Even for a band as restless and creative as Everything Everything, their latest album – the intriguingly titled ‘Raw Data Feel’ – is a huge leap forward, fusing AI-driven experiments, organic sounds and thrilling pop moments 

“We’re always trying to remove the creativity from everything we do – from our artwork, videos, stage arrangements, the clothes we wear and, yes, the music. Massively.”

This is an unusual mission statement, to say the least. Yet what singer and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Higgs means is not that Everything Everything want to completely snuff out their creativity (which would, admittedly, be a strange aim for any band), but rather that they make a conscious effort to calm down their furiously busy expression.

That said, Everything Everything will never be mistaken for minimalists. Their distinctive sound reflects the positivity of Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, from which their name is lifted. It’s expansive, bursting with promise and bristling with energy, as if dizzy with the technicolour rush of life itself. 

Their debut album, ‘Man Alive’, set out their smart, art-pop stall in 2010, bagging them a Mercury nomination and a Top 20 spot. Since then, their name has become synonymous with 100-ideas-per-song maximalism, frequent time signature switches and Higgs’ thoughtful lyrics, swooping falsetto and idiosyncratic scansion. 

“Everyone wants to do 50 things,” he says, speaking from his home in Stockport. “Everyone’s got an opinion. We’re too capable of manifesting our ideas. We can write these parts that just about work when they are all playing together and interlocking because we’re all nerds. It doesn’t always result in the best music – it’s more like a performance thing. When you’re a young band, that’s what you’re all about. Now, the thrill is how few things you can present and still have the impact.”

That might suggest Everything Everything’s latest long-player, ‘Raw Data Feel’, is a sober, more measured affair. Not a bit of it. It’s full of bright, stylish, high-impact pop music that takes the temperature of our times. Beneath their bravura display, emotional, sociopolitical and existential waters have run deep over five albums. Is media overload withering our souls? Have we become lazy and complacent about social change? How did Trumpism gain traction? And what does it mean to be human in the 21st century?

Addressing weighty issues against a deceptively euphoric backdrop has long been Everything Everything’s signature, and this contrast is again in play on album number six. The original idea, however, was for a set of party bangers with the usual heavy feelings parked. 

Since the tour planned around 2020’s ‘Re-Animator’ was impossible, Everything Everything went straight into working on ‘Raw Data Feel’ without a break. Additionally, significant life events of the last two years hit some members hard. Given the circumstances, they all felt the need to make a different kind of record this time. The consensus was to keep things upbeat and light, although it didn’t quite pan out like that.

“We’ve all had big stuff going on,” admits Higgs. “It’s been a pretty tumultuous couple of years – babies, deaths, relationships breaking down after a long time – big life changes and a lot of pandemic events as well. I think many people probably had similar experiences.”

Songwriter, guitarist and producer Alex Robertshaw, who’s joining the chat from Shrewsbury, is still dealing with the emotional fallout from his mother-in-law’s death from cancer last year, when visitors to their extended family home were forbidden due to Covid. He talks of “a sort of slow-burning, inevitable ending” and admits 2021 was “a rough year”. At the time, it moved him to write ‘Leviathan’, the album’s sumptuous, dreamy but slightly ominous centrepiece, for which Higgs conjured the image of an unspeakable monster slithering inexorably closer. 

As well as death and grief, some songs indirectly address depression, violence and suicide – not exactly party-primed material. Real life, of course, has a habit of creeping into art, but could Everything Everything ever make something without a dark undertow?

“I think we keep trying to and then we make… this,” offers Robertshaw. They both laugh. “That’s honestly the truth. With every album, we’re like, ‘We’re going to make a total party record. We’re going to have upbeat lyrics and we’re going to go for it’. And then we do this.” 

More laughter. At this point in their career, the pair are clearly relaxed about the group’s natural disposition. With that comes an understanding of how the cram-it-all-in approach first took hold.

“We weren’t good at songwriting when we started, but we were very good at playing our instruments and overwriting and things like that,” says Higgs. “All the stuff young people are good at. I think we’d just come out of the blocks excited. You’ve been learning your skills, you’ve got all this ability, and frankly you’re kind of frustrated with a lot of music that’s around, so you go, ‘That’s crap. I can do better. Look at this’. You don’t want it to be show-off-ish, but it happens because you’ve got the guitar or whatever in your hands, and everyone has that mindset.” 

Robertshaw nods in agreement.

“Every member has to play the most complex thing possible, all at the same time, all the time,” he says. “Everyone’s looking at each other and egging each other on at that stage because it’s supposedly the best thing to do.”

For both musicians, the understanding that five kitchen sinks might work better in five kitchens rather than in one song has been gradually won, and it’s connected to their aim of doing something different with every album. In the run-up, they ask two questions to give themselves direction: “What haven’t we done yet?” and “What haven’t we succeeded in doing?”

Robertshaw, who’s built up an arsenal of modular gear, sees his task as “trying to make it so that the band and the electronics don’t feel like two separate entities”.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve been listening to a lot of electronic music, like techno or even going back to Aphex Twin’s stuff,” he says. “When it’s at its best, I find it often has only five or six elements in the track and it sounds really loud. The problem we have as a band is that there are live drums, bass, sometimes two guitars, synths, vocals and backing vocals, and at times the sound can get very big and slightly overweight. So, for me, it was about trying to make more streamlined tracks – not everyone always playing at the same time – and integrating the songwriting with that.

