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Everything Everything's AI-Derived 'Raw Data Feel' Tackles Mental Health, Conspiracy Theories
Everything Everything

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Everything Everything's AI-Derived 'Raw Data Feel' Tackles Mental Health, Conspiracy Theories

British indie-pop group Everything Everything have made their poppiest record to date with 'Raw Data Feel.' Yet the heady self-produced concept album leans heavily into technology — both as a creative and confounding force.

GRAMMYs/May 18, 2022 - 07:50 pm

Since forming at university in 2009, indie-pop quartet Everything Everything have received critical and commercial acclaim for their innovations in British guitar rock and eclectic inspirations. Their music relies on a mix of absurdist political commentary, ambitious choruses, twitchy studiocraft and the occasional gut punch. Their latest, Raw Data Feel, is no exception.

Yet Raw Data Feel, which releases May 20, is the group's poppiest record to date, despite lyrics that are more out-there than even a hardcore fan could anticipate. Though this was quite literally by design: Frontman Jonathan Higgs worked with researcher Mark Hanslip to develop an AI program that generated lyrics (some of the dispatches from the bot are on the band's website). The usage of AI is a natural extension of the band’s long-time fascination with modern technology’s advancements and limitations, which dates back to their earliest videos.

Raw Data Feel also references older material, such as the character of Raymond on "Jennifer" and the "HEX" line "soft-boiled eggs in shirts and ties," which nods to the Get To Heaven track "No Reptiles." (The line is also a shoutout to their fans, who they affectionately call "eggs" — yes, Higgs knows the other meaning in the trans community.) Knowing all that isn’t required to enjoy the record, as the loping bassline of "Pizza Boy" and rhythmic shifts of "Kevin’s Car" will appeal to anyone in need of upbeat but intelligent dance-pop.  

Self-produced by guitarist Alex Robertshaw under the alias Kaines, Raw Data Feel is a showcase of what Robertshaw learned from previous records with A-list producers, like Stuart Price and John Congleton, as well as his own work with electronic soul artist Denai Moore.

Over a wide-ranging 75-minute interview, GRAMMY.com unpacks Everything Everything's extensive lore, their shift towards poppier music, and the way Higgs addresses mental health. When asked about the origins of EE’s fascination with conspiracies and hate groups, the Zoom video started glitching out, and the error somehow felt on-brand.

This discussion has been condensed and edited for clarity.

When did you start incorporating AI into this record?

Higgs: It was maybe halfway through the usual process of writing a record. I just started to mess around with AI-generated text, because I knew it was possible. And I wanted to see if I could make good lyrics really out of the worst, most extreme texts I could find. 

So I looked for the least poetic thing I could think of, which was terms and conditions from LinkedIn. And then the oldest English poetry, which is "Beowulf." Then the most ugly modern speech, which is 4chan. And then I wanted a little bit of philosophy and mysticism sprinkled in, so I put in Confucius as well. 

And then it spat out a load of stuff and I picked the best bits and tried to write around it, or reinterpret it a little bit, but really it's only about 7 percent of the lyrics on the record. [The use of AI is] just the thing that catches everyone's ear soon as you mention it. I've sworn secrecy about what the AI wrote and what I wrote. Because otherwise the whole thing is ruined.

Were you thinking of using AI to master the record too? Or using programs like Google’s Magenta or Amper Music?

Higgs: I very briefly thought that that's a possibility, then I just thought if we go down that path, you know, people will never believe we've written anything again. I've already got an uphill battle with the lyric thing! And anyway, I enjoy writing music too much. I don't really want to hear a computer's version of what it thinks is good, written by a load of douchebags. 

You could give it the right stuff, and it would probably give you something good. Maybe that's the next record, for anyone interested in hearing us do that. It's the kind of thing you could do in a weekend, you know?

As far back as Get To Heaven and A Fever Dream, you’ve been fascinated by the dark corners of the internet. What draws you to those spaces? 

Higgs: You can't believe anything anymore. This sort of democratization of information has led to all these things we've seen and this why I keep going back to conspiracy, why I've littered it across all the records. [There] is always something about flat earth or one of the stupider [theories]. 

