Foals – Yannis Philippakis on “Life Is Yours” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, March 3rd, 2024  

Foals – Yannis Philippakis on “Life Is Yours”

Getting the Party Re-Started

Jul 26, 2022 Photography by Edward Cooke Web Exclusive
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“It’s hot! I’m sweating into a puddle,” declares the Foals dynamo Yannis Philippakis as he slurps on a delicious looking smoothie. The UK is in the midst of a blistering heat wave and Philippakis is speaking on Zoom from his abode in London, a brief domestic respite from a very busy European festival season for Foals.

In the blink of an eye, Foals are already on their seventh album, and it’s a different flavor from Philippakis, Jack Bevan, and Jimmy Smith this time around. Life Is Yours began recordings at Foals’ South London rehearsal studio and was completed at the famous Real World Studios in Bath, UK. Joint production comes from John Hill (Cage The Elephant, Florence + The Machine) and Dan Carey (Tame Impala, Fontaines D.C.).

Under the Radar spoke with Philippakis about the new album, being a Glastonbury convert, and other projects in the pipeline from the Oxford trio.

Lee Campbell (Under the Radar): Congrats on the new album, Life Is Yours. Did the writing for this project flow quite freely?

Yannis Philippakis: It was quite a singular experience. It was different to any other record, largely because of the external context of COVID and lockdowns. I think musically and instrumentally it was fairly free-flowing. There was a lot of jamming. The three of us had nothing else to do and had nowhere else to be, and didn’t want to be anywhere else. We would spend a lot of time in this practice room and jam. The bit that was more challenging, personally for me, in the initial stages was trying to find the right lyrical approach. I had to change it up a bit, because obviously I’d got used to feeding off an immediate inspiration, some type of charge, stimulation, or when I’m traveling—I write a lot of my lyrics when I’m traveling. I also like to write outside and observe people, observe situations. I didn’t have any of that. It forced my hand to make some imaginative leaps. That’s why there’s songs like “2001” or “Crest of the Wave.” They are fantastical and nostalgic in a way that had the access of the planet not stopped, I don’t think it would have been written in that way.

You are speaking with Under the Radar magazine today Yannis and I couldn’t go without asking about your song on the album, amazingly also called “Under the Radar.” What was the background vision or energy on that song?

Quite surreal. When I think of the song, I think of Devo and the Pixies. In a way that both of them had this retro view of the future or sci-fi. Frank Black will sing about space and aliens. [Laughs] It’s probably the hardest one to un-pick. I didn’t want to force it into being too literal a narrative. I just liked that it had these strange, fragmented images. Essentially, it’s someone alone at night being lit up by their phone glow. There was a period where we thought we were gonna get beamed up to a spaceship, traveling across distant galaxies. Now, we just sit and the light that is emerging from our rooms at night-time, is coming from this tiny little black soul-sucker! I was riffing off that thought.

One of my favorite tracks is “Flutter.” I was getting Stone Roses flashbacks listening to it, believe it or not. Were there any particular moods or inspirations behind that song?

Oh cool, it’s one of my favorites too. I listen to a lot of West African music from the Sahara. I’m quite into it. It wasn’t a pre-written song as such. It came together very quickly one afternoon, at the end of working on something else. We had finished another job for the day, I don’t remember what it was specifically. I was just looping it, and often when I’m working with loops they lead you down these slightly more interesting angles. Jack [Bevan] knocked out this kinda lazy beat. We purposefully left it to be this slower, more hypnotic groove. We didn’t wanna push it into the more upbeat territory of the record because we felt there was plenty of that. It’s a more laid-back moment.

What has the reception been like to the new songs in a live setting?

It’s been great. We haven’t played any of the deeper cuts yet. That’ll come later. We’ve been playing “Wake Me Up.” We’ve been opening the shows with that and that’s just perfect. It feels like the perfect opener. It just gets the party started. [Laughs] We play “2001,” which goes down great. That was even going down well, weirdly, when we played it at some of the London shows we did in April, and I don’t think it was even out yet, but it was connecting already. I feel like that one has really connected in a live setting. It’s one of my favorite tracks in terms of its sheer summery, optimistic vibes. It’s like a song we’ve never written before. I am quite intoxicated by it and maybe some other people are too. It’s gratifying. “2a.m.” is like a big, singalong moment. I’ve noticed it doesn’t get people in the mosh pits going, but it gets everyone singing along, which is nice.

I watched your performance at Glastonbury headlining The Other stage? It was amazing. Can you give me a few words to sum up how that felt?

