As Foals find themselves in between records, frontman Yannis Philippakis talks to NME about their huge Citadel headline slot this weekend, their plans for their next album, the anniversary of debut ‘Antidotes’, and the ‘galvanising effect’ of Jeremy Corbyn on young voters.
You previously said that you had some surprises in store for Citadel and your summer shows. What kind of shape are they taking at the minute?
“We’ve been trying to play songs that have been neglected for a while, so we’re playing songs of ‘What Went Down’ that we didn’t get round to playing on last years tour and then we called back some old tracks that we haven’t played for a long time so songs like ‘Black Gold’ and ‘Heavy Water’, some of which we haven’t played for over half a decade really and it’s just good to freshen it up and play some deeper tracks of the record. Definitely a song like ‘Black Gold’ – it’s one of my favourites from the back catalogue and we were just like ‘why aren’t we playing them so we spent some time working on them and it’s been great so far so I’m excited to play them in England.”
Is that because they were tricky to pull off live or because they didn’t fit in the set at the time?
“We just didn’t get round to doing some of them. We played most of ‘What Went Down’ and it didn’t feel right to play all of it. With ‘Black Gold’, we’ve become better musicians since we first toured ‘Total Life Forever’. These songs were just tricky and now we can play them. It’s a good sign.”
Is bring back the older tracks more interesting to you than if you did an ‘Antidotes’ anniversary tour? Are you the kind of band that’s adverse to that kind of thing?
“I don’t think the time is right, right now to do those. I wouldn’t be against at some point playing the record in it’s entirety – but I just think we’re still in the moment. I don’t want to look back yet. When you’re touring a lot and you have a full schedule, it can be hard sometimes to just keep that the set just totally fluid and that’s why we just wanted to freshen it up.”
It would be mad to say ‘hey we just headlined Reading, let’s go back in time ten years!’
“Yeah, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to do some sort of retrospective set. It’s that we’re trying to freshen up the set and playing tracks that people wanted to hear, like ‘Black Gold’ for a long time so it’s a way of responding to that.”
You said you’ve been working with Fela Kuti’s Tony Allen recently. Are you now getting back into Foals mode to sort of enter the studio and pick things up?
“Yeah, the Tony Allen thing is pretty separate from that. We got introduced and we wanted to work on some music together so we’ve been doing stuff in Paris. That will definitely see the light of day. I don’t know under what guise, like whether it will be more for his projects featuring me or whether it will have it’s own avenue of release. It was just a separate thing of me going over there and trying out stuff with him but yeah. We’re in the marinating stage of thinking about getting onto the next record. We have a couple of bits written but it’s in the very early stages. We’re in the conception stage, we’re not pregnant yet, we’re just trying to have the kid.”
Are you the kind of band that wants your next record to be a reaction against the previous one?
“I think that’s the natural way that we work, I think we’ve also tried to keep that in check. I don’t think that’s always the healthiest move, I think it’s good to be hungry and want to make big leaps between records and keep things surprising and keep it unpredictable and to grow. It’s important for bands to evolve and I think it’s one of the reasons that it’s still exciting for us after having done four records. If we were just repeating the same thing and style, I think it would have got boring – but just making records to the reactions of the one that came before is probably not the healthiest thing because it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water. I think that was the knee-jerk reaction we had at the beginning. We’ve got to go through some sort of violent change for the record to be what we want it to be. I’m excited for it and we’re hungry for it. I’m excited to make a new body of work.”
Lyrically, do you think you’ll be inspired by the current political landscape and the divisive nature of society right now?
“Yeah. There’s no other way, unless you’re like some little weird egg man floating in space. I think the world is obviously affecting the way we feel as individuals. I definitely feel that when I’m writing lyrics or music, that it’s in dialogue with what’s going on around me in isolation – so I’m sure there will be things in the lyrics to do with, not just the political climate but also the environmental situation that’s happening now. I think that it will be there. I don’t think it’ll be some political sloganeering record necessarily, but I’m definitely not going to shy away from engaging with the larger things that are out there. I think that would be irresponsible.”
You and the band were quite vocal in encouraging people to get out and vote around the time of the last general election. What do you think it was that caused the shift for young people to become so engaged?
“I think a lot of it came from the disappointment of the Brexit vote, and about feeling the older generations aren’t necessarily doing what’s in the best interests of the younger generations. Fundamentally, it’s our future – and we’re going to be the ones that have to live in the future. At the moment there’s a strangle-hold where older generations have controlled the vote on that, so when it came to the general election, I think there was a ‘hang on a minute, we need to reclaim control because it’s our future that’s at stake’.
“I think also the galvanizing effect of Corbyn was important too. He was and is somebody that people can genuinely believe in, and I think he’s a sincere politician. He has the interest of young people and also of wider society. He wants to take care of the wider society and it isn’t simply for the privileged that the Tories seem to be catering for.
“It can’t be understated how important it is for young people to engage with the political climate. Rightly or wrongly, this is the way we can make change to voting; it’s not necessarily going out and having some sort of protest or even when it leads into rioting. It’s not enough, it has to be channelled into the mechanisms that can affect change and that is to the voting and I think getting into the democratic process is imperative.”
Foals headline Citadel Festival at London’s Victoria Park on Sunday July 16 alongside Wild Beasts, Bonobo, Laura Marling and many more. For tickets and more information, visit here.