The Higgs Boson is hard to understand, it’s a complex notion, but I know this – it concerns particles, and the forces that react to those. Jonathan Higgs has his own boson; since his band put out their debut album in 2010, their subsequent gigs and new album – their particles – have been subject to the forces of hype, media, critique. But through it all, the Higgs Everything Everything boson has remained strong, true to themselves and has produced the new record, ‘Arc’ ready to join the masses.
Jonathan, it’s the second time I’ve been able to talk to you – I interviewed you first in 2010, so it’s a real pleasure to get a little bit of your time again. Cool, no problem.
So that was three years ago – it’s gone so fast. I know, and we’re still here!
Would you have thought then that we’d now be talking about album number two already, and a Top Five album at that? I know, it’s crazy; we didn’t predict it, put it that way. Midweek we heard it was at three, so we thought by the weekend it won’t even be in the Top Ten, but we were still happy with that, but we stuck it out and got five, which is pretty amazing.
Absolutely, and you were up against the chart big hitters weren’t you, the albums that don’t go anywhere for months – - Yeah, exactly; top ten is people like Rihanna and we thought, ‘that’s pretty nuts’, you know, sitting there amongst all that.
It’s the topic of the moment – your album went Top Five in the same week HMV went under. Where do you think people will be buying their albums? Erm, same place they’ve been buying them for the last few years, and that’s why HMV has gone! People were very quick to be in dismay that it had gone, but if you ask yourself when was the last time you went in and bought a CD there, it’s years ago, to be honest. I’ve been downloading my music for years, and if I do buy a CD, it might be on Amazon, but I’m never really one for going into high street shops and getting it straight off the shelf. I’m more likely to go online and see where I can get the better deal, and that’s obviously had a knock-on effect. Blockbusters has gone the same way, and all the rest of it.
You’re a thrifty man! I am! You have to be; there’s not much money in this game.
It kind of puts in it perspective though, like, the kind of support that you got early on from people like Zane Lowe and all the BBC Radio presenters is almost more meaningful in terms of a band’s progress. Yeah it does, I mean, we’ve had an amazing amount of support, so to get continued support from people like the BBC makes the world of difference. You can’t really put a price on that kind of support, really. It just puts you out there continuously from a really reputable source, and it’s partly why we’re still able to make records.
When I talked to you last time, you said you had been able to engineer some of the hype of the band, which was lucky – is it a harder beast to keep hold of, now that you’re kind of owned by the public, in a way? Erm, it’s easier in some ways to let it be out there, because there’s so many people with different views out there that you’re not going to be misrepresented. Early on, you can do one interview for NME and you’re suddenly ‘that band’; now I’m doing many, many interviews all the time and people listen to us in lots of different formats and have their opinions of us, so it feels like much more even footing now. There’s far more lies out there, but there’s also far more truths, which is nice.
Is that still a thing Jonathon? Do you still find that there are sensationalist publications that will just pluck a non-fact out of the air? Yeah, I mean, we have seen a bit of that in the last week, but that’s purely because we’ve been speaking to so many people and everyone wants their angle. Some of them don’t care too much about the facts, but thankfully we’ve been spared any real big embarrassments, or pissing off anyone that we respect.
You’ll be pleased to know we’re full transcript lovers – it’s just me, several hours and the Dictaphone – - Sorry about that!
No, it’s cool; at least you know what you say is exactly what’s going to be written down. Moving on, I was so astounded back in 2010 that some of your older material had been written back in 2005, like ‘Weights’, which must have meant that back in 2005, it must’ve sounded really progressive. Was there any pressure, either from yourselves, or from others, to keep it progressive? Yeah, of course; that particular sample I actually wrote at uni – I wasn’t even in a band at the time, which is why it’s so much earlier than the rest. I wasn’t in this band then and we’d never played the song, but it was more of just a hangover from those days, a song I really liked. But yeah, of course we do put pressure on ourselves not to sit back and do ‘Man Alive’ again, and also progression for us is almost a little bit backward, I think, because we found that we weren’t really making the right emotional connection with the first album, or the connection that I wanted, really. We really had to step back a bit and not be so concerned with the complexity and clever cleverness of ‘Man Alive’ and just wanted to make things a bit simpler, and easier to understand – more about the feel than how clever everything was. That, for us in a way, was our progression really, to actually go backwards a little bit, in terms of how far we were pushing things in pursuit of being ‘new’ and actually forgetting about being moved by music. So that’s what we tried to do, to be moved more.
