Why Foals' First Album After Bassist's Departure Is a Two-Parter

Alex Knowles
Foals

Singles may be dominating the music scene, but Foals is doubling down, quite literally, on the holistic album concept. The band will release its first recorded music in almost four years, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1, on March 8, accompanied by a U.S. tour; Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 will follow in the fall.

After an extended break, “We ended up with a lot of material, and we felt like it was all worthy of release and there was a kind of symmetry to a lot of it,” says Yannis Philippakis, the band’s lead singer, guitarist and ferocious crowd surfer. “And then we were excited by the idea of trying to sculpt two albums from what we’d made that would have the ability to be listened to individually but fundamentally formed a larger whole.”

Sonically, album one leans more synth-heavy, while its companion treads guitar-heavy terrain that will be familiar to longtime fans. “It’s by no means a straight-up rock record,” Philippakis says of Part 2, “but the guitars are slightly more emphasized and to me it has a different palette to it, a different color scheme. In many ways the start of album two acts as a response to the end of album one. We spent a lot of time sequencing the records. There are arcs within the albums, but you only really complete the actual album at the last track of album two.”

Lyrically the two share common motifs, which predominantly swirl around 21st century ills: privacy-invading surveillance, soul-crushing politics, a starving environment to name a few. Where the band’s previous album, 2015’s What Went Down, was primarily an inward-facing exercise, the new works are fraught with a universal agitation and urgency. First single “Exits” reads like a dystopian novella, with norms flipped upside down and no clear way out of the chaos.

“I felt the themes for the record were knocking on the door. There’s a specific tension to the time, the moment, and I felt compelled to write about that,” Philippakis says. “Of all of our records this was the easiest to write lyrically because I knew what I wanted to orbit around. I wanted the songs to be tethered to the outside world in a way that perhaps I haven’t done before.”

Aside from their plurality, the new works mark additional firsts for the band, whose members took a much-needed break after completing the What Went Down tour in short succession after their Holy Fire global romp in 2013.

“We were all really craving some space and some time to remember what it’s like to be a real person, not on the road,” he says. “Speaking for myself, I turned away from making music for quite a few months… and when we did finally come 'round to recording there was a momentum.”

During the time off founding member and bassist Walter Gervers, whose fingering was a signature of the Foals sound, exited the band after 12 years. Philippakis explains the departure without innuendo or drama: “A large part of that is, when we first formed the band we never thought we’d still be doing it a decade later. The kind of commitment the band has demanded of us is one which he didn’t feel like he could make any more.”

In retrospect, he says, the move forced a necessary evolution. “We were forced to change paths. If we were going to make more music, we would need to shed some skin, and Walter’s departure made it fundamental that we had to change,” he says. “We had no ability to stay in the comfort zone because the comfort zone wasn’t there anymore.”

The newly minted foursome for the first time recorded outside their hometown of Oxford, electing instead for the grittier environs of South London, where they reside. And they decided to self-produce for the first time, a role Philippakis embraced after some initial reluctance.

“I knew it would be more work for me because I’d end up filling the role in some ways, and that is what happened,” he says. “But once we were into the flow of it, it felt correct for this time. I don’t think we’d be discussing the same type of record had we worked with a producer. We went in with no map and no destination.

“In the past we’ve jammed in a room for months and I’d make these crappy phone recordings or record something into a loop pad and it’s all sort of luddite in a way,” he says. “It’s difficult to ever incorporate that into the finished product. This time we had the desire to record everything as we went along, which is why we went into the studio and from day one, we were rolling tape as it were.”

The new setup also enabled the band to overdub the bass, which helped them get around “the Walter issue,” as Philippakis lightheartedly calls it, and be more immersed in the sounds and textures. “I feel like I gained a little more perspective sitting in front of speakers in front of a mixing deck rather than perpetually inhabiting the playing of the songs in the room,” he says.

As much as the band had craved some time off, Philippakis -- who during any given show can be found in the crowd thrashing the guitar while being hoisted aloft by fans -- says the road is definitely calling. "I miss being on stage, and we miss playing music in front of a crowd. We thrive off the energy of an audience, and the mania and freedom of being on stage."