Hamish MacBain meets the Manchester art-rockers who, try as they might, can’t stop writing radio hits
A few days after I meet Everything Everything, I have a thought about Everything Everything that I’m pretty sure they will not like. And here it is: they bear some similarities to Coldplay. Everything Everything, if you’re reading this, please bear with me.
Both bands were formed at university (EE in Manchester in 2007), with mid-period Radiohead’s challenging, difficult, subversive, wilfully obtuse modus operandi being the primary, key inspiration for the way that they would conduct themselves. They, too, would confuse, confound and challenge with every last chord.
Unfortunately for both Coldplay and for Everything Everything, as weird as they might try to be, they are blessed – or cursed – with singers who are incapable of opening their mouths without emitting solid-gold melodic pop genius. (Hyperbolic? Us? Never.) Coldplay’s, like it or not, you will know. Everything Everything’s, though it may not have sold in such vast quantities, is there in all that they have done: from 2009’s Photoshop Handsome, through the beautiful chorus of Kemosabe in 2013 and right up to now and the utterly unavoidable Distant Past.
The single, Distant Past, came out in February, but is still everywhere. All over the radio, primed for inclusion in all that festival coverage you are about to watch on TV over the next few months. Your mum probably loves it, too. It might well be about the end of civilisation as we know it, and have verses that verge on the impenetrable, but when the cheese-house stabs and soaring falsetto come in on the chorus, it is, unmistakably, “a banger”. A maddeningly infectious summer smash. A pop masterpiece.
“We were aware pretty early that it had that potential,” says lead singer Jonathan Higgs. “And we were wary of it, actually. Because it takes a lot of slices of the… sh*t music pie. So we were really, really adamant, say, that we weren’t gonna play a synth where you expect to hear one: we were gonna play it all on guitars, the big sort of dancey thing. Although people still go, ‘I love the house piano!’ We’re like, ‘There isn’t a f*cking house piano!’”
“We worked really hard to not have a house piano in it,” continues bassist Jeremy Pritchard. “And yet it still evokes that mood. Which I’m fine with, really. I just didn’t want it to sound that way. I think that the way we actually executed it, in the end, was really good. A good way to flirt with that music.”
They are right. And this is where the true majesty of Everything Everything starts, and where the (OK: now I admit, spurious) similarities with Coldplay stop. Because Coldplay, even when they’ve got Brian Eno on the payroll, are absolutely rubbish at being weird (see: their last album), Everything Everything are always absolutely brilliant at being weird. As brilliant at being weird as they are at being poptastic. In fact, they blend genuine weirdness with genuine pop genius like no band since Talking Heads.
Actually, Talking Heads is a much, much better comparison. Can we just forget those last few paragraphs ever happened?
NEW WEIRD ORDER
Everything Everything’s new album, their third, is called Get To Heaven. For all its melodic mastery – see new single Regret for more evidence of this – it is a dense, head-spinningly odd album, whose dark lyrics concern the many evils of the modern world, from Isis to Ukip to other dangerous institutions not represented by four letters (they had finished recording by the time the Fifa thing happened). Adding to the deeply unsettling mood is the fact that a lot of the songs are sung from the point of view of the aggressors they portray. On No Reptiles, for example, Jon sings, “I’m going to kill a stranger.”
“There’s also one line in particular in that song that, even at the live shows, has really resonated with people: people who’ve not heard it before,” reveals Jeremy. “Partly because it’s so exposed in the track but also because it’s so… unavoidable, I think, and absurd, and funny and sad, and horrifying. The line is, ‘It’s all right to be a fat child in a pushchair. Old enough to run, old enough to fire a gun.’ There are kind of pauses within the line, so you can literally hear the crowd sort of snigger. And then everybody’s faces look kind of ashen at the end of it. And that’s a really powerful moment.”
“I wrung my hands over that line for ages,” admits Jonathan. “And even showing it to the guys I wasn’t sure. And even they weren’t sure. But we stuck with it. You’ve got to wonder whether people are gonna get it in the same way as you get it, and obviously not everyone’s going to, but I think enough people have that it’s worked. We’ve kind of pulled it off. And that means suddenly you’ve got a great lyric rather than loads of quite good ones.”
This is just one of many great (often indecipherable) lines on a confident album whose biggest success lies in the fact that it is political in an observant rather than preachy kind of a way.
“People just switch off with that,” says guitarist Alex Robertshaw. “It’s more observational than trying to tell you what you should be doing. The general topics that the record is covering, if you were to set out your stall in that way, then you would run the risk of being preachy. It would become an overtly political record.”
PRICE IS RIGHT
The music, too, is as chaotic as the scenarios it documents. Everything Everything do not like being pigeonholed as a guitar band (Jonathan: “There’s nothing lazier. It’s like saying, ‘Plumbing house’”), and, while they use guitars a lot, it isn’t close to the traditional ways of their would-be peers.
But for all of their obtuseness, proof positive that Everything Everything are pop melodists as much as art-rock dissidents comes with their choice of producer for Get To Heaven. That being Stuart Price, whose previous clients include Scissor Sisters, The Killers at their most commercial (he did the “Are we human or are we dancer?” song) and – most successfully – Madonna, with whom he crafted the ABBA-sampling, chart-eating monster that was Hung Up.
Jeremy admits the band had reservations: “We thought, ‘How the hell is this gonna work? The Scissor Sisters guy?’ But we sent him something that we recorded ourselves – which was Regret – and he made it sound so bright and vital and tough. He reassured us about our concerns over its traditionalism, because we were feeling a bit paranoid about that. And he just showed us that we didn’t need to be.”
“He’s just confident in himself and his own intuitions,” says drummer Michael Spearman. “And that brushed off on us. Going, ‘Really? Can we do that?’ He gave us the confidence to go, ‘We’re gonna just do that.’”
This influence came at the right time, too. A time when, as Jeremy puts it, Everything Everything have “grown out of the furious, ‘we must be iconoclastic at all costs’ attitude. We’re just a bit older now and less self-conscious,” he shrugs.
“I used to try to make choruses have loads of complexity,” says Jonathan. “And I realised that isn’t what anyone wants. They just want ‘I love you’ in the chorus, and the verse is where you can have your freedom. But our concerns are less to do with trying to be original all the time. We care a lot less about those things, actually.”
RADIO GONE GAGA
Whether they are trying to or not, one thing is certain. At a time when what you’d collectively call indie bands are perpetually moaning about a lack of radio support, Everything Everything are all over the airwaves. And in fact, without much trouble, always have been. “We did a festival the other day,’” says Jonathan, “and I remarked that there was only one song in the set that wasn’t a Radio 1-playlisted single. And that’s amazing. We’ve got all that history: all those songs that were deemed good enough to be on the radio.”
In the time it has taken me to write the words on this page, I have heard Distant Past twice, without putting it on myself. How are they doing this? How is it that the UK’s weirdest, most interesting band are also its most radiophonically viable? For the sake of any budding art-pop bands who might be reading, what is the secret?
Jonathan shrugs, and then smiles: “You tell me, man!”
“We don’t really understand why we’re allowed through the door,” continues Jeremy. “We’re just glad that we are.”
But Alex has a suggestion: “What I hope they like about us is that we’re doing a slightly more interesting thing than normal. If we were to literally put all our eggs in one basket and say, ‘We’re a radio band now, we should make big pop songs’, I think we’d drop off the radar very quickly.
“But it is quite weird that they let us on. When you actually look down the playlists, you think, ‘What the hell are we doing there, next to that?’”
Get To Heaven is out on 22 June
(Images: Mike Massaro/Getty)