I read an interesting quote from you that said, “We’d have hated ourselves if we’d have made the same record back then,” – is it maybe a sign of maturity, allowing yourself do what you like, rather than what you think is expected of you? Yeah, I think it is; there’s a level of confidence you need, I mean, we’re pretty cynical and we’ve always been quite cynical about things and been quick to criticise ourselves, and I think if we’d have tried to write a song like ‘Duet’, say, from this latest record, we would have all said, ‘Oh, it’s too cheesy – too pop. Where’s the edgy, like, new thing about it?’ Now I’m very pleased to stand here and say I wrote that song; I think it has a good melody and good words and that’s final, you know what I mean? And I have the confidence to put that forwards, whereas back then we were far less confident and we wanted to cover everything in distractions so that no-one could call us on it, because no-one knew what the hell was going on!
[LAUGHS] But we all loved it, and we still do and the brilliant thing for me, researching your band again is that I get to listen to your back catalogue again in full, I mean, really spend time listening again. You talk of confidence now, which can be heard I think in ‘Choice Mountain’ from the new album, but listening again, I think you can also hear it in ‘NASA is On Your Side’ from the first album – - Yeah, I guess ‘NASA…’ is quite similar, in the way it sounds, to this album more than ‘Qwerty Finger’ or something; it’s much more about the melody and progressing through the song in a natural melody, rather than going along and something grabs you. So yeah, that was an early indicator, I think, of the way that we could move people – but then again, I don’t think people quite connected with the lyrics of ‘NASA…’, so that would be the big change, of course, is how much people can understand, because of how much I give them to understand! It’s not like people are stupid, it’s that the lyrics can be very cryptic at times, so I tried to straighten them out a lot more.
I actually made a lyrical connection with ‘NASA…’ listening to it now again, especially with the recent shooting massacres in the US. I couldn’t work out who’s viewpoint it was talking from – the shooter’s, or something more abstract – could you shed some light on that for me now? Well that song, I don’t know if it was particularly from anyone’s point of view – it was more just stepping in and out of a school shooting and thinking about teenagers and how you’re never like that again in your life. They’re extremely unpredictable and extremely emotional, and all those things you forget about when you’re not a teenager any more, and it’s an extremely extreme part of someone’s life. There’s a sort of danger to it, and a sort of beauty to it; it’s a very strange thing to go through and I was kinda juxtaposing the end of time, where fossil fuels have run out, and I was thinking about using these teenagers as the fuel! I had this idea that eventually, when our bodies are broken down, or whatever, we’ll kind of be used like a fuel. It was about jumping in at a teenager’s level and looking at their day to day, and looking at wider, environmental problems in the same song, sort of playing them off each other – sort of jumping into a school shooting, and then jumping back into space.
It’s fair to say that your lyrics, Jonathan, are poetic and written down, I imagine they’d be difficult to put easily to music. Do you bring the lyrics to the boys, or is it music first? Yeah, it’s always music first; I think if you bring lyrics first then the music can be quite ugly and have to bend itself to fit the words, and I don’t think that’s the right way round really; I’d always write the lyrics second – I’d say what I wanted to say, but it’s got to fit the music, otherwise you get into some really big problems!
Of all the awards that you’ve been nominated for, I imagine that for you personally, the Ivor Novello nominations must have meant a lot to you, especially when people spend most of their time saying your lyrics are indecipherable! Yeah, I think that one was the one that meant the most, and obviously the Mercury was incredible, but for me personally, the Ivor Novello awards are for the songwriting, and with me being predominantly the songwriting, it felt amazing, especially with everyone around us saying, ‘what is this? We can’t make head nor tail of it.’ That was incredible, yeah; I’d love to have another one of those [LAUGHS].
