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Everything Everything: “someone always has to be the man”

A lot has changed since we interviewed Everything Everything in 2011. In the last year alone, the lads released a brilliant fourth album and have just put out a cracking new EP, A Deeper Sea, before wrapping up a massive UK tour. 

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Higgs explained how the new EP was shaped, in part, by the shocking statistics on male suicide and said the band “felt inspired to write a new song dealing with male identity and depression; The Mariana.” And what a beaut of a song it is too. We thought it was high time we had a catch up with Jonathan to chat music and masculinity…

Tell us about the message behind The Mariana…
It was in response to some deep thought I was having about this issue of suicide in men. I didn’t want to explicitly make a judgement about it or lay blame anywhere particular, more to create a little space in song where it felt okay to be weak or confused about what was expected of being a man in the 21st century.

The chorus says “someone always has to be the man”. Do you think the traditional idea of being a man has shifted?
The line “someone always has to be the man” came to me very naturally as a sort of infinite shrug and expectation that, while true, isn’t always easy for everyone to handle. What is this role? I feel as though I’ve been told many, many things not to be, while the expectations of what to actually be and do are vague and often contradictory. I think quite often about prehistory, how male and female roles evolved and why there are so many things we don’t need anymore, we don’t need to hunt for example, we don’t need to defend the home with weapons or strength, we don’t even need wombs anymore! All of the animal activities and the millennia of survival that cemented roles for us have very rapidly fallen away, leaving large numbers of people feeling lost in an indefinable way. We’re still using the same bodies and brains but everything else has been wiped out, and it’s insane. The traditional roles for men and women have changed, but in the relinquishing of certain powers from men to women has felt to a lot of men that their world is the only one that’s being dismantled. I think that roles of any kind are becoming almost quaint, we don’t really operate in a society anymore, everything is becoming fluid and extremely subjective, my world is not your world and it’s subconsciously terrifying.

What do you feel society needs to do to address this issue?
Lots of people with more experience and ideas than me are doing all they can already. Society moves slowly and reluctantly, and we are already asking a lot of each other by moving at such a pace, I feel like some of the issues we see appearing are almost inevitable side-effects. I think we’re making the right steps but it will take time.

Are these ideas of masculinity an inspiration generally?
In a background way, I’ve never written about it so obviously before now. Male stereotypes were explored and partially upended in my youth, the 90s, and the roll-out into wider society has been taking place since then. However, I’ve never felt secure about any kind of replacement for men. Lots of ‘do nots’, and a confusing space to occupy. Inspiration is not the right word perhaps, I feel lots of anxiety about the topic, and rarely feel like there are many breakthroughs to celebrate. Maybe I’m just a pessimistic person.

Tell us about the Mariana video…
I went for a walk after working on the song and saw some boys playing football in the cold near my house. My head was full of grandiose ideas for a video but as soon as I saw them I thought it was perfect, simple and honest. Football feels like something ‘safe’ to believe in, it’s not going to be dismantled anytime soon or overrun with politics and societal shifts. It’s male-dominated, culturally and literally, though that too is shifting of course. I wanted to film some very ordinary amateur players, with their guard down. I’ve made a lot of videos and you can never get anything really real out of actors (obviously), and I really didn’t want a load of blokes ‘acting sad’ or something. I decided to make it slow and put some trippy filters and grade on it to make it more dreamy and take it out of reality somewhat, also trying to edit out as much of the actual game as possible. I asked the photographer to mainly shoot faces, I’m sure the players were probably disappointed I clipped out all their skills!

The line “someone always has to be the man” came to me very naturally as a sort of infinite shrug and expectation that, while true, isn’t always easy for everyone to handle. What is this role?

Jonathan Higgs, Everything Everything

Tell us about the themes of another song on the EP, ‘Breadwinner’…
Breadwinner isn’t really about anything gender related, it’s a song about feeling bewildered by recent turbulent events. Yes men hold lots of power, most of it, but I’m just railing against power in general in that song. I guess it ties into The Mariana in that it taps into the same sense of being lost, feeling confused and overwhelmed.

We hear artists say they feel lucky to have music as a platform of self-expression that allows them to process stuff. Is this something you and the band relate to?
Yes this is definitely something that helps me immensely, I get to work out my feelings through songs and I feel really privileged to be able to do that as a job. I can’t talk for everyone in the band and I can’t talk for everyone out there, but I try and keep an open mind in my lyrics and messages, and try not to be judgemental about things I have no experience of.

I get to work out my feelings through songs and I feel really privileged to be able to do that as a job

Being in a band must be a very intense and confusing environment at times – do you rely on each other as a support network if things get tough? Or is that too close to home?
Yes it’s confusing and can be intense, we are all good friends and rely on each other in most ways you can think of. We know each other well and keep an eye on each other, it doesn’t take long for someone to notice if someone else is having a crap time.

The Deeper Sea EP features a cover of Neil Young’s Don’t Let it Bring You Down – what is it about this song that the band are drawn to?
It’s a beautiful song, as most of his are, and we felt drawn to the central lyric and theme. It’s been a turbulent few years for everyone in wider society and this felt like a good antidote to that, as well as a good counterpoint for the sadness of The Mariana. Staying positive in the face of adversity, something I’m extremely bad at.

Through our Torch Songs campaign we’ve worked with some incredible artists who recorded covers of songs that helped them through tougher times. Do you have that one song you turn to when things get hard, something that always lifts your mood?
I tend to shut music out completely when I feel bad, listening to something great when I’m down makes me feel worse. Stupid really. We have a song called ‘Don’t Try’ which is about opening up, I’ve had a few people tell me this has helped them, but obviously I can’t listen to my own song!

How do you keep focus and stay healthy?
I don’t really, I’m my own worst enemy and tend to avoid stuff or engage in various forms of self-destruction. What I should be doing is opening up and spending more time thinking about others, as well as living a healthier lifestyle physically.

Listen to Everything Everything’s new ‘Deeper Sea’ EP here.

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