Jonathan Higgs is the frontman of Manchester-based band Everything Everything. Their 2010 debut, Man Alive, was shortlisted for the Mercury prize and their fourth album, A Fever Dream, released last August, has been nominated for this year’s prize.
Congrats on your second Mercury nomination! Where were you when you heard you’d been nominated?
We were on the plane, just about to take off, and we got a group text. We were all in separate seats so we were texting each other furiously, really excited, although we couldn’t talk.
What do you think of the other nominees this year?
It’s nice and diverse – relative unknowns and some bigger names. Nadine Shah’s is a pretty good album and I’m also fond of Wolf Alice. But people are annoyed no matter who gets nominated.
Last year, A Fever Dream dealt with themes such as populism and intolerance. How do you feel about the world now?
It’s an exaggerated version of 2017 – and I think this is still the beginning of it unfortunately. People have become entrenched in the camps they chose. Anyone with any authority is messing up more than you can believe; everything’s so chaotic and the government and opposition are completely out of control, with no sense of unity at all.
Is making music about the state of the world a way of processing things?
I think it is. The message I tend to put out is: “I don’t know what the fuck is going on; frankly, I’m just as bewildered by all this as you are and it’s scary.” I’d much rather talk about what it feels like to live through this time than pick sides and just become another foghorn in the mist.
For artists, if you say nothing you’re seen as stepping away from the issues, but if you do you say anything it can be seen as preachy...
It’s a fine line. I do try to skewer my own team as much the other and have a satirical eye rather than serious judgement. But I’m not going to pretend I’m even remotely qualified to talk about these things; I think that’s important. Unless you do know – in which case you probably shouldn’t be making music, you should be prime minister.
What was it like playing these songs live?
We found that a lot of songs were recontextualised when we went to America; some of the lyrics have a new meaning over there. It’s a good live album to play.
Is the “pencil-pusher with the pencil-pusher blues” on Desire a reference to Jacob Rees-Mogg?
Ha! No, it’s not. It’s one of the first lyrics I actually wrote for the record. But no, that’s just meant to be some generic person who doesn’t particularly enjoy their job.
Do you think attitudes towards mental health, something hinted at in the song New Deep, have changed over the past few years?
Absolutely. The human mind is vastly complex and there are many different reasons that you can feel crap. We’re doing our best to talk about it and remove the stigma, but a lot of people are still feeling bad day to day and that’s much harder to solve.
Is there anything you turn to if you’re feeling down?
I’ve got a lot of cats and I enjoy spending time with them, because they’re very innocent. I’ve got 10. They all go outdoors and kill lots of things, which is not very nice for the wildlife, but they’re pretty good guys. They’re all related, brothers and sisters, and their mum’s here. They keep me sane quite a lot of the time, although they also drive me insane a lot.
How do you feel Manchester coped after last year’s attack?
It was quite amazing – it really did bring people together. People haven’t turned on each other, which is probably what the guy wanted. It’s made people stronger, which is humbling. There’s not a guarantee that people will act in any particular way, but they really did do themselves proud.
You’ve talked about avoiding “the cliches expected of white men with guitars from Manchester”. How can indie music stay current?
That’s a tough one, because “indie music” is so ill-defined. Does it mean you play the guitar? That you’re white? I think indie’s doing fine generally, but it depends on whether it wants to be one of these genres that stays in its time. Metal, for example, doesn’t really move on purpose – people get annoyed if you try to fuck with the ingredients. I’m not sure indie has that same following but there will be people who want to relive certain eras forever.
What are you working on next?
We’ll be starting to write again. I want it to be really ambitious and take some big risks. Maybe we’ll do something that doesn’t take politics into account. Two in the band have started families, so there’s a lot more optimism flying around than normal. Because of babies – that always brings hope.
Why do you think you should win the Mercury prize?
Because my mantelpiece is bare? I’m not sure what people are meant to say to this. I don’t think we should – you can write that if you want. Give it to a new band, that’s my real answer.