Tucked away in their dressing room overlooking a sunlit pitch at Hillsborough stadium, Jonathan Higgs (lead vocalist) and Michael Spearman (drums) of Everything Everything are lounging peacefully before their Tramlines show. The interview is socially distanced, with the band taking no chances when it comes to COVID. And who can blame them? After months of being deprived the opportunity to perform live, the last thing they need is for some lanky journalist to come and ruin it for them before it has even started. A wise move considering this lanky journalist is currently writing the interview COVID-positive and feeling sorry for himself in isolation.
The Manchester band were able to test their set at Standon Calling in Hertfordshire, a couple of days prior to arriving in Sheffield. “It was really fun to play the music again, we released RE-ANIMATOR during the pandemic so we’ve never really played those songs live, it’s just great to see a crowd again,” said Spearman.
RE-ANIMATOR, the band’s fifth album was released on 11 September last year, so has not had the opportunity to be heard live aside from a couple of virtual performances, and two socially distanced shows in Kingston. Nothing compared to the roaring festival crowd which turned up at Tramlines. “It’s a real privilege to be allowed to play again. We were torn between playing the new tracks or not because we haven’t had any contact with fans. We just have to assume that they have been listening to the record,” said Spearman.
The band opted for a discography-spanning set, covering over a decade of music. While favourites from 2015’s Get To Heaven, and their debut Man Alive notably gathered the best reaction, newer tracks like ‘SUPERNORMAL’, ‘Violent Sun’, and ‘Arch Enemy’ were no misfires. The latter felt particularly comfortable alongside the older tracks, flaunting Higgs’ impressive register with aplomb.
“It was based on a classical piece of music that I really liked,” explains Higgs on the origin of ‘Arch Enemy’. “I then transferred the music onto synths and moved things around a bit to make it a little more pop, rather than this huge piece of classical music”. The track follows someone who, while believing to be reaching out to God, is in fact communicating with a more hellish sentient being, touching on the ‘bicameral mind’ motif which permeates the record. Boiling it down, bicameralism is a theory for the creation of consciousness, coined by psychologist Julian Jayne (Westworld fans, you got this). The track, even by Everything Everything standards, is a bit odd. “It was about a guy who’s imagining a fatberg singing to him,” said Higgs. “It’s supposed to be a metaphor for gross stuff, the bad habits that we try to throw away but that come back to get us”.
The video for ‘Arch Enemy’ is as beautifully weird and messed up as you would hope from that overview of the track. It follows the journey of a crazy-frog-looking fatberg, from a city sewer to a sludgy world domination. Higgs was responsible for the computer generated videos which became an enterprising lockdown project.
“I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at first, I learnt it all during COVID,” said Higgs. “I kind of wish I’d been writing music now though because we’ve got to do that in quite a hurry this time”, Higgs continued.
Spearman and Higgs discussed how hurdles like vinyl manufacturing are drastically affecting release dates which is why Higgs regrets spending less time writing music. Essentially there are not enough pressing plants to match the demand for vinyl. “So if you want to make an album that comes out halfway through the year you’ll have to be sending it away six months earlier,” said Higgs. For anyone making a living through music, this is an added stress to an already tough period where live music revenue hasn’t been an option.
With no way to evaluate the success through a crowd’s reaction, the band could only judge the popularity of the latest record through sales and social media. Not knowing which tracks are translating well made it hard to decide on singles. “We don’t always agree on what singles to put out,” said Shearman. “It’s not just singles though, it’s the instant gratifications, you need to be releasing things before the record, because once the album is out, everyone is ready to know what’s next”. Instant gratifications are tracks released prior to the record’s release, used as a promotional tool, particularly effective in the age of streaming. “We released five tracks before the record came out this time, which is a lot,” said Spearman.
The first of these five releases was ‘In Birdsong’, a leftfield introduction to the album, which tries to imagine life as the first self-aware human, heavily pulling on the theory of bicameralism.
“It obviously isn’t representative of the whole record,” said Spearman, but “‘In Birdsong’ was written before the pandemic, and we felt it then became the most relevant”.
Before we wrap up, we travel higher than the birds, venturing into the topic of space. With RE-ANIMATOR having a celestial influence (featuring tracks like ‘Planets’, and ‘Moonlight’) it seemed right to pick the brains of Higgs and Spearman regarding the billionaire space race between Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. “I would love to go to space,” said Spearman, “but going up for three hours is not like walking on the moon.”
“Everything those guys do is ridiculous,” said Higgs. The same comment could easily be said of the band, but there is a key difference as Higgs points out: “They just want to appease their egos”. Higgs on the other hand, seems to travel to other dimensions for inspiration and to appease his curiosity. Everything Everything have mastered the art of translating strange concepts into dance-friendly music, and despite over ten years in the business, the band have proved they can still put on an astronomical performance as they close the weekend at Tramlines with a (big) bang.