Foals’ Yannis Philippakis: “It’s perfectly fine to just sit around and do fuck all”

Foals’ Yannis Philippakis: “It’s perfectly fine to just sit around and do fuck all”

“That was a good night!” laughs Foals’ frontman Yannis Philippakis, recalling the band’s boisterous experience at the NME Awards 2020 back in February. “There was a lot going on. We had practice the next day, I got there late and had to be filled in on all of the various ways I disgraced myself. None of the other shindigs in the year are quite that hedonistic. The awards weren’t diluted, they came back in all of their debauched horror.”

Before the debauchery unfolded, Foals kicked off the night by picking up the Best Live Band Award. Little did they know that they’d only have a few gigs left until the world went into lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Right now, they should have been gearing up for their UK arena tour victory lap for last year’s acclaimed sister albums ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’ Part One and Part Two. Now, they’ve been rearranged for Spring 2021.

Yannis Philippakis from Foals and Matty Healy from The 1975 at the NME Awards 2020 Credit: Dean Chalkley

“We won’t be playing any shows this year,” sighs Yannis. “Just last week we were talking about putting the tour on in November, then in the five days since that decision the vibe was, ‘That’s not even optimistic – it’s just ridiculous’. Now this year is just time to change our headspace.”

With nothing but time and a whole lotta thinking to do, Yannis caught up with NME on Zoom from his London flat to tell us about Foals’ next move, keeping inspired, predicting the future, and the beauty of doing absolutely fuck all.

Hello Yannis. You must be missing being on the road, eh?

“Yeah, now we’re just left in our flats with no applause! This has just hammered home how much we need the shows to feel a sense of completion with the record. It’s like throwing a pebble into the lake and not seeing a ripple. We wanted to reschedule rather than cancel so we’d feel like we completed something. We need to know that connection with the audience is coming, or it just adds to this weird solipsism that is the lockdown.”

What can you tell us about what you have planned for the shows?

“We’re bringing in all the colour palette and artwork from ‘Part 2’. Whereas the tour for ‘Part 1’ was a lot of foliage and heavy reds, this one is going to move in more of the Mexican Day Of The Dead imagery of ‘Part 2’ – plus bigger, bolder, and with a lot more video content.”

What’s the vibe like among artists trapped indoors at the moment? 

“One thing I’ve noticed is a pressure to be productive. The moment that it became evident that there was going to be a sustained lockdown, everybody I spoke to was like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a great time to write some music eh?’ I was like, ‘I don’t tell you when to do your job!’ I’ve got nothing inside right now. There’s almost like this sportsman-like pressure to seize the day. For the first few weeks, I’ve been perfectly content just resting. As time goes on, I’m sure that’ll change and I’ll start writing some music.”

And you’re not inspired by the current situation?

“From a creative perspective, the first answer isn’t necessarily the best. There’s no prize for being the first person to write a song about COVID. By the time that this chapter of life is over, I don’t think anyone is going to want to hear about it in song form. I’ve been chatting to Jamie T a bit and he’s writing new music and keeping productive, which is cool. For me, this is going to be a year of stasis and one good thing to come from that is time to reflect.”

Are you trying to stay offline to truly reflect?

“A lot of people will feel that pressure magnified by social media to be more interactive. There are lots of ways that great things are coming out. Laura Marling giving guitar lessons for instance – that was really awesome. We’re all trapped at home so it’s good to try and fill the way that our lives used to be busy in these ways, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that you should be made to feel guilty if you’re not productive. It’s perfectly fine to just sit around and do fuck all for as long as you need to.”

Hear Foals' new album 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 2' on NME Radio first
Foals, for NME. Credit: andy Ford/NME

Were Foals working on new material before the lockdown?

“We weren’t really, because we were talking about touring until November. Between now and next May, we’ll definitely start writing. We don’t know what it’ll be yet. I want to have hibernation for a little bit. After that, the not too distant future will see us find a way to challenge and differentiate ourselves from ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’. I want to make sure that we aren’t adding to the noise needlessly. I want whatever comes next to be something of value.”

Any other plans?

“I’m going to finish the project I’ve been working on with [Fela Kuti’s] Tony Allen, write some words and garden a lot this summer. When lockdown is lifted, I want to do some kind of secular pilgrimage – like a long and arduous walking holiday through The Balkans. I want a really brutal walk where I feel super-human, attached to the land and able to relish how beautiful a thing it is to be able to travel and take it all in.”

Are you worried about what state the music industry will be in after all this?

“Where it’s really difficult is if you’re a new band in that fledgling stage of your career and you’re just getting momentum. You don’t know whether or not the cultural landscape will be the same in a year’s time. This must be a really strange time to have a forced stop on your momentum. It’s also devastating for the whole team that work on your tour and put on shows often live from month to month. It’s easy to forget about the people who work behind the scenes in the music industry. Beyond music of course, there’s a feeling of communality with your neighbourhood and the people working on the frontline. That will be a lasting lesson: the people who work hardest to keep society working are often the most neglected.”

How do you think our public mindset will change when the crisis ends?

“I hope good lessons will be learned about our place in nature and having a sense of humility. There’s been an arrogance to the way that humanity has been operating for the past 100 or so years, and something like this really stops you in your tracks and makes you realise how fragile the systems that we rely on are and how fragile we are as a species.”

It’s strange how a lot of the apocalyptic themes on ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’ have come to fruition…

“I read an interview with Laura Marling and she said something about how the mind that you write your songs with often prefigures your conscious mind. There’s a premonition quality to lyrics. With our last two records, there was a preoccupation with man’s fragility. I was thinking more about the environment, but there were a lot of dystopian lines in there. Look at ‘Exits’ – we were talking about hunkering down, living underground and things being a threat of the outside. It’s strange that the record now resonates with what’s actually happened.”

So your last two records will take on new meaning when you do eventually get to play live again?

“Yes, plus the release is going to be volcanic. I feel like that might be the most emotional show we’ll ever play. That feeling of getting through it and being reminded of how special music and the live atmosphere are. It’s going to be a mind-melter.”

Foals will take part in #TimsTwitterListeningParty for ‘Holy Fire‘ on May 4. 

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