In 2010 UK outfit Everything Everything earned a name as an ‘intelligent’ pop group behind their intricate debut album Man Alive. The record was complex, challenging, off-beat and, in some regards, fairly introverted.
Man Alive has been credited as helping usher in bands such as Django Django and Alt-J, who took the acquired taste of Everything Everything and added more palatable melodies. Now Everything Everything are back to prove there was a familiarity in their formula all along.
Released at the beginning of 2013, Everything Everything’s second album Arc sees the band seek a more immediate emotional connection with listeners. Where Man Alive was a note to self, Arc is a letter to others who may be interested in the twisted and weird ways of the world.
Singles Cough Cough, Kemosabe, Duet, and newest single Don’t Try each attempt to meld troubled times with accessible hooks, as well as the off-kilter moments that remind you of exactly which indie pop act you’re listening to.
As Everything Everything frontman Jonathan Higgs explained, Arc is a deliberate effort to converse with their audience, a representation of the instability of society and, in the process, just so happens to pay homage to Radiohead’s OK Computer.
Music Feeds: When people read that Arc is an effort to have a greater emotional connection with listeners, they may assume the record is softer and filled with love songs. But that’s not really the case, is it?
Jonathan Higgs: No, I mean I think there is technically more love songs on there, if you want to call them that. Something we’re still afraid of saying, which is stupid (chuckles). But, yeah, it’s not a very positive connection that we’re making the whole time. It’s just sort of, “I feel like this. Do you feel the same?” connection rather than, “Everything’s great, everything’s cool.”
MF: Everything Everything recently announced that Don’t Try would be the fourth single off Arc. You’ve said the song deals with male depression, which in some ways is still a taboo topic. Is that why it was important to release the song as a single?
JH: Yeah, I think it is actually. It became more and more important to me as time went on that we had that song. It sort of feels the best to perform because it’s such a straightforward lyric that’s really lean and it’s really easy to understand and really easy to mean it every night.
It’s a good way of saying it, I think. Just talk about it. Don’t try to hide it ’cause it will get you, it will fuck you up if you don’t talk about it. I think it’s a very easy and true thing to say.
MF: Don’t Try deals with mental health but that’s not the only song to deal with weighty issues. Armourland is about the 2011 English riots.
JH: Yeah, it definitely gets in there. I think that the riots sort of influenced the album in 2 or 3 places. Just that feeling of a society just can very easily sink under and become a sort of nightmare.
I’m not saying the riots were a nightmare or anything close to it. But it’s just that idea that nothing is as safe as you think and nothing is as stable or as real as we pretend. We all walk down the street pretending everything’s completely normal and it’s not. There are so many things that are fucking weird going on and we’ve got to maintain it in order for it to all work.
None of it’s real and it’s that kind of realisation – the fact that everyone is feeling very unstable, with the recession and we’ve got a split government with so much indecision. It feels like a very unstable time.
MF: Was it always your intention with Everything Everything to write, not necessarily political songs, but socially aware songs?
JH: I think it’s impossible to avoid it. I mean, it’s what I think about and, I would think, most people listening would be thinking along similar lines. I like to try and find feelings that I think are being held by a lot of people and basically say, “It’s OK for you to think this. I think this as well. Let’s try and do something valuable. Let’s talk about it or let’s not ignore things.” That’s the main way I like to try and communicate, ‘I feel like this. Do you feel like this?’ And that’s often a social thing.
MF: Do you find it frustrating that Arc might be tagged as depressing because it deals with such matters?
JH: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways it’s very helpful. It’s never sort of damning, it’s just supposedly a snapshot of what it’s like to live now and I think it is fairly depressing time. The reality of it is that most of my 20s are going to be, or what’s left of them, are going to be lived in a recession.
There are very little opportunities. The arts are suffering and all sorts of things aren’t particularly good right now. I mean, people in the world have far worse lives than we do but I don’t really mind if people want to think it’s depressing.
My favourite album of all-time is probably [Radiohead’s] OK Computer, which was famously called depressing and it’s not really at all. It’s just what people think if somebody isn’t singing about love and sex or being in the club, or something.
MF: You’ve said that Arc is thematically similar to Radiohead’s 1997 classic record. Was this album ever intended to pay homage to OK Computer?
JH: Yes, absolutely. At different stages it crossed our minds. But I think all our albums are homages to that one, to be honest (chuckles). It’s kind of the granddaddy of all our musical upbringings, really, is that one record. Or that one and the next one, Kid A.
We definitely realised once we put an instrumental track on, about halfway through, we realised we had a very similar shape to OK Computer and we actually deliberately played on that and put this instrumental track in just because we do love it and we do want to wear it on our sleeves and say, “Yes, that was the album that made us and here we are making our own one.”
MF: A track from Arc that really grabbed me immediately was Torso Of The Week, in which it seems the protagonist is running from something, or perhaps towards something. Can you please share some insight into the song?
JH: I started musing on the idea while I was in the gym a few times, which was kind of a new thing for me to do at all (chuckles). Just the very basic and strange image of people running on the spot just struck me. You know, going to the gym at night and it’s dark outside and you go into this building and there’s people just running on the spot with these expressionless faces.
