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Entropy in the UK

18 January 2024, 10:00

With their seventh long-player Mountainhead about to drop, Everything Everything frontman Jonathan Higgs tells Kitty Richardsons how the record represented a course adjustment for the band.

A few months ago, YouTuber Like Stories of Old released a video essay on The Marvelisation of Cinema. A meditation on the increasingly self-referential nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it theorised that, as franchises produce film after film, they get further and further away from what made them special in the first place. “And that’s what happens to bands,“ Jonathan Higgs – frontman of Everything Everything – tells me.

He’s referring to the entropic slide these franchises often take. “As I was watching, I was thinking, 'This is why Oasis came out the blocks so strong – because it was so pure.’ They could never get that back. Everything that they did additionally just made it worse.”

Higgs himself is almost 17 years deep into a band of similar experience, if not similar notoriety – and they haven’t even had an intra-band punch-up to keep things interesting. How, I ask, do you avoid entropy poisoning your own career when you’re this far along? “Well, I’m making an effort to stop stalling: to sit down today and do this song, write the lyrics tonight and record it tomorrow. And I'm not going to go to town on it. I'm not going to meticulously work on it and overdo it, fret about it and perfect it.”

This more immediate approach to record-making was forced on the band post-pandemic, when they no longer had hours together in the studio. With new record Mountainhead, it is more deliberate. “We’ve got too many ideas, we've always had. I've got too many ideas when I'm alone, and then I'm trying to incorporate all of Alex's ideas and all the rest of it. As my taste matures” – he catches himself with a slight cringe – “ I get older, I want to hear simpler and simpler ways of displaying art.” He harks back to The Marvelisation of Cinema again, and the author’s argument that the Star Wars lightsaber is cinema’s most perfectly distilled symbol. “Well,” he grins. “I want the lightsaber of music.”


This lean approach is apparent in the band's evolving arrangements and production, which have transformed over the years from joyfully overstuffed polyphony to chart-courting pop. I’m told by Everything Everything’s publicist that recent single “Cold Reactor” landed unexpectedly well with Radio 1 listeners – a surprise only if you focus on the writers themselves (an ex-art rock band made up of 50% dads and a lot of modular synths) and not the material (a gorgeous and highly accessible pop banger). The new album is full of these unabashed crowd-pleasers – with opener “Wild Guess” a mellifluous slice of indie-pop, and “Enter the Mirror”, with its throbbing main-room hook, sounding like the softer side of London Grammar.

That is where the accessibility arguably stops, though. In deciding to not overcook the mix, Higgs has poured his overactive mind into the album’s concept. The titular ‘Mountainhead’ is a society where the lowest status inhabitants dig endlessly to build a great mountain, whilst making the hole they themselves live in deeper and deeper. The inhabitants are bound by a religion which keeps them digging, in hopes that they might eventually ascend to the top.

It is, for those of us living in the pit of late-capitalism, a bit on the nose. Indeed, Mark Fisher’s Capital Realism provided some inspiration, though it was the strange miscarriage of Liz Truss’s mini-budget in 2022 that prompted Higgs to actually start writing.

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“God knows the last 15 years of politics have been embarrassing, and all the rest of it,” he says, with exasperation. “But the Liz Truss thing – seeing how robotic she was and knowing she was a moron … It was the idea that anyone would look at [her manifesto] and think, ‘This is what we should be doing with the world.’ It was so brazenly idiotic, to be stood there saying we need growth, with no explanation and no plan. I didn’t want to write about her, or that moment, but it summed up just how ingrained all of this is.”

Higgs notes that his writing tends to swing between the intensely personal and the intensely cerebral. After Raw Data Feel – an excavation of the singer’s relationships, where the theme of AI was more a framing device than anything foundational – it’s clear what era we’re in. Around the newly-established mountain metaphor, themes of yearning for some long-forgotten existence swirl, those Higgs started exploring almost a decade ago on primordial stomper “Distant Past”. It seems the idea of lobbing his smartphone in the sea is still appealing.

“It's impossible to know if someone living in the year 1000 had a general level of happiness higher than mine,” he states. “But I feel like maybe he did? And it's because he was outdoors, he didn't have the stress of a nine to five, and all these things that are so ingrained in all our minds that it's silly me even saying this to you. People feel bad living in this world. And even though we're all trying to create stuff the whole time to improve our lives, we can't actually make ourselves happy.”


