For six or seven months, Foals lead singer Yannis Philippakis didn’t hardly pick up a guitar, let alone work on any new music. While that’s a lengthy stretch of down time for any typical band between album cycles, it’s particularly noteworthy for the London-based artist, whose band—one of the hardest working acts in the UK since its inception in 2005—has rarely even taken that much time off between shows,
“I wanted to allow the natural urge to create to emanate rather than to feel like it was prescribed—‘I’ve got to write another record,’” Philippakis explains between sips of his beer in the back of 2A, a dimly lit bar in the East Village. “I actively felt like I really needed to do that. I went traveling to Greece a lot, and I spent time with my cat and my girlfriend, and I went to the pub, and I enjoyed living in London, and it was great. I felt the old familiar, the little appetite grow, and that’s when I started to write.”
How Philippakis began to write, however, was wildly different this time around than at any point in his career—he largely worked in public, usually at pubs and beer gardens. This connection to the outside world changed the course of the lyrical content for what became Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1, the first of two releases set for 2019. Finally not writing in the relative isolation indoors as he has in the past, Philippakis allowed himself to address the weighty issues of the day rather than write from an insular place, all influenced by the setting he wrote in where he was simultaneously surrounded by a sea of Londoners while hiding in plain sight.
“I had my headphones in, and every time I looked up from the page, I was with people,” he remembers. “Subconsciously, it pushed me to make sure the record was communicative because the themes of the record are directly related to the outside world in a way where perhaps if I’d been in a small white room locked away, I would have maybe funneled in more. By and large, I’ve never written in packed places, in crazy places. Being alone in one way but being in contact with people informed the writing.”
Not only did the change of scenery alter his lyrical output, it led to the most productive period of his band’s career, leading to the release of not one, but two albums this year. Usually, the band whittles down a pile of song sketches into a single, succinct record, only completing the eventual album tracks, leaving the rest to be forgotten. In this case, they took a different approach, deciding to push all of those song ideas to the finish line, effectively saving all the tracks that previously would have been lost.
“Usually there’s a mound of stuff at a certain point, and often a few months after that, there’s a distinctive shape forming in the record,” Philippakis says. “Normally in the past, we go in with more ideas than go on the album. This was a more productive time, I think, because we approached it differently—it enabled us to complete more material in a way where normally before we would have parked ideas or put things on ice whereas this one, there was a desire. I had points in the studio where I’d say to the guys ‘maybe we should leave it for a bit,’ and they were really very encouraging about me finishing vocals on everything, writing lyrics on everything in a way that maybe at times before—and sometimes due to constraints on time and things—be like, ‘that can wait.’”
But that sudden abundance of new material ended up leading to two albums instead of one, complete with double of all of the elements that go towards sequencing a record—two separate flows and trajectories, rather than an extended, Drake-length release.
“At a certain point when we had all 20 songs, we thought that there was a symmetry and things were working in tandem,” he explains. “We felt that there were two openers. We felt that there were two closers. There were certain centerpieces and it made sense to do two records out of the material we had. If we had a fluster of songs, a casserole of nonsense, it’d be difficult to warrant doing the two albums, but because we felt that there were these signposts along the way, it made sense.”
Even with double the songs than usual, Philippakis believes that this their most coherent record to date, one that avoids sacrificing succinctness for the thematic variety of Holy Fire or What Went Down. But coherency to Philippakis doesn’t mean that he wanted the whole record to be of a single sound—instead of an album chock full of only atmospheric ballads a la “Spanish Sahara” or “What Went Down”-type arena rafter-filling rockers, the band wanted an assortment of sounds, all connected by a single through-line throughout.
“One of the desires of when we were working was we wanted songs to be wildly diverse and to explore different crevices of what we can do,” Philippakis says. “The journey through the record feels to us like it’s perfectly proportioned and it makes sense. We’ve never felt that we quite perfected the flow through the record in terms of sequencing. By doing the two records, it means that each one has its individual arc and journey that you go on.”
And he’s not kidding—there is much more sonic variety here than in any single release throughout their previous four acclaimed albums and it’s obvious that something is different within the opening seconds of “Moonlight,” Part 1’s lead track. The album kicks off with exotic sounding synths and choirs before giving way to arpeggiated guitars and Philippakis’s distant vocals, eventually transitioning into the upbeat stadium-sized anthemic lead single, “Exits.” Elsewhere, we hear Foals showcasing furious drumbeats that rival that of “Cassius” off their first record, dipping into dancefloor-filling pseudo-disco in “In Degrees,” funky basslines throughout “Syrups” that give Arctic Monkeys’ “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” a run for its money, and eventually bringing everything to a close with stunning piano ballad “I’m Done With The World (& It’s Done With Me)”—their most gorgeous song to date.
Because there’s so much to unpack in Part 1, the band decided to release both efforts separately, rather than as a single collection. In doing so, it gives fans more time to fully comprehend the intricacies of Part 1 before moving on to a separate release entirely.
“We’re not crazy about double albums and I think it’s a lot to digest in one go; we felt that it would become overbearing,” he admits. “By putting out the two records separately, it allows for the songs to have their time in the sun. You can become fully familiar with album one and it can be digestible and appreciable and you can live with it and get to have time to make friends with the songs before being introduced to the new set. Also from a selfish perspective, it allows for the touring cycle to have a new lifeblood in it halfway through. We get to add a whole new body of work that’s super fresh when we’re in the depths of the brain forest.”
All of this goes to say, this is without a doubt their most interesting listen, one that both challenges and surprises the listener with every subsequent song. Even with the band trying on multiple different hats throughout, no tune feels out of place; every synth sheen, fuzzed out guitar riff, complex drum beat, and scream is extremely vital to the record’s overall mission, only whetting our appetite for Part 2.
“All of the songs [on both records] are all orbiting the same themes, but I feel that album one ends up in this stark, bleak, defeated place and we almost wanted to leave it there as a cliffhanger,” Philippakis explains. “It’s got an implicit ‘dot dot dot’ there. Album two starts with a bang. There’s a sense of urgency and perseverance in album two and there’s a lot of energy in the beginning of album two. It’s meant to contrast the ending of album one.”
If “I’m Done With The World (& It’s Done With Me),” the culmination of Philippakis looking further to the outside world for inspiration and immersing himself in London at large in order to write, is where Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2 finds its own stimulus, we’re in for a treat come autumn. But for now, Part 1 showcases the best of Foals—first and foremost their ability to write both slow-building gorgeous stunners alongside massive fist-in-the-air anthems—proving that they’re every bit the ascendant festival headliners in the UK that they’ve been heralded as, amongst the best of the British rock bands this millennium.