Obviously Alt-J won the Mercury in 2012, but what’s incredible is that you guys have been credited as kind of paving the way for bands like Alt-J, even in this short time, to be unfaithful to the notion of genre, even within the same song – is genre irrelevant now? No, I don’t think any genres are irrelevant; I think the media picks and chooses what’s hot right now, and there’s always a fan-base for it, even if that genre is ‘new music’, people will latch on to what it’s like, regardless of what it is, you know. Like, it’s grunge again and as long as it’s repackaged, there’ll always be someone there for it. But no, I don’t really follow what people say are trends – I think it’s all made up, to be honest; I could find you fifteen bands of heavy metal that haven’t changed in the last forty years, just by going to a pub. They’re still there and they’d still buy it if it was on the radio… I think it’s all made up, to be honest.
Now, I know previously you’ve had the chance to work with an orchestra, which you said was pretty hard work – for this album, did you get to outsource at all again? Yeah, we did… well, we kinda did; I wrote the song, ‘Duet’, which has a couple of string parts and I did actually write all the parts out solo for each player, not that anyone could actually read them, so we got someone to convert them in to proper scores… Sorry, can I just do something for one minute… [Jonathan disappears for a moment] Sorry about that, I was getting my bike fixed by the bike man.
I was trying to earwig and I wasn’t far off! I was thinking car getting fixed by a Welshman. Oh no, he’s a bike repair guy but he recognised who I was the first time he came round, so he’s just given me a free bike repair!
No way! Yeah, I gave him some tickets to the show and he was like, ‘oh, cool – I’ll do your bike for free.’ That’s one of the perks!
That’s the thing with having your face on the front of the cover for the new album though, isn’t it – is that a bit of a weird one? Yeah, it is, although it was completely intentional; it sort of fits in with how we wanted the music to be received and perceived as us coming out of our shells a lot more, and breaking down the barriers that we put up with our first album, the complexness and the lyrics you couldn’t understand – the fox on the cover! No-one had any idea how to connect with it, so we kinda thought we’re doing the right thing musically, so the best idea is to put ourselves on there and then everyone knows what’s going on, which was a big step for us too.
Yeah, yeah! And you get your bike fixed for free – it’s a win all round. [LAUGHS] Yeah!
So Jonathan you were just explaining to me how you outsourced some of the parts for the album – - Yeah, it wasn’t so much that anyone else wrote any of it, but we got these guys who worked with us on the orchestra thing we did in the past, to write them out for violin and things like that, so that they could actually be played. We got a chap in as a violinist, but I think that’s the only other guests we had. Yeah, they made a huge difference to the record – a touch of class!
Nice! And translating that to a live environment – has that been difficult at all? Erm, I think it’s been challenging simply because we’ve found we’re running out of hands and I’ve been unhappy for a long time, standing there playing the keyboard. To be honest, I felt like it was another barrier between me and the audience, literally this time. Like, ‘it’s strange music they play, and you can’t get close to them. He’s stood there behind the keyboard and barking all these lyrics you can’t understand!’ I just cut it all out and you can make much more of a connection. We’ve got a keyboardist now, and I just run around with my microphone and it makes me feel much more relatable; much closer to the audience.
It’s a big evolution from three years ago – - Yeah, big time!
So you must be excited – you’re coming to Norwich next month – not just excited about Norwich, obviously – - Oh, I am, I am!
You’re gonna bring us a cracking new show, and I wondered what, as an audience, we can bring for you? Just learn the songs. That’s all you can ever do. Listen to the music and bring an open mind!
Everything Everything play the Norwich Arts Centre on February 8th. Tickets are sold out, but call the NAC Box Office on 01603 660352 for returns. Read the uncut version of this interview on Outlineonline.co.uk