Savour the details and stick to your guns, says Everything Everything drummer Michael Spearman (BA Music (Jazz) 2007) – it’s a strategy that’s helped the Manchester based-band succeed without compromising their integrity, writes Heather Iqbal.
On a winter’s evening in 1911, a group of men stood on an open snow plane in the Antarctic and had their profiles shot by photographer Herbert Ponting, as part of Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic expedition to the South Pole. Those frozen and determined faces, battling through a long and tireless journey, have become a profound icon of the British psyche.
102 years later Everything Everything drummer and BA Music: Jazz graduate, Michael Spearman, sits in a sun-soaked café in central Manchester, explaining how Captain Scott’s expedition became part of the band’s self-proclaimed “control-freakery” over how their music and aesthetics come together.
“Determining our identity was definitely a conscious choice with the new album,” he explains with quiet measurement. “With Man Alive we felt that we were seen as slightly strange – no one really knew who was in the band and what it was – it was just sort of faceless and it had a fox on the front cover. With all the music and lyrics being a bit at arm’s length, we didn’t really let people in too much. Hopefully the aesthetics of Arc are a signifier of it being clearer in lots of ways.”
In an industry age of fast-food music, produced for quick consumption with poor digestive results, choosing album artwork is only one aspect of how artists like Everything Everything are trying to keep a hold on how their music is delivered. The need to constantly self-promote, to be present on the scene and to produce records whilst simultaneously touring, create a challenge for musicians to hold steadfast to their own identity and approach. For them, tackling this permeates through all aspects of their approach – tweets, mail-outs, videos, and the production of their music.
“I was at the Bowie exhibition and there was an amazing little five-minute documentary on how they came up with the new album artwork – which has a white square on top of the Heroes artwork – and at first glance you look at it and you think ‘Oh, that mustn’t have taken long’. But I imagine the thought process was just huge behind that.
“Our faces on the Arc album cover were inspired by Captain Scott and his expedition. We went to loads of Ponting exhibitions and saw all his photographs and the style of it and chose a photographer and all this stuff that you’d think we wouldn’t bother with – we like doing that stuff. It’s fun and so much more satisfying. Especially when the stuff that you think is very, very simple is far more complex – like the three days we spent picking the right shade of yellow for the cover. These are the things you never think you’ll get involved in and end up teaching you so much, and giving you a different kind of creative outlet.”
Immersion in the details of what is being created is what helps the band feel like they’re making records that sustain themselves, and that speak true of the genre-transcending music they aim to put out. As well as the artwork inspiration of Captain Scott’s cold and difficult journey reflecting some of the sharp and stark loneliness that ribbons through the record (“Sold my feelings now I'm hanging by a thread” (Cough Cough), “Do you feel left behind? Like there's something not right?” (Duet)), the arduousness of the music-making process also resonates.
It seems no less poignant that the picture the artwork draws its inspiration from was taken at the start of Scott’s journey – now that Everything Everything are distilling and clarifying their approach does this seem like the beginning or a point of completion?
“When bands are on their third or fourth album and they take their foot off the gas, you can tell because the details aren’t quite there. We could definitely have less control but we care about it. It comes through in how we write music as well – we really put things through the mill and sometimes we end up not even liking them for a while, and we have to kind of take a break from those songs – normally it leads to something better for it. For us the harder we work things the better the result. We always want to be writing something better than the last thing for sure.”
Spearman’s influences are diverse, but his approach to drumming has always been one of discipline and a sort of quiet focus. Hailing from Northumberland, he graduated from Leeds College of Music in 2007 and formed the group with school friend and band front man, Jonathan Higgs.
“I grew up playing jazz, but I also grew up listening to Radio 1. I’ve always been keen not to close myself off from anything. One of the reasons I wanted to do jazz was how seriously people took it – it’s sort of that classical approach, that conservatoire approach, and it’s quite a pure approach as well. I found studying at a conservatoire fulfilling because I was part of something – you’re working together and you can all say ‘look we made this together, we survived this together’ and there’s a kind of solidarity.”
Now, looking back on how he took the next step after graduating, the control and focus he applies to the aesthetics and music making of his band resonates in his approach to life in general – focus, courage and conviction in what you believe.
“When it comes to advice, I’d definitely say stick to your guns. If you know what you want to do and believe in it then a) you’re quite lucky and b) you should just follow your convictions; you should stick to them. They might take a long time and you might need some luck as well, but I’d definitely say just stick to your guns. There will be sacrifices unfortunately in order to do that, but the gains are bigger – nothing good comes easy.
“Be brave. Even when I was 16 I knew that Jon (Everything Everything lead singer) was really good at writing songs and no one was going to convince me otherwise. And really, no one can say you’re wrong.”
And his reaction to those who might be slightly more doubtful about where they’re heading? “When I started studying music, someone told me that I wasn’t there because I wanted to be, but because I needed to be. And I do feel like that – I could have taken so many other routes that might have been more conventional or less specific. But there was something in me that said: “No, I need to do that”, and listening to that feeling was definitely worth it”.
Find out more about Everything Everything and their upcoming UK Tour at
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