Elbow space for a brand new sound

On a rainy day in Manchester, Jonathan Higgs is reflecting on a job well done.

“With our new album, we wanted to make music that was relatively straightforward — music that would connect with people,” says Everything Everything’s frontman.

“Our first record was well-reviewed. However, we felt that it was, perhaps, too intricate to reach a wider audience. It was a very fractured affair. We don’t want to be the critics’ darlings. We want the public to hear us, be moved by us.”

Recorded at the Salford studio owned by stadium Britrockers, Elbow, the group’s second LP, Arc, has achieved those goals. As with Man Alive, their first LP, reviewers have gushed over its propulsive melodies and sublime hooks; but Arc is a hit (though not a Mercury Prize nominee).

“What we discovered is that it’s actually harder to write relatively straightforward songs,” says Higgs. “You have to let your guard down. Beating around the bush isn’t an option.

“You can’t try on masks or do weird things. Musically, we were constantly asking: ‘is this necessary, is that necessary?’. And, of course, in terms of lyrics, you have to expose a lot of yourself. You have to put your feelings out there, rather than be coy.”

Recording at Elbow’s studio influenced the record, Higgs says. A converted, 19th industrial premises, it is spacious and high-beamed, with a wide-panelled view of central Manchester. It is not the stereotypically atmosphere-free studio. “There are these huge bay windows. It is exactly the sort of room where you can imagine Elbow recording [number one single] ‘One Day Like This’. You can’t afford to play fiddly little notes. It gets lost. You have to be bolder — play songs in a way that is, for want of a better word, ‘majestic’. You have to make it a lot more like Elbow, basically.”

A key moment was the Coldplay-ish single, ‘Kemosabe’. “It was like nothing we had done before,” says Higgs. “That happened early in the process — in between albums, really. We realised we had done something new. It was a song we could all get behind, which didn’t sound like anything we had tried before. It made us feel really good. It transpired that other people like it, as well.”

Higgs sensed Everything Everything were on the brink of something special when they toured at the beginning of the year. Stepping on stage, night after night, the audiences were younger and more diverse.

“At the start, it was all middle-aged men coming to the gigs. I guess they thought what we did sounded very ‘proggy’. Then, we got the younger guys. Then, the girls. They tend to come in last. It was like, ‘right, we’ve got the full spread now’. We pulled very diverse crowds at the festivals, too. You can’t tell who is going to turn up to see you. We were happy to draw big attendances.”

Though based in Manchester, the band are from across the UK. Higgs grew up in a small village outside Carlisle.

He met guitarist, Alex Niven, at college in Salford. Stereotypically pretentious undergraduates, in 2006 they start an R’n’B outfit informed by the Futurist art movement and the ‘pop-timist’ aesthetic, as advocated by the music journalist, Paul Morley.

An early calling card was their love of club music and mainstream pop. They were unabashed fans of artists such as Beyonce and Usher. This was unremarkable to Everything Everything. The media was gobsmacked. Soon, Everything Everything were shorthand for experimentation and eclecticism.

“It never occurred to us that it might be regarded as strange for an ‘alternative’ band to have an appreciation of R’n’B,” says Higgs. “You’d casually say it to a journalist and they would be genuinely astonished. It was something people began to know us for. I don’t think there is anything wrong with liking Beyonce. We were speaking sincerely. And it got us some attention, which seemed weird to me.”

For a buzzy young UK band, Everything Everything have taken an unconventional route. In Britain, it is standard for new acts to be lauded on their first record, only to be dismissed as past their sell-by date forever after. By steering clear of fickle hype, Everything Everything have taken things at their own pace. They were never in fashion, so they don’t live in fear of the backlash.

“If your first record blows up in a big way, then the pressure on your second one is huge. You are inevitably going to fail in someone’s eyes.

“With our first record, we had a critical hit, but it didn’t sell particularly well. It gave us the space to grow and move in a direction with which we were comfortable,” Higgs says.

An easygoing chap, Higgs grows surprisingly agitated when conversation turns to music-streaming service, Spotify, something of a bete noir for bands.

“The bottom line is that Spotify doesn’t work for artists. You get paid one pence for a million plays. Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly, but it’s not that different. The difficulty is you can’t take your music off. There is a lot of pressure to have your music on Spotify. If we were to take it off, well, it wouldn’t help anyone on our side of the fence, basically.”


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