Everything Everything,the Manchester-based UK quartet, returns with their fifth and biggest album to date, Re-Animator. Recorded in London at the end of 2019, the band had no idea what was in store for them in 2020. The 11-track album, produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent), features some of the smartest and haunting alt-pop tracks released this fateful year. Biting, acerbic lyrics provide piercing societal commentary reminiscent of David Byrne, delivered with driving and yet ethereal melodies create a much-needed escape.
Everything Everything frontman Jonathan Higgs and guitarist and keyboardist Alex Robertshaw join American Songwriter from the UK to discuss the details behind the songs on this striking project. From monsters, to black holes, to redemption in love Everything Everything reminds listeners- “you don’t always have to be a lunatic.”
Alex: This song started out as a slow piano ballad type thing that I had written whilst we were travelling on tour. I had actually completely forgotten about it until Jon and I started writing for the album and opened up some old sketches and found it. Jon thought it would be good to sing on and took it away and came back with the melody.
Jon: Lyrically I wanted to talk about paranoid, conspiracist-type people, of which I’ve come to know quite a few of amongst my friends in recent years. I’m writing from the point-of-view of some of them, and referring to events as if they were simulated (with terms like “crisis actors” etc). The chorus refrain of “come on you only lost your mind” is a way to celebrate the fact that everyone and everything is a bit crazy now, rather than worry about it.
Alex: Jon had this demo that was a very straight Interpol type thing and in it was this great bridge and outro that we all really wanted to use, so I took it away and that became the basis for the chorus and the middle 8, I had ‘raspberry beret’ going round in my head when making the verse. Something in the guitar part probably made me think it, still haven’t worked out why. Mike wrote the drum beat for this and sent me it. Once I worked out how to do some rhythmic bass sequencing using Euclidean rhythms that beat and the bass became a very unique backbone to the track and it came together pretty quickly.
Jon: I really enjoyed writing the verse for this, partly inspired by the rhythm of one line in Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” where she sings “don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem.” The lyrics are about climate change, but I’m taking the angle of “screw it, we’re all dead anyway”, it’s a nihilistic sort of anthem for the youth that have been short-changed by previous generations and will have to face the environmental consequences. There is also a lot of hope in there, calling out for a younger generation to sort it out and save us, with lines like “all our lives in your hands now.”
It Was A Monstering
Alex: One of the first things Jon and I wrote for the album, we initially didn’t think much of it as it was so early on, but it came back round as a contender towards the end of the process. Wanted to just cruise through a chord sequence like the Beatles would with everything just floating into the chorus in a really satisfying way, The first kick of the sequence falls just before beat 1 which completely blew Jeremy’s mind at first.
Jon: I wrote the lyrics to the chorus straight away, the first time I tried anything out. I have a long-standing problem with nostalgia and thinking back on old times, it gives me a lot of anxiety for some reason, so that’s the basis of this song emotionally – “I don’t like the feeling,” The opening line “I would rather have a friend than a good memory” was something a friend of mine said to me that I thought was very sad, and it stuck in my mind. The middle 8 is a long list of monsters or urban myths, which appear all over the album.
Alex: This was one of the first full tracks Jon brought in, the riff section was originally made up of far too many guitars overlapping and completely unplayable but then we found the fretless guita,r and the rest is history.
Jon: I think I saw an advert for a phone or something very cool and high-tech, there was this 6/8 feel with a synth line, so I just started there and tried to recreate it from memory. I found myself getting bored with the solemn pace of it, so I doubled up the snare in the post-chorus/riff bit, which created something much more like early Everything Everything (EE); a good balance of new and old. Lyrically it’s me at my most straightforward in the chorus “can you love me?”, and the verses are a much more comical way of saying “I’m not a very good catch” or rather “I’m a monster” – which is something I return to a few times on the album.
Alex: I wanted to write a piece of music about the night before my daughter was born. I remember being up all night watching over my wife as she went into labour having our first child. It was the longest night of our lives with a myriad of emotions that I can’t really explain. I wrote ‘Moonlight’ as a way of trying to convey that night. Jon took the track away and found a melody and some lyrics and it became a new thing, but this is where it began.
Jon: I thought Alex’s chorus melody couldn’t really be topped in this, so I just sang along with it. It’s a really beautiful piece, I don’t think I knew the origins behind it until after and that may have affected the words I wrote had I known. I chose to write about feeling stuck in one place all your life, unable to move on despite hurting.
