“It’s using the language of the playground to take [Trump] down. It’s on his level.”
A band’s 10-year anniversary usually brings some pomp and circumstance. Not so for British quartet Everything Everything, who rung in a decade of music with the release of A Fever Dream, their fourth record of beautifully anxious political songs that tip-toed between outsized pop hooks, post-punk paranoia and jittery electronics. It also served as an accumulation of prophecies found in their previous albums. Arc and Get to Heaven screamed about the coming wave of right-wing populism and polarized politics years before Brexit and Donald Trump. A Fever Dream deals firmly in the aftermath and does so with grace. We sat down with bassist Jeremy Pritchard (with a few added answers from singer Jonathan Higgs and guitarist Alex Robertshaw) to talk about A Fever Dream, their U.S. fan base and the debaucherous night that lead to their poppiest song.
Congratulations on 10 years of being a band!
I don’t think we’ve really acknowledged it. It’s kind of too terrifying for us. I think we quietly feel quite proud, just hanging in there.
And since Man Alive y’all have been incredibly consistent both in timing and quality.
Well thank you, it’s really important for us to not do that thing of tailing off. I think we were enabled by having a debut album that gave us so many places to go, but also wasn’t overwhelmingly successful as well because we’ve seen so many of our contemporaries get swallowed up by the huge pressure of a huge debut album.
I’ve noticed something on A Fever Dream and the previous albums is that you guys really like playing around with dynamic contrast. Like “Night of the Long Knives” starts very, very quietly, then explodes and it was a similar thing with “To the Blade.” What’s the way you guys do that as to not make it overblown?
A lot of it actually, to be boring and technical about it, comes down to the mastering and making the choice of having dynamic range over extreme volume throughout. Very often we’ll listen to our songs on Spotify or whatever and the complaint will be that maybe it’s a little quiet as compared to other tracks. But that’s the trade off I think. Between having some range within the track or just having one level throughout. That’s the kind of modern loudness wars phenomenon.
I’m glad you aren’t buying into that.
I actually think it’s starting to die away. I think Jon’s a bit squeamish about it because he just wants to be fucking loud all the time. But this is the trade off, if you swear all the time it loses its impact, doesn’t it? So it’s good to use it sparingly.
And speaking of “Night of the Long Knives,” the first couple of times I listened to it I thought of the line “shame about your neighborhood” in the context of general political apathy. But in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting it seemed more like “I don’t even know how to sympathize with you during this horribleness, what do I do?”
That song and the album in general is quite quixotic in its viewpoint. It’s not really offering any answers, it’s just a reflection of loads and loads and loads of different viewpoints, that’s how I would describe it. Because we think that’s a more interesting thing to do, to document the chaos right now, rather than get on our high horses and say “this is right and this is wrong.” And that’s kind of implicit anyway. Certainly coming from people like us, I don’t think anybody is particularly surprised by our politics. And I don’t think it’s particularly original for us to bang on about it. So instead what we’re doing is painting the whole picture from left to right.
It’s like a Twitter feed being plugged directly into your mind.
That phenomenon combined with the sort of caldron of international politics, they finally caught up with each other and it’s this sort of cursed storm now.
It’s definitely interesting going from Get to Heaven to A Fever Dream. Because Get to Heaven seemed to have a lot of viewpoints, but they were more worldwide. And this one seems much more personal.
Exactly. They are kind of companion pieces, in as much as Get to Heaven was mired in real world events and terrorized and terrorizing I suppose. And this is much more about the human fallout of that. The emotional, human, interpersonal effects of all the stuff we talked about in Get to Heaven.
When writing “Big Game” was it cathartic to write a song that was explicitly anti-Trump or sad that you had to be there?
It’s both, certainly. It’s cathartic in conflict with the rest of the record. I like the fact that that song is there and that “Ivory Tower” is there because those songs are less ambiguous, a bit more of nailing our colors to the mast. As much as we want to document the whole thing. We also want to– every now and then we have to be ourselves (laughs)!
So yeah, it is anti-Trump and it’s also kind of the most– I don’t want to say “light-hearted” because there’s nothing light-hearted about that whole thing right now. But it’s the most childish part of the record. It’s using the language of the playground to take him down. It’s on his level.
I find it interesting you said that you have to be yourselves every once in a while. I’ve noticed that you guys have had some interesting fashion choices that almost seem like you’re doing different characters. With these creepy, creepy masks you’re wearing in the promo pictures.