We don’t know how to deal with the fact that the alt-right has grown in the way it has. There’s been a feeling amongst so many people that things now have gone crazy, and no one even knows how to describe it or why it's happened. And that's why I'm documenting it and why I want to reflect it.

Re-Animator seems like it was a hard record to get right. Alex, what made you want to self-produce this one?

Robertshaw: I think Re-Animator is a very exciting sounding and live-sounding record… but it was very different for us. Our strengths in the past and on the new record come in producing things in extremes —  being in one world for one track, and then being in a totally different world for another. So something could sound like something off Thriller, and then another track could sound like an Aphex Twin record.

It just felt like the right time to, with the band's consent, work on an Everything Everything record. In the past, I've done quite a lot and then we've worked with other producers and I've learned a few things or finished some ideas off. It was the right time to do it totally on our own. I must say it because I produced it, but I think it's the best sounding record we’ve done. 'Cause it's just everything I would like it to sound like.

On Re-Animator, you talked about appealing more to the heart than the head. What’s the goal of Raw Data Feel?

Higgs: It's kind of like a therapy record really. I mean, I know most albums probably are, but this feels like one to me — I used characters to avoid talking about stuff I didn't really want to talk about, but I kind of felt like I had to. And then the AI was like another abstraction from that; a bit of a crutch I can fall back on and say, "I can't do this right now, can you?" to the computer. 

But, really, the album as a whole is about getting over something bad I guess. And feeling hopeful, feeling fresh about something new. A lot of things that we sort of said Re-Animator was about, but it wasn't really, it was kind of like wanting to be about that. This is… a healing record; it's not an angry one or a despairing record, which most of our other ones are. This is kind of like why don't we actually have some fun now? Why don't we try and feel a bit better about stuff now?

Robertshaw:  I wanted to do the absolute opposite to Re-Animator electronically; take my time and make everything as clean as humanly possible. I've always got some sort of new toy or something that I'm playing with, and then I start writing the music, and then that kind of becomes the song. And then we kind of build around it as it goes. Often we'll write something together and it's already in this weird place, sonically, and it's just seeing that through. 

I've been listening to a lot of minimal techno. I like how simple it is and how clean it sounds and how it's just about making one thing sound really, really good. I think in the past, and definitely in the early part of our career, we [were] always layering loads and loads of stuff. As we've gone along, we've tried to draw back and we’ve realized we don’t need four instruments doing the same job in the same frequency range.

That reminds me of the album opener "Teletype" — there’s a randomly generated guitar loop and a simple chord progression on top of that. I interpreted that as a way to take back control over the chaotic loop. 

Higgs: We created an obtuse rhythm track out of all those samples. It wasn’t very pop. It was completely randomized and I guess writing over the top of it, there wasn't much room for loads of harmony. And anyway, left to my own devices, I do write very simple songs. So I think that was just going with the flow. It was written very, very quickly, the stuff I did on top of it. If you've got something that's that out of the box, you can't really have a really complex song on top of it… well, you can, no one will like it.

There are a couple of ballads on Raw Data Feel: "Metroland is Burning" and "Leviathan," though those ballads are anomalies on a much poppier record. Do you feel any pressure to make pop music or is subversiveness still exciting to you?

Robertshaw: It’s more of wanting to be better songwriters, we wanna write better pop songs cause we like pop songs. I think writing a good pop song is a really hard thing to do, whilst making something really ugly and complex seems fairly easy for us to do. We always try to write pop songs deep down, you know, that's what excites us.

Higgs:  It’s very rare now that we say,  "Let’s do this, but let’s secretly do this with it and f<em></em>k them over this way." We don’t need to.

I did want to ask about some of the more out-there lines on this record, like "He’s Obama in the streets but he thinks he’s Osama in the sheets."

Higgs: I got that from Tinder, actually, I was looking at a friend’s account and one of their matches said that line, and I just thought it was hilarious. So I wrote it down, and then just forced it into one of the songs.

What about "You can play my ribcage like piano?" from "My Computer?"

Higgs: I was trying to think of ways to say that the robot is like, vastly, vastly more powerful and intelligent than I am. If it wanted to, it could just snap its fingers and, like, absolutely destroy me. That [line] was a comedic way of saying it could play my ribcage. 

