Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Everyone Everywhere

Ambition is sometimes a vital trait for an artist to possess. It seems like the more someone wants to succeed, the more he or she seeks it out, the more likely it is that success can be attainable. At least that’s the logic behind Ambition, but most people know that’s not the case. Ambition sometimes leads to desperation, which sometimes leads weaker people to pursue success the wrong way. Ambition can also close minds; when a person can only focus on his or her success, other priorities are pushed aside and bad decisions may be made.

Of course, the worst side effect of Ambition is that it usually isn’t effective; ambition can only lead to success when it is linked with talent. But even those artists that deserve the most success—the talented few that work the hardest—are rarely recognized. Sometimes, it seems most successful artists are the least talented, have others do their dirty work for them, and are considered significant for reasons that sometimes seem unclear.

In a weird way, Everyone Everywhere has, as a foursome, rejected the notion of Ambition, maybe for the reasons belabored above. “I don’t think we ever have, nor do we continue to have any aspirations of being successful musicians,” says singer and guitarist Brendan McHugh.

“Yeah,” Matt Scottoline, the band’s bassist, agrees. “Anything good that’s happened to us so far has happened without—“ He stops and tries a new tack. “We don’t try,” he starts, but then corrects himself. “I mean, we try.” Snickers slide from the mouths of his bandmates. “What I’m trying to say here is…we try sometimes.”

Though the band the bursts into laughter at Scottoline’s attempt at articulating Everyone Everywhere’s philosophy, it isn’t easy to pin down with words. It’s not that the Philidelphia-based band has embraced Ambition’s older brother Apathy (who the kids seem to consider “cool” these days). Instead, they look at success as a perk of playing music with their friends.

After all, that’s where Everyone Everywhere began as a band: as friends. “Brendan, Matt, and I all played in a band together in high school,” says McHugh, referring to drummer Brendan Graham and Scottoline. “Brendan and I started this band sort of for fun. We just wrote a few songs on breaks from college. We recorded the first EP over the summer with two different people in the band, a different guitar player and a different bass player. There was really no intention of taking it anywhere; we just wanted to record the songs we wrote.

“Then Tommy [Manson] found us on MySpace,” McHugh continues. “He sent us a message that said, ‘Your band’s really cool! I would love to hang out with guys that are as cool as you! Also I play guitar and I’m pretty good at it!’ We were like, ‘I don’t know about this. This is weird,’ but then we talked to Matt, who we played with before. He was like, ‘Tommy’s kind of weird, but we should try it anyways.’”

The rest of the band laughs at McHugh’s elaborations, which demonstrates the depth of friendship that ties the guys in Everyone Everywhere together. “We’re all really good friends,” he is careful to clarify. “Some bands aren’t.”

With Manson’s arrival solidifying the band into something more serious, Everyone Everywhere set out to write and record A Lot of Weird People Standing Around, a four-song seven-inch that introduced the world the band’s warm, intricate energy. There is something undeniably punk-rock about the single, especially in songs like “Thermal Dynamics” and “Everyhow Everythere”; the beat is bouncy—powered by bright, clanky bass and snappy drums in double-time—but the guitars are often strummed in full, ornate chords and meander behind the McHugh’s calm melodies. Rarely does the band rely on cocky power chords, which makes A Lot of Weird People Standing Around sound like several things at once. Still, the single never sounds unfocused; every song fits the others as simply as those four-piece jigsaw puzzles intended for toddlers.

For the follow-up to that seven-inch, Everyone Everywhere spent over a year writing songs, reworking some several times before the band felt that they were fully developed. “We didn’t do it consciously,” Scottoline admits. “We never set a deadline and said, ‘This is when we’re going to record a full-length.’ We just hung out and practiced and wrote a lot of songs. One day, we realized we had eleven songs and that we should probably just record them.”

“We didn’t have anyone putting it out for us as we were writing it,” McHugh elaborates. “We didn’t think anyone would want to put it out for us, so we were just writing songs. It was like it always was, thinking that, hopefully, we’d record a good record that we could show our children some day and act like we’re cool parents.”

Note that their ambition is not to be successful, not to sell records, but to, someday, be cool dads.

The self-titled full-length, which was released earlier this summer, does sound more developed than their previous EP, but not necessarily different. “Raw Bar OBX 2002” starts with Graham’s drums hopping around restlessly like rocks at the bottom of a spinning wheel well. Clean guitar chords are stacked onto this beat in tottery columns; they sway back and forth and, sometimes, feel like they may fall over. Soon enough, though, the song lunges back into where it left off with A Lot of Weird People Standing Around, with crunch and puch, before it dissolves into something even slower than the intro. Here, amid the strobe of a hi-hat, McHugh sings in a composed croon, “Hey, I’ve got bigger fish to fry / They’re swordfish sized / They’re swimming small circles / and asking for a break” as guitars fall around him—some like streamers dangling from the ceiling and others like heavy velvet curtains.

