Everything Everything's Jonathan Higgs: "I like the line between reality and myth"

Dominic Lee talks to the lead singer of Manchester band Everything Everything Jon Higgs, on his new album, the climate crisis and urban myths...

Dominic Lee
4th October 2020
Image: Instagram (@e_e_)
Manchester's Everything Everything have always had something a little bit weird about them. Their unpredictability and experimentation is their USP, which, in the hands of another band would come off as inauthentic or unoriginal. The art-pop quartet's latest offering 'Re-Animator' certainly fits the description, with its references to Purple Aki and internet trolls the latest in a line of abstract concepts that the band have explored. However, 'Re-Animator' is an album steeped in duality which for lead singer Jonathan Higgs is the difference between reality and myth...
DL- Hi Jon! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me this morning! How are you doing today?

JH- I’m feeling a little groggy, but I always am.

DL- So your latest album Re-Animator recently reached #5 in the UK charts and topped the UK independent charts. How does it feel to get that kind of recognition?

JH- It feels great! We’ve had number five twice before, so it’s a feeling we know but it’s not one that we would ever turn up our noses at. It’s fucking amazing to be honest! To be in the top five. Being in the top ten’s great! If you told me back in 1999 that I would be in a chart battle with Doves and Marilyn Manson… If you told 15-year-old me that it would’ve blown my mind!

DL- As an artist are you conscious of charts and critics? Or do you try to stay focused on your art?

JH- No we’re acutely aware of the charts particularly; the critics less so, that’s someone’s opinion. The charts is a currency in this industry, so if you get a high chart position that means you might get a better festival bill and then if you get a better festival bill then people might put you on a bigger tour and more people might go to it. All these things do actually have a high value because you can’t quantify taste but you can quantify things like chart numbers and plays and sales. So yeah of course, if we didn’t get in the top 40 then no one would know who we were.

DL- Yeah, I suppose

JH- Sadly, these things do matter quite a lot. In particular getting a festival billing; that’s actually the only place you make any money in this industry anymore. So those things are really important. If we were number 1 it might be that a festival puts us really high up the bill and pays us loads of money frankly! We’re not going to get it from anywhere else, that’s the sad reality, you don’t make money from streaming, you don’t really make it from touring. You’ve gotta get those festival bills and they want to see numbers.

DL- Going back to the record, what do you think it is about the record that has appealed to people?

JH- Well, it’s got banging tunes obviously! I think it’s come at a time where, obviously we’ve got the pandemic and everyone’s been something of a trapped audience, just having to consume stuff but we chose to make a record that was about getting away from it all; just before this stuff happened. So, I think people have really connected to the nature side of things and I tried to make a record that was about bigger things than politics and fighting. It was about kind of universal things. So, I think there’s a lot of people who are out there right now who are feeling in a similar way. They’re kind of a bit sick of Brexit and they’re sick of Donald Trump and they’re sick of the pandemic and they’re sick of division and stuff like that. So, maybe they’ve felt that this was a time to get away from it.

I tried to make a record that was about bigger things than politics and fighting.

DL- Did you approach the album with a particular sound in mind and are you conscious of giving each one a unique DNA that runs through it?

JH- Sound wise no not really. I don’t really care about production much. It just isn’t as important to me as some other things I guess. Alex, our guitarist is very much into production. He produced about half of the record himself really and the last one. So, no I kind of let that appear naturally. I’ve never been one that cares about whether things sound consistent. I’ve never understood it but every time we make a record the boys are like “oh we’ve gotta make sure the drums sound similar to the way they did on the last track” because people know it’s an album. I don’t understand that personally. I want every song to just be as good as it could be and I really like it when things are completely all over the place. I always have.

DL- Going on to your words then, ‘Big Climb’ makes reference to the climate crisis. In the song you say that you’re “not afraid that it’ll kill us, you’re afraid that it won’t”. What did you mean by that?

JH- I think it’s just the ultimate “fuck you” to the generations that have created the problem.  Mine included obviously. I guess I was getting tired of seeing someone like Greta having to exist at all. 15-year-olds trying to stop us from fucking the world is incredibly depressing and I thought back to when I was 15 and things weren’t really any different then. It just wasn’t quite as bad but I remember feeling really resentful that I had to make sacrifices and I had to solve this thing and I wasn’t allowed to throw my unrecyclable coke can away or whatever ridiculous thing 15-year-old me cared about. I just felt like, you know what, a real teenager isn’t gonna be going “please save the world” they’re gonna be saying “you know what fuck off I hope this does kill us all, it’s your fault”. That’s how I felt when I was a teenager, I wasn’t mature enough. I was nihilistic and I didn’t care and I thought there’s probably a load of kids out there that feel like that now. This is a song for them because no one else is going to sing it.

DL- Would you say that writing a song like that came naturally to you? Or do you prefer your more abstract songs?

JH- That was very natural. To be honest the chorus line was something that someone said to me about suicide. They said I’m not afraid that the suicide attempt will kill me I just hope it does. I thought that was so devastating and I remembered and sort of recontextualised it into this climate thing. I think the abstractions are only there because I’m interested in lots of disparate things rather than trying to make it weird. All my songs are always about something weird anyway.

