In celebration of the newly renovated Tate Britain, the British band Everything Everything performed live a unique track inspired by Francis Bacon. Their bassist, Jeremy Pritchard explains the artist’s influences and how the song made it onto their second album, Arc
‘Experimental’, ‘angular pop-punk’ and ‘math rock’ are just a few ways in which Everything Everything’s music has been described, what do you think of these labels? Could you sum up your style?
Labels are naturally restrictive, but personally I don’t particularly mind any of those. They’re better than any of the ‘brainy/intellect’-type monikers we’re sometimes given - that always suggests an air of exclusion or elitism to me, and we’ve always thought of ourselves as a pop band, basically. In the broadest sense of course!
Performing in an art gallery must be a bit different from the venues you usually play, where’s the strangest place you’ve played a gig?
Tate Britain! Actually we’ve never played in that many unusual scenarios. The odd church, a lighthouse, an old gas works in Vienna….
Why have you chosen to respond to Francis Bacon’s ‘Triptych - August 1972’?
We’re all Bacon fans, Alex in particular. When he was at Chelsea Art College he painted in a style heavily influenced by and not dissimilar to Bacon, and given that we were restricted to British painters it seemed obvious to us to choose his work. We were drawn to the tryptich because it has a dense, dark story behind it, and because we realised that we could reflect the three-part nature of the piece in the music.
How are your thoughts on the piece interpreted in this song?
In a pretty straightforward way, actually. We realised that the first and third parts of the piece are a sort of mirror one another, the first being a portrait of his lover with a large, disturbing black void in the centre and the last being a self-portrait. The troubling darkness in the first part, we are perhaps meant to assume, leads to Dyer’s suicide in August 1972, which the middle part of the painting alludes to in a furious flurry of visceral distortion.
We wanted to write a three-part instrumental piece, with first and last vaguely mirroring each other. It would have been basic and too simplistic an understanding of the piece to write ‘Something Sad’, and instead we wrote two quick, intense, almost frantic sections to bookend it, with a more rhythmically loose and wild mid-section in response to violent, perhaps sexual energy of the central panel.
‘The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture and a highly creative feverishness’. This is how Francis Bacon once described his artistic approach. How would you describe yours?
I think he’s described any consummate artist’s approach better than I can. It’s all those things. If I was going to add anything it might be jealousy, envy or even covetousness; but Jonathan once told me that his first teenage responses to the records we all grew up on and still love was a kind of anger with himself that he hadn’t created it first! I don’t mean that in the sense of greed or financial success, obviously. But that response, if you deal with it properly, is a healthy one I think. It spurs you on to be better.
Has this process changed between the making of your first album, Man Alive and second album, Arc?
Not noticeably. The fundamental difference between the two albums is that we wanted to make more of an honest, direct, unashamed emotional connection with our audience. Man Alive was quite adolescent and insecure in its complicatedness and we’d got a lot out of system by making and touring it, a lot of which we wanted to leave behind.
The new chronological re-hang at Tate Britain emphasises the connections and differences between old and new art works. Do you think recognising the past and its influences is a vital part of your music?
It is to me. I’m a sort of po-faced self-styled pop historian. I love the heritage and I love tracing the cross-cultural family trees. But the kind of canonisation of rock music and over-analysis of popular culture generally can be stifling, and Jonathan is more oblivious to that kind of stuff which I’m frequently grateful for. It’s important to have a balance.
You’re on tour at the moment, but have you begun to think about your next album? Might the Francis Bacon song make an appearance in some way?
Well in fact it already has, in a sense. The first and last sections were based on a chord sequence that Alex had for months before making Arc. At one point we were levering it into any nascent song that needed another section, but we never found a home for it. We eventually stuck it onto the end of another song, arranged for four cellos as a self-contained entity. We then cut it off again and it found its place on the album as a kind of fulcrum centrepiece called ‘_Arc_’. We use it as an interlude when we tour, or as a piece of introductory ‘walk on’ music, but we’ve never played it live properly, so it was nice to re-arrange and play it with a new purpose as a full band. The spirit of the more unhinged central section is, to a degree, something we want to (re)capture in anything new we’re doing.