What makes an album a standout album? Sure the singles, the artwork, and the relatability of the songs are important, but a key component of a memorable album is the ability to revisit the album without tiring of it. This is where Manchester ‘Experimental Pop’ band Everything Everything, have excelled at with their so far, which has led to their triumphant third album, Get To Heaven. It’s an album that’s unafraid to tackle major themes, such as corporate greed, religion, and social injustice while having infectious keyboard tones dance around your face at breakneck speeds. To juggle so many themes while creating an enjoyable atmosphere is massive in itself, and yet Everything Everything have achieved this without compromising for arena sized hooks. Ken Grand-Pierre sat down with frontman Jonathan Higgs and guitarist Alex Robertshaw to find out how Get To Heaven was created and what we can expect next from Everything Everything.
Paste: Out of all the albums I listened to in 2015, ’Get To Heaven’ has the defining characteristic of being a pop album devoid of any sense of compromise, which really impressed me with the initial listen. Was there a goal, in going into the studio and crafting such an album?
Higgs: We had an idea going into the studio that we wanted to make a more aggressive album then the last (Arc, released in 2013). We had this running joke that we wanted to create an ‘angry party’ essentially. No quiet time, no down time allowed. We surprisingly ended up doing a lot of it ourselves, where I think the ‘no compromise’ aspect came from. We didn’t have anyone around us to say ‘no’ We kind of fired our manager during the end of making it as well haha so we were a little bit on our own, and we relied on each other. We did a lot of writing, and when the producer finally came in, it was near the end and he added like 20% of cool shit on top of what we had really.
Paste: Oh wow, so it was essentially a lot of mixing and layering he did?
Higgs: Well he was there the whole time, but on email. He was really great at letting us kind of steer our own ship.
Alex Robertshaw: One of the great things about working that way is we were able to bounce melodies and ideas off of him from time to time, and he quite believed in the approach we were taking. He had lots of ideas, 80% of them being ridiculous, but a firm 20% that were also ridiculous, but very good.
Paste: What I really enjoyed about making this record, is we allowed ourselves to be fully creative, and there was never a feeling of hitting a wall, or anything like that really. It felt like we couldn’t do ‘too much’
In hindsight, does it feel as though the process of making this album greatly differed from the makings of Arc and the debut album (Man Alive, released in 2010). I remember reading after touring for Arc you guys felt as though the tonality of that album was quite negative, but to me it felt a lot more of a reflective collection of songs, a quite subversive album.
Higgs: I think what it was with Arc is that it felt like a bit disconnected in hindsight. I’m talking about things on such a big scale, that it doesn’t even feel as though they’re characters in it anymore. And musically, it’s a very distant album as well. What informed these opinions was that we were playing stadiums near the end of that record, touring with big bands, practicing in these big rooms, and with all that I think we got carried away with…space and distant.
Robertshaw: I also think it was the extreme of going from Man Alive to that. Where we needed that to happen to get to this point. I think what we learned, that at our best we are somewhere in between haha. With Get To Heaven, I think it definitely has that spirit of us doing whatever we want to do, and not feeling as though we have to constrain ourselves and our ideas, and that we can write for ourselves without being swayed by arena mentality.
Paste: And with that uncompromising aspect of the album, is also this element of bombast that can be felt throughout the album. It feels chaotic, but also cohesive as a whole. I knew I loved the album after the fourth listen, when I realized that anytime I’d listen to Get To Heaven I’ll find myself picking up on something else on the album. The massive feeling of the album is ‘wow…people made this’ what was the last song you worked on in the studio?
Higgs: I think the last song that really took form was the opener, “To The Blade”. The demo we took into the studio was very different from what we ended up creating, whereas everything else we brought in was maybe 60-70% done by the time we got into the studio. It was already a song at that point, but at the end of recording it, it sounded nothing like it did as a demo.
Robertshaw: And the title track changed quite a bit as well. It got quite technical, particularly with the chorus, and it took a while for that tune to take form.
Higgs: Hahaha, Jeremy spent all this time learning this really cool bassline, and then our producer Stuart Price came in, and snipped it all out haha.
Paste: When you consider how pop music has been projected over the years, there are many themes that get touched upon but rarely ever explored. In fact, it’s felt that over the last several years it’s more noticeable what artists choose not to talk about, than what they do choose to talk about, which is another element that makes Get To Heaven standout. On this album you guys talk about mega-corporations, big pharma, classism, social commentary, and I was curious what the conversation was like prior to recording this album, when you discussed ‘alright, we’re going to talk about these things’?
Higgs: There wasn’t a conversation at all really. I kind of sprang the lyrics on the guys the last minute haha. There were some mumblings that the songs might go that way, but there never was a real conversation.
Robertshaw: The closest we had to a conversation was going ‘please don’t write that, it’s too far.’ Haha. The only time I ever had a problem, was when it felt some songs were losing that ambiguity to them, that edge that has a double meaning to them and that. I feel like when you lose that, you have to be extra careful so that it doesn’t feel like you’re shoving themes down people’s throats.
Higgs: We never discussed that though.
Robertshaw: I like that though. I like that it’s quite…it is the most ridiculous paring of lyrics and music ever haha.
Paste: That aspect does quite hold the album together though. Here you have these direct lyrics surrounded by these sounds that are almost dancing around the lyrics, all these different sounds and tones.
