Jonathan Higgs: ‘I’ve got an unhealthy mind, and it gets me in trouble’
The Everything Everything singer on the band’s new album, ‘A Fever Dream’, the politics of pop, and why he doesn’t want to play up to the ‘tortured artist’ cliche
Everything Everything: “Our confidence massively jumped up with ‘Get To Heaven’. We took risks and they were the moments that paid off the most,” says Higgs
Everything Everything are in their right place: progressing with each album. 2015’s Get To Heaven finally saw them become the band they were meant to be. Their weirdness – Jonathan Higgs’s falsetto, a blase disregard for genre protocol – was so confidently presented that it was impossible not to buy into it. And for those looking for meaning beyond the quirky groove of Regret or President Heartbeat, the lyrics were ahead of their time, dealing with world events like Ebola and Isis’s rise to prominence when their peers were still in a state of denial.
Reverence received, the question is, where do they go from there?
“It was a tough act to follow – I was s***ting myself trying to think about how to do better,” says Higgs. “I wanted to continue what we started, but didn’t want to make the same album. So it made sense to shrink down the scope; instead of big global dramas, I wanted to focus on how these things impact the little guy.”
So while the album was written before the attack on their hometown of Manchester, “if it had happened during its writing, I wouldn’t have mentioned it because I already did that with Get to Heaven. I don’t want them to occupy my mind like they did, even if they’re closer to my door now. I’m done with that.”
Instead A Fever Dream – titled to reflect the surreal times in which we live – alludes to the way in which the political climate has permeated the social climate, fostering a mistrusting relationship with our neighbours. “They have different colours of blood,” the Greek chorus sings in Desire; “I don’t think so” is Higgs’s vocal reply.
“I wanted to make the feeling of paranoia run throughout, to replicate the type of language that’s being used by the tabloids and the [US] president and less well-informed politicians,” he says. “I’ve sprinkled bits here and there that are almost like people whispering in your ear.”
Don’t ask the expert
The mirroring of views is particularly heard in Run the Numbers, written after Michael Gove’s memorable Brexit quote: “People in this country have had enough of experts.”
“It was one of the most important things I’ve heard in a decade,” says Higgs. “I laughed and you laughed, everyone laughed when they heard that, but it was true, and it will stay true unless we stop laughing. So it’s probably not how most people approach songs but it’s kind of a pro-Brexit song, despite my personal view.”
Aided by James Ford, the perfect man for the job given his production work with Foals and Klaxons, Everything Everything made use of the freer musical rein afforded by their established success.
“Our confidence massively jumped up with Get To Heaven. We took risks and they were the moments that paid off the most, which gave us a big boost,” he says. Continuing the risk-taking, they took influence from early 1990s Warp records that guitarist Alex Robertshaw was soaking in at the time, as well as the guitar music they listened to growing up.
“For whatever reason, we restricted ourselves from playing it before,” says Higgs. “I guess we felt like we should be pushing other things, but this time we felt like we would embrace it. We fell back on older influences rather than found new ones.”
Of course, new album means new tour. They’ve yet to announce headline shows, but Electric Picnic is on their festival circuit. “It’s always great there, the crowd are completely bananas. I remember a good few years ago in Whelans, we were playing Choice Mountain and these guys were crowdsurfing. To, like, our quietest song. Alex and I were pulling a face like, what the f**k is wrong with these people, they’re insane. That sticks in my mind.”
The album from which the song came, Arc, in part dealt with Higgs’s struggle with depression. Given the self-care needed, I wonder if he finds the touring lifestyle difficult.
“It’s not so much that it’s a difficult lifestyle – there’s a lot of time to do nothing, that’s the problem about touring. If you fill your time with unhealthy things, then you’re going to have a bad time. And I’m in this ridiculous, privileged position and I don’t have a sense of reality, so it stunts your growth in many ways. I think that’s a problem for anyone who’s ever been in a band.”
In order to counter that, he ensures that he’s “wise enough to know myself”, as he sings in No Reptiles. “I don’t own a house, I don’t drive. I don’t have many responsibilities and I need more. I’ve lived with my partner for many years, but it’s this odd life of disappearing and coming back, and not facing up to things. So I’ve been going to some meetings and some therapists for various reasons, and trying to kick some of my more unhealthy mind . . . things. I’ve got an unhealthy mind, and it gets me in trouble and bad moods and all sorts of things, and I don’t want to be like that anymore.”
He won’t go into the specifics “until I’ve sorted myself out a bit more”, but acknowledges that this may take longer than normal. “It’s almost like my job requires ‘the tortured artist’, the cliche. It’s almost celebrated that I feel like sh*t. I know that’s not the case, but it feels like that. Maybe it prevents me doing a lot of things properly, because maybe on some level, I enjoy the fact I have the attention of people in some ways.”
So while on the road he takes measures to keep healthy, spending his time exercising, listening to books and songwriting instead. “I sit in hotel rooms or backstage with headphones, writing writing writing, rather than being bored or walking around whatever city we’re in.
“It’s difficult to write on the road, but it’s a bit of a first world problem. It’s definitely the best use of my time, other than self-improvement, but I’ll avoid that if I can.”
Man, he knows thyself.
Fever Dream is out via RCA on August 18. Everything Everything play this year’s Electric Picnic festival (September 1st-3rd)