Everything Everything’s lockdown started more dramatically than most. On the day measures were announced, their studio in Manchester caught fire. Anything not destroyed by the flames was destroyed by the water used to put them out. All of it was insured, but they lost a lot of items of sentimental value - keepsakes sent by fans for whom their music had changed their lives. “It’s quite depressing to pick through the charred remains of your early career…” says frontman Jonathan Higgs with a bone-dry laugh.
It’s an unsettlingly literal way to look at it, but the band’s new album ‘Re-Animator’, as its title would imply, represents a similarly dramatic end of an era, as well as the start of something new. “When I compare myself to the person that wrote ‘Man Alive’, I was concerned then with pushing the envelope of songwriting,” he says of the band’s first record, released almost exactly a decade ago. “That doesn’t concern me as much now; I’m much more interested in the message now, and getting the emotion across. I don’t care so much about bamboozling people and hiding behind things anymore.”
In the past, Jonathan’s songwriting was clouded by uncertainty. “Quite often my message was ‘I don’t know what I’m talking about’,” he says. “A lot of my earlier lyrics were about personal stuff, but they were shrouded in distractions to make people read things that I thought were interesting, when really I was talking about a girl or my best friend or someone dying.” As a musician and a performer he was always confident, but on ‘Re-Animator’ the singer has achieved a newfound sense of clarity. “Ten years ago I was more interested in science, technology, the future and progress. Whereas now, if anything, I’m a bit anti that stuff. I’m a lot less interested in looking at what’s brand new and what’s coming next; I think all of that stuff is kind of by the by. You could talk to someone from 1582 and have the same conversation about the things that matter. I should be talking about those things because everything else is bollocks, really.”
Two of his bandmates have started families, and relationships have begun and ended in their respective private lives, but don’t be fooled into thinking the 2020s are ushering in Everything Everything’s plaintive, personal period. “Our music is still weird as fuck, don’t get me wrong,” Jonathan laughs; the record’s very first line is about a speechless gibbon, after all. Yet, while he’s been focusing on intensifying the meaning of his words, bandmate Alex Robertshaw has been stretching the group’s sonic boundaries. “He’s got a burning thing inside him to ‘find a new sound’,” the singer informs. “He’s always building his own instruments and things.” With a cleaner division in their roles, each is freer to dig even deeper into those respective fields, which makes ‘Re-Animator’ all the stronger. “If we were both like Alex, we’d be making very proggy, unapproachable music, and if we were both like me, we’d be making very bland, heart-on-sleeve music. We’ve got both of those things happening at once, and it’s a really healthy way to make interesting music that has soul too.”
“Our music is still weird as fuck, don’t get me wrong!”
— Jonathan Higgs
While writing the album, Jonathan became fascinated with a different kind of division: the psychological hypothesis of the bicameral mind. “It’s this idea that at one point in our distant past we had a divided brain, the left chamber and the right chamber, and they weren’t connected so we’d literally hear a voice in our heads telling us what to do day to day, and we’d just accept that and call it God,” he explains. “Then eventually we evolved to the point where the two sides joined and it became our own inner voice, and we found our own will, and that was when we became conscious. There’s a point in history where civilisations around the world all collapsed at the same time and nobody knows why, and it’s suggested that that’s the moment where we suddenly had to face this new reality of being conscious. Something about it spoke to me very deeply. I’ve talked about dual personalities a lot on previous records; it’s something that’s always interested me, having a divided self, and not knowing who you are.” The theory became something of a basis for Higgs’ lyrics, and ‘Re-Animator’ is full of references to intrusive inner voices, fraying minds, ancient curses and myths, primal fears and a heaping of brutal violence. There are impaled, snapped and sliced-up bodies all over the record; visions that create an unsettling edge as they duel with Everything Everything’s deft instrumentals. “What’s beastly about beast behaviour?” he asks coldly on ‘Planets’.
For all its grizzliness and grounding in controversial psychological theory, however, ‘Re- Animator’ is never a grim or austere record. For all the darkness that’s often characterised Jonathan’s songwriting - “I’ve always been negative,” he concedes - there’s a corresponding light. Take the record’s infectious centrepiece ‘Arch Enemy’, for example, where a glistening, danceable instrumental sits at odds with gruesome lyrics: “Jets like wire, cut your body / They slice your teats, calcified and stately cheeks”. On the flipside, atop ‘It Was A Monstering’’s murky, menacing instrumental, he sings about semi-ridiculous bogeyman figures like the (fictional) Slenderman and (criminal) Purple Aki. Even within the same song, the band can dramatically shift in tone; after the carnage that opens ‘Arch Enemy’, the listener is then confronted by an anthropomorphic fatberg.
“It just doesn’t interest me very much if there’s a happy song with a happy lyric,” he explains. “I think something in me stops me from allowing the two things to match very often. It’s not really intentional, that’s just what I do.” Everything Everything have always been a band of contradictions, somewhere between mainstream indie pop stars and critically-lauded experimentalists, and that extends to the emotional scope of their songs, too. “I don’t really believe in having art which is like, ‘We are the serious band and all the music’s going to be from this part of our brains’ or ‘We’re the love band’ or ‘We’re the energy band’. It’s just not true. You do chuckle at a funeral and feel bad about it.” He cites The Smiths as the blueprint. “He’s hilarious, and yet the music is so sombre; it’s the funniest, saddest music around.”
For years, a phrase the band have often thrown at each other is the ‘sad party’ - “The kind of thing Robyn does really well,” as Jonathan puts it. ‘Violent Sun’, in which a euphoric, pumping instrumental underpins what he describes as “a list of things that I’m afraid of” - mental collapse, imprisonment, the end of the world - works perfectly not only as the album’s closer, but as the realisation of all that Everything Everything have strived for over the last decade: a full-hearted embrace of the weirdness and brilliance that comes when you clash two extremes against one another. By embracing division and contrast, paradoxically the band have found something that feels like completion. “I think we fit together better than ever,” he says. “If anything, we’re more of one being now than ever before.”
‘Re-Animator’ is out now via Infinity Industries.
As featured in the September 2020 issue of DIY, out now. Scroll down to get your copy.
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