Manchester-based four-piece Everything Everything are one of Britain’s finest bands. Since forming at Salford University in 2007, they’ve released four critically successful albums, the latest of which, A Fever Dream, secured two Ivor Novello nominations, their fourth overall. Released in August last year, it’s their best release to date: eclectic, intelligent and emotional yet still accessible and eminently danceable, it made long-standing comparisons to art-rock forebearers like Radiohead seem more accurate than ever. Caolan Coleman spoke to frontman Jonathan Higgs as the band prepare to set on a summer tour including dates at Sea Sessions in Bundoran, Cork’s Indiependence and finishing with their rescheduled appearance at the Olympia Theatre.
You get referred to as a ‘Manchester’ band although none of you are originally from Manchester. Do you feel there’s some affinity in your music with other Mancunian bands, past or present?
I think everyone would like to a Manchester band! None of us are originally from here, but I’ve been here since I was eighteen so it’s quite a while now, so I think we can definitely say we’re from here. But yeah, everybody wants to be a Manchester band because it’s where the best bands come from. I think there’s a attitude towards music in the city, and a great history, so to be a part of that, even if it’s people saying ‘You’re not part of that’, at least we’re in the same sentence. I love it here.
Your latest album, A Fever Dream, got great reviews and got another an Ivor Novello nomination. What does that sort of recognition do for you as a band? Do you take it is a sign that you’re doing something right, or is it something you try to ignore altogether?
I don’t think it’s possible to ignore it because it’s right there in your face. But we definitely appreciate it: we’ve had a few Ivor Novello nominations in the past, and we thought those days were gone. We don’t get as many as we used to so it’s nice to get that one again. It’s nice to get that one particularly, because it’s kind of… classy, and it’s about actual songwriting, not just who sold the most records or whatever.
You worked with James Ford on this album, who seems to be the indie producer de rigueur at the moment. What attracted you to him?
Well we wanted to work with him for a while. One of the things we kept coming back was the drum sound on the Arctic Monkeys song ‘Brianstorm’, we all heard that record and thought ‘That sounds fucking amazing!’ So we kept tabs on him from then, and we tried to work with him a few times but we couldn’t get together, but this time he had a gap and we had the right stuff in place to make it happen. It was really good: we take our own demos quite far and hand it over at a later stage than most bands, and he’s quite a wise head to have at that stage. He’s got a foot in dance music and in rock music too, which is quite rare for someone to be good at both.
Was he quite hands on then? Did he play on anything?
Yeah, he played a lot of modular synth stuff, which is something Alex, our guitarist, is starting to get into himself, so they were kind of nerding out a lot during the sessions, making little noises with their boxes.
You’ve been touring it for a while then. How have the songs been going down live? The songs are a bit less ‘immediate’ than ‘Get To Heaven’, the last record.
Well I think my dad put it best, he said, “Jonathan, what’s with all this repetition?”, and I thought ‘‘God, there is quite a lot actually.” But yeah, they’ve been working well live. Certainly the last two records have been ‘live’ records – we kind of hit our stride with the third album, because the second one was too difficult to play live and the first one was just too fucking weird. So the last two work live, but we make sure that that’s part of the writing. So yeah, it fits really well live with the Get To Heaven stuff, and they sound really ‘big’, which is always great to play live: there’s nothing worse than writing a new song then bringing it to a live audience where it’s just a bit limp, or you need to be in the right mood. It’s nice to just be like “Right, here’s the song, fuck you”, y’know?
Yeah, so does that effect your setlist then, especially now you’re playing bigger venues?
A bit, yeah. The fact that we have four albums now means we can just go out and play an hour of straight singles, which are going to be a certain kind of song, but it means they can work on almost any audience, like at festivals. But then if you’ve got a longer show you can play more… ‘off the beaten track’ kind of tunes. The last two have been so upbeat compared to the first two, so it all kinds of piles together.
On the lyrical side of things, it’s quite ‘in’ at the minute for bands to talk about politics and the wider world, although you’ve been doing it for a while. I got the sense on the new album that, unlike on Get To Heaven, your reaction to the likes of Brexit and Trump was more bemusement than anger. You think there’s a sort of absurdity to it that makes it harder to write about with any authority?
I do, yeah, and if you want to sum up Get To Heaven, it would be ‘anger’, and that I think some shit’s about to go down, and then on A Fever Dream, it went down. The feelings were ‘oh shit, where do I stand now?’, and a sort of confusion, because everything I used to be angry about or believe in, I’m not so sure any more. I also feel like I don’t want to be that same character from Get To Heaven because that’s already been done, and those things that were kind of cartoony and silly on Get To Heaven are increasingly normal now- like for that album I played a stupid dictator with mad hair, and this was years before that actually happened! I don’t have any desire to do that sort of commentary any more because… well partly because everyone is doing it now! There’s fifty other bands talking about these horrible things and to add my own bleating voice into that hell… why would anyone be interested in that? I’d much rather set my sights elsewhere, because that crazy, cartoon stuff is just mainstream now.
