Everything Everything have been garnering an avalanche of attention ever since being shortlisted as one of the BBC’s sounds of 2010. Since then they’ve toured extensively, played with orchestras, released their critically acclaimed debut album, ‘Man Alive’ and even won a South Bank arts award.
Gigwise sat down to talk with the band ahead of the release of their new single, ‘Final Form.’
I’ve heard various versions of the reason for your band name. Some say it’s from ‘The Theory of Everything’ which is a concept from advanced physics. Others say it’s to do with your philosophy of having eclectic tastes and giving anything a go. What’s the story?
Jeremy: The name is coincidental really. We worked those meanings in after we chose it, although we were obviously aware of the connotations.
Jonathan: It has a kind of ‘why not?’ feeling to it as opposed to ‘why?’ It isn’t the whole reason we call ourselves that, but it works well. No one knows exactly what to expect from you based on that name. You can really do anything. In terms of the names and labels given to you by the media, those don’t really mean anything…
I suppose that if there’s one thing journos love more than an adjective it’s a compound adjective. The ones used to describe your music normally feature the words avant garde amid the hyphens. Most avant garde movements aim to close the gap between ‘high’ art and ‘low’ art. Is that something you aim to do?
Jeremy: Definitely. I can’t see why there should be a difference in how the two are judged. If you listen to it and enjoy it then you’ve got something to learn from it. That is basically what people call ‘post-structuralism.’
Jonathan: If you ask a load of music nerds what they like, they’re not going to come back with a closed set of things. There’s nothing strange about liking both, I don’t know…Black Swan and Star Wars, for example…
Similarly you cite both R.Kelly and Steve Reich as influences. How far do you think you could take that dynamic? You’re shortlisted for the XFM New Music Award. Do you think you could also play on X Factor or something similar?
Jeremy: We couldn’t do X Factor, it just doesn’t go that far right of centre, what we do. It just doesn’t. Having said that, we’ve done things like The Live Lounge with Fearne Cotton. That was actually the same week as we got a South Bank award. It’s like what you said about bridging the gap between low and high art, luckily we’ve been allowed to do both.
Michael: We got asked to do Soccer AM the other day. We didn’t do it though…
You seemed to be surprised at how quickly and how widely the album has been accepted and enjoyed. Is that the case?
Jeremy: We expected it to be split down the middle between good and bad receptions. We weren’t aware of the steady rise then, when the album came out, there was this amazing wealth of positivity…
Jonathan: We thought more people would hate us…
Jeremy: We thought there’d be a massive back-lash but it hasn’t happened…yet.
I’ve met fans of yours from quite a lot of demographics. I know a mild mannered suburban, family man, for example, who absolutely loves your album. Does having appeal even factor in to what you do? ‘Man Alive’ isn’t exactly easy listening…
Jeremy: We don’t not want to be liked, but you can’t take those attitudes into the rehearsal room. If you do that you’ll make crap…
Michael: Were just lucky that such a range of people like our music…
Alex: It’s weird. At our shows you see young girls and middle aged men all rocking out.
Jonathan: With any band that picks out an audience they exclusively want to aim at you can spot it a mile off…
Jeremy: Some of them are successful. Some of them even make good music, but it just feels uncomfortable, the way they arrive with a welt of press approval before they’ve even played a note…
We mentioned Steve Reich earlier. You got to work with an orchestra yourselves last year. How did you find that?
Jeremy: It was incredibly hard work, logistically, artistically…finically. But it was well worth it. Our manager really pushed it through. It was just an idea we had whilst we were celebrating on the night the record came out. We woke up the next day and he was making calls and we couldn’t stop him!
We’d done a lot of touring that year, playing the same twelve songs over and over, so it was refreshing to take them apart like that. Our friends worked really hard scoring it all. It meant we got right back down to the constituent parts of each song and rediscovered what made them exciting.
Jonathan: It was really nice to hear something that you played in a farm in Wales once, that you never heard again because it was buried in the mix, come back to life. Someone hears it and plays it on a trumpet and you think “I remember that! That’s why I loved it!”
Other influences I’ve heard you mention include art movements such as Vorticism that are very strong visually. Do you enjoy the visual elements of your work?
Jonathan: Very much. We made the first three videos ourselves. When we got signed we were given a load of money to make one for the first time but we completely, shall we say, “messed” it up, and it was unusable. We got directors in for the next one and they did a remake of one of ours, but we preferred our version, so we did this one ourselves.