Jon: This one started with my love of a very famous piece of choral music – Allegri’s “Miserere Mei.” I’ve always adored it, and found it very moving and beautiful. I took the harmony from that piece and converted them to a very rhythmic synth line, and repeated parts of it, transposing it around a bit until I had something I could sing on. The lyrics are about hearing a voice in your head that you call God. I based a lot of the themes of the record on a theory I read called the Bicameral Mind, which posits that in the distant past we had a split brain, and we would hear voices speaking from one side to the other – consciousness arose when the two sides became one. In my song the “voice of god” is actually coming from a huge sentient fatberg living in the sewer, the protagonist of the song is praying to the fatberg and asking it to flood the streets above as revenge for all the waste we throw away. It’s really a metaphor about greed and over-indulgence and luxury and waste, through the prism of the Bicameral Mind theory.
Alex: Probably one of the most ridiculous pieces of music I have been a part of. Which is saying something for our band.
Lord Of The Trapdoor
Jon: Lyrically this is another song that is sung from a point of view that isn’t really my own, I’m talking as a lonely, hateful, basement-dwelling troll for a lot of it, but the choruses are vulnerable and more honest – “I need her, only her.” It’s a painful love song. Like a lot of our songs. The title is supposed to be the puffed-up, ridiculous, lame title that the troll has given himself online.
Alex: I had this chord sequence that I really liked that was shifting between keys. Just has this really weird feeling like being held in suspense until the moment the guitar solo drops, and you’re finally given something to hold on to key wise. It originally started out in 6/4, but I dropped a beat at the end of each bar to make it 5/4 so it would feel like it was continually pushing you along. This was definitely written with playing live in mind, It’s one for the band to enjoy I think….
Alex: Jon and I wrote this together fairly early on, I had just got a LinnStrument to play with and that became the basis of the track, it’s controlling the first main synth that swells up into the first verse. It had this instant feeling to it and just lead the production for everything else that followed. Wanted to write some Fripp inspired guitar parts and that lead to the chorus having that slippery part all over it.
Jon: I really fell in love with this song when it was just the bass riff and drums, very very stripped down and very hiphop. I had to rewrite the lyrics at the last minute and came up with words about re-animation – animals being brought back to life after death, and a strange sort of playground taunt about the consequences of messing with nature. From these lyrics the title of the album arose – Re-Animator.
Alex: Jon had the song fully written with chords and vocals and then I went away and spent a long time carefully writing this four part harmony that goes throughout the track. Which is the basis for the first synths that come in at the beginning and eventually blow out of proportion by the end. It was one of those tracks that could easily reach maximum level too quickly and leave you with nowhere to go after the first chorus so we had to carefully work our way through finding an arc that gets us there at the right moment. I programmed that four part line and made it as playable as possible on the synth, so it’s just one take through and has a very natural crescendo to it.
Jon: When I brought the demo to Alex it was much more traditional in arrangement; very orchestral, very grand and cinematic. I loved the way he modernised it and made it very alien and cool, without losing the sense of scale. Lyrically it deals with the dawn of consciousness; imagining how that would feel, describing electrical signals in the brain and a feeling that suddenly you are alive – nothing has changed but now you know you are here and everything has changed. When we recorded it I asked John Congleton (our producer) to make the song “sound like a mastering error,” as if we had messed up the mix and released a corrupt file. I love what he did with it. It was supposed to sound like we’d recorded something beyond sound, like a planet forming or a black hole.
Alex: Jon and I really wanted to write something like Roy Orbison and this is where we ended up, this track went through many lives, I had to rewrite the harmony for the chorus 4 or 5 times to get it right.
Jon: this was a super easy one for me lyrically, I think I wrote the whole thing in one go – following a fantasy where I give up all my responsibilities to a doppelgänger, so that they can take over my life, and I can disappear. Alex worked really hard on the harmony to get the rising chorus working properly. We gave the vocal a heavy effect to increase the distance between the singer and the listener – a disconnected feeling to echo the state of mind I was in (or writing in) at the time.
Alex: Jon had this demo and I had another chorus that we wanted to put into it. I think in a moment of madness I said we should try to make the track feel like it was entirely made of choruses so we cut out superfluous chunks of the song and discovered “Violent Sun.” It’s a furious few minutes of feeling ‘up’ which is not something we have done before really.
Jon: This turned out as maybe my favourite song we’ve ever done, I absolutely love the way it came together, essentially by throwing all our best choruses in one song. Lyrically I wanted to capture the feeling of time running out – the DJ has put on one last song and you only have 4 minutes to get the girl or tell your friend your secret or whatever it is – this desperate, euphoric moment while a song you love completely overwhelms you and you can barely even hear it, or see anything in the dark club. A mixture of panic and joy, of feeling young and invincible but knowing you only get one life, being excited and afraid to start it.