And it didn't fit to say "like a piano," so I had to put "like piano" and I really liked how weird that sounded. And it was actually a direct reference to that bit in "The Simpsons" where the nerdy guy complains that the exact wrong notes are on Scratchy’s ribcage. And yeah, that just came to me. It was a cartoonish way of saying, "If you wanted to, you could absolutely destroy me."

Is that why the chorus goes, "You’re in love with the future, I don’t know why?" 

Higgs: It's actually about dating a robot in the future that’s incredibly powerful and beautiful, and intelligent. It’s just talking about different ways that that's sort of scary, but exciting. I’m actually singing that to the robot. 

It's kind of scary, but really a lot of it's about how it's kind of sexy as well. And the robot’s really good at dancing and all this kind of stuff. It made sense because it was kind of a funky, sexy song. But I wanted it to be really nerdy.

This is also something of a concept record, with several call-backs to previous EE records.

Higgs: The problem that immediately appears when you try to have a concept record…is that you have to have things in the right order, you have two things that have to sort of line up. And that doesn't really make a good record, and neither does a big story. It's kind of good to read about afterwards, maybe, but the songs have to come first. And then you can kind of slip in enough that there's like an overall sense that there might be something that links these things together. But yeah, very wary of it becoming the main focus because it's, it shouldn't be really,

I mean, I've never gone as far as to have the same character's name appear in multiple songs. So you can say this is actually quite full-on for us. I've never done that before.

What inspired you to take on these different characters?

Higgs: It was a way of keeping things at arm's length. Every time we make a record, it's a bit of a journey into the self for everyone. 

The title "Jennifer" made me think of your name, Jonathan, another three syllable name that starts with J. Is she you?

Higgs: We nearly called that song J. I was inspired by Paul McCartney’s "Father MacKenzie." It's not hugely difficult to work out [that it's about me], but it also sort of opens it up a bit more and just makes it easier. That's what a lot of the writing on this was like, for me: Can I avoid having to feel awful in this way, or this way? And why don't I write a song that makes you feel good for a change rather than another howl from the depths? 

I do feel a lot better in my life. So that's reflected [in "Jennifer"]. It’s talking about a past event, it can't get you now — it's kind of like trying to help someone get over something. The line "it’s all in your memory" is saying "as bad as it feels, it's only a thing that exists in your memory, it's not actually happening to you anymore. You're okay now."

What does Kevin of "Kevin’s Car" represent for you, then? Is Kevin the eponymous pizza boy?

Higgs: [Kevin represents] youth, a lot of the time. Sometimes he's more specific than that, but he's sort of like a younger, angrier version of me and a few other people I know. That's the great thing about characters. It's not like this is my mom, it’s like "this is lots of things I want to say and I don’t want you to know what I’m talking about" [Laughs]

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Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images

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Lily Allen, Florence + The Machine Shortlisted For 2018 Mercury Prize

The prestigious prize honors the best album released in the U.K. by a British or Irish artist

GRAMMYs/Jul 27, 2018 - 03:34 am

For British or Irish musicians who released an album in the U.K. this past year, today is a big day. The 2018 nominations for the prestigious Mercury Prize, which celebrates the best albums of the year, have been announced.

This year's shortlist for the Mercury Prize includes 12 albums from a diverse group of artists: Florence + The Machine's High As Hope, Lily Allen's No Shame, the Arctic Monkeys' Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Jorja Smith's Lost & Found, and Wolf Alice's Visions Of A Life. The list is rounded out with albums from Everything Everything, Everything Is Recorded, King Krule, Nadine Shah, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Novelist, and Sons Of Kemet.

Nominees for the 2018 prize were selected by a panel of 12 judges, including industry professionals, broadcasters, journalists, and musicians such as Lianne La Hava and Marcus Mumford. They narrowed more than 200 entries down to the 12 revealed today during a live presentation with BBC Music.

"This year's Hyundai Mercury Prize celebrates albums by musicians at all stages of their careers, but with a shared belief in the importance of music for navigating life's challenges — whether personal or political, falling in or out of love, growing up or looking back, angry or ecstatic," the judges said in a statement. "The music here is funny and inspiring, smart and moving."