My own interpretation of ‘Final Form’ is that it’s quite a tragic song. What does it mean to you?
Jonathan: Yeah it is tragic. It’s mostly about the fact that, if you have the ability to use your body, you should. You sort of owe to those that can’t. It’s an attack on how lazy a lot of people are.
A lot of the lyrics are fairly surreal, like something a Game Boy addicted Mallarme might write. The singing on the record is also very striking. Is there any interplay between the strangeness of the one and the other? Do they affect each other?
Jonathan: I always just wanted to find good tunes. The only the way I could get my voice to work with the songs was to do things in that certain way that has gradually become my singing style. It was the same with the lyrics. I just wanted to be singing something that was meaningful to me.
Jeremy: A lot of it comes from Jonathan responding to what the band is playing. We do tend, even sub-consciously, to mirror each other’s rhythms and phrases.
That sort of tightness requires a lot of unity. You guys are all from different parts of the country. Did that ever pose a problem in the early days?
Jonathan: Not really. Me and Michael grew up together. I met Jeremy in Manchester at university and persuaded the others to move up there. So minor disruption for their lives, but for me I was just at home, chilling! Alex actually lives in London and the rest of us are in Manchester. It isn’t a problem.
Michael: The fact that we grew up in different, eccentric parts of Britain finds its way into the music in interesting ways.
You mentioned your university days. One of my favourite tracks off your album is ‘Schoolin’. Do you think getting an education and being exposed to ideas helps people make music? Do the cuts to funding for music and the arts worry you?
Jeremy: There’s absolutely no need for any form of qualification in what we do, but it doesn’t hurt either. We’ve never really had to read music since starting the band but, I did meet Jonathan at uni and I did get exposed to a lot of things I didn’t know even existed.
Jonathan: We also learned a lot about recording that we wouldn’t have know if left to our own devices.
After ‘Man Alive’ you could do just about anything and people wouldn’t be surprised. What are your actual plans?
Jonathan: We won’t be making another album until 2012 at least, just because of logistics. But if we released a follow up next week it wouldn’t be half as appreciated as the last one anyway. It wouldn’t necessarily be worse…we’ll no, actually it would!
Jeremy: We were talking about Radiohead the other day, about the way they always find unsettling sounds to draw upon. There isn’t really a lot of that on our album.
Alex: Although we have enough money now to buy an echo-plex and go down that route…
Jeremy: But it’s not about that. We’re very controlled. At any given beat of the bar we all know exactly what’s going on. The songs are very honed, sort of mathemitised in our minds. I think in future we’ll be a lot freer and looser, simply because we won’t get the time to live with the songs for as long as did before we were making albums.
You’re on tour this month. What does that experience do for you?
Alex: Well these days we get to travel in a bus that has tables in it, which means you have space to actually get a laptop out and do some work. Before we were crammed in to the back of a van…
Jonathan: Holding our breath all the way to Frankfurt.
Alex: Yeah, now it’s more comfortable.
Jeremy: The songs don’t get altered by the touring experience though. I’m a stickler for fidelity to the record. I don’t personally think there’s any joy in that Bob Dylan thing of constantly reinventing the songs. You know, saying “I’m not playing bass tonight, I’m doing all my lines four octaves up on a clarinet. See you there!”
Jonathan: When we tour with other bands it’s good to watch them. We always learn something from it, be it stagecraft or something else.
Jeremy: We’re learning a lot about performance by playing bigger venues. It needs more push and pull, more tension and release.
There is a tendency for bands with experimental sounds to go down better abroad than in their own countries. Sonic Youth for example gigged all over New York then got their breaks in Europe….
Michael: It’s the exoticism of it. Like when The Strokes came out over here you had a romantic notion of them as a New York band. I don’t think we’re a particularly British sounding band though…
Jeremy: With a band like Wild Beasts you can kind of hear the fact that they’re from the lakes, there’s something pastoral to it. I think we’re like that a bit. We’re certainly nothing like the Kaiser Chiefs, “Knees up mother Brown, hop on the moped, we’re off dawn the Hawley Arms”…although, here we are! I think any British sounds in Everything Everything are kind of ancient, Arthurian things as opposed to that post-sixties stuff.
Jonathan: We’re definitely a language band and it’s English were speaking, which is a weird language. It takes word roots and expressions from all over the place. I guess in a way that’s the same thing we’re trying to do with our music.