Just Shut Up

16 July 2013 | 6:15 am | Natasha Lee

"I had an old song that no one has ever heard of that I wrote over ten years ago. I took that and chopped it up and then I started singing over the top of it. That and I was listening to Run The World (Girls) by Beyonce and I started messing with similar rhythms."

More Everything Everything More Everything Everything

Everything Everything frontman Jonathan Higgs is nervous. The puppy-faced Englishman is pensive ahead of the group's upcoming Splendour In The Grass appearance and attendent sideshows because he admits he “doesn't wanna let anybody down”. Doubt it.

Together since 2007, Everything Everything have forever been the critical darlings of the British intelli-pop scene, garnering glowing reviews and even landing on the longlist for BBC's Sound Of 2010, all without a label. But it wasn't long after the Sound Of 2010 nomination that those labels came knocking, with the band deciding to sign with the UK arm of US label Geffen Records (Beck, Imogen Heap, Elton John), releasing their debut LP, Man Alive, in 2010. Between formation and debut, the foursome, which is comprised of Higgs, Jeremy Pritchard, Michael Spearman and Alex Robertshaw, managed to encourage a healthy following, which no doubt helped Man Alive come in at number 17 on the UK Albums Chart. Their latest effort, Arc, has avoided the dreaded second album stinker, rocketing to an impressive number five on the UK charts (something even Higgs was impressed by, quipping “it's the real top ten, isn't it?” to NME after they revealed the position) and, like its predecessor, was welcomed, stroked and praised with open arms by the critics.

“Well,” begins Higgs on the line from his British base, “with Arc, we wanted to make it more direct really, especially lyrically and vocally. I found that on the first album people couldn't tell what I was saying. This time I wanted to make it about real emotion and get into people instead of just impressing them with tricks.”

Tricks or no tricks, Arc is blissfully bigger, roomier and airier without compensating for Higgs' penchant for artful and intricate electro-pop. “It was similar [working on Arc] to Man Alive in as much as we worked with the same guy, David Kosten [Bat For Lashes, Lenka], but we did a lot more pre-production,” explains Higgs. “We re-wrote 99 per cent of everything we had in our heads before we even got into pre. We didn't really leave any of the writing stuff for chance – the studio was more about making it sound exciting.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

A perfect example being Arc's quirky first single, Cough Cough, a heady drum number that features a coughing Higgs in the fade-out. “I had an old song that no one has ever heard of that I wrote over ten years ago. I took that and chopped it up and then I started singing over the top of it. That and I was listening to Run The World (Girls) by Beyonce and I started messing with similar rhythms. I just wanted to mix a song that was just drums. The whole coughing thing started when we were recording and I coughed. I liked the sound of it, so we kept it in.”

Higgs goes on to reveal the one thing the group were particularly careful not to do – overwork the sound. “Yeah, I mean, if we sort of go over material again and again we could overplay everything. When people get good at their instruments they just try to play them all the time. It doesn't work. Learning to shut up musically is one of the greatest lessons you can ever learn.”

Despite their aversion to 'overworking' their music, the band have been criticised for trying too hard and not quite knowing who they're supposed to be. Heck, you only have to hit up one of their YouTube videos to see the Elbow and Coldplay comparisons thrown around. It hardly seems to bother Higgs though, who says the group used their second album to explore and refine their own, unique sound. “There was a lot of rewriting going on. I'd bring in these demos to the studio that were complex and all over the place and we'd strip them down. This time we wanted to look at what's telling the story, what's important in the story – just trying to make the lyrics more meaningful.”

The approach saw Higgs wield the axe on a number of tracks, slicing through the layered electronic weirdness. “We made a point of taking out anything that was fun or clever and instead we just focused on the story that each song was trying to tell. There was also a formula this time, like we were trying to keep our songs to a certain length of time.”

Higgs also scoffs at the idea of pigeonholing their sound, saying that “everyone listens to a little bit of everything”. “When I was fifteen, I would never have said that,” he laughs, adding, “that it's the way we consume music. It's all changed; I mean this whole idea of having one CD with fifteen songs by one band. You can't identify yourself as a 'rock person' anymore or a 'pop person', you know? You're a bit of everything.”

Well, at least Higgs certainly admits being a bit of everything (everything, ha!). “Ten years ago, people wouldn't believe that someone could listen to Rihanna next to Nine Inch Nails,” he laughs, “but, this whole gang genre thing comes from not having enough music or at least access to it. We don't have that problem anymore.”

And he should know. Technology is a subject close to Higgs' genre-bending heart, with the tracks on Arc entertaining a journey through a technophile's paradise gone wrong.

It's a journey Higgs is keen and “excited” to be showcasing to Everything Everything's burgeoning Australian fanbase. “Well, none of us have been to Australia before,” he chirps, “so we're all really wondering what the atmosphere is like down under! But, you know, we're definitely looking forward to the festival [Splendour In The Grass]. We've just heard so much about it… Good things!” he laughs, “all good things.”