Music

Foals: Summer Sonic's storm before the calm

by Oscar Boyd

Staff Writer

“My knees are fine, my knees are fine. Yeah, no problem there. I’m actually jumping off even higher things these days,” says Yannis Philippakis, lead singer of the British band Foals.

Philippakis is referring to his raucous live performances, which display a commitment to aerobatics that a trapeze artist might look twice at. Almost inevitably at some point in the show, Philippakis will climb to the top of the tallest structure on stage before launching himself into the air to the adoration of the crowd.

Other times he’ll hop the barrier — guitar or microphone in tow — and let the audience carry him on its shoulders, followed by irate security guards who know they’ll have to stage a rescue. The crowd loves it, and who wouldn’t? Foals put on a hell of a show.

That show will be coming to this year’s Summer Sonic festival, where Foals will grace the Sonic Stage in Osaka (Aug. 16) and Tokyo (Aug. 17). It has been six years since the band was last in Japan, at the tail end of its “Holy Fire” tour. Now the four-piece is back, celebrating 2019 by releasing and touring two new albums: “Everything That is Not Saved Will Be Lost — Part 1,” released in March, and “Part 2,” which is due in October, with the first song — “not a single, but the first taste” — having just dropped, almost four years since the release of “What Went Down,” the band’s last album.

“We finished touring ‘What Went Down’ in the winter of 2016, and then had most of 2017 off,” says Philippakis. “I actively wanted a break from writing, (to) get bored again and lost in a smaller way of living.

“(When we started writing again), we wanted to approach it differently, we wanted to go into a recording studio with an engineer from the earliest possible date, in the view of trying to capture the initial excitement of when you first write something: both in terms of the energy of playing something together for the first time, and also the sound of things in their infancy.”

Philippakis says the band went into the studio for two weeks to try working with a new engineer, Brett Shaw. Things progressed well, and 14 days turned into 18 months.

“We kind of took over his life, and I don’t think he’s quite forgiven us,” says Philippakis.

The approach was a marked difference from the group’s earlier albums, when members would write in a studio in Oxford, where they grew up together and first met, before decamping to another studio, usually somewhere outside of the U.K., to record the finished tracks. This time, Foals wanted to make an album where anything that was recorded — from the very first sessions — could be used on the final record. Rather than chasing the sound and energy of an early demo, every note played would be part of the group’s arsenal, the rawness preserved on the finished product.

“Basically the first half of ‘Syrups,’ with the exception of the drums and the vocals is from my initial session,” explains Philippakis. “And the main loop from ‘In Degrees’ is from the first session that the band recorded. And on ‘Part 2’ there’s a lot more of the band playing things on first takes, like ‘Neptune,’ which is basically us jamming, and not really edited.”

The departure of bassist Walter Gervers, who’d been with the band since its inception, also forced a change in the creative approach.

“At the end stages of ‘What Went Down,’ we said that the band needed to undergo some violent change. We didn’t realize that would come in the form of Walter leaving.” says Philippakis. “It caused some turbulence on an emotional level, but in a creative sense I think it was, in certain ways, positive. It forced us on quite a fundamental level to consider whether to keep going, which you don’t really have the opportunity to do when you’re on the hamster wheel. And on a creative level, it meant that Edwin (Congreave, keyboards) and I both played a lot more bass and we all just had a bit more room to maneuver in. And that’s good, I think.”

Foals (clockwise from left) are Jimmy Smith, Jack Bevan, Edwin Congreave and Yannis Philippakis. alex knowles
Foals (clockwise from left) are Jimmy Smith, Jack Bevan, Edwin Congreave and Yannis Philippakis. alex knowles

Since releasing “Antidotes” — Foals’ debut album — in 2008, the band’s sound has evolved with each release. Where “Antidotes” is young, upbeat and filled with the staccato popcorn plucks of math-rock guitar, “Everything That is Not Saved” is much heavier — not introverted, but with a darker, more grounded feel. There’s a lot of synth in the mix and some tracks feel quite dancy, but others, such as “Cafe D’Athens,” feel like the band have been spending much of their free time with that other prodigious Oxford name, Thom Yorke.

“(With ‘Part 1’) I wanted to tap into the neuroses and fear of the changing and perilous situation we seem to find ourselves in,” says Philippakis. “I wanted the songs to orbit themes of climate change, social isolation and confusion, and the sense of disappointment and fear that has increasingly become the sign of the current period.”

These themes play out through the album, and by the end of “Part 1” you’d be forgiven for feeling a little blue. “Sunday,” the penultimate song, muses on that idea of isolation — “Time away from me is what I need, to clear my sight and clear my head” — while the title of the last song, “I’m Done With the World (& It’s Done With Me),” is enough to provoke some existential angst in fans who are used to a version of Foals that doesn’t sound so defeated.

Philippakis promises “Part 2” will sound quite different from “Part 1,” however — a bigger sound, harder hitting, an album that drummer Jack Bevan described as “a f—-ing bangsman.”

“It’s more guitar-driven than ‘Part 1’ is. … There’s an urgency to it and then the second half becomes a bit more cosmic, the last song has this 10-minute jam, this kind of Kubrick, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ vibe to it,” says Philippakis. “The closing songs of ‘Part 1’ are about a world that’s been scorched, but ‘Part 2’ is about how to have a sense of purpose and how to persevere in the wreckage, there’s lyrics in the start about running through the embers. I feel like it’s an answer to ‘Part 1.'”

Foals will play the Sonic Stage at Summer Sonic Osaka on Aug. 16 and Summer Sonic Tokyo on Aug. 17. For information on releases and tour dates, visit www.foals.co.uk.