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Interview: Foals' Yannis Philippakis on Part 2 of 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost'.

Interview: Foals' Yannis Philippakis on Part 2 of 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost'.

"I didn't lie," declares Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis proudly, as I commend him for making good on his promise from back in February, that Foals would finally return to New Zealand this year. It's been six years since the band last played Auckland's Town Hall, and the four-piece find themselves back at the same venue tonight, for the first of two sold-out shows ("Let’s make it a spicy one tonight," demands Philippakis of their fans).

Philippakis is an endearing fixture backstage. In between interviews, he potters about in a Barbour jacket, walking back and forth between various dressing rooms and the back door of the venue. He wanders off in search of water... and returns with a bottle of wine. He goes to stand outside in the rain for a smoke break... and gallantly opens the door for local opening act Daffodils as they arrive to load in their gear. All the while, waving off his dinner, not minding that his Nandos is getting cold. Such is the temperament of Philippakis, who once, legendarily, after a NZ fan gave him their shirt straight off their back after he expressed interest in it, returned backstage to fetch one of his own shirts to gift the fan in return.

Tonight, Foals are three months out from the release of 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Part 2', and we meet up with Philippakis to discuss the new record, reflect upon their last, and look ahead to the future...

...I think being a 'man of today' is being somebody who should be much more enlightened and aware of the interplay between gender roles, and to be more thoughtful, and to be better, basically. To be a better human being and not to fall into the old tropes of what a man should be. And to try and just strive to be better.

COUP DE MAIN: When we spoke back in February, you said that you felt like Part 1 of 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost' had a red colour palette, and Part 2 is more orange, but that everything would become clear once I heard the second album. I get it now! At times, the new album almost feels buoyant? It's definitely glass-half-full rather than glass-half-empty.
FOALS - YANNIS PHILIPPAKIS:
Yes!

CDM: It's cool that you printed most of the lyrics for Part 2 songs backwards in the liner notes for the collector's edition of 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Part 1'. Why did you want to share the lyrics so early with your fans?
YANNIS:
It's kind of boring, but basically, we wanted to make one special edition for both parts, when you buy the box set. So when Part 2 comes out, you can buy a picture disc of the artwork and then it will slot into the box's book. So we had to put the lyrics, because otherwise it would just be weird, you know? But then I didn't want to give away too much, so I thought it should only be for the people who could be bothered to put it next to a mirror and figure it out.

CDM: 'The Runner' is quite an inspirational note to begin the album on after the 'Red Desert' instrumental opener. "Step by step I'll keep it up, I won't slow, I gotta go," sounds like a motivational mantra. When you say, "Loneliness of the long distance runner," is that autobiographical? Or more general in feeling?
YANNIS:
For me, that song is kind of from a first-person perspective. It's definitely to do with feeling like you have two selves, or it being like advice to your other self. So I guess it's autobiographical. It's also from a film called 'The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner' that I saw when I was a teenager - it always stuck with me and I'd liked the movie a lot, and I liked the sense that I'm a terrible long distance runner. But I like this idea of a perseverance and it being a metaphor for perseverance and trying to find grit and a sense of determination to get to a better place. And that's partly why it's the first proper track on Part 2, because the way that Part 1 ends is pretty bleak and defeated - lyrically, anyway, with 'Sunday' and feeling done with the world that's kind of, like, everything, scorched. The character in that last song sort of feels defeated. So I wanted Part 2 to kind of kick off against that. And also that's why there's a lyric about, "Through the embers, through the rows," like that you're running through the landscape that was at the end of Part 1 to try and find something better.
CDM: And thank you for my vocabulary lesson today. I had to google "chiaroscuro" from the lyrics, to learn that in art it's the use of strong contrasts between light and dark.
YANNIS:
Oh! I was wondering if anyone was going to know.

CDM: 'Black Bull' is really powerful, both sonically, and also lyrically ("I’m in that Holy Ghost zone"). Was there a personal catalyst for you wanting to write a song about toxic masculinity now?
YANNIS:
It depends what you mean by a personal catalyst, but I felt like that song had this kind of really bristling and masculine energy, that musically, when we were playing it just felt kind of crude and brash. And so then when I was thinking about the lyrics, I kind of felt like it would be good blotting paper to satirise certain types of British lad culture - like Brits abroad, going on holiday in Europe, and trashing places. But also, I think there's a similar kind of thing going on in the actual song 'What Went Down' - sometimes it's a way of me playing a character, or inhabiting a role that also acts as a kind of blotting paper for all of the kind of darker parts of one's character, I guess, or to just fill a song with this kind of sentiment that is pumping in all the dark aspects of of masculine energy. I need to think of a way of actually communicating that song better because it is a bit different to 'What Went Down'.

