Playing a triumphant gig at New York's Bowery Ballroom last month, Manchester-based rockers Everything Everything deftly proved their mettle as one of Britain's most thrilling young bands, assertively leaping from arena-worthy anthems ("Duet") to tonque-twisting raps ("Photoshop Handsome") to soulful stretches of dystopian angst ("The Peaks").
Surprisingly, the ambitious group's spirited Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Man Alive, never received a proper Stateside release. Fortunately, the quartet's confident second album Arc — released in the U.K. in January — will finally get a much-overdue release in the U.S. later this spring or summer on RCA Records. For the moment, Everything Everything has an EP, Cough Cough, available for frustrated American fans. Far luckier British followers can catch Everything Everything play a sold out gig with Two Door Cinema Club at Alexandra Palace on April 27 and take on various U.K. festivals this May.
The band — singer and guitarist Jonathan Higgs, bassist Jeremy Pritchard, drummer Michael Spearman, guitarist Alex Robertshaw and touring keyboardist Peter Sené — got slightly lost on their way to the Bronx, but you can hear Everything Everything's short-but-sweet session on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, April 12, at 11 a.m. EDT, also streaming online.
Below, watch Everything Everything perform "Cough Cough" and "Kemosabe" in Studio A.
Kara Manning: Your 2010 album Man Alive — Mercury Prize and Ivor Novello nominated — never got a proper release in the States.
Jonathan Higgs: No, nobody wanted it. That’s basically why we’ve been away for so long. There was nothing here to play. We can’t really account for that. There was a really terrible review on Pitchfork that might have something to do with it. If you’re a small, indie-ish label in this country and I imagine if you’ve got to sell a fairly hyped British band, you kind of need Pitchfork and I think that was a kind of spanner in the works for the people who were interested in the album to begin with. I can kind of see what happened.
Kara: They were kinder to you this time around. Brand new album is Arc which came out in January in the UK but it doesn’t come out here until the spring. You have an EP out now.
Jonathan: Yes, Cough Cough. It’s basically it’s some taster bits from the first record and this second album. Like the Beatles did! Just amalgamate two albums and put that out as a U.S. release! That was the idea.
Kara: On Man Alive, there was something more busy, frenetic and muscular about that record. Arc is more tender, more contemplative. You wanted to change your sound?
Jonathan: We wanted to change our approach. The way we were communicating to listeners. The sound is virtually identical and a lot of things are very much the same, but our attitude changed, I think. Our self-confidence grew hugely and we didn’t find it such a struggle. We didn’t feel we had to cover everything in detail and try to trip ourselves up the whole time. Our fear of being a cliché or being too traditional or being boring. The first time around we thought that was the worst possible thing to be and we wanted to destroy our songs halfway through each one!
Jeremy Pritchard: Before they started to enjoy ....
Jonathan: Yeah, take each one and take them elsewhere because we could and we thought that was exciting. Because it is exciting. We still find that very interesting.
Kara: In interviews, though, you also said that Man Alive felt for you, unformed in some ways. You have trouble listening to it? Or was that taken out of context?
Jonathan: That’s been said to me a few times now and I don’t think I actually said it, but I think I was getting out the fact that once you’ve made a record, I don’t think it’s very healthy to continue to be in love with it. Right now, I don’t think Arc is as exciting as I did six months ago and hopefully I’ll continue to feel that way. Whereas I’m starting to get back into Man Alive!
Jeremy: Your relationship changes with the songs change all the time!
Jonathan: If you thought, right, that’s the best thing I’ve heard in my life, I did it, good night! Then it would be pointless to do anything else! I want to do something better than Arc now. I’m getting hungry again and thinking I could do better. It’s absolutely healthy so that’s probably what I was saying about Man Alive, that I don’t really listen to it now because that was a year ago. I think when you’ve created something and you get very close to it, for a while it’s the best thing you’ve ever heard. And then, pretty quickly, you think, "I’ve got to get over that now."
Kara: When I first saw the video to “Cough Cough” last fall, it reminded me of the summer riots that happened in 2011 in the UK. Manchester was hard hit, where you’re from. I read, after the fact, that [the riots were almost a catalyst]. When I interviewed you for TAS over email a couple of years ago, you’d said that a lot of the new songs were leaning in a direction of hip-hop or dance, but the songs on Arc do feel more tender.
Jonathan: That’s interesting. I think of Arc being more R&B or hip-hop, but aggressive ... I don’t know. I think it is in places. Lyrically it’s angrier. But it’s performed in a bit more of a subtle way. It’s more palatable, it’s not obvious. It is like that in parts, but it’s more feminine — that might be the word. It’s a bit more considered, it’s a bit more of a sit-down record as a start-a-riot record. Not in the way that it’s boring, but in “let’s think about things.”
