The Story Continues: Yannis Philippakis On Foals' Creative Vitality
"It's exciting to feel like the story is complete now."
When we begin our chat with Yannis Philippakis of Foals, their new album 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2' has only been out for just over 12 hours. An album that was birthed during the same time as the Mercury-nominated 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1', but released six months apart, today holds a great sense of liberation for the band.
"We're really excited for people to finally hear it. It's been kind of strange sitting on songs that we feel like are some of our best. We've been really wanting to play 'Neptune', 'Into The Surf' and 'Wash Off' since last year, so now we feel unburdened in a way."
When Foals announced earlier this year that they were to release two LPs in 2019, it was a first for the band. Clocking in at 20-tracks, the 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost' era was in part a result of the departure of founding member and former bassist Walter Gervers.
"Whilst it was difficult and sad that he left, it was a catalyst for us to push forward," reflects Yannis. "It shook up the bottle in a way. It forced us out of our mode of working. With 'Holy Fire' and 'What Went Down', we had a comfort zone I guess where we would go to Oxford and we would jam a lot. Everything had become well-worn and very stable. And I think the instability of him leaving then shook up the roles in the band, things became more fluid in the writing."
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Not only was deciding to tackle a significantly larger body of work than usual a new avenue for Foals, the quartet also chose to self-produce both records. "Self-producing was a real challenge but the fact that we came out of it with these two records just felt great," says Yannis. "Often when you work with a producer, it becomes about editing and focusing material. And in focusing, you lose these bits of magic that we tried to capture more."
"We had the stamina and appetite to pursue every idea. A producer from the outside is never going to be as enthusiastic about the material as I will be."
Possibly the most significant and staggering moment of this unbridled creation comes in the form of 'Neptune'. The ten-minute tidal wave album closer that, even though it comes 14 years into the band's career, is undoubtedly some of their best work to date - a sentiment in which Yannis also agrees with. "I think 'Neptune' is one of the best songs we've ever written. That improvised jam section in the middle was just spontaneous takes that we did in the studio, that magic unknown element put the song onto another level. And lyrically it's some of my favourite sets of lyrics."
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Now with this wealth of new material, came the decision on how to release 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost'. As we know, Foals chose to split the project into two distinct albums, but why? "Rather than having all the material come out at once and maybe feeling like an overburdening, this way each record had its turn in the sun," explains Yannis.
Continuing, he says: "Having two records allows them to work in contrast but also in duality, which is interesting. I feel like they have different moods in certain ways but lyrically the themes run through and there's a narrative to it." This in turn, has been beneficial for the band's time on the road. "It makes things a lot fresher. We're not just going to play the same set for a year and a half."
Whilst Foals' trajectory is one that has evolved and continued to surprise fans and critics alike, a particular motif that has remained consistent is their relationship with nature. From 'Spanish Sahara' to 'A Knife in the Ocean', this thematic thread has been a staple throughout the band's discography.
Now at time where the link between humanity and the planet is rapidly approaching an irreversible crisis, Foals haven't shied away from this debate. "I think what happened on this record, because of being aware of the huge problems we're facing, I felt like I wanted to weaponize that imagery into being a bit more political or confrontational," states Yannis.
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This message also hasn't just been confined to their lyrics. Foals have also openly spoke on their admiration for Greta Thunberg and showed their support for Music Declares Emergency at the Mercury Prize Awards last month. And whilst there is significant traction behind the likes of Extinction Rebellion, there's still a long way to go.
"I think it poses a challenge to the way of life for people," believes Yannis. "People are used to potentially quite an opulent convenient existence, in the western world certainly. Particularly with technology, we're kind of the idea that we are all powerful and that we will get out of any particular problem. If you look at history and the decline of civilisation through the ages, it's clear that hubris precedes the end of civilisation."
"It's difficult for people to make active changes in their lifestyles that are inconvenient. We've got complacent and spoilt with how easy modern life can be. I think having that challenged is difficult to deal with and denial is easier."
And whilst the immediate action must be done now, there's also an aspect of looking forward and how we educate future generations. "The earlier people grow up being aware of the fragility of nature and our relationship with each ecosystem would definitely have an affecting benefit on people," Yannis admits. "Unfortunately for people of my generation, we grew up not being aware of the damage of single-use plastic until recently."
"Plastic was seen as an incredible innovation, when actually it's only recently dawned on us on the damage it has caused. So going forward in the future, if there's awareness in the young then change is more likely to happen."
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If releasing two albums in 2019 wasn't enough, Foals are also the subject of a documentary coming out on November 15th. Rip Up The Road follows Yannis, Jimmy, Jack and Edwin as they embarked on their world tour earlier this year. And whilst Foals have released documentaries with each album release in the past, they have never done anything of this scale.
"It was a bit weird the first few days, being followed around by the camera," says Yannis. "But the director [Toby L] is a friend of ours, so we kind of got used to it quite quickly. They got unprecedented access and got us in all sorts of crazy situations, so we've been quite nervous about it. We saw a cut of it the other day and it looked awesome. I think it's going to be cool for fans to see what the reality of what life on the road is and the ups and downs. "
This idea of artists releasing companion pieces isn't exactly a new trend; however it is one that is continuing to swell due to the multi-platform society in which we inhabit. Yannis expresses, "It can be daunting because it's more work, but I think overall it's a richer time to be making music. I definitely enjoy getting to put thought into all the different ways of communicating the record. There's no rules anymore, which is exciting."
In turn, this has resulted in 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost' being Foals' most compelling and accomplished era to date. From the music videos, artwork, lyrics, instrumentation and live shows, everything has clicked into place.
"Sometimes, it's almost out of your control," Yannis confesses. "There are things about the artwork and the way it relates to each other and the way they relate to the lyrics, things came together in a serendipitously way. I was attracted to the two cover images just on an aesthetic level, but the more I read about them I felt like they resonated with the themes. It feels like we've been given a gift almost."
And what a gift it's been. With another round of touring upon the horizon, Foals are very much revelling in the now. "I'm not really in the head-space to think about another Foals record at the moment," divulges Yannis.
And who can blame them? It's rare that a band can respond to such adversity with their most fruitful period. But when the time does come, be rest assured that they're not playing around. Foals are in town.
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'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt. 2' is out now.
Words: Liam Egan
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