Higgs: A lot of the time I find myself thinking its loads of distractions for the listener, but somewhere in the middle is some real serious shit. And at times it can be funny, and it’ll come at you like a quick flash, and leaves someone thinking ‘whoa, what was that?’ What I wanted to have happen, was that as the album progressed a person would feel a darkness in the underbelly of the album, but find themselves distracted by all the flashing lights. Which would create this aspect where you can ignore the underbelly if you want to, but it’s still there. To be honest, that’s a lot like what it’s like right now to be alive. You can seek out nasty shit, you can find out anything you want. It’s crazy how it is now especially with social media, and the way ISIS feeds off of that, and manipulates social media to sell atrocities. Meanwhile, you have all that happening right next to adverts for sleeping pills, and I’ve always been intrigued by that contrast in our art. That being one thing isn’t true, it just isn’t true at all. No one experiences life in a linear way. No one experiences life where they get up in the morning and find themselves thinking ‘today I’m only going to think about this one thing’ It’s like ‘no, this is happening, and so is this! And so is this!’ So with Get To Heaven, I really wanted to explore that, especially in how some aspects of that franticness can be positive and some can be negative, and some times it’s both at the same time. That’s what the album should sound like that, it should sound like positive and negative at the same time.
Paste: It’s very interesting to hear you put that into those words, because what’s really been a mainstay on the career of Everything Everything is how you guys have never tried to be just one thing. I would daresay it’d be impossible to describe you guys as an indie band, there’s just so much more going on.
Higgs: Yeah, I think there have been times where I thought about being a bit more one-sided, but then I realize it’d be a terrible thing for us and we’d just end up boring ourselves, and each other. It’d ruin what we’re doing. Things have to constantly change, and I think a lot of that makes sense at it’s core, but that peoples attention spans, all of ours, have been shot to shit really. So we need constant change, or maybe it’s a reflection of….I don’t think we could do anything else. When we tried our hardest to be maybe even slightly conventional, we made Arc, and it was us trying really hard being one thing, and staying in one spot, and at the end of it’s course we found ourselves practically pleading for excitement, to do new things, which is why we made the third record the way we did really.
Paste: Everything Everything are also one of the few bands that doesn’t seem to run the issue of being compared to other acts. When I think of Everything Everything I think of acts such as Massive Attack, Gorillaz, and Radiohead, not in terms of sound but in terms of broadness, in terms of a scope of sound. I think where this becomes especially true in contrast, is that no one could condense your band into one sentence, the same way they couldn’t describe those acts in one sentence as well.
Higgs: I some times wish people could do that, it’d make things easier haha. But, I’ve been starting to get ok with this term: experimental pop. We’ve been asked this so many times, about genres and that, and recently an American journalist said it to us: that we’re ‘experimental pop.’ And I really liked that, because pop is so broad, but experimental is almost like the hills. So putting those two words together, its almost like opposites, and it’s not something you hear so often, so…I quite like that.
Paste: And what’s great about that, is being defined that way creates this curiosity, where someone would want to check you guys out just to wonder what experimental pop even sounds like. Does it feel that now that you’ve lived with the album for a while, that it’s changed for you over time. Do you react or feel differently about the songs after performing them live for audiences, especially after having a stage set-up such as the one Squib has created for you in Europe? That stage and the lights truly brought the album to life in a way you guys haven’t had before.
Higgs: Squib is great haha, this guy knows! The albums become quite theatrical in its execution, but it was written with that in mind in a lot of ways. We wanted it to feel like a character in itself.
Robertshaw: We wanted that to be hit home as much as possible, especially with the artwork, which just gets in your face and is so loud. It’s quite a contrast to what we did with Arc, where the artwork was quite regimented and muted colors, and dull, and quite serious. Get To Heaven is quite serious, but just loud.
Higgs: But really, it’s not that serious, we just have big themes. There’s religion, and murder, the stuff that’s been selling since the Romans got together in amphitheaters haha. All these things, but we’re playing with them all, even things like cults and power structures. One of the reasons I think Arc ended up being as serious as it was, is because Man Alive was perceived to be quite silly, by a lot of people. So we made Arc to be quite serious, but it felt like we lost our light a bit. In hindsight, it feels undeniable that we were trying to be a bit too ‘hard’ in how we presented everything; the themes, visuals, and that. And now we have to be even ‘harder’ haha.
Robertshaw: Now that we’ve gotten here I don’t want to stop haha. The new writing we’ve been doing lately has been following up on Get To Heaven quite a bit; particularly in the vain in ridiculousness.
Paste: I feel that the more I work with bands, the more that I recognize that bands really want to get to a point where they have a process that feels very…not regimented, but a way that just works for them. Do you feel for Everything Everything it’ll ever get to a point where you’ll go ‘we work this way’ period?
Higgs: No, I don’t think so. Maybe more of having a clearer process perhaps, but we never want to work the same way again and again.
Robertshaw: Yeah, we definitely don’t want to go the Foo Fighters route of doing things haha, especially having albums where every song sounds the same.
Higgs: Like the last one, with all those cities yet it still sounded so much like the other stuff haha.
Robertshaw: Or the one before made in the garage with slightly less production value haha.
Higgs: We don’t ever want to be like that. But also, the way we write wouldn’t allow us to be like that either.
Robertshaw: There’s a lot of moments for us where we’ll part with our headphones while listening to what we made, and we’ll be grinning haha.
Higgs: When we stop grinning, is when we’ll stop creating.