CDM: And in that song, you say, "I'm a man of today." What does being a 'man of today' mean to you?
YANNIS:
For me, it's a twist, because it's preceded by all the lyrics about fish fillet and a can of Stella [Artois], which was this image that it's kind of tongue in cheek. But I think being a 'man of today' is being somebody who should be much more enlightened and aware of the interplay between gender roles, and to be more thoughtful, and to be better, basically. To be a better human being and not to fall into the old tropes of what a man should be. And to try and just strive to be better.

CDM: Have you been to Medellín's Festival Of Flowers? Was that what you are referring to in 'Wash Off' when you say, "So kill the screen, head to Medellín / To shout and scream and find your trouble / Live amongst the orange roses"?
YANNIS:
No, I didn't even know there was one, but I've been to Medellín and I like it. And it rhymed. That song kind of felt like it's trying to experience everything and seize the day and go to somewhere exotic to live life to its fullest, and for me, that was just a symbol of that. You can have an amazing time in Medellín, but I didn't know specifically about the flowers, no.

CDM: There's a lot of mentions of the moon in 'Into The Surf', as well as "the magnolia moon" in 'Neptune', and obviously 'On The Luna'. What is it about moon imagery that you were so inspired by when writing both Part 1 and Part 2 albums?
YANNIS:
I feel like I have big symbols that I write about, and that I come back to. I probably have that done over all the albums; there's a song called 'Moon' on 'Holy Fire'. I just feel that it's a big archetypal image that I pull to when I'm writing, and in particular, 'Into The Surf' is set in Greece in the summer with the moon over the sea. A Greek night is a big image for me in my mind, so I feel like even without it being by design, intuitively, I'm like a homing pigeon. I'll just move songs to these kinds of landscapes that are part real and part imaginative and they will just end up finding a place there. And often they'll be moon imagery.

CDM: You also refer to "a garden in the past" in 'Into The Surf'. Is that like a safe space for you that you go to in your mind?
YANNIS:
It can be. I wouldn't have thought about it like that. But gardens, again, are another thing. I like gardening a lot and I love gardens, but also being in them. And I like what they evoke lyrically. To me, it allows the song to feel... It just felt right. And with that song in particular, it's about remembrance - the singer who is singing is waiting on the return of their partner, and to me, the garden in the past was an idyllic halcyon time that these people spent together before they were separated, and then obviously it ties in with the jasmine and stuff ["Plant a jasmine in the night"].

CDM: When you sing, "My daughter's asleep in the garden," in 'I’m Done With The World (& It’s Done With Me)', I'm always like, "Does he mean his cat Pidge?"
YANNIS:
No, I didn't mean Pidge. <laughs> But I like that. I talked to my girlfriend and I was like, 'Do you not think Pidge has almost become this weird surrogate for a child? Like, I think we need to sort of get it into perspective.' But no, it's not Pidge. Pidge does come into the garden with me sometimes, but she doesn't actually like it as much as one would think; she prefers the roadside.

CDM: In 'Like Lightning', again, you sound quite optimistic. You say, "Under a setting sun / I will not be undone / My day has just begun / Come here break me off some." Do you think 2020 will be a better year than 2019?
YANNIS:
I'd hope so. But I also like that with those types of lyrics, sometimes I feel like I sing them and they are optimistic, but also, I know when I'm singing them, it's partly because I don't feel optimistic, so I sing them to try and make myself feel optimistic. There's a sense of doom in it, but there's a kind of invincibility sometimes, which isn't necessarily definitely in that song. But there's a sense that, yeah, I won't be undone, but actually, you will, you will be though at some point. But I'd like to think that 2020 would be better. That would be great. Definitely on the environmental side of stuff. I think that the second half of 2019 has been good, at least in terms of awareness, and particularly in the UK; Extinction Rebellion have been doing a lot, and I think people are really getting to that point where we're realising... Certainly about the plastic issue at least, there's much more awareness than there was even like a couple of years ago. So hopefully it'll be better. Do you feel like it'll be better?
CDM: I hope so? I mean, it can't get worse right?
YANNIS:
I mean, it can!
CDM: I guess you're facing Boris Johnson potentially being your Prime Minister...
YANNIS:
I think he's almost definitely going to get in, but he probably, hopefully, won't last long and then they'll call an election. But, it is dark. I watched this Brexit film with Benedict Cumberbatch called 'The Uncivil War' that was on Channel 4. It was great. And the thing that it really showed was that they will unleash these forces in politics now that nobody really knows how to deal with. In England, the idea of having Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, it would have been an actual joke five years ago in the same way that with Trump, it would have been absolutely laughable. And now all of a sudden, we're living in this world where these laughable outcomes are now dark realities, and I think it's quite a difficult time to feel too optimistic, because I don't think anyone really understands how it is that we've got to this point - where we've gone from seemingly being kind of progressive liberal and the world is becoming more enlightened for the most part, to now.

Foals' new album 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Part 2' is out now.

Watch 'The Runner' music video below...

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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