Foals: Back in the saddle
15.06.2022

Foals: Back in the saddle

(Image: Supplied)
Words by Al Belling

Returning to form with Foals' escapist project

When we get on the line to the ever enigmatic, always stage-diving and crowd surfing Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis, he warns that he won’t be able to speak much because he has a sore throat.

However, the singer’s handicap hasn’t come about because of any sting in the tail end of a miserable British winter, or a bout of the spicy cough.

Yannis is knackered because his band has just performed to over 40 thousand people in their hometown of London – five nights back to back, a stark reminder that two years of lockdowns hasn’t made a dent in the feverish cult of Foals that continues to expand, despite the death knell of twenty teen’s indie rock.

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“We did four nights at The Olympia and one at Brixton Academy – all sold-out,” he says with a hint of trump buried beneath the phlegm and coughing fits.

“Brixton, in particular, was quite peculiar, that’s such a massive gig for a lot of bands, and it certainly wasn’t an afterthought but it did feel like one of the ‘smaller’ hometown shows now, which is a pretty mental thing to say.”

The fact that the London three-piece are still raking in the ticket sales is no surprise.

Their career bull-run has been remarkable, with their bonafide 2013 classic Holy Fire followed up by the feral What Went Down, assuring them main stage billing for any festival until the end of time.

The double album sprawl Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost further grew the lore of the band, which had shown both a determination to progress and a prolific streak to keep even the most impatient fan sated. 

But now, as the band get ready to launch another touring cycle for the forthcoming seventh LP Life Is Yours, the time has truly arrived for the band to tear up the rule book, throw the scraps into the fire and dance in the flames. Emphasis on dance.

“What we do will always be distinctly Foals and stylistically us – the guitar is what helps that along, and my voice being somewhat distorted wailing over the top of everything,” Yannis says.

“However, dance music has always been part of the DNA of the band, it’s just come more to the foreground on this record is all, but that’s always been a significant factor that makes up our sound.

“We’ve always liked to jam a bit and fuse our songs together. It makes the show a bit more of a party that way – it’s similar to the way DJs string stuff together in clubs –  the momentum never drops in clubs, there’s always been amazing energy in the air, so that’s been something we’ve wanted to be mindful of more, both live and with this new record.

“There was a desire to take it back to more of the initial idea of the band where the rhythm, the grooves and the guitars are interlocking architecturally. We wanted to tap into the physicality of music. And we wanted it to feel good.”

 

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For the guitar lovers, no need to fear. Life Is Yours retains all the trademark earworms plucked out of Yannis’ and co-guitarist Jimmy Smith’s fretboards that made hits like ‘My Number’ and ‘Two Steps, Twice’ the ultimate guitar-led dance floor anthems.

However, there’s no denying the infectious shimmer of the synths, the moveability of the drums, and the celebratory nature of the hooks that spatter across Life Is Yours, bursting forth with an optimism rarely heard in a post-pandemic, post-Trumpian world.

“We were listening to heaps of ‘70s disco records while making this one – the view was for this album to be a bit more summery – it’s a going out record, an album that’s full of life and soundtracks the re-emergence of people into the world,” Yannis says.

“It’s really exciting that the genres are cross-pollinating more now – there’s a feeling that nothing is off-limits.”

“The more electronically-based artists that we love mostly inspired us here, and we’ve developed that side of our sound over the past few albums anyway, so we wanted to really go deeper on that side of things.”

Yannis notes that – besides 40 thousand people coming to shows off the back of a few promo singles – the “battlelines” of music has changed, especially in rock.

“It’s been less tribal for a while,” he says. “When we started the band we wanted to follow the tradition of artists like LCD Soundsystem, we played house parties and club nights as much as we played classic rock venues. We have 15 years of history doing that kind of thing.

“It’s really exciting that the genres are cross-pollinating more now – there’s a feeling that nothing is off-limits.”

Like most albums currently emerging, Life Is Yours emerged from the existential despair of lockdowns brought about by the pandemic.

Yannis is quick to point out though that this isn’t a reflection on a darker time of history, but an oasis for people looking for a reason to dance.

“Our touring was cancelled because of COVID-19, and during lockdown, we initially found it really nice to be in a restful headspace,” he said.

“But after a while though, like many artists really, I started to feel really restless and that was when I started writing some demos – ‘2am’ and ‘Wake Me Up’ were the two songs that really laid the template for this new record.

“We rehearsed in this really cold, miserable rehearsal room in an industrial facility – no sunlight, no one around – it was really bleak, so that really propelled us to try and counter this sense of the grim pandemic winter.

“It became a really escapist project, for those four or five hours a day that we were working on the music we were liberated from thinking about COVID – that’s the spirit of this album really.”

“With ‘Wake Me Up’, I just wanted to write a song about transporting yourself to a better, idyllic situation. 

“I think we all had that feeling of the last eighteen months being like a weird fever dream that felt surreal but very affecting. I think we all wished we could have woken up somewhere else at various points.”

The band also invited a swathe of other voices in to have their say on the record, with Yannis revealing some songs would be shared around with as many as four producers.

“Once we started recording the record we tried different producers, we ended up working with four and we would record 80 per cent of a track with one, and then change and go with someone else for the finishing touches. 

“We’d never worked like that before but it meant there was so much creativity going on.

“After we had most of the record done, we relocated to a studio called ‘Real World’ which is famously owned by Peter Gabriel from Genesis.

“It was idyllic, on this beautiful lake – we worked there for eight weeks, and it all just came together beautifully, so we had it finished by the end of the summer – it was really great. I love Gabriel, I love ‘Slegehammer’. That era of stuff slaps.”

Life Is Yours might take some digesting for fans of the guitar-driven Foals staples ‘Mountain At My Gates’ and ‘Spanish Sahara’.

However, there’s no denying the brilliance in the composition spread across the 11 songs that make up the band’s new work.

Nothing is recycled, tired, or retreaded. Foals are fundamentally a rock band, but one that will continuously evolve, despite the trends surrounding them.

As Yannis explains to close our interview, the album finale ‘Wild Green’ is both a signpost of where they’ve arrived, but also a hint of the things to potentially come.

“That was an exercise in just going overboard with synths – we had this amazing arpeggiator that the whole thing was based on – we jammed on this loop for half an hour non-stop,” he says.

“The idea was that the first half is a very lush tapestry of interlocking walls of sound, and then the second half breaks open and disintegrates at the same time with the way the guitars fall apart.

“It was a song of two halves, we like the idea of re-emergence, and by the end, you reach the end of a life cycle. That song really is symbolic of the album as a whole.”

Who knows where this band will go next? One thing is for sure – there are hundreds of thousands of followers who are going on that journey too.

Life Is Yours will be released June 17 via Warner Music.