AS 2011 hauls itself into life gradually, mimicking the struggle we have to pull ourselves from the gravity of our beds as light slowly begins to dawn earlier and dwindles later, I'm still eking out the last droplets of 2010.
Last year I got to interview, and throw covers at, a lot of my favourite bands from old (Slayer) to new (The Gaslight Anthem). Everything Everything represent a lot of what I adore about quirky pop music - intelligence, full-steam ahead idea factories that damn the consequences of sounding silly or unlike most other quantifiable things. The day in Abbey Road as they recorded some live tracks was a great day for one particular reason and will always be remembered for that but in addition to that special reason, EE proved to be intriguing interviewees, and damn nice to boot.
Read on for the story I hewed from that afternoon.
ALIVE TO EVERYTHING
Everything Everything are a multi-headed chimera, absorbing musical styles into its awesome presence. Playmusic managed to ensnare the Manchester based quartet after their recording for television at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, another symptom of their steady rise this year since their inclusion in the BBC Sound of 2010 poll...
Do you really have the guts to take it all the way? Are you capable of building your skills, your knowledge and your abilities and bringing them with you? Will you have the heart to plough your own furrow until an unstoppable momentum begins to bring you what you wanted over three years ago? Creativity is a torturous ally. It is with you as soon as you're able to identify how to utilise it to your advantage and pleasure, and then sticks with you imploring that you feed it, harvest its wares and use them for whatever ends are available. Everything Everything, have clearly been hounded by their creativity, chased down many corridors and twisting stairs until, finally, they were able to harness it, leash it and train it into the bewildering array of acrobatics it performs on their debut album Man Alive.
“I think a lot of people, including ourselves, look at the band's development and think 'oh they've got some synths now' when it's really not as straight-forward as that. It wasn't a switching on of the light as soon as we got a keyboard in the room. It's all in the writing and the playing and learning how to be more tasteful, how to enjoy the music more in your own playing and how to write more effectively,” explains Jonathan Higgs, who sings lead vocals, plays guitar and synths.
“We've changed a lot musically even though our very first song and single is on there,” says Jeremy Pritchard, who sings and plays bass, about the savage Suffragette Suffragette. “Even at that stage that was the slinkiest thing we had and everything else was spikier and post punky and louder. It does frustrate me that people look at bands and they need that helping hand straight away: is it based with guitars, is it based with synthesizers? We never saw the fucking difference to be honest.” Jeremy briefly cites Kele Okereke and his solo album away from Bloc Party and how “all that band was doing was channelling the spirit of dance music through a kind of punk filter to begin with” so the lauded heavy dance direction was never a surprise in any way. “I think its unimaginative of the press to portray it as a surprise,” he says. And he's right. Dividing music into camps because of the instruments used to craft the music is far too simplistic. Especially if you're trying to pigeonhole a band like Everything Everything.
Instead we'll talk about the stirring synthetic strings that usher in a svelte funk-inspired stew on MY KZ YR BF, all Marr-esque arpeggios before xylophonic cadences flow underneath ping-pong ball vocals that hit pitches at odds with each other. We could yell about the 8-bit synth roll on Photoshop Handsome or the Eno ambient beauty of Tin (The Manhole). Perhaps the baroque harpsichord flavour of Two For Nero strikes an inspired chord or ten while Leave The Engine Room snaps minimalistic megabytes across the triumphant melancholy of Radiohead's Let Down. Creativity is a fickle and demanding pet. The fact is their inspirations may be audible but they've been strained through an amazing amount of opinions, ideas and sudden unpredictable, at times improvised, flourishes.
“Something like QWERTY Finger on the album, I wrote that after seeing Control, the Joy Division film. I just came down thinking I want this really dirty bass riff with that amazing bass sound so I just wrote one,” says Jonathan.
“It was half the speed as well,” pipes up Jeremy, complete with dirge-y sounding slow bass imitation.
“I was massively influenced by that film but the song sounds nothing like them at all.”
“It's filtered so many more times before people get to hear it on a CD,” says Jeremy. “I remember reading about that Radiohead track Exit Music (For A Film) and the rhythm section at the end was like 'let's do something like Portishead' but they couldn't really do it properly so it comes out as its own flavour and that what we do most of the time. We're not deliberately aping other styles.”
As a result of having elements of slick polish across odd clashes of textures and sound, Everything Everything have had some unintentionally hilarious suggestions from those wanting to work with them and their music.
“I remember when we were talking to labels and one of the majors said 'how would you feel about going into the studio with Fraser T Williams?'. A year ago he was the big R & B producer for Tinchy Stryder, N Dubz, Taio Cruz and all that stuff and that is exactly the wrong idea. That was a sort of press angle as far as we could work out. We really like that music and we like to channel some of those features but still...” says Jeremy.
