Everything Everything: “The band’s like an intense family”
Everything Everything are a band that live up to their name. Their achievements read like the ambitious to-do list of any young group starting out, eager for success: three studio albums, all met with critical-acclaim, multiple Ivor Novello nominations, a place on the Mercury Prize shortlist for their debut and numerous Glastonbury performances – including a secret gig appearance this year. “We’re quite greedy as a band, we want all things,” Michael Spearman, drummer and backing vocalist, jokes over the phone ahead of the anticipated release of the band’s new record, A Fever Dream.
It’s fair to say that it has been quite a decade for the four-piece since they first formed in September 2007. The band – known and praised for their eclectic, genre-blurring style – are now gearing up to release their fourth album.
“When we were making A Fever Dream, musically we weren’t thinking of the ten-year anniversary,” Michael says. “But yeah, it’s a long time to do anything. We’ve been slogging away at it but thankfully we’ve felt it’s all been going in the right direction, which always helps and keeps you going. If it was going in the wrong direction I think we’d be less enthusiastic about reaching ten years!”
However, the growth the band have experienced over the past decade, both on a personal and professional level, he believes, is evident in the strength of the new material. “Not to be too philosophical about it all, but we’ve just got better at being a group of people. I think we’re all really proud of ourselves for being here and what we’ve achieved. Even just being together and still enjoying ourselves and each other’s company, I’m really glad of that so maybe that does come out in the music.”
He likens the experience of being in EE to being part of a “quite intense family”. Alongside Michael, there are three other members in the clan: lead vocalist and keyboardist Jonathan Higgs, bassist Jeremy Pritchard and lead guitarist Alex Robertshaw.
“Musically, I think we’ve got better,” Michael says, before adding, “We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves and we’re constantly challenging each other.” Such challenges often come in the form of constructive criticism within the band, and even if it can be a little hard to swallow sometimes, a bit of tough love goes a long way in ensuring the band’s output remains consistently at their best. “It’s difficult to say ‘this isn’t good enough. You need to go back and do this again.’ But we all say that to each other, all the time. It’s hard to hear sometimes but it pushes us. We know not to take things personally and just to say ‘ok, well we’re trying to make the best thing we can, so if that means scrapping the song that we’ve worked on for a month, then so be it’”.
As hard as it maybe to start from scratch on a new song for the greater good of an album, Michael says that he hopes the stuff that gets scrapped is still part of the record in some way. “Even if it will never see the light of day, it’s still part of the creative process and you’ve learnt lessons from that. We know what we’re doing and that’s the part that’s hard to achieve: knowing what you’re doing without getting complacent and still challenging yourself to do something new and make it better. We’re always looking to ask ‘what can we do next? Can we get better in some way?’ That’s what makes it interesting for us.”
It’s clearly a dynamic that works: their first album, Man Alive, released in 2010, prompted NME to label them “pop’s new Picassos” and they’ve courted critical acclaim since with the success of follow-ups Arc (2013) and Get to Heaven (2015). And Michael believes the band’s writing has improved over the years. If that’s the case, then fans and those new to the band’s music are in for a treat with the next record.
“We’re expanding our horizons,” he says. “We wanted to go back to our influences from when were about 17 – stuff like Nirvana and Radiohead, but also Aphex Twin and Warp Records. It goes from between quite electronic dance influences, like there is in the title track, to heavier distorted guitars.”
But is it easy to focus on two distinct genres in one record without things getting messy? “In a way they’re linked because of they share that late-90s era and it’s more a sense of attitude which ties it together. They’ve both got their own sort of extremes, although they come from different places. I wouldn’t like to say the whole album is electronic or guitar, it’s always a mixture with us and in a way we’ve gone further down both sides; we’ve gone further with the electronic side and further with more riffy guitars, something which we really haven’t done before. It kind of holds together as one album … I hope anyway!”
They are certainly no strangers to blurring the line between genres, priding themselves on a plethora of musical influences.
