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26th February 2024

Everything Everything: “I’m just trying to reflect the effect of this system on humanity”

In advance of ‘Mountainhead’, Jonathan from Everything Everything talks to us about Manchester bands, capitalist realism, Stockport, and staying experimental
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Everything Everything: “I’m just trying to reflect the effect of this system on humanity”
Credit: Carry On Press

Producing music at the experimental edge of alt-pop for the last fifteen years, Manchester’s Everything Everything are no strangers to the concept album. A quick scan of the always co-ordinated, often themed outfits the band have worn on stage over the years will tell you that much. As they prepare to release their seventh record, Mountainhead, frontman Jonathan Higgs tells me that they’re no slaves to allegory either.

“As the concept guy, I like a loose concept, something big and simple rather than getting too caught up in details and narrative and stuff like that,” he tells me, hair still bleached blonde after the music video for the album’s lead single, ‘Cold Reactor’. “I don’t really like a narrative, it takes over the songs and it becomes like a musical then.”

For this reason, though it might seem like high fantasy at first, the world of Mountainhead is “extremely, extremely simple.” “Everybody and everything is focused on building one huge mountain, and it must keep growing, that’s the only thing it must do. In order to keep adding material to this mountain you have to keep digging a bigger and bigger hole next to it, and that’s where everybody lives.”

In case the parallels to late capitalism hadn’t sunk in, Higgs stresses the problem, “their lives are getting steadily worse as the mountain grows, and a lot of people have forgotten why they’re building it… It’s all about growth without any thought,” he says, laughing as he drops a phrase used online to mock capitalism’s single-minded desire for exponential growth, “line go up.”

“I just care about my fellow humans and how it’s going for them because that’s my life, and my life won’t last forever”

For Higgs, it doesn’t need to be any deeper than that. In fact, it’s better that it’s not. His goal isn’t to flesh out a world, giving the project over to a story, but to stage the songs in a space that feels exciting. “The best stuff lives between exposition and pure emotion, I think too much of either isn’t as satisfying as a good balance of both. If you can open some people’s mind to a fantastical idea but then at the same time hammer them emotionally, that’s the highest goal for any art, I think.”

“You can have as many ideas as you want but if there’s no emotion there it’s a completely pointless exercise, and similarly, you can have emotion coming out of your arse but if there’s nothing cool to hang it on it’s like, OK, you might as well be James Blunt,” he laughs, “and I have nothing against James Blunt, by the way.”

This emotional engagement is central to the album, a heartstring sewn through the record to stop it falling into musical theatre or academic exercise. Although Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism provided the germ of the album, economic critique isn’t what interests Higgs. “I’m not saying anything important about [capitalism], I’m not even judging it, really. I’m just trying to reflect the effect of this system on humanity, because I think that’s the thrust of that book, he talks about what it does to people. That’s what affected me when I read it and that’s what affects people when they listen to music.”

“I don’t care what the proposed solutions are, I just care about my fellow humans and how it’s going for them because that’s my life, and my life won’t last forever. I’m reflecting what’s around me and this is what I find.”

Monochrome photo of four men against a white background, all looking into the distance in different directions.
Credit: Carry On Press

As we talk, Higgs runs through the eclectic list of artefacts that sit alongside Mark Fisher in influencing Mountainhead. The highlighter-yellow judo robes the band wear in the videos for ‘Cold Reactor’ and ‘The Mad Stone’, dyed in Jon’s washing machine, riff on Star Wars – “Mike [Spearman, drums] said monks are a bit overdone in rock videos, let’s see if we can try something else. What do the Jedis wear underneath their cloaks?”

Online culture, which sat at the centre of 2022’s Raw Data Feel, rears its head again in ‘Dagger’s Edge’, where Higgs interpolates a Reddit comment about Land Before Time – “someone had written ‘crying hysterically about the death of Littlefoot,’ and there was something about that which sparked my imagination, so I wrote it in my notes and it came back in song form.”

