There was one particularly strange lyric on the new Everything Everything album that even frontman Jonathan Higgs had concerns over.
One of the best tracks on the new record, 'No Reptiles' is built around the following refrain. "It's alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair / Old enough to run / Old enough to fire a gun." It wasn't until the band's played it to Radio One's Huw Stephens and then to a devoted crowd at London's Oval Space that his mind was put at rest. "People were singing every word. That was when I knew that we'd hit the nail on the head," Higgs tells Gigwise. "With that song in particular I wasn't sure how people were going to react. We've never had full on belly laugh before."
Higgs explains the band are still reeling from how well their new material has been received. "We played Liverpool Sound City a couple of days ago and we finished the set with 'Distant Past'. It was the absolutely by far and away the biggest response we got." To mark the release of their complex and compelling album Get To Heaven, the frontman discusses the influence of producer Stuart Price, what he wants from the new Radiohead record and whether the band sound like 'Baroque Obama'.
Gigwise: What was the most surreal conversation you had with Stuart Price during the making of the record?
Jonathan Higgs: They are pretty much all unprintable. He had so many amazing stories. There was one about Sean Connery...oh God I can't tell you! We did talk a bit about Madonna - he wasn't cagey per se but he only had very positive things to say which was a little bit boring. We were trying to get something juicy out of him.
He's a very surreal guy. We talk a lot of bollocks as a band and he just fitted right into that. That was one of his main strengths: his ability to become one of us very quickly. Within an afternoon he was cracking jokes that we found hilarious that were pretty weird. They're unrepeatable because they're about anal sex and stuff like that - which you don't really want to hear...
Did he play you anything strange musically?
He said that his favourite band was The Pixies which did surprise us a bit. It's not a very strange record but that was very unexpected. One of the things that happened musically was we send him a song that we were working on called 'Hapsburg Lip' which didn't make the proper record in the end but did make the deluxe. It was arguably our heaviest, most aggressive thing we've ever done: it was very Yeezus inspired, had this really big dirty bass riff, pounding drums and a snarling rap over the top. It was about nepotism and rich people being corrupt and deformed.
We sent this to him in LA and he said "Yeah, I'll work on it." He sent it back and he'd removed the drums that we'd work on and replaced it with a "reggae beat". He removed the hardcore synths and put a reggae bassline in there. He was dead serious about it and said "I've tried something new here guys."
It was just the worst song you could ever do that to. Our most aggressive political tune ever and he just made this soft reggae out of it. We said "Stuart! What the fuck is this?" It was one of the first things he'd done for us and I thought "Oh my God guys who are we working with here. This is the worst thing I've ever heard." We challenged him on it and he said "Oh yeah it was just a joke guys, just a joke." I've never known if it was or not because he's got this incredible ability to be 50 things at once. If we said "We want to make a reggae album" I'm sure he could have made one. If we wanted to make a slinky pop record, Madonna style, he could have made one instantly. But one of his great strengths is he can do, it would appear, pretty much anything.
During the recording process the band described the sound of Get To Heaven as 'Baroque Obama'. Do you think you achieved this?
Yes. There's some black hip-hop moments and there's quite a lot of classical guitar - very picky, very melodic. It's pretty "Baroque Obama" I'd say. It's where Bach meets Jay Z. Well not Jay Z because he sucks, but someone better than him...
You recently described the Blur reunion in one interview as "They have a cheese guy on the bass, and some Labour MP on the drums". How did you feel about Blur's return?
I am in two minds. Our bass player Jeremy is extremely into Blur and the whole thing: he's got the new record, he's going to see them etc. I'm happy they've got a happy ending - that's what it is we're looking at. I don't think they're going to continue much further. I'm pleased for them because I always felt a bit sorry for the way it ended for them. I'm very glad they're back. I think I have listened to the record but I'm more concerned that they are friends again and the fact that they're making music again and have got this history. I like to imagine getting to their age and not having any massive fallouts with the guys. Having that shared history is an amazing feeling and we've only got a fraction of what they have. They must have some really great times together I think.
You directed the video for 'Distant Past': what was the hardest thing to get right?
I wanted to present us in a way we hadn't before. I didn't want us to be playing instruments and I asked everybody to stay really still and not have expressions and basically look a bit foolish. I wasn't sure whether this stuff of us leaning and bending was going to be too stupid for people and they'd laugh it out the room.
