Tout Tout to play The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea, as part of the Revive Live Tour with Music Venue Trust and The National Lottery | Great interview
With five top 10 albums, a pair of Mercury Awards and five Ivor Novello nominations under their belt, art rockers have never been one to compromise.
And on their latest album Raw Data Feel, they are once again pushing the boundaries of their creativity, through their use of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
They are currently touring the UK as part of the Revive Live campaign, playing a series of intimate shows which conclude at the Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea on August 24.
Villagers will bring their fever dreams to Wedgewood, Southsea rooms for Covid…
The Music Venue Trust (MVT) has partnered with the National Lottery for the program which sees major artists such as Charlie XCX, Paolo Nutini, Sleaford Mods and The Amazons perform in much smaller venues than usual, highlighting the importance of the basic circuit to the whole live scene.
Fans can buy a ticket, and as long as they bring a valid National Lottery ticket with them to the show, they can bring a friend for free.
For Everything Everything marks a long-awaited return to the city.
“We haven’t played Portsmouth since 2015, I don’t think,” says bassist Jeremy Pritchard, “and we haven’t played The Wedge since 2012.”
And that sees the band playing in smaller venues than they have for some time. “That’s kind of the point of this tour,” Jeremy says, “to reinvigorate local scenes and reinvigorate popular venues and network post-Covid.” It’s a very good scheme – you get bigger performers than would normally play in these rooms, and punters get a lot out of it too. We’re really happy to do that.
“It feels like it also gives us some license with the setlist because we’re playing smaller gigs, it’s going to be pretty intense fans – we’re not going to have to play a festival set, we can go a little deeper.
The importance of the Music Venue Trust
This is the third round of Revive Live shows, with previous stages in 2021 and earlier this year proving hugely successful. Tout Tout jumped at the chance to participate.
“We hadn’t done any of the shows before – we had wanted to, but the timing wasn’t right. We were either in the studio or booked for other tours, or whatever, so we’re really glad it turned out that way.
As a patron of the MVT, this is a cause close to his heart. Although Jeremy was born in Portsmouth, his family moved to Tunbridge Wells when he was just two years old.
“The charity was started by two people I know who ran the forum in Tunbridge Wells, where I grew up. The Forum has been a popular touring location for a long time, and the guys who ran this place were very aware of the pressures that venue owners are under commercially and even emotionally to keep these community resources going – because that’s what they are community resources. Financially it is so difficult.
“They created this charity (the MVT) to protect these sites and they do a great job of doing that.”
Release an album during the pandemic
This year, the group was finally able to resume something like normal business. Their previous album, Reanimator was released in September 2020.
“We talked about delaying Reanimator – we had the record finished, but we hadn’t started doing anything like videos or photos or anything like that, so we had to do all that kind of things at a distance, which forced a particular kind of aesthetic, which was pretty good in the end, I think.
‘We also got bored of that, and just wanted to tour! We could have delayed this album, but I’m glad we didn’t, to be honest. The right thing to do was to take it out. The lifespan of any album is really short now, but during the pandemic, everyone was excited about something for a week – then they would move on!
“Even before the end of this calendar year, we were saying, ‘Well, the right thing to do now is to write another album.’
And sure enough, the tour behind Reanimator was over: “We did two socially distanced launch shows,” Jeremy recalls, “and that’s all we could do – 200 people in a venue with a capacity of 1,500 people, twice a day, that’s all we did. And then in 2021, we started to pick up sporadic festivals and things that had been postponed from 2020, it was difficult.
“But this year has been much, much busier – touring the UK and Europe and festivals in the summer and this run in August.”
How they wrote their new album, Raw Data Feel
And so to the new album Raw Data Feel – upon its release in April, it gave the band their best release yet when it reached number four.
While the full band is still credited with writing their songs, frontman Jonathan Higgs is the lyricist. In the past, he often embraced major political and sociological themes, but this time he tried something completely new. Higgs created an AI program and fed it with the set of terms and conditions from the business networking website LinkedIn, the epic poem Beowulf, 400,000 posts from the controversial anonymous online forum site 4Chan and the teachings of Confucius. His responses were used as the basis for the lyrics, song titles, and creation of artwork on the record.
Jeremy explains: “Jonathan wanted him to be involved in machine learning quite early in the writing process, so as to force himself out of his own lyrical comfort zone.
“I think he thought he had been talking about the same kind of things in the same way for a while. It was an almost arbitrary way of approaching things differently.
“We thought of it as a modern take on what David Bowie was doing – like William Burroughs’ cut sentences, randomly putting them together, and it forces a different way of thinking and writing. But the data he chose to enter was quite varied.
‘We’ve probably overstated how much that’s been incorporated into the lyrics! It was more about picking up those reams and reams and choosing individual lines to insert into the songs, either to give the song a different slant or to get Jon to think and write differently.
“It was kind of a reciprocal process – it wasn’t like this stuff was just spat out and we used it. And sometimes it caused these amazing juxtapositions and phraseologies that a human being wouldn’t come up with – it was a bit wrong but it was also quite poignant. It’s just sprinkled around the album – it’s probably only about five percent of the actual lyrics, but it’s enough to give it a particular slant.
“Then with the AI stuff beyond that, we used it a lot with the album images, the artwork and the photography that we did around it.
“Just those few months that we were working on it, the technology itself was evolving so quickly. It was quite interesting to see.
Creation of the artwork for the new album campaign
As you can see from the images here, it gave the band some striking imagery for the album campaign.
“We really enjoyed those – there were different levels of intervention, some of them were really extreme, and it’s all made up of non-existent stuff.
‘The album cover itself, you kind of think you’re looking at a robot face and it also looks like one of those old Kodak cameras. There’s this sort of unnamed nostalgia about it, but you’re not watching anything real – and yet it still elicits certain familiar feelings, even though you’re not watching anything familiar.
“It’s a really interesting gray area.”
They also used the technology in accompanying videos, most notably for the single Teletype, which consists of fully AI-generated human faces singing the song. Some of these faces turned into “grotesque experiments” where the machine thought it was making a person but failed. The end result is effective but somewhat unnerving.
“Every time you refresh the page, it spawns a new person, and it’s all AI generated – they’re not real people, it’s the same sort of thing with Teletype video.
“It’s nerve-wracking, but there’s also a very basic sense of ‘all together now’, I like that dichotomy.”
“I don’t know, I guess there’s an aspect of everyone’s life that will include more machine learning, more AI – it’s going to be everywhere. He’s already involved in ways that we don’t quite understand.
Everything Everything is at The Wedgewood Rooms on August 24th. Check availability at wedgewood-rooms.co.uk.