Everything Everything: “It’s like all these biblical plagues conflating at the same time, with us right in the middle”
Everything Everything haven’t had the best start to 2020: in fact, it has been downright atrocious. If you’d have told the Manchester art-rock quartet at the start of the year that they’d have been dealing with fires, floods and an actual pandemic – well, they’d have said it sounds more like something from one of their apocalypse-fearing songs than real life.
When you hear what’s happened to Everything Everything over the last few months, though, it’s hard not to compare it to some kind of plague-themed biblical story. In February, Shrewsbury, where the band’s guitarist and keyboard player Alex Robertshaw lives, was submerged under water after extensive flash flooding. Robertshaw was subsequently stranded for weeks and rehearsals for the group’s fifth album, ‘Re-Animator’, ground to a halt.
Just a few weeks later the coronavirus pandemic took hold, meaning the band’s album plans were thrown into further disarray and an actual release looked uncertain. Then, on the day that lockdown was announced in March, bassist Jeremy Pritchard and frontman Jon Higgs received a call telling them that the band’s lock-up and rehearsal space in north Manchester was on fire. They arrived at the scene to find a fire investigator knee-deep in charred wood, burned plastic and cindered instruments. The space was gutted: all their instruments, including some they’d had since childhood, were destroyed.
“It’s all been a bit like: ‘What the hell is going on?’” drummer Michael Spearman tells NME from his home in Manchester via Zoom. He says the past few months have been surreal. “It was just like all these biblical plagues conflating at the same time with us right in the middle. It has been a weird, crazy time.”
Spearman is joined on the call by his bandmate Higgs, who is at home in neighbouring Stockport. He smiles wryly when he hears his bandmate recounting their 2020 hellscape, something Spearman notices immediately. “This all plays into our hands, of course, because Jon is always sulking about it being the end of the world in his songs. We have plenty of new material for another album now,” Spearman says with a smile as Higgs nods satirically in agreement.
Everything Everything’s last two albums were indeed world-weary, with both anticipating an imminent political apocalypse. Shortly after the band recorded ‘Get To Heaven’ in 2015, Higgs re-read the lyrics and realised he’d written a dystopian “horror bible”, as he termed it, such was his anger with the world’s unfolding political situation. Higgs went a step further with 2017’s ‘A Fever Dream’ as he wrote a breathless reflection and warning on Brexit and Donald Trump’s US presidency. It earned them their second Mercury Prize nomination but the cost, Spearman says, was mental exhaustion. Where there was once fierce political bite, now there was apathy.
“We’d spent the last two years getting embroiled in current affairs, and the political and societal shifts just kept coming and coming,” Spearman says, wearily. “Nothing changed. We just got a bit tired of it all and we wanted to move well away from politics. We wanted something that took us out of Brexit and Trump, both of which we’d covered in different ways, onto something more conceptual. I guess just like everybody else, we needed an escape.”
“Jon is always sulking about it being the end of the world in his songs. We have plenty of new material for another album now”
Catatonic from an endlessly depressing news cycle, Higgs turned his back on the political and took time away. The last two albums were written during busy periods touring and Higgs was determined to write their next on the band’s own terms, in one place and following some extended time out. “We purposefully put aside a whole year to write rather than trying to do it on the road, which is what we’ve done for the last couple of records,” he explains. “We wanted a clean break. We’ve had a lot of changes in our own lives, too. We’ve had a few babies born and personal relationships change: we needed to take stock of where we were in our lives. We wanted to write and record in a different way too, one where we were in control of our surroundings more.”
The idea for ‘Re-Animator’ came to Higgs via a psychology text he’d stumbled on during his time away from the studio. “Something about this book and its ideas just leapt out at me,” Higgs says about his discovery of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by US psychologist Julian Jayes. “I guess it was almost like a spiritual feeling or awe, but after I read it I had lots of inspiration for the first time in a while.”
Elaborating on the book’s main concept of the ‘bicameral mind’, Higgs says: “If we lose ourselves and our consciousness, it’s gone until it’s reawakened in some way.” He says it applies when we see how the world has sleepwalked into indifference following years of endless bad-news cycles and there being little in the way of tangible political change. “It’s about trying to feel alive again after living in a total zombie state, which is something that everyone can relate to at some point,” he says. “It’s thinking about what will make us feel alive again and how we find it, how we re-animate when we’re a bit lost.”
