Friday, 29 October 2010

"It's not that we want to be garish": An interview with Everything Everything

[written for London Student, October '10]

“We slide in from the epoch of Anglo American wire
And a Saxon spire, glint in the glare far above me
Put pressure on it!
She collapse me! Man alive, her every ache a baton to me!
Age of ending! Where’s the worth in proving I was here?”
- ‘Qwerty Finger’

These are the words of Everything Everything, a band who like to situate themselves outside of genre and convention, albeit with a generous nod to the catch-all of POP.

And poppy it is, if you disregard any kinship to ‘popularity’ and turn to the pop of artists Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi: British eccentrics of the highest order with a taste for eclecticism, unpredictable juxtaposition and bric-a-brac display of non-sequiturs, naughty jokes and stripy jumpers. If you can take that mental image and reconfigure it as a three-minute audio experience, you are some way towards imagining Everything Everything on record, in case you’ve missed the hype and airplay the band have earned since January.

Receiving substantial support from BBC 6Music after featuring on the Beeb’s hype machine Sound of 2010 poll, the four-piece have actually spent much of this year familiarising themselves with Britain’s glorious roadside service stations. The never-ending tour is passing through London’s Scala tonight, but bassist Jeremy says he still has the stamina for splitter van life.

“Going back on the road is a bit like going back to school,” he tells me in the red gloom of the Scala bar. “Not in a bad way, but just that we know what’s gonna happen day to day, which we haven’t had for a while. It’s kind of comforting, actually.” He reels off a list of his favourite EE shows, from Reading and Leeds to their first gig abroad at a festival in Holland, but every band has one performance they’d rather forget

“Our worst gig ever remains one in a pub in Liverpool called Kelly’s Dispensary. In those days we used to just take any gig – it was very early days when we were all living in a house and rehearsing in a basement. We turned up and there was no PA and just one mic between the three of us. We were just shouting, and the bar staff kept coming over and turning our amps down! And nobody there wanted to listen to us. We were a much punkier proposition in those days,” he says.

Having polished off those rough edges, EE now find themselves on the threshold of the strange and fickle world of pop. Not that the music fans of 2010 would acknowledge a concept as retrograde as ‘genre’, flitting as we do from artist to related artist; scrobbling, blipping and sharing without a thought to the past or future. The marriage of music with the internet has given us an infinite real-time feed of single tracks from any year, label, city or genre.

But for all their name might suggest, EE aren’t necessarily a band cut of postmodern cloth. Jeremy is ambivalent about newfangled listening habits. “The great thing about it is that the music press has less influence than it used to in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when you’d open a magazine every week because you always read it, saying ‘Here’s what’s cool, here’s what to wear.’ And now younger people aren’t led by styles and genre. If you like the song, nobody’s completely loyal.”

But there are downsides for EE, whose skewed poppiness is surely made for the full-length long-player format. “It is a track-led culture, not an album-led culture. Maybe the majority of people who listen to this record aren’t going to listen to it all,” says Jeremy of their debut Man Alive. “But you can’t let that change your working processes, you don’t want to have a collection of songs that don’t have anything to do with each other, you want it to have shape. All the albums that we grew up on have that kind of feel to them,” he adds, citing classic British art-rock from OK Computer to The Holy Bible.

So will the energetic complexity of singles like the forthcoming ‘Photoshop Handsome’ be able to cut through the endless choice of tracks and more tracks, or will bands like EE lose out as listeners spend less time with full albums? “It’s kind of the industry’s fault and it’s kind of not anybody’s fault, it just happened and we have to face it,” says Jeremy, adding that their intricate music is “purely natural – it’s not that we want to be garish.”

Singer Jonathan’s lyrics often address the problems of postmodern fandom. “A lot of what he writes about is to do with information overload. Jon’s lyrics are quite hard to understand rhythmically and the way he writes is very dense. The meaning will be quite vague and then you’ll get this shaft of light, and it becomes clear.” The lyrics are opaque without a doubt, but they have a surreal beauty and depth to them that’s deeply satisfying when so many new bands are singing about smoking weed and going to the beach. It takes a certain boldness to sing lines like, “Chest pumped elegantly elephantine, southern hemisphere by Calvin Klein/ Watch your dorsal fin collapse, I know nothing about my history,” a couplet supposedly about “the limits of science, breast enhancement and corporate branding”.

But for every off-kilter line there’s a glorious pop hook, while wry politicking is balanced by eccentric joie de vivre and dirty misheard lyrics, like the now nearly infamous are-they-aren’t-they line in ‘Suffragette Suffragette’: “Whose gonna sit on your face when I’m gone? Whose gonna sit on your face when I’m not there?”

They promise they’re saying “fence”, but nothing is quite as pop as it seems in the technicolour universe of Everything Everything.

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