Manchester Math Rock and art-pop agitators, Everything Everything are not afraid to write music that reflects the world we now inhabit. It can be a gruesome and oftentimes bleak outlook but they manage to walk a fine line, fashioning vital even danceable music in the apathetic pop landscape. Their third album, Get To Heaven received critical acclaim in the UK last year and will be released stateside next Friday, Feb 25. In support, the band have recently announced a US tour beginning next month.
“So you think there’s no meaning/ In anything that we do,” are the first words on the opening track “To The Blade”. It kicks off Get To Heaven, their third Mercury Prize-nominated album and sets the whole tone. It’s all falsetto with a Joker-like quality, a seething madness in frontman Jonathan Higg’s delivery carried with propulsive beats, Radiohead-like bleeps and twitchy repetitive clicks.
Machine gun speed lyrics delivered like rap where meaning only catches up with your brain verses later. And if the words are violent, the euphoric choruses and the unexpected trajectory of synths, guitar and bass melodies show a quartet with an impeccably deft hand at that equilibrium of tension. A tension that the body begs for with Sufi-like release in dance.
On every level, Get To Heaven is not joshing for the lowest common denominator and is unflinching it its approach. It’s success highlights a collective yearning to make some small sense of the violence and madness through the art of a popular song. Here elevated to high art.
Everything Everything is made up of Higgs, Jeremy Pritchard (bassist) and Michael Spearman (drummer) who had all met each other while at the University of Salford between 2003 and 2006. However, it was not until meeting Alex Robertshaw (guitarist) in 2007 that the quartet who took their name from the first words uttered by Thom Yorke on Radiohead’s genre-bending Kid A opening track “Everything In Its Right Place” – that the band was born.
Their 2010 debut Man Alive earned them their first Mercury Prize-nomination as well as two nominations for the prestigious Ivor Novello Awards. However, with 2013’s Arc, the band made a concerted effort to go more for ‘feeling and making a connection rather than just showing they could be clever in their craft’. If they had wanted to take off the masks and be more than just a curiosity on their sophomore effort – with Get To Heaven they went full pelt and delivered an album dense with emotional intensity.
The album was written when Higgs spent 2014 at home locked in a scrolling news cycle of bombings, mass killings and macabre beheadings. The brutality came incredibly close to home with the murder of Manchester cab driver, Alan Henning who had gone to Syria to help in the strive.
In an interview with the NME at the time, Higgs had called it ‘the most violent year of our lives’. He said: “I think you’d have to be blind and deaf to have lived through 2014 and not shed a tear. If you put out a record this year and it’s all smiles, then I think you’re a liar, basically.”
Yet despite all the craziness he experienced, in the year that was 2015 – much of it continued with more force and terror, hitting even closer to home with the tragedy of the rock concert at Le Bataclan.
We spoke to Higgs in an exclusive interview about the horrors of the past year; what he feels is his reason for making music; and how he copes with the modern world including the black hole left by the passing of musical visionary – David Bowie.
Examiner: Have you guys gotten over the news of Bowie’s death? I’d imagine he would have been one of your heroes?
Jonathan Higgins: It’s affected everybody, not just people in music. I spent a lot of time in stupid corners of the internet and often there will be people saying they hated someone or did not like what they did but I haven’t seen any of it this time. Everybody has either been inspired by him, or have at least one Bowie favorite song. It’s just very depressing and we all feel the loss.
Examiner: The album’s reflective of the bleak news reports in 2014 but in an NME article, it mentions that you chose to begin with a positive one – I believe it was in the title could you tell us more about the thought process?
JH: At the end of writing Get To Heaven, I looked at all the lyrics and there was a lot of blood and violence and I was thinking ‘what was the most bad-ass violent name I could give it?’. Then I had a change of heart and thought maybe something more positive would be better. I’ll never be able to beat the metal bands anyway. These words ‘get to heaven’ sat there waiting to be noticed, it was already a song title. And I thought it brought together nicely this idea that religion makes us do these acts for good or not, but still kept it light and positive. It was a double-edge sword.
