Duet: Everything Everything vs Dutch Uncles
As they prepare to head out on tour together, Everything Everything and Dutch Uncles have a meeting of minds about arena experiences, songcraft and when to say 'I love you'
It’s more than a penchant for putting pop music through a warped filter that Manchester-based Everything Everything and Dutch Uncles have in common. Arc and Out of Touch in the Wild – their second and third albums respectively – both furthered the two camps in profile and artistic progress; the former dealt with themes of male depression, societal class difference and mortality; the latter, addiction and humanity’s mortal coil.
Mixing cerebral ideas with gut-felt emotion, both acts have enjoyed their most successful year to date, with Dutch Uncles recently supporting Paramore on tour in Europe, while for Everything Everything, the forthcoming shows are their largest headlining dates so far.
Upstairs in a quiet Northern Quarter pub, we got together Dutch Uncles’ Duncan Wallis and Robin Richards, and Everything Everything’s Jonathan Higgs and Jeremy Pritchard for a head-to-head before their travels.
The Skinny: You’re both bands who are fans of pop, but who can’t resist putting something weird in your own music to move it from out of that. Discuss...
Jonathan Higgs: We’ve had things that we know could be really popular, and we all fucking hate it! And we’ve tried to disguise it, although sometimes we let them through, but then we just refuse to play the songs live!
Jeremy Pritchard: You’re talking about Armourland aren’t you?
JH: And Come Alive Diana – pop songs that we can’t get through without fooling around or pissing each other off. We have to strike a balance so there’s something like Kemosabe, which is quite pop but then there’s lots of leftfield elements.
Duncan Wallis: When we were touring with Paramore there were so many cheesy moments to their set, but then the way the crowd reacts to it makes you think, ‘You know what? There is something to that.’
JH: I believe that, when Gary Lightbody goes on stage and plays D, A, E major and a sweet lovely melody, he thinks it’s lovely and great and everyone else there feels the same. If I was to do that I would feel cheapened because of my own hang-ups, not because anything could possibly be better.
Do you ever get to a point where you feel like, ‘This is beyond who we are?’
Robin Richards: We had that recently on a demo. We thought, ‘We could turn this into a pop song’ and we kind of forced a radio edit out of it without any vocals. We came out with this thing that we didn’t really like anymore because we’d pushed it in a way that wasn’t natural.
DW: I remember feeling really nervous the day before we knew Flexxin’ was going to radio because for us that’s probably been our biggest commercial departure from what people would associate with us.
RR: Flexxin’ was natural though.
DW: You tried to out Prince me, I tried to out Prince you.
JH: For us, our band name reflects our approach, which is we can do anything and I still write like that. But once it goes through the process of the band it does come out sounding like us regardless, even if it starts in a deeply off the wall way. Torso of the Week started with Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair! I just copied the drum beat and thought, ‘Why does this make me feel so good?’ and I ended up with this sort of dark weird song that sounds like… what it sounds like.
On Arc and Out of Touch in the Wild both singers have de-coded yourselves to an extent and opened up lyrically; where did the confidence to do that come from?
JH: Being in Europe on tour, it felt like you could be much more open than you can in Britain. Here we’re so fucking cynical with this sort of ‘impress me’ thing you get, folded arms.
JP: I think that environment breeds good bands overall.
JH: It’s very easy to get very English about it and just criticise yourself on everything. But in Europe I suddenly realised there wasn’t any of that. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the crowds in this country, I’m as much to blame as anyone else, but you’ve got to make the jump. Also definitely having people say ‘We like the band, we like the melody, we don’t know what the hell you’re talking about’ is something you have to address.
JP: People say ‘What’s the biggest influence on the record?’ But the biggest on the second was actually our first. And it’ll happen again. We can’t make a record without rubbishing the first one saying, ‘This was shit’ – but that’s a good thing!
JH: It’s natural. You’ve got to think in your previous album that you can do better. I prefer Man Alive to Arc right now, which is exactly what I’d expect.
RR: You need that time to let each album settle before you can really judge it.
JH: What about you, Duncan, how have you found confidence in your voice?
DW: My impression of songwriting is that, if you’re a songwriter you should have the confidence to write a song like The Beatles' Love Me Do and use simple lyrics that still make a song work. You’re right; the cynical impression of crowds plays on your mind. In terms of having the confidence to speak with more clarity… for me it’s just that I’m getting better at understanding great music. At the beginning of writing Cadenza I think I knew what a great song was, but I didn’t know how to translate that into our own stuff.
JH: It’s finding the most straightforward way of saying something that isn’t a cliché. ‘I love you’ is a cliché but a thousand singers could sing that to you and you’d believe them.
DW: There’s so much contemporary music that uses the same phrases.
JH: I’ve used the word ‘love’ once in the history of the band – but I’m closer to singing ‘I love you’ now than I ever have been in my life because I know it’s something you should do.
JP: It’s basic personal maturity as well.
JH: Yeah, I’m 29 and I can’t sing ‘I love you’ in a song, it’s crazy. But I feel like the next step for us is to actually do that.
DW: I think both our bands are at this stage where we’ve established this reputation of complexity within our music. So it’s OK now to try and do something different and be more direct.
How would you compare your experiences of touring with Muse and Paramore?
DW: It’s certainly a circus at that level. Paramore were trying to get out to see these cities we were playing, but Hayley is pretty much bound to her tour bus.
RR: If she wants to go out she has a selection of wigs.
DW: It felt a bit nasty to be honest! Like, you really want to do that to yourself? For us, though, it was really fun to break down the barriers of genre.
JH: The Muse tour felt quite disconnected. They didn’t seem to know each other very well anymore. There was a huge distance between the band and the crowd, and it added to an overall feeling almost like… even if they couldn't be there the machine would keep going… obviously that’s not true, but it was like: as long as those three were on that stage at the specified time then they could do whatever the fuck they wanted outside that. I just didn’t really know what they were doing it for anymore.
JP: As a support act it was liberating. You’ve literally nothing to lose. We did an arena tour with Snow Patrol and it was exactly the same. The other thing to say is that arenas are all the same, they’re de-humanising.
DW: I had a question about you using Elbow’s rehearsal space and you said some of your ideas didn’t translate to a big room...
JH: Before recording Arc we were noodling and all the usual bollocks and it just wasn’t working. Dutch Uncles wouldn’t work in that space either, there’s too much detail in the acoustics.
JP: It was good for us in a way though because it meant that subconsciously we were arranging songs for the first time. There’s a chapter in David Byrne’s How Music Works about how no one really acknowledges the space in which your music is represented, and I’d not thought about that before but definitely did for our second album. You never think of any of that stuff in your first album, which admittedly is why I like debuts –you’re not writing to audit.