Last month I sat down on a Zoom call with Jonathan Higgs and Alex Robertshaw from the British group Everything Everything, who tomorrow release their long awaited new album Re-Animator. It’s their fifth album in a decade and their first since 2017’s brilliant A Fever Dream – which saw them tour Australia at the end of that year.
I joked at the start of our chat that this was quite far away from the normal place you might do an interview, in a label’s office or backstage at a concert, to which Higgs pointed out – as he picked up his guitar – that for him, we were actually backstage – getting a glimpse into the place where the magic actually happens. This (and/or rooms like is) is where Re-Animator was born, as were all his past projects.
“I think I’ve written almost everything I’ve ever written, it hasn’t been in a studio. Usually a bedroom, or like a study, but not like in their room with a drum kit in or anything like that.”
Why is that?
Jonathan: Rooms that are dedicated to music tend to turn me off a bit because it’s just a room full of music stuff… I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but no, I don’t tend to write when there’s other instruments around.
Has it always been that way?
Jonathan: I used to go, ‘I’m going to write music now’, and go and do it, but now I know that if I’m not in the right mood then there’s no point in doing that. I mean I do do it, because I think you should always write, you should try and write for something every day if you can, but the best things happen when you don’t think about it. When you’re just unconsciously messing around.
Quite very often actually, it’s the very first thing you play on the guitar. You literally don’t play for two months and you pick it up and just and the first thing you play without thinking is quite often the best thing you’ll play that day. Which is quite weird, but it’s honestly true as well. And I’m a terrible guitarist, so and if I sit there and try and make something good happen, it never does. I just pick it up and the first thing unconscious thing happens.
So you don’t do the 9-to-5 songwriting thing, like I know Nick Cave says he does – but do you get into a routine of sorts when you’re on the road?
Jonathan: Oh does he? When you listen to his music you really wouldn’t think that. Touring though, yeah, it’s the same thing every day, and as soon as it stops you have trouble. But as long as it keeps going then you can keep doing it for a long time.
What’s the longest stint you’ve had?
Jonathan: I’m not sure, but maybe a few months? It’s when tours lead into another one, so you’ll do Europe and then you might do England, America or Australia and then it’s summertime and the festivals come and you just keep going. But you you lose track of time very easily with touring because you just see the same stuff all the time and you don’t see the passage of time like you would at home.
You don’t really have to think about life at all, because it’s all done for you. Every room is the same and every airport is the same, and the tour bus never changes you know… it’s all done through a kind of a drunken haze anyway.
Those 6 a.m lobby calls… cities you don’t even get to see
Jonathan: 6 a.m sounds luxurious! I mean we forced ourselves to get out and about in Istanbul but we literally just didn’t sleep in order to do that. We were in and out… yeah so many stories like that.
I’ve found that if you go to a museum in a major city the day after a big show or a festival, you can play “spot the band rushing through the exhibits trying to see everything before they have to get back onto the tour bus”.
Jonathan: Yeah! I think it was Australia, Nick Cave actually was one of the one of the artists playing the event we were playing, and we just kept seeing him. At least I think it was him. We were in all the same hotels we’re in the same lifts and he was always there we were having breakfast and we were just like what the hell isn’t it Nick Cave eating for breakfast?
What did he eat?
Jonathan: I’m pretty sure he didn’t eat anything, and that was part of the fascination. *laughs* Just some boiled water?
So as we speak now, you were supposed to be coming off a bunch of shows with Foals, and gearing up for the tours you were doing in support of Re-Animator. What is the feeling for the band having to sit still for the forseeable future?
Jonathan: Just really boring to be honest. We already took off the whole of last year to write and make the album so it’s not like we need a holiday you know. I don’t think we played any shows in 2019. So it’s sort of becoming a kind of forgotten experience now.
I’d love to go on tour… I’d love to play a gig… so yeah it’s just very boring. Because you only make music or perform music when you’re in a band, so you can’t do one of those now.
Working in the music industry now is like it’s kind of just like a normal office job… It’s so interesting seeing this industry from the perspective of never leaving the house…
Jonathan: I think the ridiculous thing is that it can be done from not leaving the house. We had to improvise quite a lot, but I think we were quite good at doing that anyway. And we’re quite self-sufficient as a band. We can record ourselves to a pretty good level now and we know how to write music and we can make videos and do all sorts of stuff quite self-sufficiently.
You’ve made three music videos already for this release at least what we’ve seen…
Jonathan: Yep, and another one on the way.
I know you’re making them too Jonathan… which is really impressive. What’s that process been like, have you delved into that sort of technology before?
