Fresh from a stadium tour supporting Muse, Manchester-based, art-pop quartet Everything Everything are back with Arc, the follow-up to their Mercury Prize-nominated debut. Front man Jonathan Higgs took time out to tell us all about it.
Congratulations on Arc! It’s been finished for some time, hasn’t it?
Yeah, it’s been about eight months since we finished it, so we’ve been sat with it in our hands, waiting for it to come out. We’ve been trying not to p*ss everyone off by teasing them about it, but at the same time we want people to get excited by it, so it’s been hard to find a balance.
Have you been dropping the new material into your live sets?
Yeah, we’ve been letting [the new songs] creep out of the box slowly, over the last year, and they’ve been going down really well. We’ve done a couple of arena tours with much bigger bands and some of the stuff on this record seems to work really well in those big rooms. But there are still a few songs we’ve never played live.
Sonically, it’s pretty complex stuff – do you write with live performances in mind?
The vast majority was played live and then there are two or three songs that we worked on in the studio. But, yeah, we always try to keep the majority live so that we don’t become one of those weird bands that puts a CD on and mimes, y’know?
We’ve changed things up recently and got a keyboard player for the live shows, because I thought it was a bit weird to be stood behind a keyboard the whole time. I’ve been trying to be more of a front man, so I’m just running around like a fool on stage!
So how long did Arc take to write in total?
There are differing opinions on this. Essentially, we were writing Arc as soon as Man Alive came out, in dribs and drabs on my laptop, whenever I felt inspired. But we got our teeth into it in the rehearsal room about a year ago. That’s the way it works: as soon as your album’s out, you’re heading towards the next. Technically, we’re working on our third album now, although you probably won’t hear it for another three years… (Laughs)
Have you written much for the next record?
No, I think I’ve written maybe two things, and I don’t think they’re good enough. (Laughs)
A lot of ideas get discarded, then?
Yeah, sometimes we’ll like a section of a song and then that gets put in the pile. And later we might feel that a song needs one extra thing to keep it interesting, so we’ll go back and look at what we’ve got, try to bend it to fit, and more often than not we can get that to work. Trying to make things work musically that shouldn’t – or didn’t originally – is really fun sometimes, and you end up with a really cool new thing you’d never have thought of. It keeps us on our toes, musically.
Are there songs on this record that came out of that kind of process?
Yeah, there are. The chorus of ‘Armourland’ was this joke-thing written when we were making Man Alive, one time when we were really drunk and messing around with instruments. But we never forgot that little hook and we came back to it literally years later because we thought it would go really well with the verse. We dusted it off and tried to play it, and it just came off in a really cool way.
How do you feel you’ve progressed artistically since your debut?
It’s hard to look at it objectively, but I think the main thing for us is that our confidence to be ourselves has grown a hell of a lot since the first album. The attitude we had as writers back then – where we were always trying to be surprising – was a bit scatterbrained, really.
This time round, we felt like we didn’t need to hide behind distractions so much, and that we could be closer to the listeners in a more emotional way. The last album was for the brain and this one’s for the heart. We’re trying to show listeners who we are this time, and that’s why we put ourselves on the cover of the record.
Did the critical acclaim Man Alive received give you confidence too?
I guess so, but it’s hard because if you get complacent about things and think that everything you do is great, then you just make crap. (Laughs) And likewise, if you go against everything you’ve done before, there’s no reason for it.
We made Man Alive because we thought it was good and that’s what we did with this one. We knew we’d just end up making something terrible if we tried to recapture anything or please any particular group of people, like critics.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted the record to sound?
Yeah, definitely. We wanted the drums to sound live because we thought they were too robotic on the first record; we wanted it to sound a little less polished in general; we wanted it to sound bigger; we wanted it to be less frenetic and more focussed. Lyrically, I wanted it to be easier for people to tell what I was talking about.
Can you tell us about some of the themes on the record please?
There are a few, but there’s generally this sense of looking back on humans from the distant future and weighing up the good and bad that we did. It all falls on the side of the bad, really…
There’s stuff that ties in with the riots, the fall of capitalism, the recession and all sorts of things linked to this period of time. But it keeps jumping between my small, insignificant life now, to the big picture, looking at all of mankind and where we’re going and where we came from. That’s the idea behind the title: it’s the arc of life and of time, and the question is, “Are we heading up or down the curve?”
We’re particularly curious about ‘Torso Of The Week’. Can you explain what that one’s about please?
It’s kind of a snide look at magazine culture, a bit like ‘Photoshop Handsome’. The way we pressure ourselves to look a certain way is something that never leaves my mind, really, but it was inspired by this time last year where I was spending a fair amount of time in the gym.
I was there and I’d be watching these silent people on the treadmill in the middle of the night, just trudging along with blank expressions, chasing the ideal of getting this “torso of the week”. I mean, being on a treadmill is a symbol that people have used many times before – doing something that has no point to it because you’re not actually gaining any ground – but it still struck me as quite strange, with this real sadness to it.
Were there any key musical reference points for the album?
We all took a step back from listening, because I think you get a bit music-ed out when you’re working hard in the rehearsal room. And quite often, you can accidentally copy other people’s music if you’ve listened to a new album the day before, or end up worrying that your music doesn’t fit in with what else is going on in the industry. I think it’s good to escape from everything else when you’re writing, and to look to yourselves for inspiration. Since we finished recording, I got into the new St Vincent record, and I really like new Dutch Uncles album as well.
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
I think I’m proudest of ‘Duet’ because I’ve always been trying to write a classic tune, and I feel as though that’s the closest I’ve gotten. I’m really proud of how “pop” it is and yet I think it’s really strong in every way. And I think the lyrics are accessible but there’s a lot of meaning in them too.
Having been nominated for the Mercury Prize previously, does it matter to you that Arc’s nominated too?
No, it doesn’t. Obviously, it’d be absolutely amazing if it was, but we’ve had that experience already so we’re already doing far better than most. There are a million bands who would love a nomination, so give it to them.
Whose approval do you seek?
Erm, it’d be nice if Radiohead gave us a call one day.
For a collaboration or just to say “You’re great”?!
Either, I think. Though, I think me and Thom Yorke on the same track would just be confusing. (Laughs)
You supported Muse at the end of last year. How was that?
That was cool. They were really nice guys; very laidback and quite down to earth, which you might not necessarily think by looking at them. We were big fans of theirs when we were teenagers so that was quite surreal to be playing on the same stage, and hanging out with them. That was one of those moments where we were like “Oh, maybe we are a band, finally…”
What is your ultimate ambition for Everything Everything?
I guess I’d like to keep doing it for as long as it feels good and listeners like it. That’s all you can hope for.
So what’s the plan for the rest of 2013? Will you be playing Glastonbury?
Touring, promotion, making some more videos and being a band again. I imagine we’ll play Glastonbury but we don’t know for definite yet.
Finally, which album are you most looking forward to hearing this year?
I’m actually very interested in the David Bowie album that’s just been announced. Obviously, I’m looking forward to Atoms For Peace, because I’m a massive Radiohead fan. And I’m interested to see what Foals do next, definitely.