'It’s just snapshots of things that interest me': We discuss Everything Everything's Arc...
It’s big-sounding, chart-baiting pop music, but probably not as we've known it before; Arc, the second album from Manchester’s Everything Everything is released this Monday, a record of immediate but complex art-pop that refines and builds on their 2010 Mercury-nominated debut Man Alive. Ahead of its release, we spoke to frontman Jonathan Higgs about why he’s gone to extra lengths to provide listeners with ‘ways in’ to the bands sophomore effort, his tendency to borrow from lowbrow influences and his desire to write a timeless classic…
What was your experience of the ‘difficult second album'?
We certainly didn't find it a disastrous struggle, which people seem to always think it is for some reason. I'm not really sure where that comes from...
Perhaps from the pressure of having to emulate the success of the first record?
Well, our goal was to make something better than the last album. We could have done the same thing again but it wouldn't have been exciting for us or for anybody else. We weren't too worried about trying to match the critical acclaim or anything; if you chase after plaudits you just end up making something crap that doesn't mean anything to anybody.
Critics have fun describing Everything Everything. Can you have a go at pigeonholing your sound?
It's pop music but it's open-minded pop music. We don't have many hang-ups about where our influences come from or what our music is for, it's just supposed to make people feel. I know that's not a genre... I guess at heart it is pop music, but it's not trying to be anything particular.
For this record we rejected a lot of material we were writing and we thought hard about general ‘ways in' for people because I think the first record was too... distracting, and people liked it but I'm not sure they felt emotions about it other than curiosity. We wanted to make a more emotional connection this time. We tried to straighten ourselves out a bit and connect with people more instead of losing them all the time.
Pop music often draws from a varied melting pot of influences. If we were to dissect the record what influences would we find in there?
It's a strange one because there isn't really anything direct in there. When I was writing the demos, I'd often hear a pop song that grabbed me in a particular way - for example ‘Whip My Hair' by Willow Smith, a stupid catchy little song, but there was something about the beat that I was really curious about and so I worked out what it was and just nicked it.
It's the same with a few Beyoncé songs - there'll be something rhythmic and I'll make my own thing around it. There are no specific records that we were listening to, it's more just snapshots of things that have interested me in the last couple of years. Mainly we tried not to be influenced by anything, and not to emulate anything.
The record starts with two singles (‘Cough Cough' and ‘Kemosabe'). Was immediacy important to you?
Yeah, it was. That was something that we were craving after touring around and seeing all these confused faces, and then a few months later someone would say ‘Oh I quite like that... now' and I'd think ‘it's too late'! I just wanted some classic tunes really. I've got a growing desire to write a timeless tune that doesn't care whether its 2013 or 1974. Just a song that can live longer than I do. That's what I'm after.
‘Cough Cough' made the Top 40. Do you think that a band like Everything Everything having chart success is indicative of indie music's shift towards the mainstream?
It's very hard to say. We keep hearing the names Django Django and Alt J thrown around, and the implication is that we're somehow connected to that. If we've opened some doors for that to happen by what we did with Man Alive then that's great, but likewise Foals and Wild Beasts did it before us. Basically, since the Klaxons in the mid-2000s there's been a steady acceptance of weirder pop, but it's only now that those bands are getting into the charts. God knows if we're anything to do with it or if there's a real change.
Do you see those bands as your contemporaries?
We've always felt a connection to Foals, but we also feel a connection to the other people of the BBC Sound of 2010 Poll, because we were all at exactly the same point in our careers at the time - Two Door Cinema Club, Delphic, Ellie Goulding - all artists of vastly different styles and at different levels, but quite literally our contemporaries.
What did you think of your label mate, David Bowie's new single?
I thought it was amazing. I was prepared to be let down, but it's exactly what I would have wanted him to do.
It's been said of Bowie that it's possible to identify a song on each of his records that points forward to the direction of his next one. Was there a song on this album (or the last) that informed the rest of it?
‘Kemosabe' was the first thing we wrote for this, and compared to Man Alive it was very much a step closer to ‘pop'. That informed the rest of the record. In terms of the next record, I don't know - my favourite song fluctuates so it's too early to say where we're going next. I'll still be chasing that emotional connection - we'll see on Monday how many people say ‘I love this'.
The reviews have been good. Do you care about them?
I don't know about 'care' about them, but I certainly read them and worry about them, and get angry about them if they're bad. You always forget what they were a few months after.
Is the decision to have your portraits on the record sleeve tied in with the emotional connection you're hoping to make with ‘Arc'?
Yeah, it's all connected. We've got a new live member who plays keyboard so I can just run around and be much more of a presence. The music is a lot more confident and open - that's why we've got ourselves on the cover and you can understand some of the lyrics, and the songs aren't as confusing or full of ideas... It's more focused.
The lyrics aren't transparent in the way ‘Whip My Hair' is though...
I think the lyrics on this record are far easier to work out than on the last one, but that's because I'm me and I'm not sure how other people are going to react to them. I think the songs are glaringly obvious now.
You're on a major label. Is there a pressure produce a commercial hit?
I think we feel under more pressure from ourselves than the label. We've never been asked to do anything we didn't want to. I don't know if we've been incredibly lucky or whether that's what it's always like, but we've never had the cold hand of Sony on our shoulder saying ‘you must write three minute songs'.
After finishing a record like this do you feel exhausted with the process or are you itching to start writing again?
I'm not itching to write more. We need time to get into this record live. Until now we've been playing to people who don't know what's going on, so we've got a really nice year ahead playing to people who do know what's going on. So I'm going to just enjoy that for now...
Until you hear a catchy Beyoncé song?
I'd probably make a note of it...
Arc is out on 14 January. Read the latest reviews here.
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