Everything That Makes You Happy
"When I started this album, I said I wanted to make a concept album about young madness,” Ben Gregory tells Apple Music. “A lot of very talented, artistic people I’ve grown up with have really struggled. So a lot of this record is an ode to all those people.” The Blaenavon songwriter and frontman is far too self-deprecating to acknowledge it, but this startling second album should also be celebrated as an ode to his own strength and honesty. In January 2019, Gregory released a personal statement candidly documenting a stress-related breakdown he suffered at the end of 2017. Shortly before the release of Everything That Makes You Happy, he spoke openly about a relapse. “I didn’t want the album to wallow, though,” he says. “I wanted it to be triumphant, to poke fun at myself and about overcoming these difficult sensations. It’s become a bit of a self-help record for me.” In spite of its challenging incubation, this is an album of outrageously good British guitar music. Daring and melodically dexterous, there’s also jet-black humor and lyrical devilment that confirms Gregory’s rare and delicate gift. “Recording 10 songs in two weeks when I was struggling to get out of bed and feel creative or focused is something I hope I never have to do again,” he says. “But we decided that if we didn’t make the album now, it might never get made. I’m definitely proud I could push through.” Explore Gregory’s track-by-track guide to the album.
I Want You “The song was written in the summer of 2016 at my mother’s old house, in the conservatory. It’s the main song on the album that's a proper, devoted love song—talking about all the lengths I’d go to keep this thing going and keep it real. When I start the chorus, we go over troubles that we've had, but ultimately say, ‘Let's forget about those and bring it back to the most pure message of love, which is: I want you.’ It didn’t come out like it, but I’ve wanted to make dance music for ages. I’ve written so many indie and folk songs, I just wanted to do a dance song with a banging house piano. That piano is the main thing taken from that desire—the way the song rises and rises. I remember climbing up and up on the piano until I completely ran out of keys. I literally couldn’t go any higher.”
Catatonic Skinbag “What an outrageous title. I always want to make myself laugh and sometimes send songs to the label with the most ridiculous titles ever. But I do often think, ‘Fuck, I’ve wheedled myself into a situation where people have to say those two words next to each other.’ I might find its title and chorus funny, but when I read the lyrics back, it’s actually riddled with despair. It’s about a time I was going through in my life when I was super depressed and couldn’t get out of bed, was drinking a lot of red wine, dumbing myself down with bad US TV and doing everything I could to escape proper, real-life problems. ‘I’m the last man I’d ever date.’ You have to make songs like this a bit funny, but I stand by it to this day. Even though I’m doing better, I’m still the last man I’d date.”
Back This Year “This song is about coming out of a situation or a relationship that you realize is damaging. I’ve often looked back on times like that and focused on the positives, which is easy to me because you miss the person. So this song is me telling myself not to revert back to the version of yourself that you were during that time. It’s about letting things be over. Accept its conclusion and look forward.”
The Song's Never Gonna Be the Same “This is probably the best song I’ve ever written. It's probably the most poetic song on the album, and at times the most cryptic. I was massively in love at the time, and I rarely write songs when I’m really happy. I love that there are no unnecessary lines. I was delicate with every word. The lyric 'Sanity’s calling/He knows I’m sitting proud on the edge' is, upon reflection, the scariest line on the album because I wrote it before I got ill and I clearly knew I was hanging by a thread. I didn’t really tell anyone about it, I just put it in the chorus of a pop song. I feel like I’m too much for people quite a lot of the time, or not enough. I wrote this for a girl during our initial courtship, I suppose you’d say. We fell in love, but eventually she grew tired and annoyed of being my muse. It’s not ideal to be a muse. I’m glad I’m not anyone’s muse.”
Skin Scream “I wrote this song for Lorde. I don't think she's heard it, but we sent it to her manager and apparently it got through to her personal inbox. I love the line about peeling all the posters off the wall. That actually happened. I broke up with my girlfriend and my mother went round and picked up all my stuff and had to take the posters down from our walls. There’s nothing cryptic particularly here. It’s all straightforward and fairly bleak, really. I would rather be on my own and a bit lonely than feel like I’m having a detrimental effect on someone else’s mental health. Relationships can get so intense and passionate that you forget that you’re damaging each other.”
