We Are Fucked & Going To Die: Everything Everything Interviewed
, January 25th, 2013 05:28
Everything Everything are back with a new album that explores depression and a new found seriousness. Laura Snapes is impressed
“This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang, but a whimper.” Not if you're in Everything Everything. On the wonky Manchester four-piece's new album, Arc, Jonathan Higgs' main lyrical concern is what he sees as the impending apocalypse that humankind has created for itself. It's all thanks to our warped value systems that place empathy and understanding at the bottom of the scale, and wanton consumerism and destruction at the top. Across Arc's 13 songs, Higgs both lives in the middle of the mess, and envisions standing at the end of time to see whether we managed to do more good than bad: “I saw the whole thing rise, I saw the whole thing fall,” goes 'The Peaks', an elegiac reckoning of sorts. But if meteors are raining down with destructive intent, Higgs and his bandmates, bassist Jeremy Pritchard, drummer Michael Spearman, and guitarist Alex Robertshaw meet them with equal force. Arc isn't as knotty and full of hairpin turns as its predecessor, 2010's lightly polarising Man Alive, but it's a ferocious attempt to beat the demons out.
That's perhaps one of Arc's most interesting qualities: the personal apocalypse of self-loathing, floundering, the inability to communicate and connect, and helplessness looms large, combining to a portrait of desperate male depression that's perhaps rare among bands of Everything Everything's basic template (four young men, guitars, etc). Higgs' lyrics on Man Alive were incredible fun, but fairly impenetrable; here, he decided to let down his guard to encourage more human connection with the album. You get the impression that it was as much for his sake as for the potential benefit to the band's fans.
The Monday of their album release is pretty surreal. Jonathan and Jeremy had an early start on the BBC Breakfast couch in Salford, where they were introduced as a band “with influences as diverse as The Beatles and The Smiths!” In the early evening, they happened to be playing in the Manchester Market Street branch of HMV's bizarre performance bunker (downstairs behind the gaming section, lest anyone think HMV concerns itself with music) at pretty much the moment the shop's rites were being read elsewhere, which made them the unofficial band spokesmen for the chain's demise for the rest of the week. Vague normality resumed as I met Jonathan, Jeremy, and Michael (Alex had to leave for his girlfriend's birthday celebrations) in a quiet Northern Quarter bar for a restful pint and chat about Arc before we all nicked off to see fellow local boys-done-weird'n'good Dutch Uncles play a tiny gig to celebrate their album release day.
How much of the decision to make the album more open was based on past responses to your music? Could you have made another elliptical, knotty record like Man Alive?
Jonathan Higgs: I don't think so. There's no point in making the same album again. In terms of how people reacted to it, they reacted well, we made a load of fans, and I'm sure they would be happy if we did the same thing again.
Jeremy Pritchard: We wouldn't have reached any more people [doing the same thing again]. What we wanted to be able to do was satisfy that lot, and expand.
JH: We probably only get three shots at this, if we're lucky, and you have to believe in what you're doing. I think we all felt that the first record didn't really move people. People couldn't get close enough to it, it was more a curiosity.
JP: People were really moved by the atmospheres and the sentiment of things like 'Tin (The Manhole)', but couldn't break through the lyrical boundaries.
JH: The constant chopping and changing!
JP: The distractions.
JH: We'd be in a groove for a while, you'd just about get to know what was going on, then we'd be off somewhere else. And while that was fun, and that's exciting and what we relished doing, we thought, we could carry on being this jumping chameleon or something, or we could actually try.
JP: It would have been easier to do Man Alive two. For us four, we would have felt less at risk.
JP: It would have been easier for us to produce. And actually, the first song that came out was 'Kemosabe', and apart from the structure, it hasn't changed a great deal. The stuff that we were coming up with together when we first dipped our toe into writing was a lot more like Man Alive. There was a song at one point that had the working title 'Clarkson' -
JH: Because we didn't like it!
JP: And it was obviously really foul! Horrible! And what we ended up doing was taking Alex's guitar part and putting it in a different key in 'Cough Cough', the beat ended up on something else - so we had to go through that, that was much more in a Man Alive vein. We were very aware of what had endured for us from that album in a general sense, the iconoclasm and the bloody mindedness of it.
You say it would have been easier to make Man Alive 2: did you feel you were getting into darker, unknown waters here?
JH: We did, but playing one of the new songs next to Man Alive would make someone think that we had actually pushed ourselves on Man Alive. This was a case of discarding superfluous elements and rewriting. That's the important thing; on Man Alive, there was no rewriting. With Arc, we took things apart and stopped the process, said, “No, this could be better, we don't need that, put that somewhere else.”
