Originally published in The Irish Times, August 20th 2010
HE’S HURRIEDLY dragging on his jacket, battling with a dying mobile phone battery, struggling to pack a suitcase and numerous musical instruments, and trying his level best to conduct an interview at the same time, but Mike Spearman can still muster up the energy to be excited. Who says men can’t multitask?
Later today, he’ll get a train to Heathrow and then a plane to Japan with his bandmates. “I’ve never been, but Jonathan, our singer, has,” he explains. “He climbed Mount Fuji, but he also got E coli.”
Multitasking is a common theme with Spearman’s band, Everything Everything . Although the quartet are by definition a “guitar band”, their propensity to glue several styles, genres and sparkly glitter to that mast means that their hybrid of funk, electro-pop, indie and disco sets them apart from the vast majority of their contemporaries.
The foursome met when Jonathan Higgs, lead singer and schoolfriend of Spearman, met bassist Jeremy Pritchard at Manchester’s Salford University in 2007. Guitarist Alex Niven, who’s based in London, later completed the line-up.
“We lived in a house together and we used to rehearse in the basement,” the drummer explains. “When Alex joined the band, it was a bit of a trial-by-fire thing, because we were just about to get signed. He came in and rehearsed with us for about a week before we had to start recording.”
It may have been a baptism of fire, but there are no tell-tale signs of hastiness or ill-preparation on the album. Man Alive is one of the most impressive, tightly constructed British debuts released so far this year; it’s a beautifully paced record that employs the best funk basslines, the most off-kilter rhythm structures, the dreamiest falsetto vocals and the brightest, most irresistible pop choruses heard since Friendly Fires’ debut in 2008.
The often complex and intricate structures of the record’s 12 songs – things have changed significantly since they introduced the synth to their sound, claims Spearman – means that the band’s writing and recording process is often a higgledy-piggledy affair.
“Jonathan comes up with all the lyrics. He’ll bring a germ of an idea into the practice room that he’ll have programmed on his laptop, and then we sort of reverse-engineer that, in a way – we take the song apart and put it back together again for ‘real’ people. During that process, the songs normally change a lot, you take out sections, put sections in; just try to make it as fluid as possible.
“It’s definitely a challenge. I think our general ethos is just to be ambitious, really, even if it means making our lives a bit difficult,” he says. “When we play live, we have to prioritise things. We don’t want to rely on technology too much, we want to do as much as possible with just the four of us playing, not relying on backing tracks. That’s important to us.”
Although they’ve only recorded one album, the band’s growth curve already seems to echo that of one of their favourite bands, Radiohead. Yet although messrs Yorke, Greenwood et al have certainly proved an influence, there are other forces at play.
“It sounds quite cheesy, but stuff like Destiny’s Child has proven just as important as The Beatles and Radiohead,” he says with a chuckle. “I suppose that love of r’n’b comes through in a way. We don’t normally say ‘we want this song to sound like this or that’, we try to be as organic as possible. It’s like with The Beatles – they were trying to play the black music of the day, and by doing so, they sort of changed it, it became a different thing. We really like the idea of that, so that’s part of our ethos, in a way.”
Does that mean that a possible collaboration with Timbaland or Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins may be on the cards at some point?
“Yeah, we thought about that, actually – trying to get Timbaland in, or something. But we decided against it, because it’s a fine line between filtering that music, or just trying to ape it by going to the source of it. It’s a tricky one . . . we’re definitely interested in having remixes done in that sort of r’n’b vein, maybe sometime in the future. We all love Michael Jackson and stuff like that; dance music in general, or just that sort of syncopated music. That’s something that connects all of us.”
Although he expresses good-natured frustration at being lumped in with Mancunian bands such as Delphic and Hurts, as well as mentioning how the foursome are all too aware of the pitfalls of being placed on the infamous hype machine generator also known as the BBC Sound of 2010 poll, Spearman is quietly confident about the direction his band are taking. Having released their debut single on XL Recordings offshoot Salvia in 2008, it was widely expected that the band would stay – and perhaps be better suited – to an indie label for the album’s release. However, meetings with Geffen threw up the best deal for the quartet, and he claims that being on a major doesn’t necessarily equate to handing over your creative freedom.
“It was a very tricky time to get signed, I think it still is – there’s a lot of uncertainty,” he agrees. “And I think the big independents like XL and Rough Trade – we would’ve gone with them if they’d offered us something, but they weren’t really in a position to, with the timing, or whatever. With Geffen, we know that we’re priorities. Yeah, it’s a tricky balance to make sure that you’re getting your point across, and creatively, getting what you envisaged. But it can’t be totally about our vision and what we think, because at the end of the day, music is something that’s sold, it’s a product. If we make something that’s not marketable – make an album, or make a video that can’t be played on TV, or something – then we’ll shoot ourselves in the foot. So we’re learning all the time. It’s a really interesting and exciting time for us, and we’re just looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring.”