Everything Everything on AI, experimentation, and their seventh album 'Mountainhead'

Interview Everything Everything: Human/Kind

Over the course of six albums, Everything Everything have confirmed their position as art-rock’s premier futurists. However for their seventh trick, ‘Mountainhead’ sees the band retreating from the technological precipice and seeking (relative) simplicity.

Everything Everything find themselves in a familiar position ahead of the release of their seventh studio album: ahead of the curve. From the outset of a career that now spans seventeen years, they’re a band who’ve always felt like futurists. Sonically, they mark that out with their use of electronics and willingness to play with form; thematically, with eccentric lyricism that refracts the world around them through their own oblique prism.

Futurism is one thing, however clairvoyance is quite another. And, from 2015’s ‘Get to Heaven’, the Manchester outfit have developed an uncanny knack for anticipating the Western world’s direction of political travel. That record tackled demagogy and autocratic thirst for power a year before the Brexit vote or the election of Donald Trump. On 2017 follow-up ‘A Fever Dream’, they reckoned with the interpersonal toll of the current climate, pondering the cost of it to human relationships.

‘Re-Animator’ followed in the autumn of 2020. Its songs, rich with appreciation for the simple beauty of the natural world in the face of existential threats, were written in 2019, months before the mass infection point of the pandemic. And then, on their last album, they moved onto the next frontier in modern anxiety: artificial intelligence. It’s indicative of how quickly that particular issue has permeated the news cycle over the last twelve months that when ‘Raw Data Feel’ was released in 2022, frontman Jonathan Higgs’ use of a bespoke algorithm to process his lyrical ideas was treated as a techie curio; now, in 2024, it looks like yet another example of Everything Everything having one foot planted in tomorrow.

Accordingly, they’ve already moved on, breaking new ground with new album ‘Mountainhead’. But as has become usual, Jonathan finds himself fielding questions on how well, already, the band’s last record has aged. “The interest in AI has gone absolutely haywire, but that’s the nature of these things, isn’t it?” he says, looking suitably ultramodern - decked out in white, hair bleached blonde, and speaking from a shiny, red-walled pod of a room in their label’s London offices. “Things like this increase exponentially, and to do what we did last time, it already feels a bit passé.”

Having already worked in tandem with AI, he’s able to reflect on its implications even-handedly. “I see a lot of fear around it,” he says. “A lot of high emotion. Particularly when it comes to art versus the machine; people become very distressed at the thought of computers creating emotional responses. From my experience, I don’t personally think it’s scary. I don’t think it’d necessarily be a bad thing if every number one single for the rest of time was written by AI, because they’re only going to get to that position if they give humans the best feelings out there, you know? The currency is emotion, and the proof will be in the eating of the pudding.

“If Ed Sheeran were to sit down and write 27 different wedding songs,” he goes on by way of explanation, “and that’s just because he needs a wedding song, not because he himself is getting married, then he’d just be trying to manipulate emotion in the same way that I do, and that’s not actually any different to what AI does. It’s just that it has the inhuman ability to draw from every song ever written and put it into a new one. It’s the collating and collecting of human experience to create a new piece of art, which is not so different to what most songwriters do. It’s just that it’s on a scale that’s incomprehensible, with no artist at the centre of it.”

Everything Everything on AI, experimentation, and their seventh album 'Mountainhead'

“I don’t think it’d necessarily be a bad thing if every number one single for the rest of time was written by AI…” - Johnathan Higgs

AI, Higgs says, is a tool to be harnessed; like so much modern technology, it promises to be a good servant and a bad master. “It opened up some philosophical questions for me, but it doesn’t feel like a revolution.” Still, he and his bandmates - guitarist Alex Robertshaw, bassist Jeremy Pritchard and drummer Michael Spearman - chose not to tackle those questions head on this time around, instead channeling the spirit of the Everything Everything of old for ‘Mountainhead’. “Every record we make, we talk about going back to basics,” explains Jonathan. “You know, ‘Let’s just use guitars, man’. And it never happens. But a lot of these songs came together all at once, which IS how we used to do things.”

This, he says, was for operational reasons - they had a hard deadline to hit after the pandemic threw off their release rhythm. He talks about having simplified his thematic approach, but ‘Mountainhead’ remains an avowedly conceptual work, one that imagines an alternative society in which those on the lowest rung of the ladder are forced to work constantly to keep those at the mountain’s peak in the manner to which they are accustomed. It is not, we suggest, a particularly difficult world to envision in 2024.

“Well, I think this time, I designed the concept stuff to be as simple as I could stomach,” he answers. “I wanted one big idea, one big image that everyone would understand straight away - so whatever’s happening on the record, whatever I’m elaborating on, it’s all under the shadow of this huge metaphor. If you get too bogged down in the details of building a world, it sucks the fun out of writing, and drags everything into feeling like homework.”

“More and more, I find myself drawn to simpler and more honest music.” - Jonathan Higgs

Counterintuitive as it might seem for an album that’s loomed over by the monolithic spectre of end-stage capitalism, the streamlining of the band’s musical and thematic approaches has made for what might be their breeziest and most light-footed album to date. “People are on the same page now, in terms of what I was trying to say politically in the past,” says Jonathan. “So I can talk about things that are bigger than just the Tories or Trump. Politics has got to such an insane place in this country now that [those ideas are] inescapable, and you only have to throw a couple of bones in the right direction for people to know what you mean. You don’t have to dig too deep into it, because you’d just be adding another twig to an already hugely raging bonfire. So, the metaphor of the mountain doesn’t inform every song on the album; it’s more of a mist that’s hanging over it.”

Instead, he repeatedly touches upon the idea of modern isolation to tie together his personal ruminations and his outward-facing worldview, whilst loosening things up musically to better reflect his and his bandmates’ growing appreciation of pop simplicity. “I don’t think we have a burning desire to make music that alienates people. Not because we’re worried about how it would go over, but more because we wouldn’t want to hear it ourselves.

I don’t listen to as much stuff that’s really out there as I did when I was younger. More and more, I find myself drawn to simpler and more honest music. One person and a guitar and the right words can be the most powerful thing in the world, and you’re never going to top it no matter how many twiddly bits and weird time signatures you throw at it.”

As such, ‘Mountainhead’ is replete with more immediate melodies and sharper hooks than ever before. “There’s loads of places where we’re just having quite a lot of fun. In and of itself, that’s kind of new territory for us, just allowing ourselves to enjoy it and be up front about what we like the sound of,” says Jonathan. “I mean, a track like ‘Your Money, My Summer’, that kind of sounds like the Chili Peppers in a way that we never would have permitted ourselves to in the past, for various stupid reasons. But now, I think what we’re looking for as artists is really pure, really honest communication, and transfer of emotion. Basically, we all love a good pop song, and we’re not going to struggle against that - we’ve embraced it.”

‘Mountainhead’ is out now via BMG - read our review here.

DIY's live podcast with Everything Everything's Johnathan Higgs will take place on 17th March at London's The Social. There are very limited tickets remaining - get yours here.

Tags: Everything Everything, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the March 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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