Michael Spearman: Man Alive was quite a messy process because we had an old guitarist on a few songs, we didn't know Alex very well on most of it - we knew him well by the end of the process, but we know him a lot better now. We're a lot more comfortable at saying to each other, “I think you need to look at that again.”
JP: There's a lot of baggage on the first record, and it's really present in the lyrics. But, like every sentiment on that album, it's really mired in sort of protective metaphor. We just wanted to make ourselves more vulnerable, really, be a bit more honest. You have to take off the masks.
JH: There was a lot of misguidance. Don't look, don't look!
I'm glad you brought up vulnerability. Arc is a lot more vulnerable than you get from many bands of your ilk. Does this record play against the masculine, aggressive, posturing of many modern male indie bands?
JH: There's certainly a lot of self-criticism and self-loathing, for wont of a better word. Certainly turning the accusations on myself. We didn't set out to puncture anything because we were never seen in that way. Put Man Alive next to Falcon by The Courteeners and we look like the quote-unquote “poofter nonces” anyway! We were never remotely that.
MS: But our band was a reaction to all that. The Pigeon Detectives and so on.
JH: I wouldn't say this record is more vulnerable than Man Alive, but I'm putting more of myself on the line. This is a more confident record, and as a result of that there is more vulnerability.
The last song, 'Don't Try', seems to be sung to yourself, encouraging openness lest those feelings eat you up inside. Talking about being in quite dark places.
JP: We did a little bit of work with a charity to do with male depression, and there are some really amazing statistics. The biggest cause of death for 18 to 30 year old males is suicide. That is nuts, isn't it? And we've all been kind of touched by depression. We've all had brushes with it to various degrees. We all come from that place.
It's lovely to think that a young person who's perhaps not feeling that great about themselves would hear 'Don't Try' and find some solace there.
JH: Yeah, exactly. When I first wrote that song, I did a demo of it with me just gabbling through the verses - there were no words, not even a proper tune - I knew the chorus was a killer, and I knew the words to that bit. I recorded it, showed it to my girlfriend and she said, “Oh, that's really great, can you put it on a CD for me?” I did, and she took it to her work - a hostel for homeless kids - and played it to a girl there. She said, my boyfriend wrote this about you guys, and this girl was absolutely floored. First I thought, why did you do that! But it's quite powerful, and exactly what I am getting at.
How did you come to work with the charity?
MS: It was through Dave Haslam, a charity called CALM. They released a compilation, called Thirty One Songs with a lot of local artists on it.
JP: It's part of the Factory Foundation, Ian Curtis was the starting point for it in the first place. It was set up by Esther O'Callaghan.
MS: I had to go on BBC 5Live and talk about it. I found it really difficult to talk about, really. It is still a taboo. I was being asked all these crap questions about it, but I wanted to get across some sincerity, to say we wanted to do it for proper reasons - not just because Noel Gallagher's on it! We wanted to actually say that it is important.
JP: It's probably more important now than it ever was, in fact. You're a young person, and you feel your life has been saved by The Smiths, or whoever. As trite as this sounds, coming from a 29-year old, it really is life-changing to have that in your life. I really am conscious of that. The kids that were at the HMV gig tonight - some of them will be really fucked up, unhappy people, and if we're able to provide any kind of respite, solace, or sanctuary, any of those things, then we're doing something worthwhile. It doesn't all have to be BBC Breakfast.
On Arc, do you see the band becoming political, or were you already? Are you not that at all?
JH: I think we were, but I was too afraid to actually make a point that could be nailed down. 'MY KZ YR BF', that's probably our most political song, but you wouldn't know it. It's about American foreign policy juxtaposed with a Friends-style sitcom being blown up by a drone aircraft. That's such a strange concept! I thought you should be able to join those dots, but clearly nobody did! That's why I had to open it up a bit more. It's not that it was too clever, but it was too abstract and personal to me. I mean, “He was looking at me like, whoa?!” I didn't want anyone to ask me about American foreign policy two years ago, I'd have shit myself. I probably still would, but at least I can say things more openly to begin with now.
The 2011 riots have been cropping up in some of the lyrics and imagery surrounding the album.
JH: Yeah, they appear a number of times. I think the confusion of that period is echoed a lot: the fact that no-one saw it coming, no-one really understood why it happened, and the fact that people have kind of forgotten about it already, it's weird. There's this disconnect between the very poor, essentially, and everyone else - and the very wealthy. Think about the poor that you don't even really know about, or hear about - they aren't part of any kind of political spectrum, they probably don't vote. During a recession, what happens at that bottom rung is a cauldron of unknowns. The riots could easily happen again, and we'd be just as blind to see it coming.
