As lauded as eclectic, Manchester-based rockers Everything Everything are in Britain — their powerful 2010 debut album, Man Alive, earned them prestigious nominations for the Mercury Prize and the Ivor Novello Award this year — the band still, mysteriously, remains under the radar in the States.
In fact, Everything Everything don't even have a Stateside label for Man Alive yet and, despite stops at 2010 festivals like SXSW, they've barely toured here, much to their disappointment.
The quartet's concise and exquisitely crafted ability to fuse together diffuse genres, from hip hop to post-punk, delve fearlessly into complex arrangements, write smart (and lusty) lyrics and change up their sonic architecture, track by track, has earned them critical praise and even lofty comparisons to a band the young group cites as a major influence, Radiohead.
Everything Everything, who tours with Snow Patrol in Ireland this January, plays London's Relentless Freeze Festival tomorrow, October 29, their last gig before they focus on their sophomore release, which will be produced by David Kosten who helmed their debut.
The Alternate Side caught up over email with singer and guitarist Jonathan Higgs — whose emotional, rapid-fire falsetto spurs on Everything Everything's UK hits like "Photoshop Handsome" and "Schoolin''" — and discussed the band's heady success in their homeland, their soon-to-be-recorded second album and just when Americans might finally get to hear them here:
TAS: The inevitable question which you've answered a hundred times — but what are some of your most vivid memories of your auspicious Mercury Prize evening? Were you anxious to perform in front of that room, seeing PJ Harvey or the whole of the British music industry sitting there?
Jonathan Higgs: That night was a strange mixture of extreme tension and release, followed by a huge piss-up. We weren't really that nervous to perform, but by the time the anouncement came it suddenly got intense. From the beginning of thw whole process we'd told ourselves and everyone else that we had zero chance of winning, and that's how we felt until about 2 minutes before the announcement, so it was a sudden rush. And a massive piss-up.
TAS: What governed your choice of "Tin (The Manhole)" as the song you'd perform for the Mercury Prize evening?
Jonathan: Sometimes when you're in a band it's pretty hard to tell what everyone else's perception of it is. We felt we wanted to show a different side to us to what had been on the radio and MTV. We were hoping to surprise people who only knew us by our more extroverted singles. Plus, we knew Elbow, Adele and James Blake would all be putting in intimate performances and we didn't want to come across as shrieking idiots.
TAS: I was very fortunate to see you play at SXSW in 2010. It was your first US set, I believe, and I was instantly smitten. But why have you chosen not to really tour Stateside yet? Will that change in 2012?
Jonathan: We've loved our trips to the States, [but] sadly it's just been too much of an expense to get out there more often, particularly without a US record deal. After [our tour with] Snow Patrol we will be releasing a new record, which is much more likely to get a release overseas and hopefully we'll be touring America soon.
TAS: You've got the Relentless Freeze Festival coming up on October 29, and then what seems to be a nearly three-month break - will you be recording or resting? And what does Everything Everything do on your days off?
Jonathan: We will be writing, and probably a bit of recording. We'll rest for a few days, but we all get bored quite quickly when we come off the road. On our days off we make excuses notto exercise, [we] eat curries, make wine, write music, try to blag our way into gigs in Manchester. Alex [Robertshaw] has just got some modified GameBoys off Ebay that he's going to be writing music with.
TAS: There's a fascinating alchemy of classical, hip hop, math rock, Afrobeat, electronica, R&B, chamber pop and even prog rock that sifts through Man Alive. It might be one of the most willfully (and beautifully) undefinable albums of the last few years. That said, you've lived with these songs now for several years - in which direction have some of your newer songs been going?
Jonathan: For me it's all been about tempos recently; I sat down and worked out the BPM of several songs that I thought were big, club bangers, and found loads of them to be amazingly slow. So some of the new stuff is a kind of heavier, hip-hop speed — like Rihanna —much bigger and more danceable than anything on Man Alive. There's still a hell of a lot of diversity, and there may be some guest players too.
TAS: What are some of the new songs and are there a couple that you could describe?
Jonathan: To be honest I can't give you a single title, simply because we don't have any yet. We give our songs ridiculous working titles; I can tell you that "HW Peaks" is gonna be on there, and maybe some elements of "Clarkson", whereas "District Turd" and "Mmmm... 1400" might not make it. There is a similar level of diversity, in terms of style, but our filter for quality songs has been set really, really high and we reject so much stuff. We agreed that if nobody feels anything, or if one of us doesn't, we drop it, and we've been slowly collecting the absolute cream of the crop. I've been experimenting and pushing my voice in a lot of the new stuff, forcing myself to slow down, and sing lower. Both things feel unnatural to me which I quite like, plus I'm trying to use less falsetto, so the moments I do become more special. Our timeline changes all the time, but roughly we will spend the rest of the year writing, and the record will come out in 2012. At some point.
