TRACK-BY-TRACK: FOES – The Summit Lies Skyward

Missing The Mars Volta? Get your progressive, alternative rock fix with Liverpool boys FOES who have just dropped their debut full length ‘The Summit Lies Skyward’ and will be popping up on your radar even more than they were on their first 2 EPs. We grabbed the band to get a detailed commentary of every track on the album, to get a full understanding of the writing and recording process.

This song went through so many revisions before settling on its final structure. The outro was originally the introduction and there must have been 2 or 3 sections we dropped entirely. However, there was a very clear point where we knew it was going to be the album opener and we finished writing it accordingly. Lyrically, Chris wanted to settle on something that was personal to us as a band, and the song is basically about the four of us. There is a poem by George Eliot called “O, may I join the choir invisible!” that talks of the afterlife being a place where music is made for eternity. He loved the idea of this, and it became the basis for the song.

I think many of the heavier tracks on the album show our more progressive side, but we knew we wanted at least one that was a little simpler in form. The main riff was originally a part of ‘Orchestrator’, but Chris felt this idea deserved more focus and from there the song was basically built as a single. The title is a visual realisation of the song’s themes of pomposity, vanity and society’s obsession with creating a false identity through avenues such as social media.

One of the first tracks written with the album in mind, and one that certainly set the tone for the rest of the record. This song is broadly about leadership, and the consequences of following those who manipulate us. While most of the tracks were recorded at Elevator in Liverpool, this and ‘The Everest’ were done at this really great residential studio near Cambridge called One-Bit. I think our time in that studio played a really important part in shaping the album.
Even though the end result is completed removed from the influence, Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ certainly factored into the writing. That album has so many dark, brooding basslines and that’s something I wanted to carry this song. Oh, and the chorus actually first came together in a dressing room while we were on tour with Press To MECO!

The oldest song on the album as this originally featured on our second EP ‘Antecedence’. Barley at Basick Records made a good case for this retaining a place on the album, and the more we thought about it, the more we agreed. It’s become something of a defining song for the band.
Chris’ lyrics stemmed from specific events that happened to a close friends and seeing their pain, yet not finding the words to take them out of the situation. Quite contrastingly, the lyrics came really quickly! Chris himself will admit that he’s not the most open guy, but he’s able to tap in something special when the content matter is so profoundly personal.

We were really big on Arcane Roots’ ‘Heaven And Earth’ EP around the time we were writing this, and I think you can definitely hear that influence. This song has a lighter character compared to most of the album. Similarly to ‘Pin Feather’, this is another about the four of us in FOES, and more specifically about the corner of the music industry we’re a part of. ‘Sworn Host’ focuses more on the community of great, supportive people we’ve met in our short time as a band.

This song is intended to be a segway between the two halves of the album, and this is purposefully highlighted on the track listing. It’s very much an experiment next to anything we’ve done before. Musically, I’d been listening to a lot of ‘This Will Destroy You’, which influenced much of the guitar work in this track. Around the same time, I was listening to Hans Zimmer’s ‘Time’ and thought it would be great to recreate that tension in the introduction, and that’s how the opening drum parts were arrived at.
When Chris was writing the melody and lyrics, he’d listen back to a really awful phone recording he had of what we’d been jamming out, yet to him, it all felt very peaceful. He wrote the word “Coma” and had this idea of writing a story from the perspective of a young person in a coma, totally at peace but with movement happening around the hospital bed they were laying in. The word can also refer to the ice and dust that comes off a comet when too close to the sun, and that was referenced a little in there too. It was an entirely different way of writing for Chris; essentially making up a story based on how the music had made him feel and the end result was really positive in a way we hadn’t expected.

A favourite of ours to play live, and one where in the writing process we decided we were going be a bit self-indulgent! If you strip away Chris’ vocals, it’s a pretty leftfield track, but when he first brought those melodies to the table we realised there was an accessibility to the song that hadn’t previously been realised. Similarly to ‘Young Sovereign’, this song is about putting on a front.
It was quite a funny moment when we first arrived at the ending riff. We couldn’t quite work out if we loved it, or if it was just TOO heavy for us. In the studio, we couldn’t stop laughing on the first few takes! Needless to say, it stayed, and I’m certain it was the right choice.

Jay’s grandad was under fire in Dunkirk during the war, and wrote “for whoever finds these words, send to my wife, they are to set her free, I gladly gave my life”. Chris was able to work a variation on this into the lyrics, and it’s an open reflection on the negativity of war in all forms.
Given that ‘…Stillness’ and ‘Orchestrator’ are two very jarring and experimental tracks, we felt the album needed a sense of relief at this point, and thus ‘Brothers Mortal’ is pretty straight laced by comparison.

This track took us by surprise really. The bones of the song were there for a while, but we only finished it a couple of weeks before the album sessions. There was a space on our proposed track listing between ‘Brothers Mortal’ and ‘Pin Feather’, and because we knew exactly what sort of tone we felt should bridge that gap, it came together very organically. Very little changed from the rehearsal room to the studio. Lots of Deftones and Tool inspired hooks on here and we have a real fondness for this track as it’s been an opportunity to draw on some of our earliest influences.
It’s a song of self-doubt and of questioning who we really are, and more of a self-observation for Chris in terms of the lyrics (mainly about how he overthinks everything!).

A pin feather (or blood feather) is one that grows during a bird’s infancy, and the blood supply flowing through it can cause it to bleed. The title was one we’d entertained before the lyrics were even started on, so that became the basis of the song and gave Chris the two subjects he wanted to reflect on in the lyrics: growth and vulnerability – for us in the band as a collective and individually.

Oddly enough, this wasn’t a song that we rated too highly in its early inception, but as we spent time in the studio the song fully came to life for us. It became a song we wanted to hear at the end of an album, and even shaped the concept of the record. ‘The Summit Lies Skyward’ is a story of climbing a mountain, both metaphorically and physically, and lyrically Chris wanted the rest of the album to point towards that peak of the mountain. We love the imagery ‘The Everest’ as a title conjures up, one of hardship and trials on the journey upwards, and one of relief and satisfaction looking from the top and back down at everything achieved.
I think if ‘No Sleepers Verse‘ is about not finding the words to ease someone’s pain, Chris’ lyrics serve as a counterpoint here. It’s an assurance to a loved one during a time of grievance and a deeply personal song as such. Musically, Oceansize were a big influence here (as always). I remember hearing ‘Music For A Nurse’ live for the first time, and feeling that it built in a way that was incredibly beautiful yet sad at the same time. That’s certainly the kind of atmosphere we’ve intended to create in this track.

‘The Summit Lies Skyward’ is out now and you can order it online digitally via Basick Record’s BandCamp (here).

Keep up to date with the band and what they’re up to via Facebook (here) and Twitter (here).