At the time of writing, Get to Heaven, Everything Everything’s just-released third album is battling it out with Wolf Alice’s debut record for the number one spot in the UK charts. Regardless of what that actually amounts to in sales, it’s not bad for a band who—since they formed towards the end 2007—have been labeled by critics and fans alike as deliberately obtuse. Here’s a tip: next time you see singer/guitarist/keyboard and general brainchild Jonathan Higgs, don’t tell him the Manchester art-pop (for want of a better term) band’s music is “difficult.” One, because it really isn’t, and two, because he’s getting kind of tired of hearing it. Besides, listen to Get to Heaven and it’s pretty obvious that’s not the case. Rather, it’s a very angry and intelligent record— albeit it one that is full of happy-sounding moments—that directly address the state of the world, something which Higgs was very influenced by during the writing of its songs. It’s something that has very deliberately shifted the focus of the band into more political territory, which makes their place in the music world, and their music, as important and relevant as ever.
Noisey: There are two interesting points that stand out when you first listen to Get to Heaven. The first is that it contains some of your most accessible material to date. The second is that it contains some of your darkest material to date. Would you agree, and if so, what do you make of that contradiction?
Jonathan Higgs: Yeah, definitely. The two don’t have to go hand-in-hand, and it’s much more interesting when you do have contradictions, and when you do have different flavors like that. We all find it very one-dimensional if you have a sad song with a sad picture on the front. No-one finds that interesting anymore. There’s too much of that in the world, so to mix it up and have conflicting imagery and emotions is much more exciting and interesting. And it means so much more as well. If there’s a happy-sounding song with a dark lyric and a violent coat of paint on it, it’s like, “What is that?!” It’s much more interesting.
Where does that darkness come from, do you think? Obviously it’s very inspired by the state of the world, but is also personal stuff you guys were going through?
It’s a combination of the two. I think everybody went through the same stuff in the media last year and it didn’t affect everyone in the same way it affected me, I don’t think, although I thought it did. So I guess there must have been stuff going on with me personally as well that made it manifest itself in that way. But yeah, certainly once we’d done the record I felt a lot better. I felt like it was necessary to have talk about those things in that way, and the evidence was there that I felt better. I felt like I’d done something slightly useful about it.
Is this the first time that you music’s been so viscerally cathartic for you?
Um… I think maybe, yeah. Obviously I’ve talked about things in the past, but this is like the whole record and it’s very concentrated and it’s very clear what we’re talking about. I can express it and it doesn’t have to be this weird, hidden mystery where often I end up in interviews saying, “It’s kind of about this and it’s kind of about that.” This time, yeah, it’s pretty much about this and the whole record is like that and it’s much simpler.
Was that just to change it up a bit?
It just came out like that. I didn’t give it any thought really. I found that I kept writing songs that had this imagery in, and this feeling in it. When I was deep in it, I didn’t really realize that’s what I was doing—it wasn’t until I got to the end and I read all the lyrics back that I thought, “Holy shit! What’s wrong with this guy?!” and I was able to see it for what it is.
Is there any pressure from being lauded as this incredibly inventive, original group? Do you feel the need to strive to create sounds that are quote-unquote out of the ordinary?
Not really. A lot of the perception of my band is we’re hell-bent on trying to be unclassifiable and we strive to always make these weird sounds, and we don’t really understand why people are so bamboozled by the fact that we don’t sound that normal. I mean, we’re not weird, but the fact that we can’t be classified as a particular genre seems to freak people out. I wish they’d all stop talking about it and move on. They think it’s this thing that we set out to do and I don’t understand it. The reaction to this record has been awesome, but there’s still a core of people who are still kind of going, “What the fuck is this?! This is so weird!” and absolutely losing it, and I just don’t understand. We’re not weird. We’re really not.
But people like things to be simple, they like things to be nice and to be comfortable, and you guys are not that weird, you’re right, but you’re not that accessible to—and I don’t want this to sound patronizing, but it probably will—the mainstream and the general population. You’re not what they listen to. You’re not Michael Bublé singing smooth love songs. So in that respect there maybe is something challenging about your music to people who aren’t used to that kind of thing.