“The end of Schoolin' is kind of a Dr Dre homage which is kind of how it started life,” says Jonathan, carrying on the theme. “But then it's got no harmonic basis at all. There's no home chord there at all. It's sort of in e minor. It's the kind of thing Dre would probably do, but he probably wouldn't put those guitars there.”
“See, you can't go through the whole process from demoing in the bedroom to playing it live to recording and putting it out thinking I want this to sound like...whoever,” says Jeremy. “We don't. That's why it sounds like us.” Jeremy offers to go easy on our slightly banal questioning though: “You have to remember people weren't there when you wrote it,” he admits.
You can sympathise with Jeremy's plight. It's extremely difficult to answer questions about a creative process because people automatically make assumptions about your inspirations, about your working practices based on what they hear in the music. One imagines it becomes a battle to say anything besides 'it just happens and we don't know how' when faced with legions of eager interrogators. Part of what draws us to music is the magic inherent in whatever we listen to. If you can't work out how it was made, it becomes something more than some miraculous composition of chords and a voice. Creativity remains an intricate, almost unexplainable thing. Another example:
Jonathan's extraordinary falsetto-laden vocal lines, scaled further into the Parthenon of amazement by his syllable-spilling, almost cryptic lyrics, sound as much like an instrument as a direct emotional hook to hang songs upon. Nevertheless, he denies that his choice of words are utilised for mere musical device, even occasionally. “No that's something that's appeared in print once or twice before, maybe because of a misquote or something, but I don't really think that at all. I don't use words to fill a gap. I always make sure they mean something as well as having the rhythm. I always make sure the melody is there and sometimes the rhythms get moved along with the lyrics. However, there's a lot of 'oohs' and 'aahs' on the record. Those are definitely instrumental ideas.” Man Alive's most obviously 'rock' moment, QWERTY Finger, jams these oblique sentences - 'We slide in from the epoch of anglo american wire and a saxon spire/glint in the glare far above me - put pressure on it/She collapse me/Man alive, her every ache a baton to me/Age of ending/where's the worth in proving I was here?' - into a vocal that shudders, explodes and smears across at least three separate ideas. It's only when we reach the middle 8 that normality is even approached.
“In some songs the verses in particular are more intense melodramatically and syllable-wise. You still get the occasional chink of light in the tunnel when something more legato will happen and there's examples of that in Photoshop Handsome and Schoolin'. There's just enough breathing space there. You've got to have those things otherwise you don't get the same joy if everything is ridiculously complicated,” admits Jeremy.
“If I keep coming back to something then there's obviously something in it that I'm enjoying myself and hopefully other people who hear it will enjoy as well. But I like complex melody and complex rhythm more than anything. Still, there are times when I had to be talked out of things,” says Jonathan, prompting laughter. “There are times with other parts, like telling Alex (Robertshaw, guitars and vocals) 'you need to play this',” he continues, imitating the sound of a complex arpeggio ascending to the clouds as an example. “Then the response is 'we could do that or we could do something else'. It's a balancing act sometimes. If it's something so full on we try and ease up in the chorus. If it's completely ridiculous then it's no fun for anyone, including me.”
“I don't think we know how to do it.” says Jeremy shrugging. “I think we've got a lucky a few times. As you said it's the balancing act of having the pop appeal and endurance I suppose. It probably has more to do with our musical training than we realise, just having that brain. We came from a classical schooled orchestra background.” Cello, trumpet, violin, piano were all school instruments that specific members learned. It is even mentioned that drummer and vocalist Michael Spearman is the best keys player in the band but is the only member who didn't play keys on the record. “He refuses to do it. He says its like typing to him. There's no art to it,” is the excuse. So, perhaps creativity is a lover who takes you to completely unexpected places the longer you get acquainted.
Everything Everything have long been an intriguing prospect as much for their utter devotion to maintaining control over how they present themselves and their music as for the end result itself. “We made our own videos, artwork and website and that really helped us out,” says Jonathan. The original Photoshop Handsome video, for instance, was made by the band on a tiny budget with the volunteered help of friends, and yet captured the frenetic atmosphere of the song perfectly.
“It gave us an identity. Basically, if you can give a crack at something, you should. You don't need all these professionals. You dilute your own identity each time you get someone else involved. I think that's why we were approached and signed to Geffen. We had proven ourselves to some extent and Geffen wanted us to carry on in the same vein.”
Nevertheless it remains that “songs and music are the most important thing. If you neglect that, take your eye off that for a second and concentrate on the very absorbing business side of things then you'll delay yourselves”.
Creativity waits around for no one, after all. To deliver a debut album of the unrelenting, boundless vision contained on Man Alive was a long process of determination, hard work and bravery, taking their supersonically-sprouting ideas all the way. Oh, and also having the foresight to be able to allow creativity to run at their own pace, or maybe slightly ahead, but not so much that its necessary to catch up and restrain it indefinitely. Instead, its the rest of us who may well need to sprint into Everything Everything's exhilarating proximity.