“Kids who come to all our shows kind of like that song,” McHugh states.

“That’s one of the songs that was written before the seven-inch even came out,” says Scottoline. “We started playing it at shows and people would ask us to play it before there was a recorded version of it, before it had a name. Finally having a concrete version of that felt good.”

“I think it has a lot of good parts in it,” McHugh adds, “and has good energy. It goes through all the levels of energy that our band has.”

On the second side of the record, “Music Work Paper Work” stands out as, perhaps, one of the album’s most memorable tracks as it showcases McHugh’s lyrical talent. As one guitar twists around the thick frame of another like vines climbing up an old house, McHugh sings, “Look in the mirror / Try to move your ears / It’s pretty weird / Something feels fake” with an distant tone. These lyrics don’t sound silly with drums tumbling around them, and barely seem absurd in the context of fuzzy, fizzing chords. In fact, McHugh’s description of examining one’s ears and eyebrows in the mirror—“Light and heavy”—describes his lyrical style accurately.

“I read a lot of fiction last year,” McHugh explains, “and I took a creative writing class. I really like stuff that pinpoints really small, inane details of life. For my own lyrics, I really like focusing on stupid things.”

That’s when Scottoline encourages him to tell the story of what inspired the lyrics of “Music Work Paper Work”. “When we were on tour in Ashville, North Carolina,” McHugh begins, “we were at this vegan restaurant and this guy walks in. He was probably sixty years old and had this white beard and a glass eye. It was, like, 3:30 in the afternoon and he was belligerently drunk. He’s just rambling about all kinds of crazy stuff, like religion and the Chicago Bulls and The Sound of Music. And then, all the sudden, he’s just sitting there at the table across from us starting at us and starts saying, ‘fiction, science fiction—“

“No, no,” Scottoline corrects him. “We were talking about musicals and asked him what kind of movies he likes.”

At the end of “Music Work Paper Work”, the song ducks into a quiet, subdued section where the rambling bass gets tangled in the hi-hat-driven drumbeat. With deadpan and lucid delivery, McHugh sings, “Fiction, science fiction / Biographies, autobiographies / Music work, paper work / All kinds of movies”—the answer that this drunken, white-haired, one-eyed man provided at the vegan diner that night.

“The funniest thing,” McHugh concludes, “is that, later that night, we were playing our show at midnight and we were playing at this bar. We’re about to start playing and are setting up our stuff. We look at the door and this guy, who had disappeared at 4:00, walks into the venue for our show. And he’s dressed exactly like Matt; he changed his clothes and was wearing the exact same clothing. And he appeared at our show and was having the best time. It was the weirdest night.”

It’s clear that Everyone Everywhere is a band that places “fun” pretty high on their list of priorities—whether it’s seen in McHugh’s wry, ironic lyrics; the band’s odd-but-memorable adventures on the road; their dedication to developing themselves as songwriters; or in the gentle jabs they take at one another as they talk about their music. This fun isn’t always easy to detect in what sounds like serious, carefully-constructed songs, but it’s fun that makes Everyone Everywhere an ambitious record. With every weird time signature, every delicate dynamic shift, every intricate chord and serpentine lead, every energetic ebb and fulfilling flow, the band’s first full-length becomes more and more fun to listen to, and it’s because of the band’s desire to have fun—to play the music that makes them feel fulfilled—that this record succeeds.

“That’s our philosophy,” says Scottoline, finally able to phrase what he was trying to say before. “We’re not ever going to do anything differently than we are doing right now. We hope for the best, but are content with the present. Even if nobody was listening to our record, if nobody cared about us at all, we would still be doing the same things essentially. We’d still be playing music and writing and recording songs.”

But can Everyone Everywhere really succeed without Ambition? Obviously, yes because their ends is their means. When artists define their own success, then they can do whatever they want and feel fulfilled.

That’s the funny part, though; Everyone Everywhere is Ambitious. They are just redefining Success.

Getting Everyone Everywhere to record for the Switchboard Sessions took some time due to schedule conflicts, moving, bicycle polo successes, and so on. The entire band was finally able to sit down on a rainy summer night at the bicycle shop where Manson works, but discovered that the landline they were going to use for the recording session wasn't working. The guys then packed up their stuff and moved down the street to their apartment, where they tried to use Skype to record the songs and interview. Skype's digital signal reduced the quality of the recordings; the interview, however was usable. Pictures of this ill-fated session were shot by the band and can be seen above (click on the thumbnail).

A second recording session took place on the morning Fourth of July while the band prepared to record some songs for a split with their friend Into It. Over It. and for the Japan release of Everyone Everywhere. These songs were of much higher quality.

"Fld Ovr" appears on Band's 2010 self-titled record. "You Can Call Me Al" is a Paul Simon cover; the song originally appeared on his 1986 album Graceland.

Visit the band's MySpace for more music.

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume One for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2010. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.