DL- Speaking of those more abstract songs, “It was a Monstering” lists eight monsters and urban myths in its lyrics and you also explore similar themes on “Black Hyena”. Where did the inspiration behind that come from?

JH- I think it’s a sort of underlying psychological self-image of being not a great person and that was my way of expressing it. Viewing all these monsters like they were my friends or just that I was a monster among them, I was in that crowd. Putting urban myths in there like Purple Aki or whatever, I like the line between reality and myth. I mean he’s a real guy as far as I’m aware but he’s also got this kind of mythical status and I love that. I love local boogie men, you know like moth man or whatever. I really like the way they spring up in every community, in every part of the world we still have our monsters that haunt areas and I sometimes feel a bit like that.

Viewing all these monsters like they were my friends or just that I was a monster among them, I was in that crowd. Putting urban myths in there like Purple Aki or whatever, I like the line between reality and myth

DL- What is it about yourself that made you draw parallels between you and these monsters?

JH- You get to a certain point in life and you think, what value does a person have? Lots of my friends have children now, or they’re married or they’ve got their houses and all these things and I don’t really have anything except the band. I think I’m getting to the age where I’m starting to realise what my worth is and not finding it greatly high as it were.

DL- With the record being titled Re-Animator as well is that a reference to horror or is it just a word you liked?

JH- It’s both. It’s a word I liked. It’s a word I got from that horror film, although I never saw it until very recently. I like the fact that it gives everyone horror vibes first, in their head. Then there’s the more positive side to it as well, which is to come to life. I enjoy the two feelings you get, you know coming to life in a positive way or coming back to life in a monsterish zombie-ish way. So that’s why we gave it that title, the records not necessarily about coming back to life and feeling positive, it’s partly about being a sort of walking dead-type person as well.

DL- That links to something I’ve heard you talk about while promoting the record, which is the bicameral mind theory. Could you briefly explain that concept and why it appealed to you?

JH- Yeah, it’s a psychological theory from the 70s by Julian Jaynes. A long time ago in our evolutionary history the two sides of our brains weren’t connected in the way that they are now. Right now you think, here I am, I am me and I’m gonna go over there. He thinks that many years ago we had two separate minds and we would hear a voice in our head come from one side to the other. He thinks that the self wasn’t really conscious, it was just a slave to this voice which was the master, even though they’re both technically you. He also thinks that just called that other voice god and everyone had their own god and everyone did what god said. There then came a time where the brains joined and we’ve started to hear that voice as ourselves, rather than hearing it we would manifest it and he thinks that was when we became conscious. At that same time all the big civilisations in the world collapsed; it’s called the bronze age collapse, and there’s no real explanation for it and he thinks this is the reason. People couldn’t handle being conscious so there had to be massive revolutions all around the world that totally reset everything. Also he thinks that somebody with schizophrenia in the modern age who hears a voice is just a throwback to a bicameral mind. I found it so fascinating to think about having two minds, hearing the voice of god, becoming your own god, having a divided self. All these things suddenly just blew my mind and I knew I had to write about it but it took me a long time to think about how I would do it.

DL- Do you also think we’re at a similar point where civilisation may collapse again as you referred to earlier?

JH- Yeah I definitely think we’re on the edge of one now. All my records have suggested that. I guess this one wouldn’t be about a new form of consciousness, although it could be to be honest. Maybe this is what I’ll look at next! An awful lot of people have been psychologically affected by the pandemic in a way that’s not just stress and not just anxiety. It’s a new thing I’ve never seen before where people have these spiritual awakenings almost and that’s fascinating if that’s happening on a big scale. We’re also in what they call late stage capitalism or end stage capitalism, it’s kind of gone as far as it’s gonna go and we’ve almost depleted all the resources and tried every angle to keep this model going. Something new’s going to have to happen and it’s probably not going to be very nice when it does.

DL- Would you say that split personality reflects the personality of the album and does that bicameral mind theory apply to the way that you wrote or structured the album?

JH- I think in the structuring there was some aspect of it. I actually wanted to do a double album and have a left side and a right side but the guys didn’t want to. We tried to just put the best songs in the best order.

DL- ‘Lord of the Trapdoor’ makes reference to internet trolls. Is that something that affects you as a band?

JH- No, we never get trolled. I don’t think we’re big enough for people to bother! I do obviously see a huge amount of it on things like reddit. When I talk about trolls I’m not really out there saying “fuck you guys, I hate you, what are you doing? You’re so lame”. I’m usually painting them sympathetically or I’m even saying I’m a bit of a troll myself. Or that I could be like them if I didn’t watch out. I understand you is usually what I’m saying to trolls.

DL- So it’s not like a long letter to Anthony Fantano asking why he didn’t give you a ten?

JH- He didn’t like the production on ‘In Birdsong’, we did that on purpose you idiot! I asked for that song to sound like it was broken!

DL- Last question, you’ve got a tour coming up next year so where are you most looking forward to playing and why is it Newcastle?

JH- Well I was born in Newcastle and I know it very well and I love it dearly. We haven’t played there in a long time so it probably will be Newcastle! All my family and friends will be there and we don’t play it as much as we should. The best gig of all is gonna be any gig if it happens!

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