most dance thing we’ve ever done”.
It’s this myriad of ideas, constantly being reflected and bounced from each other, that makes their new album such a thrilling, vital experience.
“These are the avenues that we explore,” Yannis declares. “I think we don’t come at it from ‘oh, we only play guitar, we’re only interested in power chords’ - this is an expression of the fact that we all privately enjoy a diverse array of music and we come at it with our own perspectives. Whether it’s DJing or improv or listening to afrobeat or whatever we want to make rich records where the DNA of them is rich.”
Lyrically, ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part One’ takes incredible risks – it’s Foals’ most explicitly political statement, dealing with failed political systems, modern dystopia, and the ruination of the planet’s resources. Curiously, Clash received its up-front stream just as Britain basked in record breaking summer sunshine… in February. The record’s timing, it seems, could scarcely be better.
“We want the records musically and culturally to be relevant things,” Yannis insists. “We want them to engage and have a dialogue with the world. That’s when records mean something, when they go out into the world and you can tell that people listen to them in all different countries and in all different walks of life. But there’ll be something – aside from the music, which gives you a certain of enjoyment, but also the lyric can get in your head and it feel like your friend or it can feel like a guide or it can feel like you’re own internal voice. That’s the role of the lyric.”
Throughout our conversation the band brim with confidence; they’re incredibly easy-going in each other’s company, this kind of implicit mutual support born out by locking themselves away in a Peckham basement for two and a half years. The results, though, speak for themselves.
“I’m not trying to speak on behalf of the other guys,” Yannis says at one point, “but I just feel excited on a very fundamental level by what we’ve made. I feel proud of it. I feel like whatever the next iteration will be after Part Two… none of us will know but it’s going to be exciting to find out, and that’s a really great place to be in after this many years.”
We end with some reminiscence – about ‘Antidotes’, ‘Total Life Forever’ and the shifting landscape in British music. The bulk of Foals’ contemporaries have gone – now more than ever they’re truly existing in their own realm.
Jack smiles, saying: “It has gotten pretty lonely in the past few years!”
“We feel like we’re our own thing,” says Yannis. “And we have for a long time, I think. We felt like that. And I think maybe from the outside, now that less of our peers are around, it’s starker… we’re on the hill on our own, y’know? But I like that. We feel like that. We could be an electronic band but we choose to have riffs or we could be a rock band but we choose to write house jams.”
He shrugs and looks at his band mates: “It’s a nice feeling knowing you can do whatever you want.”
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'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part One' is out now. Catch Foals at the following shows: June 11 Manchester O2 Victoria Warehouse 14 Tunbridge Wells Bedgebury Pinetum 15 Birmingham Digbeth Arena 18 Glasgow SWG3 Yard 20 Thetford Thetford Forest 21 London Alexandra Palace 26 Bournemouth International Centre
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