Since the award's inception in 1992, 26 albums have been crowned as U.K.'s finest. Past recipients of the Mercury Prize include 2017's recipient singer/songwriter/producer Sampha for Process, and James Blake, PJ Harvey, the xx, Benjamin Clementine, Young Fathers, and alt-J.

The winner of this year's Mercury Prize will be announced at the awards show on Sept. 20, which will take place at the Eventim Apollo in London.

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(L-R) Leon of Athens, Katerine Duska

Photo (L-R): Ria Mort, Thanos Poulimenos

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Global Spin: Katerine Duska And Leon Of Athens Premiere "Babel," A Bilingual Tale Of A Love Lost In Translation

Frequent songwriting partners Katerine Duska and Leon Of Athens grapple with a relationship full of miscommunication in this emotional duet, which they debut with a powerful Global Spin performance.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 06:00 pm

"Can I love you a little more clearly?" Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens sing in the emotional chorus of their new song, "Babel." "Can we get it right? Can we talk another night away?"

In this episode of Global Spin, the two pop singers — and frequent songwriting partners — effortlessly trade off between Greek and English in a compelling performance. But as beautiful as the bilingual, harmony-driven duet may be, "Babel" chronicles a fraught relationship where, ultimately, the love gets lost in translation.

"Babel" brings the two lovers back to where they started: Frustrated and failing to see eye to eye, but still invested in one another. That narrative pairs with an equally passionate, string-filled sonic backdrop in this song, which Duska and Leon of Athens premiere on Global Spin.

The song's visual component further underscores its message. Duska and Leon of Athens perform the song from a bed, surrounded by candles and rippling water. As they wrestle through their disagreements — both lyrically and physically — the two artists make an attempt to find tenderness, but their best efforts dissolve into frustration and disconnection.

The bilingual duo have co-written several times in the past, and they're no strangers to performing together, either. Their first duet, "ANEMOS," came out in 2019; a year later, the pair released another collaboration, "Communication."

Press play on the video above to get a first look at the latest collaboration between Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens, and keep checking GRAMMY.com every Tuesday for more new episodes of Global Spin.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival
(L-R) Akon and Teemanay

Photo: Matteo Vincenzo (right)

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival

Over plates of Nigerian jollof rice, global superstar Akon and Afrobeats mainstay Teemanay explain the finer points of this staple West African dish — which is also their staple meal on the road.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 05:00 pm

When it comes to music, R&B giant Akon and rising Afrobeats star Teemanay (aka Young Icon) have a lot in common. Not only are they both from West Africa — Akon's family roots are in Senegal, while Teemanay hails from Nigeria – but the two teamed up on the four-song EP Konvict Kulture Presents Teemanay, which came out on Akon's label earlier this year.

The two acts have similar tastes when it comes to food, too — though they might disagree on the finer points. Jollof rice, a staple throughout West Africa, is a dish that both artists grew up loving, even though they hail from different countries within the region.

"For a meal, if they have jollof rice for me, I will give them an extra 15 minutes of free performance," Teemanay jokes in the newest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

"So the rice is actually smoked, almost like when you cook barbeque," Akon details, explaining what it is that makes this particular dish so special. "When you look at jollof, it ranks in the top five of those things you just can't forget. It's a part of the meal, every meal."

The dish is so essential that Akon hosts an annual Jollof, Music & Food Festival in Atlanta, which features a lineup of music and food trucks. But the pinnacle of the event is the jollof cook-off, in which recipes from different countries compete to see which region creates the best version of the dish.

"This year, Senegal won. But we kinda expect that, because Senegal is really the creators of jollof rice," Akon proudly explains, as Teemanay shakes his head in disagreement.

"I'm in a very aggressive, fighting mood right now," Teemanay shoots back with a smirk. "Nigerian jollof is the best jollof in the world."

Whichever regional version they prefer, Akon and Teemanay can agree on one thing: There's no better post-show meal or tour bus snack out there than jollof rice. 

Press play on the video above to watch the two stars duke it out over their favorite jollof, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

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