Everything Everything: “Raw Data Feel is about how we use AI to unlock things in ourselves”

Michael Spearman on how sixth LP Raw Data Feel pinpoints the band at a better, and freer, place — with a little help from AI

For their sixth album Raw Data Feel, released back in May, Everything Everything turned to the use of AI generators to inspire a new post-pandemic era for the band. Though it’s certainly a neat PR hook, the album has been widely lauded as a return to their esoteric roots.

As drummer Michael Spearman tells us, delving into the robot world was less a search for a large-scale narrative and more a way of inspiring a new approach — something they took forward throughout the production with guitarist Alex Robertshaw at the helm.

On 2020’s Re-Animator you were interested by the idea of the scope of the human brain and the possible depths of our thought. What spurred you on to look beyond that and experiment with what we might call robot thought?

It’s interesting comparing those two records, because actually the concept weighed a bit heavier on Re-Animator. With this one, the idea is that it isn’t really a concept. It is about technology, but’s more about how we use AI to help unlock things in ourselves. So the concept is more in the process than the content.

Obviously there’s good and bad about most things in technology and AI, but I think it’s an optimistic record and our take on AI is more positive than negative. It’s been incredibly helpful to us, and we’re gonna see all the benefits of it coming up in the next few decades. There are ways the human race can help itself with AI.

But we really enjoyed using it as a tool to kind of help write the lyrics at first. It encouraged Jon [Higgs, vocalist] to find other ways of expressing things, and actually it’s sort of the most open record we’ve made emotionally, which is ironic given we used that AI tool.

It’s just us experimenting, dipping our toes and being curious. That’s the thing about our band, we follow our curiosity with these things, in both concepts and also making the music. Alex produced the record himself and he’s probably the most curious person in terms of music making that I know. He’s always finding new bits of equipment and new ways of doing things, he’s really interested in the cutting edge. Once he realises something new he’s interested in he’s kind of a one track mind, and it’s the same with Jon and the AI stuff. He contacted Mark Hanslip at York University about how it works.

So some people might look at what the record is about and think that sounds a bit heavy or dystopian, about how awful robots are and that they’re going to take over the world. Of course there’s a bit of that, but it’s not really just that, it’s an optimistic sounding record.

There’s always a sense of fun in your music, but it’s often been driven by a sort of frenzy, especially around the Get To Heaven era. That feels lessened this time around; was it important to amp up the fun?

That’s definitely true, and we did want to make a more fun record, more visceral that would want to make you move. I suppose unconsciously it was in reaction the pandemic. But also I think it’s more than that for us because we’d just made a record that basically was subsumed by the pandemic, which is fine and we enjoyed making that record, but we made it in a big fancy studio with an LA producer. We always want to change the way we do things, and we always knew we wanted Alex to be the producer next time, and so we thought this was the perfect opportunity. We went to the studio where we did Get To Heaven, but it was way more hands-on. I really liked Re-Animator, but it was in a darker, more Radiohead type of world and this record is much different to that. This is just my preference, but this version of us is more vibrant.

To be honest, it reflects where we are as people. Jonathan is in a better place mentally and emotionally than when he was making Re-Animator, and partly it’s as simple as that. We didn’t get bogged down as much, either; even the way it’s tracklisted is like you’ve got all the songs you’ve already heard and then it’s a new album.

How intentional was it that you start the album with the consecutive lead singles?

It was partly intentional, partly to put the most immediate or accessible songs first. Not that we’re cynical in that way, but the label’s always going to want us to do that anyway, and then we just thought we liked the idea of people listening to the singles again and then having the new album. Previously I think we would have held back a bit and thought, oh some people might not like this. It’s our sixth record, and we feel more comfortable in ourselves a little bit. We’re just more happy to take risks now, and we didn’t feel like we had anything to lose and hit a really good run of form with the writing.

You mentioned producing the LP yourself — there are a lot of sonic details going on, so what was the process of working out what to keep and getting the balance right?

We did Re-Animator in 13 days, which was really quick, but we did this one in different chunks of time, and we were still kind of finding out the songs as we were recording them. Alex would take everything back to his house and keep sending us stuff. The way Alex works is he just keeps moving with stuff and cycling through things, and if he hits a wall he’ll just move on to the next. You have to keep up, that’s the thing, there were lots of different demos and versions coming our way, but with Alex producing we had to give him the reins properly, and I’m really glad we did. He loves the detail, a total nerd in terms of the modular synths he builds himself, and there’s a lot of unique sounds and a great brightness to the record.

We’ve worked with loads of producers and I think we’ve all picked stuff up over the years, but to see Alex grow into the producer he is now, working with other artists too, has been amazing.

Everything Everything - Bad Friday (Official Video)

Your choruses have always seemed the song’s emotional climax. Has that always been important to you guys, maintaining that emotive pull amongst the surreal pop?

Yeah I think that’s what we enjoy doing. It’s almost too easy to go down the “here’s some weird stuff” route. The interesting thing for us is thinking how we can find a big, euphoric chorus that gets that emotion across, which is the most important thing. So it’s playing with these two elements. Tracks like ‘Bad Friday’ could be a very commercial chorus you’d hear on Capital.FM, and we enjoy walking that tightrope. That’s the thing about being in Radiohead territory, it’s almost too easy for us to do that. I enjoy it when there’s a bit of a tension between the worlds of slick, commercial R&B but also jazz and whatever.

Take a song like ‘Leviathan’. It’s not really about hooks, but it packs a punch that song, and it’s a very open-hearted song, very honest, and it’s quite a simple arrangement. You could play it on an acoustic guitar and it would work. There’s the other stuff, the bells and whistles, but if you haven’t got a solid song at the heart of it, it seems a bit frivolous. We always want to connect to people.

‘No Reptiles’ on Get To Heaven is a weird song, but it’s got a very strong melody. It’s a strange lyric, but one that speaks to people. Not that we knew that at the time, but it is funny going through your career and thinking, why did people like that? You realise that making that emotional connection is what makes songs stick with people, not because of say, a drum sound.

‘Jennifer’ feels like the most organic moment of the album, especially coming after the dance-centric singles…

Yeah, and a song like that for us felt like a bit of a risk. It’s not really the kind of music we normally make, but it just had a very honest feel to it and we didn’t get in the way of it, and that’s what’s nice about being at this stage of our career now. It was actually really fun to work with the teenagers in the video as well, they brought their own different energy to it, and there’s a sort of wistfulness to it that works really well.  

After we went berserk with the AI on the ‘I Want A Love Like This’ video and got to filming ‘Jennifer’, we thought we’d go totally the other way with a simple video concept. There’s a lot in the background too; it’s where Jon and I grew up, where we used to rehearse in that town hall. My dad’s actually the chairman of the town hall, so he sorted it out for us and it was very homespun. There’s a lot of love in the video, our kids and parents are in it. It’s very simple and suits the vibe of the song.

Everything Everything - Jennifer (Official Video)

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