In 2009, political documentarian Adam Curtis released a short film in which he explored the rise of “oh dear-ism”: the concept perpetuated by TV news that the violence in the world is so horrific and confusing that there’s nothing we can do but wring our hands apologetically. Oh Dear-ism II, a five-minute film broadcast on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe last December, theorised that Russian and British leaders were now taking advantage of this ever-increasing global violence in order to obfuscate their dodgy dealings. He called it the “strange mood of our time, where nothing makes any coherent sense.”
Manchester art-pop band Everything Everything’s third album, ‘Get To Heaven’, released on June 15, is a product of 2014’s conflicting tide of information, which singer Jonathan Higgs calls the “most violent year of our lives”. Back in January, Jon told NME, “I think you’d have to be blind and deaf to have lived through 2014 and not shed a tear. If you put out a record this year and it’s all smiles, then I think you’re a liar, basically.”
In order to decode this senseless world, on ‘Get To Heaven’ Everything Everything push past “oh dear-ism” to explore the desperation that pushes people towards extremist beliefs in search of their own personal utopia, be it the allure of Isis, Ukip and the rise of the charlatan in dark times, Putin’s fascist cult of personality or 22-year-old Californian Elliot Rodger going on a killing spree as “retribution” because he couldn’t find a girlfriend. Although written months ago, the robust chanting of ‘Regret’ feels like an empathetic portrait of the schoolgirls who fled to Syria: “First you’ll see me on the news, then never again”. On ‘Zero Pharoah’, Jon tries on absolute power and admits that he too would fail to resist its corrupting influence. They’re the perfect band to tackle this disorienting propaganda cycle perpetuated by politicians and terrorists, too, given that their frenetic pop has always been about making sense of information overload.
“Don’t quiz me on the politics of Syria or Ukraine,” Jon says, in a café in Manchester’s Piccadilly Basin in late March. “I don’t fucking know, but I know it makes me feel wretched and confused and anxious without having to know who’s right and who’s wrong. Instead, it’s trying to inhabit these people who do this stuff – like how would I feel if I was Muslim, or a rejected Hollywood teen like that Rodger kid. He was the one who did it for me. He was the son of a movie producer and his suicide video was a movie – it was shot like one, with that sunlight across his face, and he was acting, he was completely gone. I felt like a lot of the violence of last year desensitised me, and he represented the end result of that in some way.”
He brings up Alan Henning, the British taxi driver-turned-humanitarian aid worker, who Isis murdered last October. “When they killed him, I lost it, totally. I just couldn’t believe it. That guy was no ordinary person – he was the dictionary definition of a ‘good man’. He had chosen to go out there to help people and they cut his fucking head off. Somewhere between those two lives I felt like the whole world was getting all too much and I felt like a bomb waiting to go off. How can you beat a belief that makes you do those things? How can you fight faith and ideas like that? It’s just unknowable.”
Empathy and optimism seemed like good places to start. When picking a title for the record, Jon wrote down a list of potential names that were violent, dark and bloody, before realising that metal bands would always out-gore him and that embracing positivity would be a more subversive move. “You go through all this horror, and as this ‘fuck you’ to the perpetrators, why not give it a really nice title? I wanted to try and rise above it and defeat that horrible shit with hope.”
There’s a high body count across ‘Get To Heaven’: on ‘Fortune 500’, Jon imagines murdering the Queen, while on ‘No Reptiles’, he coolly declares, “I’m going to kill a stranger”, adopting the perspective of someone driven to desperation through disenfranchisement. But despite the violence, and the abject bleakness of a song like ‘The Wheel’, which examines the appeal of Ukip’s ruddy, nicotine-stained face, ‘Get To Heaven’ sounds so much brighter than its predecessor. 2013’s downcast ‘Arc’ was an insular record that often centred on the dismal hopelessness of depression, meanwhile ‘Get To Heaven’ frequently skews euphoric, rekindling the extroverted poppiness of their 2010 debut, ‘Man Alive’, and running on nervous, furious energy.
“The feeling you get from ‘Arc’ is resignation and a bleak outlook,” says Jon. “This time, from the word go, I wanted to make something that makes you get angry and want to do something it, because that’s how I was feeling. I thought, ‘you’ve done all your moping, now it’s time to get angry about it’.”
The Manchester-based four-piece went into the studio with a rule of “no calm songs”, and with Jon Hopkins’ ‘Immunity’ and Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ in mind. “‘Yeezus’ was the best thing I’d heard in a long time,” says Jon. “So I tried to write a lot like that. I’m performing a much more confident persona across the record, and that attitude came from ‘Yeezus’, that ‘fuck you’.”
They took the same approach to the music – parts of ‘Arc’ had been written to try and second-guess what audiences wanted from them, and to resist their natural tendency towards excess. “I think the attitude shift that occurred between the two records was that we just stopped caring about whether we should do this or could do it live – we just said, ‘bollocks to it’, and if it sounds good then we’ll do it,” says Jon.
