Last year, Foals headlined Bestival with frontman Yannis Philippakis announcing that it would be the band's last gig for 18 months so the band could take a break... but that's not exactly what happened. Fast forward to summer 2015, and the band are about to release their fourth - and arguably their strongest - record to date. "It just clicked! I kind of expected that it was going to take a while and we were going to want some space apart and some time to live a bit of real life again and not be in that tour bubble. But, we had like maybe a week off after Bestival... we just felt hungry, to be honest. Creatively hungry."

Sometimes life has a different plan, and Foals were quick to take full advantage of the creative spell that fell upon them. And thank God they did. Lead single and album title track 'What Went Down' is a menacing powerhouse that ruptures into an explosion of violence and menace, whilst 'Mountain At My Gates' is driven by infectious riffs and energy and is only a taster of what the album has in store. When I speak to Philippakis, I find a man who seems to be quietly confident about album number four and also incredibly eager to get it released. "I feel kind of impatient to be honest. I've never felt as impatient in this period before, when you're sitting on the record... but I'm still obviously nervous about the reception, but largely I'm excited and I'm just feeling a bit restless. I really miss the rhythm of tour, and losing yourself playing shows every night, and I just want the record to be out! I feel a little bit like I'm dragging a ball and chain around."

There is an urgency, roughness and all round excitement that encapsulates What Went Down as an album, and during our conversation, Philippakis tells me all the details of how some their best work to date came into being through subconscious imagery, intuition and not over-thinking the process.

So when you started writing again, was it the same approach or was it different this time?

We went back to this place in Oxford to this tiny room - we wrote everything there last time - and it's really great in there because there's no vanity and if something sounds good in there, then it sounds good anywhere. It's the least flattering and least pleasant room in the world to be in, there's no daylight, it stinks... Anyway, so that was really the same approach and we stripped back the equipment and made it more basic. Like technically basic. The main difference was the process just being more quick, a much quicker-footed process. We didn't sit and labour or over-analyse stuff and I think increasingly that is the direction that the band is going. I feel like the end-point is where nothing needs to be said, and the record will kind of write itself.

It's almost instinctive, would you say?

Yeah, and coming from the first record, [the songs] were conceptual and there was a pre-existing idea of what the band should be before a song was even written. And since then, it's been about deconstructing that - the rules and basically trying to kill off the head a little bit and allowing everything to be more governed by instinct and intuition. And I think that was more pronounced this time around. We wanted it to be like the equivalent of somebody who goes up to a canvas and throws a bucket of paint over the canvas and just goes "this is it." Obviously, it takes a bit more work with a song, because of the mechanics of the song you have to work on, but essentially it's the same kind of idea.

You recorded the album out in the South of France, what drew you there?

Just the wine and the studio and the environment. We wanted to go somewhere that was a bit more hedonistic, I guess. We have made records before in industrial estates, and the other one was made in north-west London, and I think we just felt like we wanted somewhere where you could walk out of the studio and the environment you found yourself in would be encouraging rather than challenging. And some of it's just to do with nerdy stuff in the studio, the fact that it had some great acoustic spaces, it had lots of rooms and we could live there and be isolated.

Nick Cave recorded there, right?

Yeah, and Morrissey. I slept in the same bed as Nick Cave and Morrissey for two months... and I'm still washing it off.

And you worked with James Ford on this album, what was that like?

Pretty good, yeah. He helped us become more decisive. He's an amazing musician, and it was fluid. There was just the right amount of tension and push and pull, but everything was for the productivity of the record. He curtailed some of the procrastination that goes on in our band, where we like to kind of defer decisions until further down the line and I think that's probably been - not unhealthy - but has not necessarily been for the good of the record, and he was definitely somebody who was like "you should be prepared" and "let's commit to this decision." Often once the core of the song is written, I think we like to keep it open-ended, so it was refreshing this time around to work in a way that was more down the earth. And he just wanted to make the songs the very best that they could be, and he really got inside the songs and he learnt how to play all the songs, and so he kind of became a sixth member of the band for a couple of months, and he's just a good guy.

Where do you find inspiration to write lyrics? Has it changed?

I mean... I just feed off myself, I guess. Which makes it sound pretty insular. But I don't like watch a movie and decide I want to write a song about it. Or even necessarily any tangible, singular experiences. I've definitely got more interested in dreams and subconscious imagery and I think a lot of the songs are essentially very dreamlike or nightmarish scenarios. It wasn't something that I had written down in a journal, it was either something that would just happen in the room and I would come out with a line. Or, on the cusp of sleep, you know you can have those kind of weird thoughts? And your brain starts going haywire? And I tried to get in the habit of writing that down before I'd fall asleep. And I don't know where it comes from, but when we're writing music I like to place the song or have the visual for the song in my head. And the lyrics are normally based on that visual place and they're slightly otherworldly. And they're also personal, but it's not like I'm writing about a Friday night down at the club or down the bowling green or something...

I've listened to the record, and I loved it, particularly 'Give It All', which is just a beautiful track. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about how that song came about.