There’s nothing really complicated behind the masks. We wanted to get them made for a video and they were ready for a photo shoot and we wore them for that as well. That wasn’t meant to be a comment of any kind. But we do like to do anything that subverts the norms. There are so many photographs of four or five guys or whatever, standing in front of a wall, looking moody with denim jackets on. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but we don’t feel that that sounds like what we do. So we try to find a different aesthetic to remove us from the norm.
Moving on to your playing on the record, a lot of the songs sound kind of woozy. The interplay between you and Mike seems to be that one of you will nearly go off tempo then join back again.
For me personally, it’s a choice of who are you aligning with in that moment of the song. Sometimes I’ll just be doubling what Alex does, lending some weight to the riff. But sometimes I like doubling what the vocals are doing. But then it’s nice to be able to slip back into the groove. I’ve always loved being part of the drum kit, just making the bass a part of the kick drum sound. We just like to do it all in the space of three and a half minutes (laughs).
I had also read recently that “Ivory Tower” was your favorite song on the record.
Yeah, I mean it changes all the time, but yeah, I really like “Ivory Tower.”
I was wondering then, do you feel more drawn to those big, rock moments?
Not necessarily. It’s a bit like “To the Blade” I suppose. It comes to a very specific part of our musical heritage. Like we love Radiohead and every now and then we get caught close to what they do. We also love the electronic side of what that band does and electronica generally so very often we don’t sound like a typical guitar band and that’s also exciting for us. It’s just good to have the variety really. I think on this album it was more polarized. We wanted to hone in on the electronica thing, the ‘90s electronica thing. And we also wanted to hone in on the alternative rock of our youth. And there isn’t that much in the middle. There isn’t much intermingling of those things. So it came out as quite a polarized record. Which wasn’t intentional, but seems somehow quite apt.
Well that brings me to my favorite track, “A Fever Dream.”
We’re really fond of that as well because it has that kind of special magic, that kind of special energy. But also because it felt like genuinely new ground for us.
Exactly. I wasn’t expecting to hear a song in the middle of this album that was very gentle in some ways and also in 6/8 or ¾, however y’all are counting it. Because, for me, waltzes always feel more dream-like than straight 4/4 time.
Yeah, definitely. Then it kind of slips into four to the floor without you noticing. It’s supposed to be like slipping out of the dream and into consciousness moment. Or even the other way around, slipping under into unconsciousness. It’s the moment you fall asleep and start dreaming.
I wanted to talk about Get to Heaven for a bit. Get to Heaven was weird for me because I live in the States and had to order it late…
Yeah, it took us a long time to get it out to the States.
Get to Heaven got to my house a day before the Bataclan shootings in Paris.
Oh my god.
And you guys had played in Paris around that time right?
I think we played about five days later in Paris. It was very emotional.
It seemed so…disturbingly prophetic. It was like, this is the perfect album for this next year we’re about to have. How do you feel about the album now, looking back with what’s happened since?
I feel like a lot of people are trying to make that record now, actually. I don’t have any sour grapes about that. I think that’s a really good thing for artists, becoming more conscious I suppose. A bit more outra-spective, a bit less self-involved maybe. But yeah, it’s weird, actually how Jon saw a lot of stuff coming. I feel like he was more immersed, more engaged with it all than a lot of people allow themselves to be. And it definitely took its fucking toll on him. He has this kind of rolling news obsession and a lot of that went into the record. It definitely like…made a serious dent on him. It was heavy weather. It was difficult, really difficult to make that record, for loads of reasons. And not least because its hard work, it’s really heavy lifting. Dragging those heavy concepts around and trying to make a pop record with them was really difficult.
I do feel really proud of it. But at the end of the process of making that album, it was so emotionally exhausting for everybody that I really didn’t want to listen to it. I didn’t know if what we made was good and whether people were going to like it. I just needed the space from it. And I’ve learned to love that album by touring it really and by having the reassuring experience of having other people love it. Seeing people engage with the songs in front of you by touring that record. So yeah, I do think it’s a great piece of work. I’m proud of that record. It took a long time to get there. The kind of youthful exuberance and naivety of our first two albums were fired. We had to find a different way to make music.
And it’s not just the lyrical perspective. For both Get to Heaven and A Fever Dream, the instrumental side had an incredible amount of anxiety that seemed to be placed into the music. The closing tracks to both albums, “Warm Healer” and “White Whale,” they just–I just broke down listening to them the first time. I think that had to do with the “the whole world’s ending!” then both albums close with a very anxious love song. And I think that has even more power to it. You go more personal after; the world’s on fire, now your personal world is on fire.