Back to Mark Fisher: “I've actually read that book before, many years ago. But I picked it up again, perhaps because it feels like we are coming to … the edge of something, some big shift to do with capitalism.”

“When I was writing the album, I didn't sit down and think ‘I must tell the world that capitalism is bad’. But I wanted a metaphor in the middle of it: something so simple that everyone could instantly feel. And it was the Siysuphian notion of building something that is never finished.”

He wrestled with what should be at the top of the fictional mountain for a while; something aspirational, but ultimately pointless. Initially it was a statue of yourself, but that was too obvious. Eventually, he settled on a halloed image of the self that keeps repeating and repeating, ad infinitum.

“We had this idea of the repeated image, like when you look into two mirrors at once. Because what's the ultimate goal of capitalism? To be the CEO of CEOs? To be a God King? And then what do you do? Other than say… Here I am!” he laughs.

“I read somewhere years ago that all people want is stories about themselves… to see themselves reflected,” he says. “The pharaoh or the film star has always been the greatest attainable role for a human trying to beat death. Even somebody who's, say, not interested in money – Ghandi – we will still propel his image centuries beyond his lifespan. And so I felt like that's kind of the goal for being in this particular animal, to see yourself reflected, and repeated.”

Higgs recognises that there’s some ambiguity about the mirror idea. After all, true self-knowledge is considered a transcendental state by Buddists and other spiritualists. “I liked that there was a kind of dichotomy between this really ugly goal – self-aggrandisement – and this really beautiful goal. So the promise of the mountain is: you might be able to be a God if you go there. And that might be because everyone adores you. Or it might just be that you finally understand what consciousness is.”

Before now, most fans of Everything Everything would’ve comfortably guessed the band’s politics. Tracks like “No Reptiles”, “The Wheel is Turning Now” and “Big Game” take unambiguous swipes at corporate greed, charismatic zealots and Trump respectively. But Higgs has always been careful to walk the line between commentary and polemic, often writing from the perspectives of the people he disagrees with.

This habit, he explains, formed out of an unfortunate tendency to brawl with people online. “I reached a point around Get to Heaven where I was doing that too much,” he admits. “I used to argue with these people, I used to get worked up. And after a while I realised, not only is that part of what they want, but it's utterly pointless.”

“So I just became an observer, and I would try to understand, ask them questions. Instead of just putting my fingers in my ears and going, ‘Oh, they're all racists.’” Higgs describes himself as not having partaken in the “grand experiment” of social media himself, having only existed on platforms like Facebook to promote the band.

"As my taste matures.. as I get older, I want to hear simpler and simpler ways of displaying art."


Still, he stays anonymous when speaking to people about their political views. “I think anonymous communication is more real in some ways, because people let their guard down. And while there's an awful lot of uneducated, lazy thinking and horrible, knee-jerk reactionary stuff out there, there are also these little stories of people that feel lost in a very quick and changing environment.” Higgs describes with muted horror the conveyor belt of conspiracy theory content that can suck in a shy 19-year-old college student and spit out an alt right bigot. “I think it can make people insane”.

To illustrate his point, Higgs invokes Ronnie Pickering: one of the many unassuming characters whose life was upturned when some GoPro footage of him went viral. In 2015, Ronnie was caught in a roadrage incident when he uttered the words: “Do you know who I am? I’m Ronnie Pickering!” – a soundbite that still echoes across social media today.

Higgs recalls that, behind that soundbite, there was a story of a disenfranchised ex-amateur boxer who had lived through the 70s, an era where people did know his name. “There was something about him. His rage just summed up the whole “gammon” genre of middle aged white guys who, frankly, don’t know where they fit in anymore. And they're being told constantly that everything about them is awful. And we wish that they'd never done anything in their life and that we could erase them.”

It's here I find out that Higgs has a complicated relationship with political music. As a teen, he remembers being heavily influenced by whatever Kurt Cobain seemed to be on about (“a lot of it was nonsense”), which was emotionally resonant if not entirely coherent. Then came an encounter with Radiohead’s Kid A. “It’s extremely obfuscated on that record, but you could tell they didn't like a lot of New Labour. And that was the first time I'd even really realised we had politicians that I knew the names of,” he laughs.