I don’t know what they were doing. I was doing the same thing, trying to become fitter and healthier and worrying about my image. It’s kind of something I often go back to, is the media portrayal of bodies and the image you can never live up to, the photoshop culture and things like that.
But something struck me about the fact that you’re running on the spot trying to obtain something that’s basically unattainable, and the sadness of it. The fact of trying to get this lifestyle that’s portrayed and there’s lots of lyrics about a supposedly great lifestyle when you have a lot of money and have a lot of good stuff. It’s all bollocks, really. There’s just something very sad about it.
I wanted to write a song about the being on the treadmill of life, essentially, but also the actual literal treadmill as well.
MF: You spoke of a projected lifestyle that is actually a falsehood. Is that something you’ve dealt with within the music industry?
JH: Definitely. There’s a lot of artifice around and there’s a lot of stuff we do that isn’t entirely true. I mean, we’re photoshopped to hell on the front cover and yet we have a song called Photoshop Handsome [on Man Alive] that pokes fun at the whole thing, quite angrily, really. It’s a total part of reality and at the same time it’s not reality at all. It’s just an inevitable thing when you have creatures with brains and social rankings and eyeballs; you’re going to get this eventually. And it’s only going to get more extreme.
MF: On Everything Everything’s debut album, Man Alive, you developed a reputation for uncommon wordplay in pop music. In trying to make Arc more accessible was that less immediate lyrical style something you felt you had sacrifice to some degree?
JH: Yeah, I did feel I had to, but I actually discovered that I didn’t really have to. I just had to be more honest. I couldn’t just put down a load of stuff that meant something to me. I had find something that could make connections and that was much harder to do but ultimately far more rewarding.
I found something I thought was good and could mean a hell of lot to hopefully a lot of people whereas before I would write something down that I thought was clever in my own way and a reference to my own life and I didn’t care if no-one understood it because I think the first record was more for me then it was for other people.
It was kind of an exorcism, in a way, and now we’re ready to talk to others. I found that quite liberating, really, to be able to be honest.
MF: With Man Alive there was no rewriting. The band allowed itself that luxury on Arc but did reworking the material bring any unexpected complications?
JH: Well, there was rewriting at every stage of Arc. We didn’t let things settle at all. We kept trying to get the best out of things and the best out of a song. It was a long process, I don’t think it was surprising; it was more a case of just working hard and not settline. “We’re not going to settle for this until it’s the best it can be.”
It did take a long time and we rejected an awful lot and a lot of time we thought, “What the hell are we doing? Is this even possible to attain?” But I think in the end we got a hell of lot more out it than just bashing things down or hoping people would know what we’re trying to do on the first take. We made sure it was right.
MF: One might expect that when a band is trying something new they’d approach a different producer but Everything Everything stuck with David Kosten. How did he help you realize a more accessible album?
JH: We had sort of had unfinished business with him, in a way. The first record there was no way we were going to change our minds on anything. I think a lot of debut albums are like that. You come out of the blocks and you don’t want to know what anyone else says. You’ve got these things waiting in the wings.
The second time around we knew we wanted to make a more accessible record and we wanted to make a more emotional record. And I think David wanted to do the same. He had ideas of where he wanted to take it and we wanted to work it harder in a different way.
It just felt really natural to get back in with him. He had such a head start on anyone else because he had done the first record and we knew him really well. It just felt like the next day, really. Instead of relearning everything and wondering if it was going to work and trusting a new guy to not fuck it up (chuckles). It just felt very, very, very easy to do it with David.
MF: After Man Alive Everything Everything was credited with leading the way for ‘intelligent pop’ bands like Alt-J and Django Django. Did their debut albums in turn inspire you?
JH: No, I’m yet to hear either of those records. But I have heard they’re really good (chuckles). Personally I don’t really listen to what’s out this year, if you know what I mean. I tend to stay a few years behind just because I don’t really like hype and I like to wait until the hype is over and then I’m going to find out for myself what it’s all about. Rather than get swept up in fashions, it just annoys me.
Not that it’s the bands’ fault at all – it’s just the way media works. And we’re as much a product of it as anyone else but I find it a little bit annoying sometimes, the hype machine.
MF: So I guess you won’t be listening to the new Daft Punk record, which came out today.
JH: I might do. It’s a bit different when it’s not a band, actually. I feel a bit differently about Daft Punk.
MF: When the band comes out for Splendour In The Grass 2013, Everything Everything will also be playing their first Australian headlining shows. How’s the live set coming together with the more complex tunes of Man Alive working alongside the new material of Arc?
JH: It works really well, actually. We’ve got a good combination. I think sometimes it’s good to sort of delve in either direction but there’s elements of both those records on both records.
Something like NASA (Is On Your Side) from the first record could have easily been on Arc. It helps makes the set varied. You can have tender moments and big expansive things and we can also get really techy and high energy. It’s really nice to have the contrast to be able to spice up the set in that way.
Arc is out now via iTunes and in stores. Tickets for Everything Everything’s first Australian headlining tour dates are on sale via Secret Sounds.
Everything Everything – Splendour sideshow dates
Presented by Music Feeds
Friday, 26th July
The Corner, Melbourne
Saturday, 27th July
The Metro, Sydney
Also appearing at Splendour In The Grass 2013