“‘Teletype’, the first track on the record, is a very good example. There are four or five elements to it and it’s very electronic. There’s also a band there, but it doesn’t feel like two separate things fighting against each other.”

They might not have reinvented themselves with ‘Raw Data Feel’, but Everything Everything have made some significant changes. The songs are less determinedly dense and there are some unexpected details (slide guitar appears on a couple of tracks and a character called Kevin pops up repeatedly). More unusually, Higgs even called on AI for some help with the lyrics. Since the album was written to a tight deadline, intense labouring over tracks wasn’t possible, which they reckon was for the best. It also meant much of the work was done by Robertshaw on the fly in the back of a tour bus when they played a few dates supporting Foals last year. This was a less than ideal situation. 

“I’m there with my laptop on the bus, with a bunch of demos – scraps,” remembers Robertshaw, almost flinching at the memory. “And I’m going hell for leather from one to the next, trying to get complete songs because we were due to go into the studio quite soon. It was actually really stressful, but Jon always says I work best like that.”

“He goes into a flow state and you can’t talk to him,” laughs Higgs. “But when he comes out the other end, there’s generally something pretty great there. Then he goes, ‘I hated doing that’.”

Pre-production is usually a much more enjoyable process for Robertshaw.

“I’ve got this folder of around 40 songs – some of them are complete and some are just a verse and a bridge,” he says. “It’s like a massive Rubik’s Cube of problem-solving with loads of tracks, and you take great little germs and try to make them into full songs without losing what made them exciting in the first place. It’s like, ‘So I’ve got this one song which is a 3/4 waltz and another one which is like a hip hop thing. How can I make this work?’. There are lots of failed experiments, and a lot happens very quickly. It’s great. I work like a pressure cooker and then all these songs appear.”

The decision to bring machine learning on board for some of the lyrics was down to Higgs, because after five albums and a pandemic, he couldn’t face another personal deep dive.

“The reality is that maybe five per cent of it is AI-generated,” he explains. “We’d just put ‘Re-Animator’ out when we started working on this one – there wasn’t the usual gap. But also I felt quite different. The changes in my life between ‘Re-Animator’ and ‘Raw Data Feel’ were huge. I guess I didn’t really want to look inside and I didn’t want to look outside at anything, either. Obviously I did end up talking about myself, but in such an abstract way that it feels quite safe for a change. It feels like I’m protected.”

That lyrical five per cent was produced by feeding a computer programme with ‘Beowulf’, LinkedIn’s terms and conditions, some sayings by Confucius, and the horror that is 4chan noticeboards – all Higgs’ selections. He sent off this raw data to Mark Hanslip, a musician and researcher studying the relationship between systemic processes and musical outcomes, and it came back as a kind of poetry. Higgs was “very, very pleased” with the results. 

“I picked out what I thought was the best from hundreds of lines. It’s fascinating watching something that doesn’t know what it’s saying, saying stuff and applying meaning and even emotion to it. Also, it’s what everyone does when they interpret any kind of art. It doesn’t happen at the artist’s end – it all happens for whoever’s consuming it. I was consuming this nonsense and I knew exactly where it came from, but it still made me have feelings. I found it so interesting.”

AI also came up with the song title ‘Software Greatman’, which sounds like the sort of thing that might have come from Everything Everything themselves.

“Presumably, ‘software’ came from LinkedIn and ‘great man’ must have come from ‘Beowulf’,” reasons Higgs. “As soon as I saw those words stuck together, I just thought, ‘That’s really good’. I think it said, ‘What now, software great man?’.” 

He grins. 

“I mean, for me, that’s an album title.”

Another new idea was to use a character called Kevin as the album’s conceptual glue, although that did change. He’s still in there – you don’t notice him at first, though he appears four times and even gets to “own” one track (‘Kevin’s Car’) – but he’s not central to the record. We need to talk about Kevin. 

“There was a stage where Jon wanted Kevin to be in every single track,” chuckles Robertshaw. “I strongly encouraged him not to do that!”

“Yes, it wouldn’t have worked in songs about serious things from our lives,” concedes Higgs. “But I can throw him into songs that are more clearly about characters, even if they do get quite serious.” 

Who or what does “Kevin” represent? 

“Obviously there’s a lot of me in there, but there are other people too,” explains Higgs. “And sometimes it’s about what might have been, or it’s personifying hope or anger or despair – lots of things. It’s much easier to put it all on the back of somebody who isn’t real than to have to explain yourself.”

Most successful bands with longevity have at some point faced the prospect of being hogtied to their own identity. They learn to keep moving forward for their own sakes, while not abandoning the baby with the bath water. Everything Everything have been releasing music since 2008, so they know that only too well.

“I think we come up against this on every record,” says Higgs. “Because there’s a clear division between four guys in a band and electronic music, and we like both things. We try every which way to make that work. 

“We’ve had fully orchestral tracks, songs that are just drum machines and beeps and boops, and we’ve had full-on rock-riff tracks. I don’t feel we’re hemmed in. We’ve never gone full hip hop, but it would be a bit ridiculous if we did. We’ve gone full pop, we’ve gone full rock…” 

He trails off, laughing at the idea of a possible future Everything Everything.

“We haven’t really gone full metal. But we don’t want that.”

‘Raw Data Feel’ is out on Infinity Industries

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