"We wanted to keep the power and the simplicity of the song and not rely on gimmicks..." - Everything Everything talk their new album Re-Animator
From the moment they announced themselves in 2008 with their gloriously wonky pop debut single 'Suffragette Suffragette', Everything Everything have forged a reputation as a band who have no interest in routine or repetition.
The foursome can cram more genres into a three-minute-track than most artists manage in their entire career and every album they produce is a fascinating listen. Their new LP, Re-Animator, is no exception.
The album is the band's fifth of their career to date. It is also their first since 2017's A Fever Dream and their first since leaving major label Sony.
Produced by St Vincent and Blondie knob-twiddler John Congleton, the album marks a tactical change for the band, recorded in just two weeks in London with most songs done in only two or three takes.
With the LP now on shelves, we spoke to Jonathan Higgs about this tactical change and the scientific inspiration for the album...
You had a year of writing and then two weeks in the studio to make this album, was that year full of trying things and scrapping them?
"It really was. We scrap a lot. We're a scrapping kind of band. We tend to take the best bits and make collages, and quite often we'll pick things up later. It was quite a focused year. We didn't play any gigs. We just wrote and wrote and wrote. We really wanted this clutch of songs to have a lot of attention and to really go into the studio with everything ready. We didn't want to waste time in the studio, so we went in without many decisions to make. We've never worked in that way before, having just two weeks, so we needed to be well prepared."
It's a more stripped back record, was that a deliberate tactic?
"We're always trying to do it. We always promise ourselves that we won't go over the top and we'll make a proper back to basics album and we never do. This time, we really focused on keeping the layers of synths and drum machines away and focusing on voice and piano. We wanted to keep the power and the simplicity of the song and not rely on gimmicks."
You did the album with John Congleton, when did he come into the picture?
"We approached him. He's been on our list for a while, Alex, our guitarist, really loved him. I loved the Anna Calvi record he'd done and we'd heard that he had a reputation for being very no-nonsense and very quick. A lot of producers like to photoshop things afterwards, to clean up your performance after telling you it was good at the time. John is much more of a Rick Rubin type. No messing about. You get a drum sound. You don't test things endlessly and mess around with beat detection. That's great for us, because if you give us an inch we will head right down that rabbit hole and spending a week on hi-hat sounds. We wanted a raw and visceral record."
How did you find making a record in two weeks? Was it fun or very stressful?
"I really enjoyed it. It was probably the most enjoyable record we've made. Normally we're six weeks in and still analysing our drum takes. This time, it was 'Right, play the song, together, do it twice, get the vocalist in'. And we were all like 'Should we listen back?', and John was very clear that it was done and we would move on. It was nerve-wracking to begin with. But it really builds confidence, because you realise that 'Yeah, we are a good band, we can play our songs', rather than death by analysis. It rids you of a lot of anxiety."
That's when you need a producer, if you're working quickly, someone to say 'That's enough. Stop it'...
"Exactly. Recording can drag on and on and on, and there's really no obvious moment to stop when you always know you can tweak something. Having someone say 'Stop' was very important."
It's billed as a record inspired by psychologist Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind, which is the idea that early on in human evolution, the two sides of the brain were next to each other but functioned independently. Why did that grab you?
"It came from a podcast I listen to. I don't want to teach people the theory, but I did inspire me, thinking about the miracle of life and how your brain is effectively split. How your brain comes together and talks to each other. It sounded magical and weirdly religious, but in a scientific way. I wanted to make music for cynical people like me, to talk about something wondrous without using religion. I don't care if people don't understand the theory, I don't fully understand it, I just wanted to pass on some of the feeling."
How are lyrics for you now? Do you still write in the same way you used to?
"I'm much more direct and much more emotional now. I used to cover everything in layers of metaphor and try to twist and subvert things. Less and less of that now. This might be a record inspired by science, it's geared to get an emotional response. That's what we want. In the early days, I'd have been looking for people to stroke their chins and tell me how clever it was. I'm not interested in tricking people anymore. I'm with you now, in the past, I wasn't quite against you, more trying to hide things from you."
When did Re-Animator become the title?
"We kick titles around. It was decided after we'd finished, but it came because I completely re-wrote the lyrics to 'Black Hyena' on the last day in the studio. The band weren't happy with them and I went about reworking them and ended up using the word 'Re-Animator' over and over again. I think it must have come from the horror film."
"I hadn't seen it then, but I did watch it before we settled on the title. I didn't want people to think we'd name it after a terrible film. But the film's good and the word is a cool, hard one to present a lot of complex ideas."
This is your first album without Sony and releasing it on your label. Was that your decision or someone else's?
"We decided to do it like that. At the end of Fever Dream, we felt like we were treading water with Sony. We never felt like they treated us badly, they've been great with us over the years, but we all wanted a change. Our lives are different now, we're older and some of us have kids and we wanted to have more control over the way we put music out. So we jumped."
How have you found setting it all up? Was it more work than you imagined?
"Oh yeah. But bands don't do enough work. Serves us right after 12 years of pissing around. We've had to make a lot more decisions, certainly about how we spend money and how we advertise ourselves. There was a disconnect. If something came out and it wasn't quite what we wanted it was easy to point the finger at the label. It's more daunting now, but there's no one else to blame."
Everything is on hold at the moment, have you locked anything in for next year?
"We've got shows in March and we've got to hope that's possible. It better be. We can't do this forever. But I can't make any predictions really. I don't blame people if they don't want to get in big sweaty crowds for the next five years. We're getting quite good at live streams now. But it's just getting through, it's nothing like the same."