Foals: ‘There’s a lot of strong opinions in the band... But it doesn’t come to blows’

Their latest album is their first as a four-piece – since bassist Walter Gervers left – and marks a change in sound with more instrumentation

It's too frosty for Yannis Philippakis to de-coat, even in 123 Studios where Foals recorded their new album, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost. Outside is an even frostier urbanscape of warehouses, converted factories and industrial kitchens, accessed from a nondescript residential street in Peckham, southeast London, a few minutes' walk from where Philippakis and his girlfriend now reside.

“I used to live in east London when it felt like a creative hub, but then everyone got priced out,” he small-talks with enthusiasm. “My friends moved down here and said there were more studio spaces, so I followed them.”

The grand tour doesn’t take long; there’s a small live room with soft lighting and a patio door, packed with instruments and accessories, and a lived-in sound room where we sit, that houses a reasonable-looking sound desk, wheelie chairs, a too-comfy leather sofa and musical paraphernalia.

It's hard to believe that the ethereal and expansive first part of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost was made in this cute and comfy environment – nothing about the stadium-bothering Exits, cosmic groove On The Luna or the sprawling Sunday suggests a homely space in sarf London. Perhaps the decision to record around the corner says more about becoming more comfortable in their own skin compared to the albums cut in Brooklyn (their spiky 2008 debut, Antidotes), Gothenburg (the sleek-sounding Total Life Forever) or Provence in France (their last album and masterpiece to date, What Went Down).


The biggest shift of this album, however, is their first line-up change since their formative days in Oxford. Bassist Walter Gervers left the group in January 2018, allowing Philippakis, Jack Bevan, Jimmy Smith and Edwin Congreave to complete the album as a four-piece.

“He made the right choice for him, so he’s happy, and we are happy for him,” Philippakis says of Gerver’s departure. “It’s natural for people not to feel the same way about anything after a decade. I mean, people change spouses, change houses, change job. Change is a part of life.”

Did it make Philippakis assess his own place within music?

“For me, no. I think it made our resolve stronger. It reinforced how much we wouldn’t want the whole group to fall apart. I would love if he was still in the group, but it’s propelled us to do some things in a different way which is exciting, so it’s been a catalyst as well.”

Changed dynamic

The album is certainly a move away from their previous sound, and involves more instrumentation outside their usual range. You’ll hear xylophones on Café D’Athens, a range of sound effects in Syrups and, when needed, Philippakis stepped in to play bass (for the upcoming tour, they’ll draft in Everything Everything’s bassist Jeremy Pritchard).

It’s also led a change in dynamic between the band; aside from the social element (“we spent so much time together, we got phantom Walter syndrome after he left”), the intra-band balance was thrown off kilter.

“One thing that is easy to overlook is we’ve gone from an odd number of people to an even number of people, which makes discussions different,” explains Philippakis. “That was something I noticed earlier on. You can’t overstate the importance.”

How do they resolve disagreements now?

“We talk, we argue, we blow off steam and then we come to a consensus,” he replies. “There’s a lot of strong opinions in the band and that’s one of the things that makes it feel exciting and gives it its character. I don’t know. How do you solve any disagreement? You kind of just talk about it and hope for some flexibility in some way. Or you hope somebody’s pointing out something that’s correct, and it gets fixed. It depends on the disagreement. But it doesn’t come to blows.”

So does he have the casting vote when decisions need to be made?

“Yeah, I probably cast the deciding vote. But it’s not like we sit around like a table and go, ‘right, I’m vetoing something’. It depends how passionately people feel. I’m more than willing to admit that I can be wrong. Sometimes.”

If there’s tension, it works for them. Looking back over their five-album history, we can see they’re a rare band that progresses at every step, in both complexity and style.

"Foals came out when indie bands like Maxïmo Park and The Zutons dominated, and listening to it now, their first album Antidotes is rooted to its time," says Conor Adams of All Tvvins, when I speak to him afterwards. "But they were the first band I heard who put strong vocals and poppy melodies to 'math rock'. As a guitarist I was blown away with how clean the guitars sounded. I stopped fuzzing up my guitar with distortion pedals once I realised they still sounded rocking without one, which made it possible to use loop pedals to layer up three or four times without it sounding crazy noisy.

“And since then, they’ve evolved. They’re not even keeping up with the times, because the times aren’t favouring rock music at the moment. Yet they’re still making relevant, awesome music.”

Call to action

Philippakis and I meet before the Ryan Adams allegations brought the #metoo magnifying glass to the alternative music scene, so it's not discussed. But it's telling of these generally turbulent times that this album is the first in which Foals root themselves to society, whereas before, they transcended place or time. The title alone is a multilayered call to action, although one inspired by Nintendo's quit screen.

“It stuck with me; I like the unintended depth of the phrase,” says Philippakis, not finding its trivial origin as amusing as I do.

“In an environmental sense, it means every species that isn’t saved is going to be lost forever,” he adds, picking up on a key theme. “I’m getting to the age where hopefully I’ll have kids at some point, and when you think about having kids, you want the future generations to enjoy the great things about being alive, and about nature. That’s what I’m Done with the World (& It’s Done with Me) is about. There are so many great things about being a human, but also unfortunately there is this self-destructive capability. The song is essentially envisaging my daughter being in a world where nature is on fire in some way, so there’s something apocalyptic in it.

“But the title was applicable to loads of situations. Even when we were making the record, it applied to remember to back up the hard drives, and also to make sure we captured ideas. We’ve definitely found that before, we’d leave something unfinished and it gets forgotten about, or desiccates. So it ties into the motto of the album that we stayed at our most creative and completed everything.”

This maximalist way of working led to 20 finished tracks recorded in the sessions, half of which we'll hear when they release part two in autumn. Evidentially, 2019 seems to be the year of the double album; in addition to Foals, there's also Vampire Weekend, Guided By Voices, Marina (without her diamonds this time) and Rihanna, while Ariana Grande has also released two albums within six months. After years of EP releases gaining popularity, the pendulum appears to have swung the other way, perhaps a response to the abundance of music we consume."

More music

“There’s a voracious appetite for music that needs to be fed. In the past people didn’t burn through music as quickly,” Philippakis explains. “You can view it as an opportunity. In prior eras, if you had a big mound of material, you would have felt it would overwhelm the listener, but now it’s different.

“There are different approaches to delivering more music. Somebody like Drake just pops out tracks all the time, but for us, we still like the craft of making an album that takes you on a journey from track one to track 10. It’s what we grew up with, and that’s what we know how to make.”

Part two is purported to be heavier, but Philippakis doesn’t feel there’s a solid line between this release and the music we can expect after summer.

“It would be too crude to say album one is like this and album two is like this, but I’d say that more of the rock band is in the second album, just because it made for a more cohesive listen.”

After growing their exhaustingly energetic live shows – from their early days of delivering a musical suckerpunch at the Ambassador Theatre in Dublin to the Live at the Marquee headliner in Cork during their last major tour in 2016 – they're playing notably larger shows in between the two releases, which includes an open-air concert at Trinity College Dublin in the summer.

"We're looking forward to coming back," says Philippakis. "The shows in Ireland have always been great, and nights out are always fun. I still remember almost missing a flight to New York when I overslept because we'd been out in Dublin until the early hours. The only way I caught the plane was because a guy at security had been at the show the night before, and he just fast-tracked me through everything. I managed to get to the gate just in time, and the rest of the band were there waiting like 'where the fuck have you been?'. I will always be thankful to that guy."

Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 is out on Friday, March 8th. Foals play the Trinity College Summer Series, Dublin, on July 2nd