Thinking back to what we were just talking about and politics, it seems to be that the mental health units often go first. I remember being in Sunderland with Frankie and the Heartstrings, and they pointed out where one centre used to be.
JP: It's the least talked about thing. It makes my fucking blood boil.
MS: The North East in particular - and Jon and I can speak to this - is horrendous. Because no-one votes for the Tories there, they do whatever they want because they know they're never going to get in there anyway. I like Radio 4 - if you listen to Any Questions, they have interesting debates on these subjects, and you listen and think, I'm glad people are talking about this. However, this has nothing to do with the people who need their voices heard.
By singing about these things, do you hope it has some effect? Can music effect change in that way?
JH: I don't have any illusions about it changing anything. The record, lyrically, is a song for the modern man, in a sense. I think a lot of people think what I think - a lot of it is just confusion. I'm not giving any answers, more saying, what the hell's going on here? I don't know what's real any more! Do you feel as fucking weird as I do right now, about everything? That's what people will connect to, not, 'I've got the answer!' We need to do something about it, but what is it?
MS: It's difficult though. From our band's point of view, because people can quite fairly say you're just a bunch of middle-class, white males on a major label...
JH: But all over our lyrics, I come back to it saying, 'I'm as bad as everyone else.' I don't want to be preachy. I just want to be honest about that fact. I hope people latch onto that hopelessness that I feel about living now, or living whenever. Someone's always felt this. I don't like pretending that because I - actually, I can't even sing! - because I can put notes in the right order on a laptop that for some reason I have some answers.
MS: I've had a few people text me in the past few days, saying, 'Got the album, it's really good, it's really dark isn't it, a few depressing things in it.' Personally, I don't find it depressing. Maybe it is dark, and there's nothing wrong with that.
I like that your gambit to try and get close to people is to say, 'We are fucked and we are all going to die.'
JH: Of course we are all going to die -
JP: I'm not, actually.
JH: When it's all over, whenever that may be, when the scales of Gemini are set upon the stone of Arthur's balls, do we want the outcome of human actions to be good or bad? Why don't we actually do some sweet stuff instead of being dicks to each other all the time?!
JP: Let that be your epitaph!
MS: But when my friends say that to me - and there's nothing wrong with that - I think, I know Jon and I know he's just being honest. I suppose there's an element of what we do is entertainment, but we want to feel like we're being true to ourselves.
JH: It's connection. I'll be generous and say that 60% of human existence is not despair, but questions that really don't have a very positive answer. What am I actually going to do?! Nothing really, it's a bit of a fluke! You'll die. Procreate, that's all you've got! You start asking questions, and really, when all is said and done, the answer is sort of fairly negative, but it's good to embrace it.
JP: There's a chink of light on Arc if you know where to look. It's like on OK Computer, there's a lot there to feel positive about, to keep you going, to move it all forward.
JH: This record definitely has some things in common with OK Computer, thematically it's undeniable, and that's not a coincidence, that's because we all loved the record.
JP: When Jon and I finished our degree, we went to a party, and smoked a joint and listened to it in a room away from the main one. I thought, 'God, we've never actually consciously listened to this record together.' Jon said, 'No, of course we haven't, because we both think about it every day, and that's why we're friends.'
JH: The glue that binds us is actually still that record. I'm really glad there is a record like that that exists, that we can say that about. All our records are really an homage to that record! The next one probably won't be, but thematically, they're pretty close - alienation and so on. There are definitely similarities. We knew when we were putting together the song 'Arc' that we had made a 13-track album, and we needed a spacer, our 'Fitter, Happier'.
Have you ever encountered them?
JH: No, I don't feel the need to. If I could just walk up to Thom Yorke, the day he needed a cigar, just produce one, put it in his mouth and light it, and he'd be like, 'Thanks mate!' That's the interaction.
JP: This is PG Wodehouse!
JH: That's the poetry of life!
You finished making the album in July - do you feel any disconnect from it now?
JH: I don't know what Man Alive is supposed to be doing to a person, and I wrote the fucking thing! I won't understand Man Alive in a couple of years, unless I write a letter to myself now.
JP: But there will be times in your life when you really do. I never feel that disengaged from my past self, really. I think part of being in a band is that you don't change that much from the age of about 14.
JH: Most of my songs are written to me as a young man - certainly like 'Don't Try'. Any time I talk about 'boy' or 'son', it's usually younger me. And obviously I was vastly different to what I am now, but I always feel like I know that guy feels lost, and I made promises when I was that age that, you know, I have fulfilled, and in other ways, I feel like I haven't.