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Conversations with Consequence: Yannis Philippakis of Foals

on October 19, 2019, 3:20pm

British indie rock mainstays Foals are back with their new album, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost — Part 2. This will be their second full-length of the year, following Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost — Part 1, which was released in March. Both volumes of the double album were self-produced, and we’ve already heard two tracks from Part 2: lead single “Black Bull” and “The Runner”. The blitzing, forceful weight of these tracks felt like a shift in the tide for Foals, but it’s one they’ve carefully cultivated since their 2005 formation in Oxford, England.

As an entire body, Part 2 feels like a meditation on what to do with the aesthetic detritus that left fans dangling on a metaphorical cliff in Part 1. Shifting from the dance-ready, Foals enlist the guitar-heavy to quell those anxieties, striding towards futurity by the end of Part 2. The lived-in, sustaining force behind much of this choppy energy is the current landscape: climate destruction, inequality, and sheer turbulence. These two parts offer a refusal of normalized ruin while simultaneously materializing as repose in the aftermath.

(Read: Track by Track – Foals Break Down Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost — Part 1)

Along with the release of Part 1, Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis gave us a Track by Track breakdown of the soon-to-be Mercury Prize-shortlisted album. We caught up with the frontman again — this time in conjunction with Part 2’s release. Read our full interview below.


On what informed the perspective of the album

It’s a bit of a blur when I think back to when we were making the record. I feel we were really just listening to it because we were self-producing. I was totally immersed in the process. Even to and from the studio, I was just listening to the tracks we were working on. Early on, the idea that I was excited by was a record, musically, that was upbeat and energetic and even euphoric at times, and then marrying that with a darker lyrical perspective. I really was attracted to that contrast. It helped inform and guide the whole record, like viewing the songs as Trojan horses almost. On a brief listen, I just feel like they’re quite enjoyable, physically gratifying pieces of music. But then when you scratch into the lyrics, there’s a whole world in there that’s darker than one might see.

On pessimism and the meaning of the word “lost”

In terms of the record, certainly Part 2, the essential message for the first half is about trying to rebuild and find a sense of purpose in the wreckage that was described in the end of Part 1. I thought about the record in quite a narrative way, where I think you’ll see that I wanted to go through a journey on Part 1 that then leads into Part 2. So, I guess in one way, Part 1 is more observational and trying to explain the landscape — the landscape being the one in which I feel like is quite current. I really wanted to tap into the current news, particularly in Britain, and probably my own internal anxieties to do with that.

I guess in some ways, to relay it to the word “lost,” the perspective in Part 2 is when you’re kind of freed from some of those things because the destruction has occurred. There’s less weighing you down. Less of those things exist in the record. The last thing I’ll say about it is that I definitely have a sentimental view of time passing. I feel quite emo about it, and I’ve always been quite preoccupied with things being ephemeral and transitory. As I’ve gotten older, that’s become more of a looming obsession. I find I’m quite preoccupied with things ending and finality. A lot of that is in the songs because it’s just a preoccupation in my mind.

(Read: Foals release new LP Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2: Stream)

On continually being asked if “Rock Is Dead”

I find it pretty boring, I guess. Ever since we’ve been a band, I mean, people ask that question about rock being dead. It’s almost a kind of journalistic neurosis. I don’t feel like it’s ever had a bearing. When rock music is healthy, people are still asking that question, and when it’s not, they still ask. It’s an ebb and flow. To answer the question from a British perspective, I think there’s a lot of really interesting guitar bands at the moment coming from the UK, and it’s becoming increasingly politicized and lauded, which is cool. I think it’s in a good place. We don’t really think it has a bearing on what we do, you know? I feel like we’re quite self-contained.

On the political climate and artists “Staying in their lane”

I think that whole idea of staying in one’s lane is bullshit. To expect people because they’re artists to keep schtum and that because you’re an artist of some type, then you shouldn’t vocalize your opinion or that you shouldn’t have one, I just find it insulting. At one point, you have certain views because you write songs or because you make art. When you have those views, it will be imbued with those facts. When I write a song, it’s coming from me. I don’t work with songwriters. It’s my way forward and how I reflect on that. I just feel passionately about certain causes, and why wouldn’t you use your platform, for lack of a better word, in order to try and bring dialogue? The fact is that all that you’ve worked for is to be heard. So, then, when you can be heard, to not use it to voice political ideas, it’s not only nonsensical, it would be kind of cowardly. That’s how I feel about it.