Fucking Up My Friends “Another favorite. This was the only song I wrote for the album after coming out of hospital. Most of the record is full of reflections upon my disintegrating mental health and pointing out to people that I wasn’t in a good place and needed help, but this one is reflecting on having been to hell and back and working out how to start life from scratch. This song is also about how you sometimes have to avoid certain people no matter how much you love or care about them because you might be triggering each other. The lyric ‘I’m not trying to be anything I’m not/I just want to make you laugh’ is a bit of an apology. I don’t mean to ever cause this stress for people. I just fuck up sometimes. There are quite direct references to hospitals, too—‘Living in corridors ain’t quite the cards I was dealt’—because I got out and was so determined to never have to return there. But I had to go back. The line that’s most important, though, is ‘I wanna spread myself so thin across the sky and wish everyone good health.’ You obviously can’t do that. Before I got ill I spent a lot of time trying to look after everyone. I didn’t look after my own head, and I crumbled."
All Your Vanity “I love the chorus, about staring at your own reflection for such a long time that your face fogs up the mirror. I’m the worst person for this kind of shit, too. I was maybe 19 or 20 when I wrote it and probably in the prime of my life. So now it’s a song for me to take my own advice. You might weigh a bit more or have picked up some frown lines, but just deal with it. Don’t wallow.”
Never Stop Stirring “This was the hardest song on the album to do. Possibly because it’s the most positive, inspiring song I’ve ever written. It sits so nicely on the album, I think. There are so many complaints and warnings and struggles, so for this song to be talking about pushing through all the crap is really important. Maybe I shouldn’t say, as it’ll ruin the song for everyone, but I got the idea for it when I was literally making a coffee. I started singing, ‘Never stop stirring/You can’t stay still’ and thought to myself what a great way to look at life that was. It suddenly felt a bit like Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.’ And that song’s done all right.”
Quiet in Your Heart / Alone in Love “This is the heaviest song on the album. Not heavy like Kiss heavy, but pretty emotionally heavy. There’s a consistent theme of guilt on the album. A reflection that I might have been too much for someone and not been particularly caring so had a bad effect on someone’s mental health. One of my favorite verses on the album is ‘Don’t trick yourself and break your brain/By thinking you deserve some pain/Laughing, crying, laughing, crying, laughing, crying.’ I’ve had these kind of episodes where I’ve experienced these insane highs and crazy lows. The speed with which people like myself can see our emotions swing is frightening. I just wanted younger people to know that the spiraling that happens where you feel so guilty about mistakes you might make really aren’t going to matter at all in a few years. The ‘Quiet in Your Heart’ part of the title was from a text message an ex-girlfriend sent me. We’d been together for about a month and I was flying to Texas for South by Southwest and she texted me saying, ‘I feel quiet in your heart.’ It really stuck with me. It’s such a polite, lovely line. The last verse of the song mixes things up. It’s from the other person’s point of view, when you’re begging for an apology that you know will never come. I’m not good at forgiving and forgetting when people don’t take responsibility for their actions.”
Everything That Makes You Happy “I think this is my favorite. I love how it helps bookend the album. You’ve got the euphoric chorus of ‘I Want You’ at the start, and then the final song ends with Catherine Marks [producer] screaming the title of the album. The verse talking about airports and urinals and Christmas cake is important because I wanted to have the dullest, most stagnant imagery possible and contrast it to the screaming euphoria of the song. The song’s me begging myself not to need another world and sit in sadness when I am lucky to have so much. It’s about believing that happiness is coming for you. Sometimes it’s just not there yet because you didn’t really want it. When people reach these really dark places, a part of them finds it easier to stay there because it’s easier than tackling a problem. But happiness is coming. It really is.”