Shortly after British rockers Foals walked off stage from headlining the Reading & Leeds Festival in 2017, bass player Walter Gervers broke the news that he was leaving the band he and his best friends had formed a decade previous. “There was some self-questioning going on,” frontman Yannis Philippakis says over a pint of lager in his local south London pub, flanked by drummer Jack Bevan and guitarist Jimmy Smith.
Instead, the pivotal moment resulted in two new albums; this Friday, Foals release the first part of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost. A second part will follow before the end of the year. After working with producers including James Ford and Dave Sitek in the past, Foals took the chance to make this one themselves. The band stresses how different the new album is, saying they couldn’t make “just another Foals album," but their penchant for catchy rhythms, meaty riffs, and melodic choruses are still more than present. In many ways the first part of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost feels like the band taking stock of what works and amplifying each element — embossing their sound and creating something more themselves than ever before.
Read on for an interview with the band about the creation of their ambitious project, why social media is scary, and how touring can fuck you up.
How was making this album different with one less member in the band?
Yannis: The roles became more fluid. We've been a band for a long time, and live we thrived on interlocking in a very specific way. With Walter's departure, obviously, that structure was dismantled.
What role did Walter play in the social dynamic of Foals?
Yannis: He was a very calm, measured, patient person in a way that the rest of us really aren’t.
Jack: Kind of like the older brother.
So what happens when that element is absent?
Yannis: It was a bit daunting, because he was the agony aunt to the band, but it's brought us a lot closer together. We all used to rely on Walter, whereas now we have to lean on each other.
Jack: With any member departing, you realize the thing that you built up is more fragile than you may have thought. You need to bond together if you want to continue.
What was the creative impulse to make Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost?
Yannis: The combination of Walter's departure and the self-imposed time off meant that we had the chance to form a good perspective of how to proceed. Having the time off allowed that desire to do it again. Like putting a percolator on the hob, you got to give it time until it's ready. This new dynamic felt fresh and took us out of our past methods. We were writing and approaching the studio in a different fashion. There was a hunger to write something new and a desire to feel like we were shedding skin.
We wanted to be more explorative and allow the process of being in the studio to be more open-ended. For What Went Down, we went in with finished songs and worked with a highly skilled and experienced producer. With this one, we went in with a much more open mindset. We had no idea how many songs we were going to write, where it was going to end up, how long it was going to take, and what form the songs would be in. That's why we ended up with two albums.
Was there anything else that prompted the decision to release two albums?
Yannis: We wanted to reserve judgment on ourselves. There were songs that, at certain points, we were maybe not as excited about. If we'd been in the studio with a producer, they might've gotten nixed. Instead, we wanted to take every idea we had and make a judgment call on what we thought the record would be at that point. Some of the songs we initially felt were lacking something ended up becoming our favorites. It's partly a time thing, too. Our energy is unending for our own material, so we were happy to spend over a year in the studio just slogging it out and putting in that amount of work. You'd be asking a lot of a producer to be in there with you.
Jimmy: They're getting paid a whopping amount of money, sitting there and feeling like, "I need to do something and make a decision." Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's bad.
How would you describe the vibe on this album?
Yannis: It's textured, layered, uplifting, and energetic. Certain aspects are the danciest we've ever been. There's a vitality — a kind of color scheme to it. We wanted to make a red record. In sequencing, we managed to carve out two proper coherent journeys within the two records.
Lyrically, these songs feel a lot more present and aware of the wider world.
Yannis: I've written lyrics before that are abstract, fractured, and purposefully illusive before moving on to more professional lyrics where I wanted to scour my insides. Musically, this record was already more than half-formed before I was thinking about the lyrics. It was very apparent what should be written about, and those themes were ones I felt were knocking on the door from the outside. I wanted to make the record resonate with the current climate and have a more open and definable dialogue with the outside world. We're threaded together by common frustrations and anxieties that make the whole experience of the record richer.
When you watch the news, what's on your mind at the moment?
One thing is the constant proximity to news. When we were growing up with TV and landlines, you would maybe see the news a couple of times a week for half an hour. Now, every time you go online you're constantly in contact with information from the outside. The stuff that bums me out or occupies my mind in idle times is feeling like if you go through a walk through the forest, there's less life in it than there used to be. Growing up with [David] Attenborough, you get this view of the world where there's all this abundant, amazing beautiful nature — but when you go on holiday in the Mediterranean, most of the shorelines are devoid of life. It's a bit of a bummer.
Releasing a lot of music is something of a trend right now.
Jimmy: It’s a happy coincidence. The label only got involved when we finished all 20 songs and were like, "That's great, because streaming's massive now." We know we can sleep safely at night knowing that everything we're putting out has our stamp of approval on it.
Yannis: We definitely have an increasing awareness of how much the landscape's changed and how the demand for music is different now. You can't help but respond to that. We love making music, so the idea that there's a ravenous appetite for music is a different world, and one in which it's exciting to put music out into. It feels like people can't get enough of it fast enough.
Earlier this year, James Blake spoke about his struggles with mental health and how much life on the road can affect that. Have you ever felt anything similar during your career?
Jimmy: Yeah. Touring is a complicated time. There's definitely times that it's gone on a bit too long and we've had the desire to move on to the next thing — but because of the business structure, we continue to tour.
Jack: It's the sort of thing where it's like you're just sort of told to get on with it.
Yannis: "This is what you signed up for."
Jimmy: Touring is the best thing in the world until it's the worst thing in the world. On the last album, I feel like by the end we needed that time off. If the tour had run like two or three more months, someone could've just walked off the tour. I could have done it. When we talk to people outside of the bubble, they understand that touring is hard, being in the band is demanding of one's time, and you sacrifice a lot for it — but the people that are in the industry are often the least compassionate.
How do you think you ten years ago would view your career now?
Yannis: We'd be really happy. Also, the fans of 2006 would respect the journey. We've done it the right way — we haven't ever compromised, lowered our standards, or done things that we would feel uncomfortable about. The principles are there and we remain a restless and aspiring band. If we'd come and seen us play now, we would be like, That band can play.
Jimmy: We were pretty bloody cynical back then.
Jack: Little punks.
Yannis, you watch boxing videos to get psyched up before gigs. Which boxer would you compare Foals to?
Anthony Joshua — he's without doubt one of the best in the game.