“We’re influenced by everything except 12-bar blues,” bassist Jeremy once told the The Guardian, although the R&B and hip-hop references which previously featured in the band’s music are consciously missing from the new album because the band felt that they’d already “been there, done that” and wanted to explore different styles. Does Michael believe that more bands should follow suit and experiment with genres outside of their comfort zone?
“It’s each to their own,” he says. “For us, it’s just interesting to move around and keep people guessing between songs on the record. We’re not dogmatic in terms of ‘music should be just guitars or just synths and you can’t combine the two things’. We just like mixing the two. We’re lucky because we can have synthesizers and guitars if we want. We have that breadth. I think people think that we’re on some sort of crusade to make people have more going on in music – to mix things up a bit – when actually we love simple music and lots of our music is very much like that.”
It should be noted, however, that lyrically EE are not simple, nor do they play safe and shy away from contentious themes. Their music often addresses global issues and in the past Jonathan has spoken about how revulsion of modern day terrorism inspired Get to Heaven. The two years since have seen a seismic shift in the UK’s political climate which has had a direct effect on A Fever Dream.
“Get to Heaven had this intensity to it, where you feel like you’re on the edge of something happening because that came out in 2015; before Brexit, before Trump, before other things that have happened in the world. It’s got this sort of ‘What is going to happen? What’s around the corner?’ feeling,” he says. Naturally, now that outcomes of such key political decisions are there for all to see, the new record sets about giving its response.
“With A Fever Dream it’s a little bit more about the fallout from that on an emotional level. If you’re engaging with the world and you’re noticing what’s going on, how do you deal with that emotionally when it’s so complicated and overwhelming? I feel like most people either try and engage with it and you do what you can – sign petitions, give money and things like that, or you bury your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening at all.” Michael is keen to emphasise that by touching on such heavy subjects in their music, the band are by no means preaching, and jokes “but we’re not saying we should all be like Bono or anything like that.”
In fact, he offers a perfect down-to-earth explanation of how the band interprets recent events into their music: “We’re just normal people trying to figure it out. There are no answers or anything like that on the record. It’s more looking at things from both sides and exploring those ideas, without it being too heavy. It’s still quite a playful record; it’s still enjoyable. Hopefully we’ve achieved that balance. That’s one of the difficult things about our band, we’re trying to write lyrics that have meaning and weight to them without feeling like we’re preaching or being too obvious and heavy-handed; saying to people ‘you should think this’ isn’t really interesting to us, you know? We try to be open-minded and look at things in lots of different ways.”
On the subject of contentious issues, I ask Michael about an ongoing debate specific to the music industry: the dominant role that streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music play in how people listen to music. Low payout rates to artists and a decline in sales are often cited as problematic symptoms of the streaming epidemic. “It’s difficult. It’s useful because it levels the playing field. If you’re a new band and haven’t got a big marketing budget or you’re not signed, you can still be on those platforms and your music can be heard,” he says. “The problem with that is because everyone can do it, how do you cut through when you could be a drop in the ocean?”
He does worry that the unequal distribution of money from streaming sites will have a detrimental effect on art: “We need to make sure there’s enough money coming in to the industry so that there’s going to be a next generation of artists. If there isn’t enough money to do anything, for example, small labels won’t want to take a risk signing someone, they’ll just sign some boring music that is a safe bet. You see it in Hollywood at the moment, all these films that are just sequels, that’s because no one wants to take risks. It’s bad for art full stop, not just for music. It’s the same with the government cuts as well. That’s my major worry, that there will be less interesting art in the world in general if we don’t sort things like streaming out in the next five or ten years.”
So are they feeling the pressure of success with their new release? “We’d be pretty gutted if we got bad reviews to be honest,” he admits. “I know with lots of bands it’s cool to say ‘we don’t care’, but the critical side of things is important to us because it just shows that people are spending time with the record and really thinking about it, which can be quite rare these days. The main thing for us is for normal people in the world to hold our music in some kind of regard. That is incredibly special and we’re very grateful for it,” Michael says, adding: “That’s really the most important thing.”
Something tells me when it comes to those wishes, they’ll get everything (everything), and more.
A Fever Dream is out now.