Everything Everything are a British art rock band, who have released five albums to wide critical acclaim, including two Mercury nominations. As part of Hook's In Process series, singer and lyricist Jonathan Higgs reveals the themes and concepts behind their new album Re-Animator.
As the lyricist for my band Everything Everything I’ve always walked the line between high-concept ideas and pop sensibilities, and this is no more apparent than with our latest record Re-Animator; perhaps our most high-concept record but at the same time our most human and universal in terms of themes. So I’ll try to explain how I approach inserting extremely non-pop ideas into enjoyable music. I first came across Julian Jayne’s theory of the Bicameral Mind during the year we were writing Re-Animator. It’s a fairly dubious psychological hypothesis from the 1970s that basically posits that long ago in our ancestral history the two sides of our brains were separate; unconnected and alien to each other. We existed in a zombie-like state, not fully conscious, and we would hear commands - voices - one side of the brain speaking to the other - throughout our whole lives. In much the same way that a schizophrenic mind hears voices, all of us heard voices, and it was part of normal life. We would follow these commands, “walk to the lake”, “kill that rabbit” etc and we treated these voices as gods. Every man, woman and child had a personal god inside their heads, whose every whim we followed, and this was the way humans operated for millions of years - not fully alive and aware as we are now, but beholden to a voice in our heads.The theory continues that there came a time that our brains joined up, the two sides became one, and the voice we heard (what we called god) was recognised as our own voice - our inner-monologue - our consciousness. This is what Jayne suggests is the dawn of consciousness in humans, the moment the voices became or own - that we became our own gods. Now obviously there is a huge amount of additional theorising and historical information that I’m not including here, but the main thrust of the theory is what grabbed me, and what made me want to write an album about it. There is something exceptionally magical about consciousness, and reading this book made me feel a type of spiritual awakening - a way to explain god and the great mysteries of life in a (reasonably) scientific setting. I love reading about the brain and I’ve had a long-term fascination with the distant past. So how did I take an obscure psychological theory and turn it into pop music? Well it’s never a good idea to let a concept overtake the art, so the music has to come first, and nobody that hears our songs should need to know what it’s about. The songs must be bangers - nobody goes home whistling an equation. Lyrically, there is much more scope to include high concepts. Thinking about the theory over several months I began applying it to all aspects of life, and seeing it reflected everywhere. The increasingly important issue of identity in modern politics - who am I? Who do I follow? Is it myself? The voice of another? The idea of a divided self; a dark side, a light side - the removal of nuance in political ideology. On a personal level, existential thoughts about where my life was going, the beauty of the life cycle within nature, the birth of children all around me (including in the band) that set my mind on consciousness and life itself - the awe I felt witnessing the beginning of something, and the incredible fact that we exist in the first place - what I called “the miracle of anything at all”.
More specifically there are several songs that openly use the bicameral mind theory; Arch Enemy is about a sentient fatberg that the song’s protagonist hears in his head, the song develops into a tirade against greed and waste with the narrator praying to the fatberg to swamp the streets in a biblical flood of fat. Gods and voices. Elsewhere in In Birdsong I speak about “the godmouth”, my term for the voice of god, and the song imagines being the first person to hear the voice as their own - to come alive and awake. Black Hyena uses b-movie imagery to talk about the line between consciousness and a zombie-like state, animals brought back from death neither living nor dead. The Actor is about a desire to swap places with a doppelgänger who can take on all of my responsibilities - a divided self, a divided mind. Then there are frequent references scattered across other songs; “my god made you all from clay”, “turning sunlight into flesh”, “this is the prophesy”, “you heard it from the whispering wall”, “first we have to play god” and so on. The concept should never override the song being enjoyable, but if you want to look deeper then the pit should be bottomless. I don’t care if people never even hear of the theory I came across, as long as the music moves them in some way close to the way I felt when I read it. For me the hypothesis was my “Re-Animator”, and it became my mission to make the album into yours.