Examiner: The state of the world is quite maddening how do you keep sane – in some ways, I feel 2015 was even more brutal, I felt totally lost after Le Bataclan?
JH: Le Bataclan was crazy close to us for obvious reasons. We’ve worked with the crew and people there. We also played a gig that same night and right after we come off stage we saw the reports. When I wrote the album, I was up to my neck in all the news so you have to understand what makes it to the news – positive things do happen but they don’t make the news cycle in the same way. If you allow it to terrorize you – they want us to be afraid. And feel like there is no hope in the world. For a while I felt like I was above it but I got quite terrorized. When I look back I think, ‘holy sh** I don’t need to comprehend it all. It’s a certain type of information. And the power of it, is allowing it to affect and terrorize you. So in a sense, I had to try to not go so deep as you say, to keep sane. But in some ways, I still feel the same.
Examiner: What does ‘not being safe’ in music mean to you?
JH: It doesn’t follow the traditional structures of music. There is so much structure that people follow in film and art and that’s what makes it so brilliant because it’s an amazing formula. For me, it’s very exciting to not know what is going to happen. If I can predict it then I can probably do that too and that just makes me want to throw that away. I like music that is raw and moves me… that I can get excited about. Yeezus by Kanye West was one such album. He’s attitude to putting his music together – it was very anti-establishment, doing whatever he wants – just dropping a sample in the middle of a track, in a different key, in a different structure … who does that? It’s the sound of a madman having fun.
Examiner: I have never been able to stomach his hype or get over it to really listen to his music.
JH: You have to treat him like your drunk friend – you can’t take what he says seriously. You just have to go ‘there, there’ with your arms around his shoulders and listen to the music.
Examiner: Why do you write the kind of music you do – catharsis? To entertain in an informative manner? To incite? Or is it much more personal?
JH: I think definitely always personal. Any kind of art is not worth doing unless it’s got a strong personal connection to you. It is also cathartic – most of what I’m saying is ‘I don’t understand what’s going on’. And then I meet people who go ‘I know what you mean, I feel that way too’ that for me is the best thing. To have made that connection.
Examiner: As the themes are so heavy, how did it affect the recording process when you got into the studio with the rest of the band?
JH: Yeah. Whenever we are together there is this process where we have to work these things out … the writing of the lyrics have been very high stress. And we undertook this huge thing by ourselves with no producer. We’re not the best at managing ourselves. There can be an awful mood in these songs. I can be not very pleasant to be around in the process. It’s funny cause you can forget that this angry drum that seems to work so well – was really used to fill in a blank because you were in a fight with someone and they were absent. But that’s what you do as a band.
Examiner: The punk scene in New York grew with bands like Velvet Underground, New York Dolls and Television being informed by the gritty world around them – and they reflected this in their lyrics and the way they dressed, do you feel like there’s enough or not enough music being reflective of the world we live in right at this moment?
JH: That’s a tough question. I think art always select the times. Perhaps people don’t really care now in the same way as in past movements. We used to talk about these things but then decide not to write about them. I think right now we’re just not even talking. Something has shifted in our culture – it’s our smartphone culture – look I’m just as bad as everyone else. We have an array of ways to be entertained, it’s not just one thing anymore. And our output reflects it, we aren’t all pulled and moved by the same movement. I also feel like there’s a lot of rich people in entertainment and you can’t start a band without money. So you get a lot of nice bands. I’m not really against posh, rich kids starting bands but it’s not really healthy if that’s all there is. For art to have similar privileged classes it is inevitable that they conform to the status quo – it just makes for a far less interesting music scene.
Examiner: It’s also very tricky this business of fashioning a pop song out from such heinous crimes to humanity – were you fully cognizant of the kind of album you were all making?