Jonathan: Not quite that technology, but I’ve done lots of video effects stuff in the past and lots of green screens, rudimentary stuff like that before. But this was like a whole another level of trying to use 3D and trying to learn how the hell this works and then trying to learn puppetry and different techniques…
It must feel like you have complete control at this point if you’re literally doing everything, because you’re put in a situation that that requires it – even down to working on unique release strategy outside the touring cycle.
Jonathan: Alex has been steadily building up the recording side of things, so we’ve got some pretty good equipment on the go now. Moving forward we’re probably going to do almost all of it ourselves I think which is going to be fun. We’re ready for the challenge. Well it’s not even a challenge, we basically did the last one by ourselves, and the one before that you know.
Usually it works the other way around – you’re able to kind of live like a band that’s just getting started but you’re five albums in…
Jonathan: Yeah exactly it’s like we’ve just started again.
When it comes to album number five, Re-Animator, I first want to talk about working with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten, David Byrne) on the record, can you tell me a little bit about how he came into the into the project and what the experience was like working with him?
Alex: I think Michael met him first and I think we were just intrigued, because we kind of knew that we’d be doing a lot of production ourselves at quite a high standard. So we wanted someone to come in who would be more focused on performances and not really worry about things too much. Because it works really fast, we tracked the whole record in two weeks, we usually take six weeks. So just having that kind of different way of working, we thought it would be interesting to try something we had never done – we always like doing things we’ve never done – and working with him was the most exciting in that in that respect.
So to be able to do that in two weeks, what was that preparation like? How did that differ to the times when you did have six weeks?
Alex: For me, I just wanted to make sure the songs were as good as they could be before we went in there; there was going to be no room to drastically change stuff – John (Congleton) is not gonna work like that. He’s just trying to capture performances and so I think when you work really quickly you have to be very prepared.
So for Jonathan and I we were just writing the songs making sure that there was absolutely no no plot holes as it were, so we knew we had all the middle eights and we had the choruses and we knew that this had to go into this… you know, the arrangements were just solid, and the parts were pretty solid. So when we went in we could just do basically the fun stuff – get performances and play around and not be kind of panicking at the last second.
How hands on were you as things were being mixed and mastered?
Alex: We’re pretty hands-on at every part of the process to be honest, but you know all the parts are kind of locked in in the writing. Jonathan and I, we write most of the parts there isn’t much there isn’t much new stuff that happens in the studio.
It’s like we just we just tried to make whatever we had written before be as exciting as possible, and there’s lots of different ways to do in terms of layering. It’s like when we’re writing parts, we’re trying to make sure nothing steps on anyone else’s toes, you know frequency range or notes or what’s covered and what isn’t covered… so it kind of layers up naturally. It’s the way our brains probably work now. From just the point of inception of writing a piece of music, it just seems to develop in that way.
Looking at the tracks on the new record, “Lord of the Trapdoor”, really jumped out at me as one of the highlights. What can you tell me about that track?
Alex: I wrote the music in 5/4 and then Jonathan sang on it. But then, because it was quite an unusual piece of music, in terms of its keys, it’s got a few different keys within the verse, within the actual chord sequence it’s sort of changing key, so personally I wrote you the music side of it, flexing my muscles as a kind of “what’s the most ridiculous thing I could try and write?”. I really pushed myself.
So that’s where it came from me, and then Jonathan had to just sort of struggle to find something to sing on it and it’s in 5/4 which is never the easiest. It went through so many lives that song and I’m really glad it made the record because there was a time when it probably wasn’t going to.
When I think back to some of the first times I saw you live – Splendour in the Grass on the back of your second record – something that has always impressed me is how well your songs translate live. Listening to it on record you think, oh surely he’s not going to be able to jump between 37 notes in under 3 minutes on the stage. But you do!
How much consideration goes into the live show when you’re making a song for a record?
Jonathan: To begin with, all our songs were written live before we ever made an album, and then from then on we just decided not to care anymore about whether we could or couldn’t do it.
But I think we did start to think about it more on this last record. There was a few times where we thought this key is too high, it’s just doesn’t need to be and I’m literally not gonna be able to sing that live. It’s just insane.
The way I tend to write demos or tend to sing on demos is just so high. I don’t know why, it’s just my idea of what makes a good chorus – it must be really high! Something deep within me just makes me go sing it as high as you possibly can. And then we go well that’s just stupid, it’s gonna be impossible.
And also things like having 16 guitar parts. But I think it’s as much we know we can’t do it live, as we also think the song can’t be good if it needs 16 guitars. But I mean sometimes you do want 16 guitars because you want it to sound like 16 guitars and in which case we don’t care, but we’ve tried to be a bit more pragmatic.