Even old Everything Everything tracks get lyrical nods, not so much as easter eggs but intertextuality. “I feel like I owe it to myself to reach a hand through to my younger self and go, ‘Come on mate, I’ve got your back and I still feel like the same person,’” Higgs tells me. “Some artists get to a certain age and they change completely, but I haven’t. I still feel like I did when I wrote some of those songs and I like to use some of those ideas that never got fully explained or realised. And I don’t want to explain them, but I like to join the past with the present like that.”

“Time and prehistory, it’s always got a hand round my neck. I’m always thinking about the passage of time, being a part of history and being a part of a future.” Luckily for Jon, when you build a career referencing cults, anticapitalism, Jedis, and internet forums, you tend to find a fan base that appreciates self-referentiality.

“It makes me really proud to see our name on a list of Manchester bands, even if it’s right at the bottom”

In the spirit of looking back, I ask Jon about the band’s early days in Manchester. Higgs met Jeremy Pritchard, the band’s bassist, while studying Popular Music and Recording at the University of Salford. After graduation, they “moved out to Burton Road, started the band there, and amazingly it worked! In terms of my time at Salford, I just felt like I needed to do something and Manchester was a good place to start a band, so it kind of worked for me to come here.”

“The city’s been really good to us. I guess when we first arrived we had a bit of a chip on our shoulder, we railed against some of the Manchester bands because we were trying to do something else. We thought, ‘We don’t want to be painted with that brush because we’re trying not to be Oasis, we want to make music that’s progressive,’ or whatever. But that’s fallen away and now it makes me really proud to see our name on a list of Manchester bands, even if it’s right at the bottom.”

“The city’s really embraced us, and it’s definitely a thing of pride to be from here. Although if Newcastle want to claim half of us, they can as well, that’s where two of us are from. We belong to the North, how about that.”

Jeremy Pritchard (left) and Jon Higgs (right) DJing in front of a green 'Unkown Pleasures' neon sign.
Pritchard (left) and Higgs (right) DJing at Disorder Bar – Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Tyneside origins aside, Manchester has always been the band’s home, and it’s being treated with three shows on the Mountainhead tour: back-to-back sell-outs at New Century Hall at the end of March and a special album release show on February 26 at Stockport Plaza. With the Plaza only five minutes from Jon’s front door and guest support coming from their long-time friends Dutch Uncles, the show feels so local that it’s “quite surreal actually, I’m going to be able to walk out of my house and walk on stage.”

Being able to put on a hometown gig with your friends is a highlight of where the band is now for Higgs, relatively stable in the industry after going fully independent during the pandemic. “It’s nice to be in that kind of position. I think it’s a pretty good place, actually, Stockport. I’ve been here for a few years now and it’s got a certain reputation that it’s doing its best to shake, and I’m happy to be part of that shaking.”

This seems to be the key to Everything Everything’s constant innovation. Finding a place that feels stable, even homely, but still shaking it, always moving to make it more exciting. It’s the kind of attitude that means Jon can laugh while wondering if “maybe now we should chuck [stability] out of the window and feel out of control again, I don’t know. But right now it does feel very good, we’ve got all our own eggs in our own basket.”

It’s a commitment to innovation which means that looking back doesn’t have to restrict. Having reissued their debut album as a “nostalgia package” last year, something they’re “probably going to do when it comes around for Get To Heaven, because that deserves it,” a continued insistence on creating new albums, worlds, and sounds stops them burning out and being confined to “heritage world,” like Higgs has seen happen to some of their contemporaries.

It’s a constant desire to make good on “stepping out of genre,” which means that a band who used to cite Radiohead as the origin of everything from their name to their guitar tone now find inspiration in Obongjayar, copying, tweaking, and iterating on their sound almost endlessly in an effort to “end up somewhere no one’s been, or someone’s been but you didn’t expect it.”

Most of all, it’s an attitude which means that even as they approach their seventh album, after 15 years of writing music together, Everything Everything don’t plan on meandering on as a nostalgia act, sleepwalking into stagnation. They are still climbing the mountain.

Everything Everything play Stockport Plaza on February 26. Tickets here.

Max Halton

Max Halton

Max is doing a masters in Gender, Sexuality, and Culture, and distracts herself from this by writing about how great live music is.

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