Yeah, completely. But both those songs contain the hope on those albums. The chink of light is contained within those two songs. And we always like to have an element of a happy ending. We did it on our first two albums as well. It’s a stupid thing to say about an album, that it should have a happy ending, because our records tend to be quite involved and emotionally draining. It’s nice to leave with that note of the light at the end of the tunnel. Like that line in 1984 where he says “hope lies in the proles.” (laughs). It’s just one pinprick of light.
And so you guys are about to go on a mini-tour, and I saw you last year with The Joy Formidable in Portland. And it was interesting because there were a lot of people there just to see you.
We were quite surprised by that. And that continued through the whole tour. In fact, the night before that in San Francisco, it was very polarized. One set of people came in and watched us and it was like a headline show. Then those people left, and then a whole other bunch of people came in and watched The Joy Formidable. They had another headline show. It was very extreme. I think a lot of people have been waiting for a very long time to see us in a lot of those towns. Because all we’ve ever done headline-wise was the two coasts and that remains the case for this little tour as well. And if we can come back and play other towns as well, then we certainly will. But it’s just so difficult for British bands to tour America. It’s just so costly. And we have a lot of ground to make up, because our first album never came out in the states and we just never had that moment of being like a new British band with a fresh story and all of that. It’s always been an uphill climb for us in the States. It feels like there’s this sort of fervor that people are starved of what we do for ages. And there’s this really lovely kind of private club feeling to it. Loads of our fans in America know each other. There’s a community there. It’s amazing! And it’s so nice to be part of something that inspires that.
I’m always surprised you guys aren’t bigger over here. I read interviews or blurbs with y’all and the Radiohead comparison always comes up, but the band you guys always reminded me of, and I hope this is a compliment for you, is TV on the Radio.
Oh really? We love those guys! I certainly think we share a lot of kaleidoscopic attitudes. They’re obviously into loads and loads and loads of different media and so are we. And it all goes into the melting pot.
So I’m just waiting for that tour.
Oh, that would be so cool. I’m waiting for that too.
I wanted to dive quickly into Arc and ask about “Armourland.” It’s the most pop song you guys have ever made, but it also has this spikey verse that dissolves into this lovely chorus. What was the writing process behind that?
See, I think that one of the reasons we demoted that song from our minds—we never play it live, we played it a few times while touring Arc and it’s never come back since—but I think it’s the process by which we wrote it. It felt somehow disingenuous, because that chorus was literally a drunken joke one night. When we were recording Man Alive we had the remains of a German lager with us and we drank loads of Vodka and loads of beer and jamming the accommodation and recording on Alex’s four track. And we played those chords on a cheesy synth sound and Jon started singing some really derogatory stuff over it, to that melody. And we ended up keeping it. And I think maybe we undermined it before it had a chance to become what it became (laughs). I think we were suspicious of the process, which is maybe unfair. Which is like, somebody like you, who is not privy to all that is able to enjoy that for what it is.
“Big Game” has the first bass solo I’ve heard in your music, did that add to the middle finger nature of the song?
Alex Robertshaw: I think what you’re referring to is the big unison riff that lands unexpectedly halfway through. It’s not a bass solo, although I do play it up the neck in the traditional guitar range with a Boss OC2 doing the low-end work for me. That riff was the first thing we had for the new writing batch and it went right to the bottom of the pile before being resurrected at the 11th hour. Its stupid D major pomposity is certainly apt for the song. It’s like a Sousa march with inbuilt dysfunction.
“White Whale” spoke to me as a person who deals with anxiety and who has had partners in the past who have helped with that anxiety. It’s a wonderful feeling, but at the same time I was always worried that I was pushing too much on to them. Is that song about balancing anxiety and love?
Jonathan Higgs: I think so yeah, to some extent. But Ahab’s obsession with the whale also kills him in the end doesn’t it, so…
I have a friend who’s a music teacher and he described Jonathan as a “rock counter-tenor.” Does that seem right?
Jonathan Higgs: Well, technically, yeah. It is something that I think we’re gonna have to use more sparingly, lest we become typecast, and also because this album, more than any other, is totally exhausting to perform. But we’ve been saying that for years and we never have!
I saw around a year ago that some music festival had mis-put your name as “Anything, Anything.” Any merch in the future for that?
Yeah, we probably should have capitalized on that in some way. We’ve had it all man. The crew have to put up with the non-puns probably more than we do. The best one I had was when a guy at a party said to me, in his Belfast accent, “you’re from fucking Whatever Whatever..!”