The first single from the album, ‘In Birdsong’, captures this sentiment tenderly as Higgs, utilising his typically devastating falsetto, recalls “a zombie, a puppet man” re-connecting with nature and awakening as he suddenly becomes aware of his surroundings again. Where there was once “blackness” in his eyes, there is suddenly “someone in the white matter” with “energy” as the song reaches a piercing, synth-filled crescendo. Released mid-lockdown, the silence of the world without the bustle of day-to-day life meant many were hearing nature again for the first time in years: the song felt eerily prescient.
“It unexpectedly became the most appropriate song to re-emerge with,” Higgs says, explaining how they decided to change the album’s first single release to be more empathetic with the strange new normal. “The sound of nature has been pushed out of our lives with traffic, human intervention, planes. Now, for a brief moment, we are connecting to it again.”
There are similar gentle reflections elsewhere on the album, like on the Radiohead-inspired ‘It’s A Monstering’ — a song which wouldn’t sound out of place on the Oxford band’s meditative ‘A Moon-Shaped Pool’. Radiohead comparisons have long followed the group, and they were memorably deemed “a Radiohead you can dance to” back in 2015.
“‘Kid A’ was a massive album for us because we were just the right age when it came out, and [Radiohead] have always loomed large as an influence for us,” Spearman says. “‘It’s A Monstering’ is, I think, quite overtly influenced by them. They’re so much a part of our DNA that we could easily write a very Radiohead-like album very quickly. It comes naturally to us.
“I’m probably the one out of the four of us who will be a pain in the arse in the studio and say: ‘No, keep trying other stuff, it’s too much like Radiohead’, which I know is a bit glib. But as a band, I think we should be pushing ourselves in different ways and if we happen to have a song that sounds like Radiohead, then fine — at least we know we’ve tried to push ourselves first.”
This new confidence is apparent throughout ‘Re-Animator’ as the band offer more accessible lyricism and themes, whereas previously they’ve been more obscure. “I think Jon opened up more, showing much more vulnerability than ever before,” Spearman says. “Previously, you almost had to almost decode the lyrics. Now, I think this is more about universal themes that we haven’t really touched on before: it has been new ground for us. This is our fifth album and we do now feel a certain freedom.”
Higgs agrees, adding that publishing on their own label for the first time also helped. “When we get the most accolades is when we take more risks or when we’re most ourselves… as a songwriter, I’m definitely finding that I care less and less about subverting expectations now. I care more about getting a feeling across. It’s a very obvious conclusion to come to, but I’ve gone right around to get to a point most people start at.”
It can be heard starkly on album closer ‘Violent Sun’, a gloriously upbeat Bruce Springsteen-meets-New Order number. Bursting with glistening synths, joyous harmonies and underscored by a relentless electro beat, it’s an ode to a late-night dancefloor. “I wanted something that was quite youthful. Everyone is just going and going, which is something like Kings of Leon probably did on their first single and their last and never thought twice about it. But for us, it’s very new… but it feels right.”
“It celebrates being alive. The amazing feeling of being alive, I think, is something worth celebrating and singing about now perhaps more than ever,” Higgs beams. “And that’s what ‘Re-Animator’ is ultimately all about.”
In the coming months, Everything Everything are planning to do what they do best: building hope from dark situations and turning apocalypse into art. For example, Robertshaw has managed to salvage what remains of one of his precious childhood guitars from the fire and is now busy restoring it. “It’s a sort of distressed blues guitar now,” Spearman laughs of their phoenix-from-the-ashes moment.
They’ve started work on their next album, too. “I’m glad we’re in the middle of the storm,” Spearman says. “I think we’re taking it on in a way a lot of people aren’t. I think it suits us to be industrious around a problem, and it’s interesting to see how we’re navigating all the challenges thrown our way.”
Higgs agrees. “Whatever challenges come next, we’ll certainly be ready.”
Everything Everything’s ‘Re-Animator’ is out now