We mentioned that you were supposed to go on the road with Foals earlier in the year – and they’re really a band that have come up at a similar time as you – how much have you done alongside them over the years?
Jonathan: Yeah we’ve been on the road with them a few times, we’ve been friends with them for a good few years. We had we even had a manager in common. There was there was no crossover in that, but yeah we just know that we’ve sort of made it cut from the same cloth in lots of ways and get on really really well, just instantly. We’re very similar people. Jeremy (Pritchard) played with them for a bit while we were writing – their bass player wasn’t around, he left – so yeah we’re sort of peas in a pod in a lot of ways. But obviously their music sucks yeah.
Yeah, terrible band, rubbish.
When the touring comes back is the plan to still do those shows with with Foals because I know they’ve rescheduled?
Alex: We don’t know. Because we’ve had to move our shows, I think there might there may or may not be some overlap and we don’t even know yet. We were supposed to tour with them, and then do our own tour. With the current situation everything’s moving so fast, no one really knows.
What are you looking forward to most once things start getting back to normal?
Alex: Just playing, just playing some shows it’s been so long since we’ve played a gig now. It’s been so long, and sometimes I just have to remember what that feels like. And it’s sometimes good when you’re writing as well to like have a few gigs and your belt, it kind of reminds you you know the sort of music you should be writing or something. You know you kind of write music for a certain feeling, and is you you can easily forget that feeling of being on on stage when you haven’t done it for ages.
Have you been writing during this period have you found it to be creative time or is it like you want to bury your head in the sand?
Alex: A bit of both *laughs*. Some weeks are all right and some weeks I try. You know it’s difficult, I’ve got a daughter so she’s not at nursery at the moment due to everything and my wife’s still working so I don’t have as much time as i used to. But when I do find time I try to do writing on the better days so some days you have a whole day with your your daughter, and you get to the end of day you just want a glass of wine *laughs*.
You don’t want you don’t want to do any writing, you know you don’t want to have to think. But we’re gonna keep writing. I quite like to just keep going to be honest.
We kind of hit a good stride right at the end of the record, we were writing fairly consistently, stuff of a pretty good standard which will make the album, um so it’s sometimes good just to keep going because when you don’t do it for a while you kind of forget a lot of that and it takes a while to get it back.
Yeah the rehearsal process for the next whenever the next tour happens is going to be an interesting experience.
Alex: Yeah especially since we don’t have anywhere to rehearse because our rehearsal space went up in flames.
Oh shit, like recently?
Jonathan: Yeah on the day of lockdown I think it was.
Alex: I’m literally just just fixing this guitar *holds up guitar*.
It’s completely burnt.
Jonathan: Oh you’ve got some new headstocks on it.
Alex: Yeah I’ve bought some headstocks.
Jonathan: It looks pretty schmick.
Alex: All the other stuff’s completely gone. it was pretty weird when it happened it was like couldn’t have happened at the worst time it’s been possible to deal with. It happened just as we went into lockdown it’s just like just couldn’t was it like the world was getting worse and worse and then just right last second we lost loads of equipment in a huge fire.
Well we have to go, but I can’t leave it on that sad note. So let’s end on this: what’s the best song or album you guys have listened to in the last couple of months? what’s what’s been getting you through quarantine?
Alex: I was listening to the best of Cylob. It’s sort of like terrible PC music from the mid 90s. It’s like Aphex Twin but not cool *laughs*. It’s just been making me laugh. I’ve had to do loads of jobs that have just involved monotonous work and I’ve had that on while I’m doing them, and it just brings a smile to my face every time. And every like 20 seconds something happens in that music that’s just not allowed *laughs*.
So I mean when you say something that’s been inspiring, I wouldn’t say that’s the most inspiring music but it’s got me through. It’s added a bit of humor to my life which is which is great sometimes.
John: I don’t think I’ve listened to any music other than Re-animator since lockdown started that I can think of. I just feel like I haven’t been in that mind space at all. I haven’t even listened to any podcasts, my mind’s been very much elsewhere.
Alex: You’ve been doing the videos haven’t you?
Jonathan: Yeah basically I’ve been making our videos, and I haven’t just just haven’t been thinking about music at all really, just like being in a band.
Alex: I’ve been watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon, it’s been really funny.
Re-Animator is out tomorrow, 11th September.
The group are holding a special VR concert to launch the album over the next two days, with their second performance timed for 6pm AEST tomorrow. Head HERE for tickets and more details, or check out the post below.
Australia, Japan, who’s joining us on Friday?! 🇦🇺🇯🇵 Come and say hi to us and watch new songs played (virtually) live from RE-ANIMATOR.
— EverythingEverything (@E_E_) September 9, 2020