Back from the brink. Back to what they do best, which is make beautiful, provocative, literate, status quo-challenging, mood-enhancing, twice-Mercury-nominated music. Back to everything Everything Everything ever wanted to do.
Back to big-thinking, big-tune brilliance, and forward to Re-Animator, the fifth album by Jon Higgs (vocals, guitars), Jeremy Pritchard (bass), Alex Robertshaw (guitars, keyboards) and Michael Spearman (drums).
After the near back-to-back albums that were the coruscating, world-going-to-hell prescience of Get To Heaven (Higgs in 2015: “After we’d finished the record, I read the lyrics back and I realised I’d written a horror bible”) and the politically and socially thorny A Fever Dream (Higgs in 2017: “I was kind of embroiled in the whole culture of Reddit, being online and seeing how many social laws break down in that frontier of internet communication”), Re-Animator is Everything Everything regrouping and taking a breath.
It is also, in a wholly accidental but no less meaningful way, an album framed by the right here and the right now – a set of songs bracketed by fire, flood and plague.
“Incredibly, on the day that lockdown was announced, our lock-up caught fire,” Pritchard says wryly of their base in an old Victorian mill in Ancoats, north Manchester. “Jon and I turned up to discover the steel door smashed in by the fire brigade, and a fire investigator stood knee-deep in smouldering wood and plastic, trying to work out what had happened. The heat and flames caused a water main to burst, which helped douse the fire but probably caused even more damage to the gear.”
The ferocity of the blaze means that the band are still tabulating their losses.
“But we know that Jon and Alex lost their first ever guitars, both gifts from grandparents, and I lost four basses, including a vintage Precision I was really fond of. But no one was hurt and in 12 years we’d never had a serious robbery, fire or bus crash. I almost feel like we’ve got off lightly. But we’ll see…”
Prepared for like a marathon (a year’s worth of writing and demoing) and nailed like a sprint (a two-week recording burst), Re-Animator is the sound of a band entering a new creative chapter, a new set-up (with their own label deal with AWAL), a new explosion of life.
“It’s a bit of a cliché,” acknowledges Higgs, the band’s lyricist and top-line melodicist, “but we talked a lot about going back to basics. We say this literally every album: let’s not have all these synths and programming and bollocks!” he laughs. “But I think this time we did it better than we usually do.”
“We wanted to write songs,” states Robertshaw, who works up the building blocks of the band’s music in his studio in Shrewsbury. “We’ve previously written records that had a sonic palette, or took inspiration from the world around us, or used particular tools – like on the last record, the modular synth stuff. Or techniques that bands don’t normally use. But this time I wanted to write songs with harmonies and melodies. Trying to look at songs more like ‘how would Neil Young write?” rather than ‘what’s this crazy drumbeat?’”
“A Fever Dream was part two of Get To Heaven,” underlines Spearman. “They were made in that period when Brexit and Trump were first happening, then in the period where we were all dealing with the fall-out and confusion.”
“The title Re-Animator is not-insignificant,” Pritchard points out of an album recorded with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Anna Calvi) in London’s storied RAK studios in a purposefully focused fortnight in December 2019. “If you want to link it to anything we’ve done before, there’s a regained innocence and wonderment that was on our first record,” he says of Man Alive (2010), which was succeeded by Arc (2012). “And the colour of it is similar. The three albums that followed were about looking at the state of the world, and this one again is about… Well, yeah, wonderment is the word that keeps coming up.”
Everything Everything spent much of 2017 and 2018 on the road, including their most extensive American tour yet and their largest UK shows, including an epic night at London’s 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace.
“That felt really significant,” remembers Spearman. “The gig was brilliant and there was definitely something tangible in the air. It felt like another peak, or cherry on the cake.”
“It was the end of something,” nods Pritchard. “A sense that we could turn the page.” A Mercury nomination for A Fever Dream, mirroring their shortlisting for Man Alive, “felt like the closing of a chapter. The four albums were bookended by Mercury nominations. More importantly, there’s a conversation between all those records.
“But we’ve moved on,” adds the bass player, who spent much of Everything Everything’s off-the-road 2019 performing with Foals. “That’s also because our prolonged youth, that sense of being infantilised by being in a band, is finally over. That’s a tangible feeling.”
Having children will do that, as will the shifting sands of personal relationships.
“Whenever we give ourselves a year to make a record, I go insane,” is Higgs’ cheerful admission. “I did on Get To Heaven, certainly. But on this one I found myself reaching that usual state of existential crisis of a person my age. Everyone around is me having babies – two in the band, all my siblings – and there’s a sense of life catching up with us.”
Higgs put his enquiring, restless mind to good use, exploring his consciousness by hitting some heavyweight books while also expanding his horizons. In sum: mega-reading and micro-dosing.
“I did start tripping a little,” he says, “and did lots of very deep thinking about very deep questions. Just quite a thoughtful year, really.”
So, the album title: in reductive terms it’s about the frontman coming back to life?
“Absolutely. But there’s also this other meaning of re-animator, to do with the living dead, an idea I was really interested in during this period of writing.”
To be clear, Higgs has not gone off the deep end in light of recent events. Casting his inspiration net as wide as ever, he came across a theory called the bicameral mind, posited by Yale and Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes in his seminal 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
“It’s gonna sound crazy but basically he thinks that in our ancient evolution, before consciousness, the two sides of our brain were separate – next to each other but not one thing. So one side of the brain would hear a disembodied voice telling it to do stuff. That was coming from the other side of the brain.
“Everyone was going through their lives in this sort of zombie-ish state, not really conscious.”