In an attempt to escape their comfort zone, they opted not to work with their usual producer, David Kosten, instead going with Stuart Price, who had worked on Madonna and New Order’s later records. After a year of hard writing, they took an unconventional approach to recording. Stuart lives in LA, and for most of the process, the band emailed him their work and he would send back suggested mixes, allowing the band greater independence in the studio and making them realise that self-production might be an option in the future. Only in the last nine days did he join them in the studio to help refine the record’s bright, jagged edges and strangely moving vocal harmonies.
“We wanted it to be colourful and vibrant and more upbeat than ‘Arc’,” says drummer Michael Spearman. “We found playing ‘Arc’ live, as fun as it was, it was hard to make a setlist that felt…”
“…Like you’d want to be there,” says Jon, darkly.
“There’s a lot of positive energy on the record, but it’s not necessarily in the lyrics,” adds guitarist Alex Robertshaw.
Their rediscovered bright side comes through strongest in lead single ‘Distant Past’ (released this week). It’s the biggest banger they’ve ever written, hooked around a huge synth-rave chorus that Jon came up with in his parents’ shed. “We did struggle with it,” says bassist Jeremy Pritchard. “Because we thought it would sound cheap and nasty, like a shitty David Guetta thing, but I think it struck the balance.” It’s about alleviation and a reversion to previous states, he says, echoing the idea of rave culture as a kind of escapist Eden.
“In some ways it’d be great to go back [to the past] and forget all this bollocks, but in others it would be fucking terrifying,” says Jon.
“And there’s now the added element that there are people in the world that think we should be living in the dark ages,” adds Jeremy.
‘Distant Past’ feels emblematic of ‘Get To Heaven’ as a whole – it’s classic, clever euphoria, but this summer, festival goers will be dancing to a song about the end of the world, just as some of the characters on the record fiddle while Rome burns. “It’s the Trojan horse approach,” says Michael. “Get your interesting lyrical idea into something that on the face of it is just there to be enjoyed.”
Everything Everything are well aware that while they’re calling attention to the issues that blight the world, they’re also a diversion. The record explores this contradiction: on the dreamy, Afrobeat-indebted title track, Jon sings, “As the tanks roll by under a blood black sky, I’m thinking, ‘Where in the blazes did I park my car?’” But ‘No Reptiles’ empathises with the desire to be absolved of responsibility for the world’s messes, where inertia feels like its own protest and hiding under the covers is an escape: “It’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair old enough to run”. It’s a strange line that leaps out of its calm, glimmering surrounds and grows incrementally sadder with each listen.
“I wanted that absurdity,” says Jon. “I feel absurd quite a lot of the time, and that my place in the world is fairly absurd, and that was the way it came to me. It’s about feeling useless and inactive when you could be doing stuff. And responsibility is a good word – I don’t think I’m very responsible in my own life, and I think as a whole, nobody really gives a crap any more – ‘me culture’ is here and it’s real and it’s not going anywhere.”
“I think in Britain, at least, there’s a sense that people want to put their head in the sand,” adds Mikey. “That’s why we’re nostalgic for the ’60s and have shows like The Great British Bake Off…”
“…That awful fucking show,” seethes Jeremy. “It’s classic bread and circuses.”
“But we’re a distraction,” says Mikey. “We’re not saying we have any answers.”
“Do we want to be giving all this stuff more airtime?” asks Alex. “Do we want people to be having a bad time? Is it such a bad thing to give relief to all this horrible stuff? There’s so much horrible shit in the world, maybe people having a good time is exactly what we need.”
“People dancing in spite of that, I think it’s part of what we’ve always done,” says Jon.
Everything Everything have been engaging with political ideas since ‘Man Alive’, though there they hid their assertions beneath frenetic production and occasionally incomprehensible lyrical delivery – few people probably realised that ‘MY KZ, UR BF’ was about American foreign policy and the controversial practice of drone warfare. “‘Arc’ was more overt but I think I had less to say,” says Jon. “With this record, I just feel like time is running out for the band. There’s a certain amount of time people will bother listening to us at all, and it felt like, ‘You can’t just hang around forever not approaching things that feel uncomfortable’.”
“Not having the security of knowing if you’ll be able to make another record is good, I think,” says Mikey. “We’re always surprised when we are able to make a new album, it keeps us on our toes.”
“I can’t believe we’re still here,” says Alex. “Just the fact that we’re still getting support from Radio 1, you see what else is on there and this piece of insanity we’ve made.”
Alex’s surprise doesn’t feel misplaced. In an age where Britain’s most successful pop acts are blandness incarnate, and the few rock bands that thrive are dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, it’s a strange pleasure to see a band as weird as Everything Everything – with their provocative ideas and unconventional, anti-macho revamp of what it is to be four white guys in a guitar band – climbing the Radio 1 playlist and reaching ever-wider audiences.
“It’s a good feeling to put something in the world that moves people, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable,” says Mikey. “I think artistically, some people might hate this new album, but it’s not bland and it’s not boring, and I feel like a lot of art these days is so bland and homogenised – it’s been through a billion people and it’s got squeezed through a load of systems. I feel like ours is a stronger flavour, and that’s very satisfying. We’re not just doing it for ourselves – we want people to connect with it and be moved by it. It has to be purposeful and meaningful.”