JH: Yes we were. When we were talking about making the music we knew we didn’t want to make an album insensitive to the times we live in – I wanted the lyrics it to be like a hail of machine gun fire and we wanted all the songs to be upbeat, that you could dance to. I also wanted it to be really violent and horrific to reflect everything that had gone on but of course, the other guys were not going to have it. And over time, the album got nicer from where it was when we first started … well not nicer but what we have today.
Examiner: Your music gets defined as Math Rock, pop, ‘80s electronica – do these genres and boundaries even matter?
JH: No, I think you can get rid of them all. And just say our music is in the popular. In the classical even – where instruments are concerned, even that’s not really relevant. Classical popular – Coldplay or whatever.
Examiner: Jeremy has said that you all come from different musical backgrounds but are united for your love of Radiohead and some good honest pop – what’s some good honest pop currently on the charts that you love?
JH: I’ve been listening to a lot of the Bee Gees but that’s not really current. But it’s good … well not the disco era stuff but anything before or after. Also a lot of Abba but also not really relevant. Well here in the UK at this time of the year the BBC usually launch their “Sound of 2016” where they highlight who they think are the top acts for 2016 – we were the sound of 2010 … so they are playing a lot of new music on the radio and I’m liking quite a lot of it but I couldn’t tell you their names.
Examiner: Jeremy has also said that you all struggled with “Distant Past” because ‘you all thought it would sound cheap and nasty, like a shitty David Guetta thing…’ – how do you know if the balance is right? I feel it’s a similar thing with ‘Spring/Summer/Winter/Dread’.
JH: There are lots of tiny kind of triggers in music that tell you what kind of music you’re listening – it’s the rhythms of the chords that tells your brain that it’s dance music. For “Distant Past” we tried playing it on guitars with a rock setting but it’s the rhythm, it doesn’t change, it does that to people. I remember bringing the song in and the other guys were very uneasy about it being that strain of dance music. But we did it on the guitars and tried to mask it to make it less dancey. Eventually our producer, Stuart Price (who has worked with Madonna, The Pet Shops Boys and The Killers) came in and he just undid all that stuff anyway. He’s a dance producer.
Examiner: Do you have a favorite song in this album, and why? Mine were “Blast Doors” and “No Reptiles”. The lyrics ‘oh baby it’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair old enough to run, old enough to carry a gun’. I use to think it was ironic but actually it’s comforting.
JH: “No Reptiles” is my favorite song too and it’s because of that one line. It was rude and nasty when I first wrote it and it still reads like a list of insults and you feel insulted by it. That someone’s calling you a fat child and that you should be doing more. But that line was changed to “It’s alright, it’s alright …” and you feel it’s okay to be like that. It’s another instance where I’m asking ‘do you feel like me too? Ever feel like this? It’s not very nice. What do you think?’ It’s an ugly truth put across in an obtuse way and it can make us laugh.
Examiner: You’ve just announced a tour of the US – what are your hopes/ambitions for bringing your music Stateside?
JH: I guess I just want to meet some Americans. We get such a strong view of Americans in our media, yet here in the UK we are so similar to the US in a lot of ways. And so much of our music is in a way about America. Of course, I also want people to like my band but I want to make connections.
To pre-order Get To Heaven, please click here. For tickets to their show at the Great American Music Hall, please click here. For further tour details, please see below.
NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES
28 March – The Roxy – Los Angeles, CA*
29 March – The Roxy – Los Angeles, CA*
30 March – GAMH – San Francisco, CA*
1 April – Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR*
2 April – Neumo’s – Seattle, WA*
5 April – First Avenue – Minneapolis, MN*
6 April – Double Door – Chicago, IL*
7 April – Mission Creek – Iowa City, IA*
8 April – Mercy Lounge – Nashville, TN*
10 April – Mr Smalls – Pittsburgh, PA*
12 April – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA*
13 April – 930 Club – Washington, DC*
14 April – Irving Plaza – New York, NY*
15 April – Underground Arts – Philadelphia, PA*
*supporting The Joy Formidable