One of Britain’s best rock exports are back: today (November 4th), Foals have released their new single, “Wake Me Up.”
It’s their first release since the second part of their ambitious 2019 double album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2, and also their first since the departure of Edwin Congreave, the band’s longtime keyboardist.
“Wake Me Up,” is a fitting title, however, since it was written in a cold, bleak, lockdown winter in the UK. “We wanted to create a contrast between the outside world and the music that we’re writing inside this small room,” says frontman and guitarist Yannis Philippakis about their writing process. “We couldn’t help but reimagine ourselves on stage and how euphoric it will be once it returns.”
Indeed, it’s the band’s energetic and cathartic live shows that have helped propel them to global stardom, and this new era of Foals feels indebted to that energy. Philippakis describes the upcoming album, due in 2022, as a “dance/disco record,” but at the same time, he believes it was time for the band to go back to its roots: “For this one, it’s back to a sweaty, late-night dance floor — a going-out record.”
To give the new single an added layer of performance, the band has released a video for “Wake Me Up” that seems to occur entirely in one take. Set in a theater, we follow the band as they perform, but the camera also tracks dancers, stage hands, set changes, and more.
The euphoric, performance-heavy aspects of both the song and the video suggest that Foals really missed gathering with people and celebrating. “This may be one of the first times in human history that there’s been very little congregation around music…” says Philippakis, “We were almost wishing it back into existence.”
In addition to working on their seventh album, Foals are also getting ready for a massive 2022 tour. Consequence caught up with Philippakis to chat about the new single, their 2019 documentary Rip Up The Road, their songwriting process, and the process of picking setlists for their shows (“It’s a nightmare”).
Check out the full Q&A below.
How does it feel to return with new music after some time off?
It feels great. I mean, this period has been obviously challenging for everybody, with the pandemic and whatnot. And in many ways, when we were writing this track, you know, it was in the depth of the pandemic winter in London, it was pretty bleak, you know, British winters, without pubs. And without anyone in the streets, it was pretty dark. And so I think the idea of things returning to normality was quite far away, which is partly what influenced the sound and the message of the song. So now that things are in the main getting better and the moment has arrived, and the song is about to come out, it’s quite unexpected, but it feels joyous.
What’s the inspiration behind “Wake Me Up”?
When we were writing that track, the idea was that, since things were so, so bleak, we wanted to create a contrast between the outside world and the music that we’re writing inside this small room. And we were kind of imagining things returning to normality and the reemergence of almost like a cartoon spring after this incredibly bleak period. And that informed all the music we were writing at that time, almost wishing the summer to arrive and wishing for things to get better, and for people to be able to get back together again.
“Wake Me Up” has a great, performance-based music video. Did you really do it all in one take?
So it was almost 90% shot in one tape — I think there are two edits. But the rest of it was all in extended chunks, or maybe even just one 00 I can’t remember now! But the challenge we wanted to set for ourselves was to see how much we can do in one take, so that the actual experience of shooting the video is like a performance and is kind of celebrating both the theater or the venue as a space and what can be done in a live capacity. So it was a really fun video to shoot.
It required us pulling together different people with different disciplines in a way that we hadn’t done before. We had a theatrical director, whose theater it was and who helped us get with a choreographer. And then we had a stage designer, and then obviously a music video director. So yeah, it was a family. It was a family project. But we’re really happy with it. And I think hopefully, it shows that joy about playing live again and shows the joy of what it is to be in these spaces, and that they shouldn’t remain empty and without people.
When you had your guitar off, I also half expected you to start breaking out into choreography as well.
I was keen, man, I was keen. Yeah, we didn’t quite get that together. Maybe I’ll bust some of that out on stage.
I’d like to go back to Rip Up The Road, the documentary film you released back in 2019. Much of the film focused on the contrast between the hectic, wild tour lives you were living, and the difficulty of adjusting back to “normal” when the tours were finished. A few months after that film premiered, your tour was cancelled and you were all on lockdown indefinitely. Did that feel fitting or ironic at all for you guys?
Yeah, I mean, it was definitely unprecedented. We were still actually touring. We were in Asia when cases started being recorded. We were kind of initially like, “Okay, yeah, this doesn’t sound good, but it’s gonna be contained in some way.” And it soon became apparent it wouldn’t. And then it was almost like, layers of disbelief being pulled away as we realized all of our plans for the next year and a half, which were basically to tour, changed. Like you saw in Rip Up the Road, it’s quite a big adjustment.
So you know, to be honest, the first lockdown was kind of good for us in certain ways. I think it was good that we slowed down, and we hadn’t been at home for a while. And there were some benefits of that. But then by the time the second lockdown came around in the UK, we were kind of like chained animals. So then that’s the point at which we decided we might as well make the best use of our time and just write some more music. But yeah, even right now the idea of touring as we used to tour does feel quite far away. Hopefully we can get back into it a bit more next year, and things will be as per, but we’ll see.