“I really liked Tony Blair, and I remember realising ‘Radiohead don’t like him, but I think he’s cool’ and having a bit of a crisis”.

Beyond Thom Yorke, though, political music turned him off. Higgs describes first hearing Manic Street Preachers as an uncomfortable experience, saying that “starting with the lyrics” just results in awkwardly-timed melodies. Fine, but “If You Tolerate This” is surely a banger? “I just didn’t like it,” he says plaintively. “I wanted music, not a lecture.”

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Speaking of bangers, it seems one rule Everything Everything did set for themselves with Mountainhead was an ‘all bangers’ policy. Higgs says they’ve have completely abandoned genre aspirations at this point, instead simply adjusting how many sad songs they’re allowed on each record. Where Raw Data Feel had contemplative moments – like its crushing closer, “Software Greatman” – Mountainhead has snappy vocal harmonies, big beats, and a healthy dose of verse-chorus-verse. Fans of Alex Robertshaw’s brain-wracking guitar parts might be disappointed; they’ve been largely usurped by the sounds of home-made synthesizers.

“Alex can't be arsed with the guitar anymore – he says he’s completed it,” laughs Higgs. “He's got that kind of mind where… if he can’t do any more with it, it’s not interesting. So now he makes his own synths, and he fully produced the record. And I leave it to Alex. It's not that I don't care. But I would be happy putting a record out there if it was just a drum machine and a voice. And it excites me to even say that.”

This feels like an appropriate time to ask about solo albums. There’s never been a hint of slowing down from the band, but that doesn’t mean Higgs couldn’t create that stripped back incarnation under his own moniker. He says it’s on the cards – “I think there are times where I wish I didn't have other people’s opinions to contend with, as anyone creative goes through” – but he’s more interested in hearing something from Robertshaw.

“I've been encouraging Alex to make a dance music record for about five years,” he says, beaming. “Because I think he could make a really big impact in that world. And he wouldn't have to think about verse, chorus, middle eight – he wouldn't have to ask about my lyrics ever again, until we get into the next EE record.”

Perhaps the fact that a solo album hasn’t appeared yet is testament to the band’s chemistry. Having met in their teens (Higgs was at school with guitarist Robertshaw and drummer Michael Spearman; he met bassist Jeremy Pritchard at university in Salford), their relationships have survived seven albums, several babies, not to mention violent shifts in creative direction. And the dads in the band are still willing to risk their lives in a slate mine for a music video.

“For the video for “Cold Reactor”, we drove out at dawn to a slate mine and there was a warning about a massive gale force wind storm later that day,” Higgs tells me. “We saw the prediction on the way down and thought that would probably screw us, so we had to get out by 11am otherwise we might die. There was a warning about slates falling off people’s houses, and we were in a slate mine. So that kept us moving.”

The budget was tight for this album’s promotion. The band initially thought they had to either make one incredible video or several medium ones – then realised they could do all of them in one day, by hiring a camper van and tearing around Wales. “We climbed a mountain, we went to the beach, the woods and we did one in the dark as well! It was just us, a cameraman and one other guy. We were staying in this Airbnb that was next door to a biker house, who’d covered the windows with black wooden palettes and painted their skull logo on it. That was a ‘Where the hell are we?’ moment… it was a lot of fun.”

To address Higgs' fears directly – if entropy was going to set it, surely it would have by now. Franchises continue because a lot of us desire the same hit of nostalgia every time. But it’s clear fans of Everything Everything are drawn to the opposite. Plus, as great musicians and great friends, the original magic will be hard to extinguish.

To close, I ask Higgs about his favourite track on the album. He says it's “R U Happy?”, a twinkling ballad that lights up the album’s first half, when our protagonist realises “the mountain is a lie”. “I like writing songs about humans more and more than I do about people. The animal part is endlessly interesting to me. And that song really encapsulates this feeling of like… being sad in the modern world. Being an animal that's cut off from things.” It sounds like they allowed at least one sad song to slip through this time. “Oh no,” he says confidently. “It’s still a banger.”

Mountainhead is released on 1 March via BMG

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