Kara: You’re not afraid of being political. Were the riots a catalyst?
Jonathan: They were something I kept touching back to, because they were so present, in our faces. [They were] certainly in the news for a big part of 2011 and afterwards. We saw it and we were there and it was happening in our streets. It felt very real. There were all these things going on in the world — the Arab Spring, people not having a good time — and this was our tiny version of it. Yeah, I think it made the troubles of the world very real for a short period and then everyone forgot about it.
Kara: There’s a dystopian sense to songs like “The Peaks” or “The House is Dust.” Did you [want to be] more political on this album?
Jonathan: I’m not more political, certainly, but I’m less afraid to make it clear, I guess. That’s all to do with the whole confidence thing that changed between the first and second albums. I’m still, by no means, an overconfident guy, but I became less afraid of saying what I wanted to. I guess it was a realization that people are listening to us and it does matter. I’ve got this platform and I might as well use it instead of shrouding it in mystery and making everyone think I was clever. Why not actually try to communicate to people? That was the big change, I think.
Kara: How do you bring in ideas to the balance of the band?
Jeremy: For the most part, Jonathan writes on a guitar or piano and transfers that basic harmonic or rhythmic idea into a laptop. That will either be one section or two little sections, back to back or looped. We didn’t have whole songs come in and we worked them up into full songs and restructured and arranged them together. We’d done that for some of Man Alive, but for some of it, we’d taken the demos wholesale and dressed them up. So we worked much harder collectively on songs this time and honed them. We’re very aware, having been through the entire process of making an album from start to finish once before, that certain things were going to be asked of us and we could buck those questions or be ready for that. So rather than write a four-and-a-half minute song and say, “This is the first single” and have to find a minute to take out of it for radio, we could like it as much as the long version if we cut that minute out on our own terms and not make it a compromise. Make it something that we still like. So we were whittling everything down, honing the parts and playing in much larger rooms as well.
Kara: You used Elbow’s studio.
Jonathan: We did. Which is a really big old warehouse, an old mill in Salford. You can’t really be too busy in there because it all gets lost in the space above your head. You can really hear the room on the recordings. We did a lot of writing, arranging, basic demo recordings and playing as a live band in there. That did inform the sound a bit and it certainly informed the arrangment.
Kara: You’re also ruthless about chucking songs to the side that you don’t think will work.
Jonathan: Sort of. We kind of know.
Jeremy: You know when there’s a spark in a song.
Jonathan: You have to do that. You have to get into the habit of doing it, even if the thing you’re working on is not brilliant. We were out of the habit of writing by some 18 months while we were touring Man Alive. We were sort of the jukebox band.
Jeremy: There’s also the fact that you might have a song and the verse is amazing and the chorus isn’t. We’d play it and play it going, “This is so amazing!” But we’d never get there. So we don’t just chuck the whole thing, we’ll just put the chorus to the side and then later, we might need a verse and go, “What about that amazing thing we had three months ago?” We’ll try it out, change the key, change the tempo, change the feel and sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s something you never would have thought of and this amazing alchemy happens.
Kara: You worked with David Kosten again, who worked with you on Man Alive. Did you feel that he was working with you quite differently [on Arc]?
Jonathan: It’s hard to say because I think he wanted to do all of this stuff the first time around, but we weren’t hearing him. I think we had to make that record the way we did, the first one. You couldn’t have told us otherwise. We wouldn’t have known to do otherwise. A lot of bands don’t get the chance to make a second one, unfortunately. I think it’s very important to let a band do what they want first time around.
Jeremy: Which we were allowed to do.
Jonathan: In terms of David, we felt like we had some unfinished business, really, in terms of some of the places we wanted to go sonically or in styles or to have really strong songs for radio. He always erred on the side of wanting and we’d go, “No! That’s stupid! We want to do THIS!”
Jeremy: And he’d have to let us (laughs). We all wanted the same things out of it. We talked about using different producers, we had a meeting with one other guy and realized, immediately, while this other guy was sat in front of us, that he had none of the backstory that David had with us. None of the understanding and three-year run up that we’d had with David.
Jonathan: Purely because he hadn’t been there (laughs).
Jeremy: Everyone else was at a distinct disadvantage with us. Over half of the job, if you’re producing Everything Everything, is an understanding of the dynamic and man management and managing the relationship. As far as the songs go, we’re pretty autonomous. Hence, the fact that it’s credited as David Kosten and Everything Everything. At his behest.
Kara: What is the dynamic?
Jeremy: Whatever Mike the drummer says, goes.
Jonathan: I just think that we’re difficult to work with, frankly. We’re quite stubborn — individually and collectively. It’s difficult to manage that ... or can be.
Jeremy: Attention to detail. Anal.
Jonathan: That’s the one!