It worked: people liked it. It wasn't a difficult a video to make, partly because I'd been thinking about that idea for a long time - a couple of years probably. I always wanted to make a chase video and always wanted to make something prehistoric. It seemed to combine in that song and was obvious to me that's what I would do. So I just needed to find a couple of guys who were willing to beat each other up and some good costumes. Then it was very simple: just chase him, fight, chase, fight. It's such a primal activity that you can't help be interested in watching it.
That's what I've been learning over the past few years: what people want to see in videos is usually sex or death. And I'm pretty sure I'm not going anywhere near sex... it's not really what we do. We're British and the music is not really appropriate. That's probably why a lot of violence has crept in. It's what makes the world go round in lots of different ways.
Which other music video has impressed you recently?
I don't think I'm alone in saying Sia's recent string of videos have been incredible, the best thing in a long time I think by anyone. That whole campaign centred around the blonde wig, it's all so simple and the repetition. The little girl though: genuinely draw dropping. I don't even know how to describe that little girl's performance in all the videos: it's amazing.
Do you approve of Shia Labeouf?
Of course. I don't have a problem with him at all. I think he's a pretty interesting guy. I mean he's mental obviously but I don't think he's a bad actor. I haven't seen the Transformers films - and he was awful in Indiana Jones - but hey ho he was good in this.
One of your influences for Get To Heaven was Suicide's 'Frankie Teardrop'. There seem to be a lot of connections with uncomfortableness, bigger topics, being in character...
It was all those things. That was a song my friend who used to be the guitarist when we first started in our band once played me on vinyl with the lights off. I was just like "What the hell is this"' Genuinely scary music! And I don't remember being genuinely scared by music ever before or since. The feeling of what's he going to go next, what's he going to say next, what's going to happen. It's a song: I shouldn't be feeling like this.
The fact that it's got that drum machine playing a kick and a hat at the same time which is quite unusual. It's just this shitty little sound but its incessant and that bassline just swirms in and out of your mind. The fact it doesn't have any structure but it has this really uneasy feeling - it could potentially go on forever because it doesn't have any rules.
I really like that feeling and I've tried to use similar drum effects in 'No Reptiles' on the record - it's got a very similar drum sound. Obviously our songs are way more structured but I wanted this feeling of the drum machine in the dark and the horror of his flatback echo on his vocal and that feeling of "What's he going to say next? What's going to happen next?"
Our interpretation is far more positive and uplifting then that song is but I wanted to start where he is and then make everything ok. That's what happens in 'No Reptiles' - I wanted a happy ending for Frankie Teardrop.
Given how complicated and elusive some of the lyrics are, does it really matter if the audience don't know what they mean?
It matters to me but I can't speak for people who listen to us. I think some people come to us and don't listen to the lyrics at all. Some people come just for the lyrics. Obviously it matters a great deal for me and I hate the feeling of putting out throwaway lyrics and lyrics that mean nothing. That just feels like such a wasted opportunity. There are so many hundreds and thousands of people who would love to have this job and this opportunity to speak their mind and I do think about an awful lot of things. I have this opportunity and I think it would be such a crime to just talk about getting pissed or a girl I like or some crap like that. It's just boring for everyone. I've got this one chance to communicate with people and I try and use it as fully as I can. I try and use it to talk about everything, including my feelings and my personal life. For me, they are hugely important and I can't really enjoy a band if the lyrics are bad. I can't get past it. But perhaps that's just my musical upbringing that's lead me to that.
Who do you hold up as the gold standard lyrically?
Arcade Fire have got it right so many times. They can get a bit too vague sometimes but their general mindset and sentiment is very much in line with mine. I think Vampire Weekend has got a real great wit that I admire an awful lot. Obviously Thom Yorke - although he can be too oblique sometimes. Somewhere between those three you get us.
Radiohead are in the studio. What are you hoping for the new record?
I'd like just a very solid musical record from them. I've grown a bit tired of the convention busting approach. I think the last one wasn't particularly good but In Rainbows was amazing. I like them to play to their strengths: I don't think they need to mess with things like melody and stuff like that. Just do a good song guys - I'd appreciate that much more than any number of experimental drum tracks, although obviously there is a place for that. I'm not sure it's there job any more to do that: they've done all that, they're proved themselves. I just want them to write some strong great songs.