I know. Most of us in the band are music students. We know music and we know what goes into a pop song, and take something like structure—all of the songs on this record are the classic structure of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-chorus. They all are. They’re nearly all in 4/4, they’re nearly all the same tempo, they’re nearly all in the keys you’d expect. All the things that go into music are there and people are freaking out because what? I don’t use really moronic words? I don’t sing in the range that a man most of the time does. Although, take Michael Jackson, take Guns N’ Roses, take Freddie Mercury. We just don’t understand when it comes down to it, what it is that’s getting people so confused and I’m starting to tire a bit of trying to work it out. I don’t care! If people don’t get, they can go and listen to their Michael Bublé and spend their whole lives without opening their mind at all. We tried making ourselves a bit more easier to understand on the second record, and people still just freaked the fuck out. So we just thought, “Well, whatever. Go away, then!”
I mean “To the Blade’, the opener on this record, is a straight-forward rock song essentially. It’s probably the best song that Muse have never written.
I mean that as a compliment. It really reminds me of the intensity of their early stuff, when they were still good. So I wish I could give you an answer, but I don’t think I can, to be honest.
No, and I’m the same. I haven’t really thought about this until breaking it down with you, but I kind of accept that we’re the “weird” band and all this stuff, and then I think —take a song like that and look at the structure and the lyrics and the melody, and all that stuff isn’t weird. But it’s slightly out of the ordinary and it’s not just somebody punching you in the face again and again and again with a smile, so people just go, “Oh I don’t understand it. I don’t know what to do.” It’s really strange.
It is. Well, moving swiftly on, what are your hopes for this record, beyond it not being called weird?
It’s very difficult to have any specific grand ambitions in the music industry anymore. Records can’t really be broken anymore because people don’t buy music anymore.
But Arc still got to number five in the UK, which is an incredible achievement.
Of course. But even in the two years that have elapsed since then, record sales have halved. So the chart we’re looking at this week—if we get a number five again, then we’ll have sold half as much as we sold of Arc. It’s still an absolute wasteland out there. But yeah, in terms of ambition, we’d love to get to parts of the world we haven’t been before. It’s difficult to know what constitutes success anymore in a band. None of the statistics really mean anything anymore. We’d just like to be well-known and well-loved.
Those are good aspirations. But I think—at least yesterday, anyway—it’s between you and Wolf Alice for the number one spot. That must been something to you, regardless of the dwindling album sales. It must still be a nice validation.
Of course. It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable and we’re ridiculously lucky we’re in a position that many, many, many people would absolutely kill to be in. So yeah, it’s incredible. Of course it is.
Yet you don’t sound all that enthusiastic. Do you have the same joy making music as you did when you began or has it dwindled? Has it become more of a job?
Ummm… [long pause] I think different parts of the job are better than others. The very moment you write a song and it’s still your own, that’s amazing. And the very moment it comes out and everyone gets ahold of it is also amazing. But pretty much everything in between isn’t very nice. It’s a constant battle. I guess it’s just the conflict that naturally arises when you’re trying to be creative and trying to take a lot of people with you down a certain path. I don’t know if anyone enjoys that part of it—saying “Here’s something I’ve made, I think this is good”—and then meeting 20 people between you and the public who are going to try to change it or scale it back. I don’t know. Maybe my ego’s just grown too big!
I don’t think so, not from what you’ve said. Going back to the album and everything that inspired it, do you see any hope? Is there any way out for what the world is going through?
I think there’s hope, but I think hope is just little interpersonal things—the people who surround you very closely are a great source of hope for me, whereas people as a whole, in a more distant way, is where it’s less hopeful. As a species, we’re not really getting any better at anything. We look after our own, and we look after each other, but the idea of true altruism, and somehow progressing as a species, is not happening yet in my experience. No. I’ve been in America for three years now, and the idea that you have to pay to be healthy is insane, yet there are people who are actively trying to push back Obama’s healthcare reform, as limited as it is. It’s crazy. And now in the UK, after the election, the Tories are going to do the same thing there. I don’t see how people can’t not be affected by it—as you were saying earlier—and I think it’s really brave of you guys to talk about this stuff and confront it with your music. Because not many bands do. Do you see yourselves in a more political position now as a result?
Yeah. I think if you have any senses, you know, of the five senses, then you probably should have been aware of what just happened in the UK and what’s about to happen. And if you care about anyone other than yourself, then you probably should be very fucking angry right now.
Mischa Pearlman is mildly ticked off right now. Not really. He's bloody pissed about the state of things and if you really thought about it you would be too. Anyway. Follow him on Twitter.