TAS: Are there some nerves involved when it comes to making the next album, given the success of Man Alive? Do you foresee yourself working with David Kosten again?
Jonathan: Initially I was a bit worried, but then again there are elements of Man Alive that we wouldn't do again, or we'd do differently, and I think we all know we can do better. I'm so proud of the songs that are coming through our process that I'm really excited to make the next record. We are already with David Kosten for album two. It's official.
TAS: You direct many of the band's videos and there's a real visual element to Everything Everything - do you see the band delving more deeply into film and heightened performance?
Jonathan: It's not something we've discussed but it's certainly a keen interest of mine for the future. We'll go on directing the videos in the mean time, and possibly more film related stuff. Right now we're just too busy.
TAS: You're all from different parts of the UK, from Newcastle to Guernsey, but as a band you settled in Manchester. What was the initial draw of the music scene there for Everything Everything? Is there something in particular about the city that has especially invigorated the band, lyrically or otherwise?
Jonathan: It's a really good size for bands and audiences; you can have a scene here which isn't swallowed up right away like in London. There are so many venues, promoters and gig-going people, that it's a really great place to be a band. We got tons of small gigs at the beginning —really useful for getting better as a band — it's the best place for that. There's also the amazing musical history of the place, which is always there inspiring and reminding you of where the bar is set for Manchester bands.
TAS: Given your use of falsetto and rapid-fire delivery, Is there any song from Man Alive in particular that really still challenges you vocally every time you negotiate it in live gigs?
Jonathan: It's more a question of order of songs, as long as I get a breather song every now and again I'm ok. When I first start to sing a difficult song, it's tough, but after a while I have a set way to do it and I usually manage it fine now. Having said that, "MY KZ, UR BF" is actually deceptively hard, and hasn't ever really got any easier.
TAS: When did you really begin utilizing falsetto?
Jonathan: I started using falsetto to imitate Radiohead, I guess, when I was about 14. For years I would sing in bands and if the note was too high to sing, I would just sing it in falsetto. I didn't realise how weird this swapping technique was until I got to university and everyone was commenting on it. By then I couldn't really change back to being a "normal" singer.
TAS: Vocally, who are some singers that you really admire?
Jonathan: My favorite singers are probably Thom Yorke, Mike Patton, Chino Moreno, James Dean Bradfield, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, Beyoncé and R. Kelly.
TAS: Radiohead is often cited as a major influence for the band; what is the most valuable lesson you've learned musically from that band either from a particular album or song or after seeing them live?
Jonathan: Space, the use of space and subtlety is something we're still learning. Wild Beasts are a great example of well organized arrangement and the use of space. It's very hard when you have a band that is quite able in ability (me not included) to get everyone to not play. We've got a lot better at it over the last few years and songs like "Tin (The Manhole)" and "Two for Nero" on Man Alive both benifited from us holding back.
TAS: You did an interview in which you went into horrifying detail about the band's van, which seems to be held together entirely by crisps packets, rotting posters and the likely odor of a dead cat. Are you still traveling in it or have you finally upgraded? If you're still in the van, what's its current condition?
Jonathan: We'll never escape that van! Unfortunately, it has now gone to the big garage in the sky, though when the moon is full, and the band is sleeping softly in their tourbus, a soft, whimpering, coughing engine sound can be heard lamenting by the side of the M1, and a flash of hearing-aid beige accompanies the whiff of a thousand rotting kittens. That is where the van lives on: IN OUR WAKING NIGHTMARES.
TAS: You've been nominated for so many prestigious prizes over the last year — the Mercury Prize, Ivor Novello, Q magazine and many more — but when you view the extraordinary path of Everything Everything over the last three years, is there a particular moment, gig or event that really summed everything up for you, either individually or as a band?
Jonathan: For me the Mercury Prize nomination was a big moment, one that never sunk in, even now. We also had several massive festival moments: Latitude, Reading/Leeds, T in the Park. Just so big and so enoyable. Playing on "Later with Jools Holland" was huge for us too. Really though, the moment for me was the release of the album, to see it in the stores, to know it was real and we'd finally done it. That was the best.