That was one of the ones that we started in a soundcheck, and me and Jimmy were kind of hungover and got bored of sound-checking. We also wrote the start of 'Birch Tree' that day as well, so it was a good day, for whatever reason. I guess it's kind of an example of how the lyrics and that opening line - "Give me the red light turning green/ Or give me something I haven't seen" - that came up in that moment of time, and that wasn't something that I had written before. I think it's quite obviously to do with a conflicted relationship or a relationship that is nearing its end or has ended and it was a song that went through a lot of different guises. Essentially, the vocals and the chords didn't change, but we had maybe five or six different versions. One with a swung beat, one that was very electronic and sparse. We had all these ways of expressing essentially the same song, but we felt like none of them were right, and so we stripped it all back out and then when we went to France it was just the vocals and the chords and we tried and basically slotted in the rhythms underneath.

'What Went Down' was the first track taken from the album, and I was wondering what the initial concept behind the video was and how much input you had in the making of that video?

I had a fair bit of input in it. We tend to be generally quite invested in all of the artwork and the visuals. Basically the director Niall, who is a great guy, he loved the song, and he and I basically had some drinks and talked about the fact that the song feels kind of like a hunt or a chase. There's this predatory, savage energy to it, and so he was like "what about a dog attack?" And so we discussed it in that respect, and the video visualises the song well, and he has expressed things that are either inherent in the actual music or in the lyrics which is to do with threat and menace, like the song is a violent song so the video is violent.

What about the artwork for the album?

I had some trouble with the album artwork in the sense that for Holy Fire, I found this image whilst we were writing, like right in the early stages and the whole time we were recording Holy Fire, it felt like that image encapsulated the album and then as we were writing things, I think subconsciously it meant that there was a kind of colour scheme to the whole album. And then on this record, that didn't happen, I didn't find anything. I think that the material and the variety on this album meant that it was hard to find one image that that would sum it up, so I was kind of at a loss. But I was getting into this photographer called Daisuke Yokota, who is the guy who did the photo. He's this Japanese photographer. I'd bought this print of his when I was travelling somewhere, and I just loved it. And then we just felt that it was iconic and striking and it came late on in the day, but it was the best image for the record.

Do you spend much time dwelling on the past or do you find that counter-productive?

It depends what you mean.

As in, do you think about the albums you've made a lot and the kind of achievements along the way, or are you more focused on the future?

I'm pretty focused on the future, I think.

Do you ever think about the aim for the future or how you want Foals to be remembered?

Yeah, but I don't really think about how I'd want Foals to be remembered. I think about what it is that drives me, and essentially I think that it's kind of an addictive process. I chase the moments where I feel like the band writes a song or plays a show where something magic happens and we create something that is bigger than ourselves and bigger than who we are as individual people. And whether that is like some crazy show where it's all just pulsing energy or when we play shows - and it's not every night - but the experience is so intense and you nearly - well, actually you do - you forget who you are! And I love that. In the same way with writing music I just want to write something that I feel is better than we've written before. I think the only way that I really look at the past, for the most part, is as a way of using it as a motor for the future, so I kind of want to beat the past.

And if you could, say, go back to 2007 and talk to yourself, is there anything you'd change? What would you say to yourself?

Yeah, there's quite a lot of things I would do differently. I would have said "watch how you talk to the press" for one thing. And I probably would have said like don't be so neurotic. I think there were times where I strangled certain songs or I like got too obsessive and too controlling and too wrapped-up in small details, when actually the correct thing to have done at the point would have been to leave the room and go for a walk. And I think one thing that has probably enabled this record to be written more quickly and for us to feel better about it is the ability to have perspective on it and not to crush or overanalyse things too much.

A lot of people would argue that "traditional" band set ups and say "guitar music" isn't in the same place it was, say, when Antidotes first came out. Where do you think it kind of sits today in the musical landscape?

I don't think it is there, I don't feel there are many interesting guitar bands. I don't particularly feel that this is a good era for guitar music. There seems to be a weird allure for young bands to hark back to the '90s and to sort of play 'dress-up' and I think that until that has been overthrown that things can't be that excited if they are that in awe of the past. I think there is too much nostalgia, and I don't know if that genuinely reflects what is going on in guitar music, or whether that is just what gets signed and whether that's the desire of some A&R man who is nostalgic for his past, who is signing the band who reminds him of what it was like to wear dungarees. But either way, in terms of guitar music that is visible and that's trying to be hoisted amongst mass culture, I think it's not a great time. There are a couple of bands out there that are great, but by and large I think people need to maybe up their game.

So, what would your advice be to a new band that is just starting out then?

Probably don't listen to people like me. But also like have courage and be creatively ambitious. Don't try and honour the past. Try to destroy the past. Try to challenge the past more, maybe. And also write with sincerity and make everything about the authenticity of the moment in which you are writing music rather than what fucking pair of winkle-pickers you are going to wear at your next show.


Foals' forthcoming new album, What Went Down, is set for a release on August 28th. You can pre-order it by heading here.