It’s kind of overwhelming really. That slot is a prestigious slot. It’s not one that we ever thought we would necessarily get, on a scale where we play a lot of shows and we love playing live, it’s not like any other show. To me it felt like one of the pinnacles of our live career. When we look back, it will be in the top handful of moments. It had the added energy of a post-COVID Glastonbury. We didn’t have Glastonbury for three years. It was such an important thing for the psyche of the nation. I don’t think I’m over-stating that. There’s something so positive about Glastonbury. In the early days, I hadn’t fully experienced Glastonbury before the band. I didn’t necessarily buy into that entire mythology around it. And now, I’m like a zealous convert. I just think that it’s an amazing place. To be one of the people invited to channel that energy and help create that energy for the people is a privilege. It was a joy. We loved it. It is tricky to take it fully in. The scale of it is too big for one brain. But, having played the Pyramid Stage a few years back, I was more determined to be present in the moment. I found that it worked. On “Spanish Sahara” definitely, partly because the song has some space in it, I can let the emotion ride over me. On the other end of the spectrum on “Inhaler” where it went full feral, I was just watching the flares. It felt like some ancient Roman army. It felt otherworldly, it was cool.

There’s a lot of disillusion and discontent with politicians and so-called leaders at the moment. Music can be such a safe haven for people when the going gets tough. You play America in the autumn. What would your message to any of your American fan base be in these more difficult moments?

I think that they should resist, defy, protest, and then come to shows, and remember there’s still beauty in the world, despite whatever political machinations are going on. A Foals show is the perfect place to come and release any sort of energy that needs releasing. We’d embrace people that come to the shows and use it as catharsis in some way. Also, just to party and have a good time. It can’t all be darkness all the time. You have to allow yourself to have releases and to have joy.

So many groups are still making music together and playing to huge crowds in their late 60s, 70s, and sometimes 80s. There is a phrase you’ve used before called “Foals Forever.” Do you think there comes a stage where you should bow out gracefully when you are at the top of your game?

There’s a few different ways to look at it, and I’m not really sure where I land on it. Usually there’s a creative potency that does dilute over time. I don’t think anyone’s 18th album is usually their best. I just feel that we are dedicated to making music. I feel like I’m gonna be a songwriter for the rest of my life. I think that all three of us, and the band, are musicians for life. It’s just a question whether Foals is the vessel, or the entire vessel. Unless something drastic happens, we love playing live and we love making records. Maybe the frequency with which we operate might change over the next period, but it’s hard to predict because we are having a great time. Genuinely, it’s so enjoyable to be in the band. Sometimes I think I wanna go off and make a Greek folk record and Jimmy [Smith] wants to make a solo record, but I think the main mothership will always be Foals, and hopefully that mothership stays spinning forever. The balance that would be nice would be, the dedication that we had to have to Foals has been monolithic. It’s also the reason that members have left, it’s all-consuming. Even for our personal lives, that’s something that would be worth addressing. We’re not getting any younger and we tour quite hard. Some sort of balance would be good, but it would make me sad if the band stopped operating.

Apart from a long nap after the current tour, what’s over the horizon for Foals? Any projects you have your eyes on?

We are gonna tour through 2023, so this phase is not gonna end until next summer really. Jimmy wants to get moving on some solo work. I have some unfinished music with Tony Allen, the legendary Afrobeat drummer who passed away two years ago. I feel a responsibility to finish that project. I’ve got four or five tracks with that, so I plan to go to Paris and finish that. That’s an awesome body of work. We have a secret dub version of Life Is Yours that was made by Dan Carey, one of the producers, he’s done an actual live dub on the mixing desk. That’s gonna come out at some point. There also might be some new Foals tracks coming out next year.

If you could introduce one Foals album to someone that had never listened to the band, what would it be?

That’s a tricky one. I would probably say, start at the beginning. It’s not the one that is the most representative. The way that we think about the band is that we have built up a body of work. The thing that we enjoy about our trajectory is the journey from one record to the next; how much evolution there has been, the different pallets, growth in songwriting. So, hear the band in its nascent, green, edgy core when we were 19 or 20 years old. We didn’t have a microphone, we didn’t have amps, a record label. It was just us being scrappy mates, so I think it’s cool to start there and then go through the catalog.

Any artists you deeply admire that you would like to collaborate with?

I would like to work with Kieran Hebden [UK dance producer] again. His main moniker is Four Tet. We did a session just before we did Antidotes. I would like to pick that back up. We recorded with him before we went to New York. We did a version of “Cassius,” a version of “Tron,” and a version of “Balloons.” We went into the studio and he conducted the whole thing. It would be interesting to do a reprise of that with newer material. He is an amazing musician and was in an old post-rock group called Pylon.

I would also like to make a record with Steve Albini. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I would love to be recorded by Steve Albini. I love his band Shellac. A lot of the bands that we listened to in the early stages of Foals formed our musical DNA. Steve Albini played some hand in it—Pixies, Surfer Rosa; Don Caballero, American Don; Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I rate him a lot.

Also check out our interview with Foals on their 2019 album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Part 1.

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