You've said that Get To Heaven is a particularly angry record. Is there another angry album that you relish the venom of?
Young Fathers and Yeezus were the two main ones for me. Obviously a lot of music of my youth was angry but that was much more inward looking than the other two we've mentioned. I think a lot of the anger influence was coming from other sources, non musical ones in terms of people protesting, or people I knew becoming upset with the world or watching people in the media having a crap time was the source of the anger rather than finding it in another band. That's not to say there aren't angry records out there at the moment but there does seem to be not very many and it's a bit sad.
What do you particularly admire about Young Fathers?
I really like their attitude towards the vocal. They have this between rapping and singing and everyone's doing it at the same time. You always feel there is a congregation and a collaborative nature to it. I really like this feeling of togetherness, like a mob. It sounds like youth on fire and ready to do something, rather than just a sole voice. It sounds like they're coming to get you in a really great way. I really like the fact you can't place where they are from at all. I thought they were South african or Jamaican and then it turns out their Scottish. I love the fact I didn't know where I was with those guys. For as long as that lasted that was my pleasure - until I found out I thought "What the hell is this? I don't know where i am, what I'm listening to." They were making refrences to British things but they sounded like they were from God knows where. I love that feeling of not being safe.
What's your abiding memory of touring with Muse?
Probably we went to a Tiki bar aftershow one time. We all drank these horrible Tiki drinks and one of our crew went up to Matt Bellamy and tried to tell him what drinks to get or something. He just got chucked out immediately and we were all just stood outside this massive European mansion. Someone was taking a piss while they were throwing up. Then Dom walked by and we were just like 'Hi Dom!' Just idiots, being a band, being out of control. I think he was fairly amused by that - because he probably used to do that himself and doesn't anymore.
Did you get much time to talk with Muse?
Not a huge amount no. We spoke a lot to Snow Patrol when we were out with them. Muse were just on another level to anything we've done. They were flying in and out of shows so they weren't really around. They would fly home and come back and then bugger off again. It was very brief.
Muse's boilesuits for Drones have recently seen people heckle with "Oi are you going go-karting?" . Have you had a similar reaction to any of your outfits?
Yes we had lots of people shout 'Kwik fit!' and 'Plumbing!' because we also used to wear boiler suits. Most recently I particularly have got a pretty stupid outfit, kind of like a priest's robe. There's quite a few comments shouted out. But the thing that sticks in my mind the most is when I lost my cat. I put an advert on our Twitter saying "If you find my cat, I'll give you free tickets." Then the NME decided to put that in their magazine and thought it was funny. So for the next six months people said "Did you find your cat?" And the answer was "No... it's dead." Every night for about six months people would be shouting. "Did you find your cat" So I had to be reminded every night.
Where do you stand on Tidal?
I haven't really bothered to follow it. I heard it became a laughing stock for some reason: I saw a lot of negativity on the internet. "Oh these millionaire artists want more money do they?" I basically argued with a lot of people saying "It's not really about them it's about people like me who don't have millions." But no-one's going to listen to me are they? No-one was having it, so I lost interest pretty quickly.
Which small festival would you really recommend?
Festival No. 6. I wouldn't describe as small but it's very good and very strange. It's in that bizarre made up place which is great. It is very surreal. Because it's right at the end of all the summer festivals it tends to be awful weather so it's got that disaster feel to it. Everything looks really weird but there's a storm - you don't know if you're in Greece or where you are. I've never seen The Prisoner but I kind of like that I haven't because it feels even weirder to me. It has this really nice community, really nice feel to it because it hasn't got too big yet.
What do you want to do on tour that you haven't had budget for yet?
Proper stuff with video. It would be great to get some cameras on guitars and on our heads and have someone VJing stuff a lot more. That would be really great. I'd really like to get some guests in as well and do songs with other people: that would be great to do.
How have you found the experience of talking about depression to both Q and NME?
I didn't notice I was doing it I was just having a conversation in both instances. I guess it came up. I haven't felt embrassed about it thus far: I think it's healthy to talk about it and hopefully it will help other people to feel a bit less alone.
Get To Heaven is released on 22 June. Everything Everything recently announced a string of gigs set to take place this winter - including a headline show at London's Brixton Academy. For tickets visit here.