Foals Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2 album cover artwork

On how the band steered away from a “heavy” listen

It’s probably two-fold. One thing has to do with the reason of splitting the album into two. We didn’t want it to feel like a burden to listen to 20 tracks because it’s kind of exhausting and just laborious. And I guess, in that way, we didn’t want it to feel like a heavy listen in real-time, so you can easily digest Part 1, and you can live with it for six months, and then you’re ready for Part 2. And things have a sense of proportion, and there’s not any of this huge, grandiose unveiling of this massive thing. The other aspect would be, like in music, I think we’ve been more melancholic than the British landscape. We have written melancholic music before. It would be different to talk about these things, and we weren’t attracted to that direction at the time, you know. We weren’t so much interested in writing music in a morose or melancholic way. And we didn’t want it to feel like you’re getting scoured by someone. I do like records like that, but we didn’t want to be like that.

(Buy: Tickets to Upcoming Foals Shows)

On the artistic impact of trends in digital music consumption

With the writing, no, because I think quite unconsciously we look inward in the sense that we just want to try and make great music. For one thing, we don’t even necessarily really understand the landscape out there because we haven’t grown up with it in the same way, you know, so I think when we start trying to play guessing games about how to strategize, it wouldn’t be good. I like to write music because it’s a pure artistic thing that gives me satisfaction away from that part of my head that would be plugged in.

I guess I would say from this experience currently with the two albums and the way in which it’s changed over the years — this doesn’t come as a surprise to music journalists — but I think on the emotional level how I remember just feeling like you could put out one track with one promo photo with one video, and as long as that stuff was well executed and had a strong identity, you could essentially set your flag on the mountain and that would be visible for a number of months if not a year. You had oxygen, and this is more of a metaphorical point, but I just feel like it’s harder to get oxygen these days as in we put out way more, to use the dirty word, content. We put out many more photos, many more aesthetic representations per album. And everything is beaten, and things get buried a bit quicker.

Without sounding like a grumpy old man, there is something disturbing about that. The great records of the past, would they have thrived and survived in this landscape? And not just with those records, but would those artists that became iconic figures for good reasons; would they survive in this landscape? Would they breakthrough, or would they also be submerged under this torrent of information and music and what not? Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, we could talk about it all day. I think it’s great that creativity can be consumed quicker and freer, and there are lots of aspects of that that are great. But there’s also something about things enduring, to bring it back to the album title. What endures, and what is just yesterday’s news, and my worry is that we’re throwing out what ought to endure. There really isn’t a good process for deciding what should endure and what’s more temporary.

On his favorite song to play from the double album

One thing that’s been fulfilling this year is we’ve got a song on Part 1 called “Sunday”; we haven’t played anything really off Part 2, but a song like “Sunday” I remember having hopes for in a sort of proud parent way. I wanted it to connect with people, and I wanted it to provide a function to be the soundtrack to that moment we’ve all had with our friends on a night out or pregaming at home or a festival. When you have that tune that really brings you and your friends together and makes you feel alive and brave. Playing “Sunday”, I’ve seen people singing along, and I can just tell it’s become that song for people. That’s one of those moments where there’s all that time agonizing over the lyrics in a pub late at night. It’s worth it when you see it in that context.

On his favorite guitar strings

That is nerdy. This is kind of terrible, but I’m not entirely sure what strings I use anymore. I know the gauge. I like lighter strings, so I use gauge 11s. They’re the best ones. I think we use Ernie Balls, but it just shows how disconnected and un-punk I am these days.

On what he hopes fans will glean from Part 2 in conversation with Part 1

To not descend into nihilism, and to feel that the experience of being alive is something that’s beautiful and should be relished and that no matter how much turbulence, division, and peril there is in the world, that being alive is beautiful. On a slightly nerdy level, one thing I really enjoyed getting to do these two records was having lots of small details that connect the two records and for fans to really immerse themselves in the world and to wonder why is track one called “Moonlight’’ and why is track 10 on Part 2 called “Neptune” and why is “Ikaria” called “Ikaria”?’ There’s meaning to be gleaned from analyzing the record. I just want the record to be people’s friend. All of my favorite records feel like my buddies, so hopefully, this record will be someone’s buddy.

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