Manchester puzzle pop experimentalists Everything Everything returned with second album Arc which was released on Monday (14 January). Boasting more melodies, and dare we say it, pop hooks than their fascinating and acclaimed debut Man Alive, the band’s frontman Jonathan Higgs and bassist Jeremy Pritchard sat down to explain how they’ve this time around they’ve created a record for mind body and soul.
How the devil are you all?
Jonathan Higgs: “Fine thanks”
Jeremy Pritchard: “We’re champing at the bit really with the album.”
Did you have something particular in mind for this album when you started writing?
JH: “There were places we wanted to go. I’d always wanted to do something with more orchestral elements and that came out all in one go, I wrote a song and then wrote all these string parts and arranged it ourselves. That was something we’d always wanted to do and there were loads of things we’d never got round to on the first album. Just trying to make stronger songs really and going through the process of rewriting, reshuffling things. Rethinking things instead of assuming it was right because it came out that way. That was our creative process first time round. This time it was, No, slow down, this could be better. It felt a lot more like we worked on this record. Last time we just recorded it.”
JP: “You don’t know you’re making your first album, you’re writing songs because you’re in a band and you want to play some gigs. Suddenly you’ve got 12 songs and you’re contracted to make an album. Whereas this time we’ve been through the process and we wanted to make a complete piece of work. Though I do think Man Alive works as a whole and we worked hard on making it cohesive.”
JH: “It’s almost impressionist or Jackson Pollock, let’s just do it! This time we thought more about how we wanted to sculpt it.”
Did that mean you were more self-critical while making this album?
JH: “We were more self-critical but that came in the period after Man Alive. By the time it came to writing this album we were a hell of a lot more confident about everything. All the stuff you worry about on a first record we drilled out of ourselves. We thought, That wasn’t so bad, we got a Mercury nomination [laughs]. We learnt to calm down a bit and trust ourselves and enjoy it more.”
JP: “That’s to say we didn’t have the usual moments of crisis in the creative process that everyone does. We’d phone each other and go Is it Shit?”
JH: “It’s not that it was, but you have to go there to come back…”
J: “As the Stereophonics once wisely said.” [both laugh]
There seems to be more confidence in the melodies on this album. On your debut you changed time signatures often…
JP: “Yeah. We were so afraid of doing anything that could be seen as cliché or boring; to stay in one place for more than ten seconds. I think we were right to do that then, to give ourselves options.”
JH: “We’d have hated ourselves if we’d made this record back then. In the time that’s passed we’ve got it out of our system more. It’s a lot to do with confidence. I was definitely trying to hide behind a lot of distraction in lyrics, changing my voice, changing styles every two seconds: a look over here, look over there sort of thing. This record is a lot more: Don’t look over there, look here! I’m not trying to hide any more. We’re on the cover of the album, we’re a lot more open: this is who we are, this is what we do. We’re probably still weirder than 40 percent of bands, but for us it’s a lot more open. In a way the first album was too personal. It was so idiosyncratic you’d have to be me to know what was going on a lot of the time. This one is far more logical. It should make a lot more sense to people.”
JP: “For the people we were, for the band we were, at the time it was the right thing to do. This is the right thing to do now and in two years time we’ll want to do something else.”
And it’s still an Everything Everything album.
JP: “Exactly, it’s not a shock to the system. We’ve elaborated on our best points.”
Man Alive always seemed like going for a walk. The first time youweren’t sure about the landmarks, but as you got more familiar with it you could appreciate the sights as you came across them. It feels like this time you might spot things first time round.”
JP: “Yeah, that feels right, but hopefully it still has enough to reveal itself too. If you spend time with it you should be really rewarded by it.”
JH: “I think emotionally you get to a level you didn’t quite get to before because we were so cryptic. This one, emotionally, you’ll get easily.”
Are you nervous at all by being so open?
JP: “I was thinking the other day I can’t go and buy the single because my face is on the cover.”
JH: “I actually had the opposite experience. I was in a shop and went, This please sir, and he just went, Cheers mate. [laughs] I guess we’re a little bit nervous, but that came after the record. It wasn’t like someone said to us we needed to do it.”
JP: “The thing I love about all my favourite bands is they have a visual identity. They had the gang thing you could buy into, there’s something nice about belonging to that and the way people can belong to it too. The best bands inspire people, even though they can be massive they still feel like a private thing.”
Lyrically it’s a lot more open too. What emotionally did you want to get across?
JH: “It’s everything you can imagine, except perhaps joy [laughs]. It drifts through anger, chaos and then absolute sadness then there’s a bit of don’t worry about it, a slap on the back kind of thing. It goes there. The end of The House Is Dust is intimate in a way we’ve never done before. It is darker. There are plenty of songs about dark things. If I was to read all the lyrics out you’d think I was a pretty sad person. That’s partly true, but it’s what I want to write about a lot of the time. It’s on my mind, it’s on a lot of people’s minds.”
Particular issues you’re concerned about?
JH: “The record is too big to contain the scale of… I’m a bit of a dreamer and the record is looking at the whole of humankind from start to finish and imagining where we’re going, looking back at where we’ve come from. At the same time I’m looking at my own life and what I’m doing. The idea of having peaks and troughs. It’s about the journey really. It’s about imagining if you could stand at the end of time and look at what we’ve achieved when we’re all gone. Was it any good or worth it? The biggest questions of all. Yet underlying that there’s the current malaise, the recession, anger, Tory government, environmental disasters. It’s very doom laden! It’s also a warning/plea to a teenage version of myself, like all my songs.”
JH: Well Don’t Try is me talking to my younger self saying don’t try to hide your feelings, don’t bother with that it will have you in the end so don’t waste your life doing that. That’s how we sign off the record. But pretty much every song we’ve ever written is to my younger self.”
Is the idea of standing at the end of time where Arc itself comes from? You start with nothing, end with nothing and in the middle there’s the peak of existence?
JH: “Exactly! Just looking at where we are on the crest. Are we about to go up or about to go down? We can’t possibly know and that fascinates me. When we peak, where did humanity get to? We’ll only be able to measure it at the end and obviously I can’t know that. It’s fascinating.”
One thing we do know, is that the letters EE are everywhere right now thanks to yourselves, Kevin Bacon and a certain mobile phone network. Is that a good omen for Arc?
JP: “It’s just annoying. We get one tweet at day to @E_E_ saying Why can’t I get coverage in Lincoln? [laughs] It’s a bit close for comfort, though it might be a good sign.”
JH: “Well Tesco’s short-lived Man Alive magazine did us wonders! [laughs] I can’t believe were actually worried about that.”