“Van Gogh cut his ear off in the next town and was put in a psychiatric ward in the same village we recorded in, so we wanted to suck in a bit of that madness,” says Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis, speaking of the Provence location where the band’s forthcoming fourth album, produced by James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine) was recorded. But if a certain historic insanity pervades the air of France’s La Fabrique studios, then Van Gogh isn’t the only one to blame for the extremes that form the as-yet-untitled record, due for release later this year.
Mad, volatile creativity, it seems, sits at its crux. The record was initially written in the band’s cramped Oxford studio at the tail end of 2014 in a flurry of productivity, with sessions starting barely a month after their triumphant Bestival headline show. “The taps were just on,” says Philippakis. “It was the opposite of when you hear some bands saying, ‘Oh, we needed a break from each other,’ or ‘We needed to go and rejuvenate.’ I was chomping at the bit to get going.” The material that emerged from those sessions dug further into Philippakis’ psyche than ever before. Citing the twisted yelps of Pixies singer Frank Black as a lyrical inspiration (“When you look at a Pixies song, it’s all over the place and it’s just him barking out of his consciousness”) and influenced by the jarring personal changes of “moving to London and staring down the barrel of the big 3-0”, Yannis aimed to peel back the band’s trademark cryptic lyrical layers even further. “On [2013’s ‘Holy Fire’] I tried to consciously push the lyrics somewhere personal that was more like real life, whereas on this one I just wanted to strip the layers of myself away, have the reptilian part of my brain speak directly and not analyse or censor it,” he says. “I wanted to tap into my inner madman and feel like I was channelling some sort of fevered creature. I wanted to relish the mania, and what ended up happening – looking back at certain passages in some songs – is pretty intense in a way that I wouldn’t have ever been able to plan.”
How intense? Take ‘What Went Down’ – a thunderstorm of a track that strips back Foals’ trademark intricacies into a direct blast of riffs and screams that’s unequivocally their heaviest offering to date. “It’s the closest to a representation of how we play live,” Philippakis says. Meanwhile, the other track NME hears – ‘Mountain At My Gate’ – takes the groove of ‘Miami’ or ‘My Number’ and beefs it up tenfold, building into a cacophonous climax that could somehow still fit on a dancefloor. “The extremes are further apart than anything we’ve done before,” says Yannis. “There are some dirtier tracks, while ‘Give It All’ is up there with the most beautiful things we’ve ever written. We’ve realised we just sound like us, so it’s good to have courage and push ourselves further out, otherwise it will just sound like self-parody.”
For now, Foals have a few European summer festival commitments where they may potentially debut new tracks, but after that it’s full steam ahead. “This new stuff’s going to decimate venues; we’re itching to play it,” Yannis grins. “It’s going to be fun to get back on stage and obliterate places.”