Yes, he freely admits, “it’s fucking bizarre! But this idea of the divided self captivated me. He also attributes this to the origin of gods, people ascribing deity status to this voice they could hear in their head: ‘Oh, it’s a god, or my ancestors, speaking to me.’ Then, supposedly, modern-day schizophrenics are a throwback to that divided brain.
“And all this blew my mind. And I started thinking of ways I could make this a central concept. It really touched me, the idea of finding a god within you, or being one with your partner, praying to a part of yourself for salvation, the origin of consciousness. So across the whole record there are millions or references to this theory – to having a split brain, two selves, hearing voices.”
Hence the fluttering, fluting textures and pure wonder-of-nature sentiments of In Birdsong, the first song to be released from Re-Animator.
“We weren’t intending to share this song right now,” Higgs reveals, “but in the age of coronavirus, we wanted to be responsive to the changed landscape. And In Birdsong unexpectedly emerged as the most appropriate song to reappear with.
“Birdsong has accompanied human life since before we were even human,” he continues, “but in the recent century it has been obscured or pushed out of our lives. In the song I talk about hearing birdsong and knowing we are conscious and alive. With fewer cars and planes, and less human intervention generally, we’ve all been given the opportunity to reconnect with resurgent nature, and where we all are, for this brief moment.”
Higgs’ deft-touch theorising is also woven into Arch Enemy. It’s a song with its own schizophrenia: an irresistible, sunny melody and sinuous art-funk rhythm but lyrics that, lyrically and figuratively, plumb the depths.
“On the face of it, it’s about a guy who’s hearing a voice in day-to-day life, which he describes as a god,” begins Higgs. “But it’s actually a fatberg in the sewers, and he’s praying to it: ‘Come, like Noah’s flood, and flood these lands with fat.’ The fatberg is a metaphor for waste and greed and climate change.”
As Spearman accurately observes: “Arch Enemy demonstrates something I think we’re really good at: the absurdist, irreverent lyric and musical daring – not least in that fact that it was inspired by the chords of Miserere (the 17th century composition by Allegri)”.
Big Climb has a similar one-two – or, even, twin-action – punch: lyrics to stop you in your tracks, music to drag you to the dancefloor.
“I wanted to make a big Tears For Fears, Peter Gabriel type thing,” explains Robertshaw, “so I purchased this new synth just for this song.” “Not afraid that it’ll kill us, yeah, we are afraid that it won’t,” sing the massed ranks of harmonies in the chorus. This, expands Higgs, is the climate emergency from another angle, albeit with lyrics actually based on what someone close to him said about a suicide attempt.
“I didn’t want to write about suicide, so this is a chant, an anthem for the youth: fuck this world, you guys fucked it up, I hope it kills us all.”
Lean, propulsive, anthemic track The Actor is another stand-out, and speaks to Higgs and Robertshaw’s ground-zero writing rules.
Higgs: “Something else we talked a helluvva lot about was that every song had to be playable by me, on the acoustic guitar. And I say me because I’m a pretty average guitarist.”
Robertshaw: “Then it was about translating that into our world. Or, finding the most exciting way of portraying that song.”
Bracketing the album are rousing opener Lost Powers and the closing, climactic Violent Sun.
The former works at the top of the album not so much because of the lyrical theme, “the conspiracy man, the underground man,” which is something Higgs often goes back to “because a lot of my friends have become that guy over the last 10 years”. It’s because, simply, Lost Powers is a glorious pop moment, a song in which Higgs’ cloudbusting falsetto has never sounded better. “It sets the scene nicely, without being bombastic. It lets you know that this is essentially going to be a positive album, taking the good side of the re-animator idea.”
Then, at the other end, Violent Sun works as a full-stop because it is, frankly, a banger.
“It’s the biggest song we’ve ever written,” says Higgs of a New Order-meet-Bruce Springsteen epic. “Probably my only stipulation for the album was that we had a song that sounded like the last song of the night in a club. The lights have gone on, the DJ has said they’ll do one more, and you’re shitting yourself – is this gonna be the song that’s gonna help you kiss the boy, kiss the girl, beat up the bully? Some teenage bollocks like that. So this song set out to capture that feeling of time running out, but also total euphoria. And the song’s almost a bit too loud, like something gone wrong with the mastering. And the lyrics are trying to capture that anxiety, and this fear that’s something to get us, to consume us, but I want to be there with you when it happens.”
Violent Sun already sounds like a live monster, a main set-closer failsafe for the ambitious world tour upon which Everything Everything will, eventually, be embarking.
“Absolutely,” grins Higgs in agreement. “It’s the song that I’m most proud of. It doesn’t sound like us, and the melody is so good. On that one everything came together.”
Overall, too, Pritchard notes, Congleton’s production approach dovetailed with theirs. “We wanted to have a slightly less cluttered sound, and John’s sensibility and energy fit with that. We’d do four takes and he’d be, like: ‘Yeah, I think you’ve fucking got it.’ ‘Really? Should we listen through and–’ ‘No! if you listen for problems, we’ll find them.’ That was really healthy for us.”
“We wanted to let beauty in and make an honest, sincere, clear-thinking sound,” he adds. “We’ve maybe deliberately obfuscated that kind of stuff in the past because we felt it was exposing and naïve. It was nice to have that liberation.”
“This time it was about focusing on the fundamentals of songwriting first and foremost” echoes Robertshaw. “In the past when Jon and I have sat down together to write, we’ve been driven by a style of music or particular rhythmic feel. This time around we really just started with chords and melody and built it up from the bare bones in that way. A lot of thought went in to every part of every song and how they interlink and shift between keys. Making the music feel effortless when a lot is going on was a huge thing for me personally. There are songs on this record that have achieved that in a way far beyond what we’ve done before.”
This, then, is Everything Everything version 2.0. Refreshed. Resurgent. Reborn to run. Re-Animator.