Everything Everything on A Fever Dream

Two years ago, Everything Everything predicted Brexit, Trump and terror. We speak to frontman Jonathan Higgs to talk about their fourth album, A Fever Dream, as they go back to human basics to find a solution

Feature by Joe Goggins | 11 Aug 2017

“It was such a strange experience. We were watching on as things started to become more true than when we’d written them down.”

A little over two years ago, Everything Everything released their third full-length, Get to Heaven. There’d always been a political bent to their music, and particularly to frontman Jonathan Higgs’ lyrics, but only then had it come to the fore – and dramatically so. Taken purely at face value, it remained very much what we’d come to expect from the Manchester outfit; complex rhythms and yelped vocals, dance music with an acid tongue. This time, though, the nervous energy that had always been their calling card was being channeled in another manner entirely.

Get to Heaven had Everything Everything looking outwards, and they didn’t like what they saw – to put it mildly. The Wheel (Is Turning Now) was born out of revulsion at UKIP, but touched more widely on the idea of demagogic leaders. Regret seemed to be about suicide bombers, specifically Britons leaving the country to join ISIS in the Middle East. No Reptiles spoke to Higgs’ deep disdain for Britain and what it stands for. Zero Pharaoh talked about how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

You can see where this is going, and that’s just it – two years ago, so could Everything Everything. They might not, admittedly, have foreseen it happening quite so quickly, but in retrospect, Get to Heaven is deeply unsettling in its augury, given that its overriding message seemed to be that it was a matter of time before the atrocities that played out day in, day out on 24-hour rolling news channels became a reality for the Western world, too. Since Get to Heaven was released, populism has gone on to score two huge victories, with Britain voting to leave the European Union and Donald Trump being elected President of the United States – both notions that would’ve been dismissed as absurd on the day that the record dropped.

Terrorism has since arrived right on the band’s doorstep, too – first metaphorically, at a rock club in Paris, and then geographically, at the arena in Manchester, a venue they opened for Foals last year. “To see these things fall into place as we were promoting the album was bizarre,” says Higgs. “We played our own show in Paris a week after the Bataclan attack, and the atmosphere... I can’t even put it into words. To have been so close to that, and to what happened in Manchester, and to see Trump and Brexit become reality – these were all things that we were hinting at, saying 'this could happen here soon'.

"It was frightening to see it happen the way it did; the night of the Bataclan, we did a gig in Newcastle, and my niece came along – she would’ve been nine or ten. Realising that it could have been her caught up in something so devastating really brought home the fact that maybe we’d been saying those things on the last record at a comfortable distance. All the same, they came true.”

Perhaps that was what spurred the group into following up Get to Heaven so quickly. From Higgs’ perspective, there was a feeling that their last LP was already a little out of date – not just because it had correctly augured ill for the immediate future, but also because the news cycle, the one he seemed so horrified by, and yet so unable to extricate himself from, is now moving at such a pace that anything too specific is quickly outstripped by whatever the next story is. “It’s not just that things are changing so quickly now,” he explains. “It’s that, unlike two years ago, everybody’s talking about these huge events that are happening all around us.

“We wanted to distance ourselves from them a little bit, and get back to what’s being forgotten about – things that are happening on a micro, human, personal level. Everybody seems 50% angrier than they were, and nobody’s trusting the media, or the police, or the government. It feels like everything’s up for grabs, and we’re not talking about me and you any more; everyone’s in their own echo chamber, and the new record is trying to tap into ideas of neighbours and communities. Where has everything I used to take for granted gone?”

In that respect, A Fever Dream feels like their most powerful statement to date, and not just because far more people will be minded to sit up and listen to them now that they’ve proved how perceptive they can be. It’s their first to be produced by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, a long-time target of theirs for his ability to meld both dance and rock – something they’ve done more strikingly here than ever before, with Higgs pitching the album somewhere between the electronica of Warp Records in the early 90s and the instrumental brutality of Radiohead at their most intense. It’s their darkest-sounding record by a distance, all pounding drums and guitars that wail like sirens, but it’s also one on which they find a level of emotional balance that perhaps evaded them previously.

“Pretty early on, we had this recurrent idea of what a fever dream is; this nightmarish landscape that feels surreal," Higgs tells us. "That’s true of the last couple of years, where we’ve seen things happen that we never thought would, where we’ve lost things we thought we’d have forever, and seen things returning that we thought we were rid of. That said, there’s been positivity in unexpected places, too, and the title A Fever Dream seems like a perfect way to comment on what it is to live in the west now. I mean, it’s not like we called it This Is a Fucking Nightmare, because there’s positives and negatives, horror and joy.”

Lead single Can’t Do serves as a good example of that overarching theme, speaking to the near-universal frustration of not feeling good enough or that you truly fit in – the latter being something that Everything Everything, with all their myriad eccentricities, know plenty about. Despite the angst, though, the track carries the band’s trademark of being infectiously danceable, which isn’t always true of A Fever Dream overall – there’s some thumping rock brooders, too, and you wonder whether, for the first time, the band have made a concerted effort to square their sound and their message.

“I think Alex [Robertshaw, guitarist] was keen to make sure things matched up a little bit more this time,” Higgs admits, “and that’s something that’s had to happen subtly, because you don’t want to make some great shift that isn’t true to yourself. We might switch to a minor key in a way that we wouldn’t in the past; there’s little moments of hope and positivity in the music that we would previously have stamped out for fear of looking weak. There might be less of a juxtaposition than before, but I suppose ultimately, trying to impart any kind of message through the medium of a beat is kind of insane.”

In turn, that begs the question as to how audiences are going to react to an increasingly political Everything Everything at live shows; for all Get to Heaven’s justified doom-mongering, the songs themselves were never especially difficult to move to, but the sonic gloom can feel suffocating at points on A Fever Dream. “I guess it remains to be seen,” laughs Higgs. “There’s a lot of dark shit on the record, but we’ll always shake it up on stage if we feel like it’s becoming too miserable.

"The key is energy – high-energy and low-energy is a much better way to describe music than happy and sad, or heavy and light. We want people to move, and we want them to be moved. Those things are much more important than making sure everybody goes home with a smile on their face – and god knows what band you’d be going to see if that was the case! We want to fuck you up, basically – so no change there.”

A Fever Dream is released on 18 Aug via RCA