I remember reading that you spend a lot of time on Reddit when you were writing the record. What was the strangest post you came across?
Well… obviously there’s dodgy stuff on Reddit. But it was just stuff that I found weird, it was more that general world, and the cross over into the sort of 4chan thing, and the rise of the alt right and ‘incel’ culture. This is a minority of people on there, but they’re very powerful in terms of getting seen and spreading stuff around. I just felt like I spent too much trying to argue with these people, and I was just wasting away, wasting my time and feeling quite bad as a result. I was trying to explain things to people who didn’t care what I have to say, and it was just draining the shit out of me, so I just decided to quit it all. It was just unhealthy for my mind, I think.
That leads on to another subject, I suppose, because you’ve been quite vocal in the past about mental health. Your recent track ‘The Mariana’ was inspired by reading figures related to male suicide statistics. How much do you think ‘macho’ culture is to blame for such alarming high numbers?
Eh… well there certainly is. I don’t know how prevalent ‘macho’ culture is though, although that would be a ‘good’ because of it. But I feel like we’ve kind of moved on from it to something else now- I think most people sort of frown on macho culture now, they think it’s a bit quaint and a bit silly, and I agree, I think it’s stupid, but the alternative isn’t very clear to anyone, as in what you are supposed to be. There’s a lot of people feeling lost, I think: it’s the identity of it that’s so vague. Like, I know what not to be, but I don’t know what to be. And I’m a pretty sorted out kind of person, but there’s a lot of people who are a lot younger, who are the sort of people I saw on Reddit, kind of… bumbling around, not really sure of anything, and just finding dark shit to fill that hole, and that seems to be happening at an increasing rate. But I don’t know what the answer is- we’re living in times where there’s not a very strong lighthouse for people to be flocking towards.
A lot of these people seem to get eaten up by the alt-right.
Yeah, and we’re getting a rise of some quite bad stuff on the left, particularly on the fringes. Everybody seems to be heading towards extremes, and away from the old certainties.
Returning to mental health again, musicians seem particularly vulnerable – we’re all still reeling from the news about Scott Hutchison last week. With so much being expected of bands now in terms of touring, do you think the industry is doing enough to look after it’s artists? I read an interview with the guy from Shame where he said it’s one of the only professions where you can go from just having a panic attack to being forced on stage five minutes later.
Yeah… It’s difficult because the alternative that we’re sort of implying is. I don’t know what the alternative be. Do people cancel gigs because they don’t feel well? Well that does happen, but that you shouldn’t be suffering at any stage of your life, and it’s up to the industry that you’re in to deal with that, I don’t know if that could ever work. And there’s the whole strand of the miserable artist: if I was perfectly alright, my whole life, mentally, I’m not sure anyone would be interested in what I have to say. But then again, they would, but maybe I wouldn’t, I don’t know.
Do you think it’s because musicians are more acutely aware of it? I mean, people are drawn to the ‘tortured artist’, aren’t they?
Yeah, maybe. It’s really difficult because we are effectively rewarding our artists for suffering for us, and buy records, or paintings, because we can relate to their pain. I mean sometimes it’s joy or love or whatever but above all we’re kind of paying them to feel for us, and feel like us, and I don’t know how we could ever come to a place where everyone was ok and we still thought of art in the same way. Not that we want people to feel bad, I mean I’m an artist myself, and I don’t enjoy feeling shit… I guess what we’re talking about is people at the edges, isn’t it? When someone reaches the stage where they want to die, they should be helped, obviously, but it’s effectively inevitable that we bring people to that point, whether we admit it or not. So yes, I think there should be more help for people who are desperate, but whether it comes from this industry itself, I don’t know how that could happen.
So after this you’ve a summer of festivals and a US tour, is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to?
Looking forward to getting back to do our Dublin gig, actually, the one we had to cancel (The band’s scheduled gig at the Olympia in February was cancelled because of Storm Emma). That’s was annoying, so there’s a bit of delayed gratification there, and America’s going to be awesome.
Was the Olympia gig the first time you’d fallen foul of an ‘act of god’ on tour?
No, we blew out two tyres on the way to a gig once and had to cancel. Any other cancellations have been our fault, so in terms of proper ‘god stuff’ that was the first one, yeah.
Best of luck with the rest of the tour, thanks for speaking with us.