During the second lockdown, were you really itching to play shows and rekindle that cohesive unit you have onstage?
Definitely, yeah, and I think the absence of any type of performance, almost globally, was quite a profound fact to think about. That may be one of the first times in history that there’s been no kind of congregation, or very little congregation of people, around music or, you know, the basic human need to get together, to witness and be part of expression in a live way.
What definitely struck us as being deeply abnormal, and kind of contrary to everything that we enjoy about both our lives individually, was that absence of being a human being and getting together with people, coming together as a community and enjoying music or theater or just some type of human expression. And so I think that that informed the way that we were writing because we were trying to almost wish that back into existence, or, we were craving it so much that we couldn’t help but reimagine ourselves on stage and how euphoric it will be once it returns.
You were manifesting it!
Yeah, we manifested it, absolutely.
You’ve said that this upcoming Foals album will serve as your “dance/disco” record. What were some of the influences for this new music?
We’ve always listened to, like, “dancing” music, including actual disco like “Why” by Carly Simon, the particular 12-inch edit, which is a Nile Rodgers production. Donald Byrd, old classic disco… but then obviously, we’ve had lots of remixes with more contemporary British dance producers like Four Tet and Floating Points, whom we love. So it wasn’t a desire to kind of mimic any of those things directly. In the early discussions about what the next chapter would be, we felt like we weren’t particularly interested in indulging lots of sides of the band — we’ve kind of wanted to condense and re-clarify and have quite a cohesive body of work.
So I guess that’s a reaction in a way to the last record. We decided that it would center around rhythms and grooves and things being joyful and being physically gratifying. Not all the tracks that we’ve written sound like “Wake Me Up” exactly, but I think they all share that kind of rhythmic emphasis. And in some ways, that does kind of tie back to the first record. We put out Antidotes where it was danceable. It was kind of made for parties and made for clubs in our own weird, warped imagination of it.
But, this record has kind of come back to visualizing the songs on the dance floor, rather than it being a different visual space as we had written for on other records.
I’m interested in these “rules” that you mentioned, from a process perspective. What are some of the rules that you incorporate in your sound now or in your writing process now that you used to not really consider so much?
That’s a good question. When the band started, there was a very, very strict set of rules. And those were: clean guitars, all the guitars were interlocking, played above the 12th fret in the main. There were obviously some exemptions to the rule, but basically, that was the vibe — things were very dry, very clean. We had an idea of the band before we had even written that first song, so after then it was more about dismantling aspects of the rules. And I think we got to a place where we felt liberated by not having any of these rules.
Then we were able to kind of shapeshift sonically between writing song — if you compare “Neptune” to “Inhaler” to “Spanish Sahara,” we feel we can be boundless, but I think at the same time that creates other problems, where you end up with a record that maybe lacks cohesion. So, the rule basically on this one is kind of what I described to you; for example, on this record, we would not have much fuzz. There’re very few distorted guitars, so it was back to a more clean idea. And again, everything would serve a purpose. If the last record was indulgent, then this one is on a fast in some way.
Last year was the 10th anniversary of your sophomore album Total Life Forever. Did you reflect at all on 10 years of that album?
Yeah, I definitely was surprised. I think somebody from our management was like, “Oh, yeah, it’s the 10-year anniversary tomorrow.” And I was like, “Oh, really? Shit.” It was weird. I think being in a band, you know, it’s a slightly Peter Pan existence where you mark your time by what records you put out when. And so you have this kind of concertina folded in view of time where it’s like, “Oh, I’ve only done like six things in 15 years.” So, the fact that it’s been 15 years as a band feels strange. I never thought we would be a band that would be around 15 years from now when we started.
I’m proud of it and proud like that we’ve endured, and we still are excited by what we’re making. I don’t particularly love the idea of aging, certainly not in a band context. But there’s just something strange about it. I think we feel really good about that record. And I think actually, generally, with the music that we make, the further we get from it, often the more content we feel by it. Usually, in the aftermath, there are things we’d like to change. But as the years go by, you’re accepting, and if not, more proud than you would have been near the time. So yeah, it was cool to see that that’s endured after 10 years.
Speaking of your extensive catalogue, what’s the process of picking the setlist every night?
It’s a nightmare. I think the thing is, you have to balance needing the set to be slightly familiar for us, because we want to be potent on stage. And that comes from having some element of repetition in the set. But then obviously, we switch out songs, and I think there are songs that we feel now that we won’t ever not play. Like “My Number” or “Spanish Sahara.” There are certain songs where it just feels like it would feel weird and, like, contrary not to play them. So there are unmovable songs, they can move in the order obviously.
But there’s songs that will always be part of the set and the challenge is: which old songs do you relearn and kind of resuscitate, or do you just focus on new stuff? And yeah, it’s not pretty backstage. And we like to leave it to the last minute, and there’s so many songs to choose from. We just try to put the most energetic set together basically, we like the sets obviously to be energetic, so there tends to be an emphasis on those songs.