Interviewer: Meghan Roos |
Following a long day of travel, lead singer and guitarist Matthew Healy of the 1975 caught up with us after sound check outside The Casbah in San Diego.
HV: How many years has your band been together? Is it 10?
HV: That’s fairly unheard of for musicians in their early twenties. How have your group dynamics changed over time?
Matthew: Well I don’t know. It’s interesting because I suppose that everything is constant evolution, isn’t it, and it’s the minutia that adds up to what makes you as a person, especially as a band. It’d probably be quite contrived if we were constantly aware of where we were going and what we were doing. I think we’ve changed as much as anybody changes from 13 to 23. We’ve lived; we’ve grown up. I think, musically, we’ve changed from being obsessed with ambient music to being obsessed with really heavy, experimental music. I think the main thing with our band is that we’ve always been the nucleus. All of our music is very situational and based around a social commentary, almost like [Charles] Baudelaire’s Painter of Modern Life, but very exclusive to our life. So I think that we’ve always been this kind of nucleus of our social group, therefore everything’s always orientated around us and our band. We’ve always been defined by our band and we’ve never not needed to be because it’s always been the band, and the band’s girlfriends, and the band’s mates.
HV: I’ve read that the band name comes from a note scribbled into a used book you found. What book was that?
Matthew: The thing is, I probably would’ve taken care of the book if I had thought it would hold any relevance in my life. I didn’t think it was going to come to define me as much as it has. I thought originally it was in a book called Fuzz Against Junk, which is like a ‘50s Beat poetry book about the heroin train in the ‘50s. But I found that book, and it’s not that one. I think I gave it away to a girl, and I think it was On the Road. I remember at that time that was the book I was obsessed with.
HV: Is Jack Kerouac one of your favorite Beat writers?
Matthew: That book’s one of my favorites. I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about Kerouac outside of that book. That book for me was as important as it is for any impressionable 19-year-old, especially if it’s gifted to you by an artist you met on holiday. I was very naïve and impressionable; I was in one of those times where I was trying to secure my social identity, so I thought, “I want to be like these guys.” I didn’t succeed in my quest to be quite so decadent – I’m not from the right area.
HV: Which character in On the Road do you identify with most?
Matthew: It’d be Dean, wouldn’t it? Dean Moriarty. It’s just the whole blazing about that really captured me, the whole kind of sexually charged, sexually and chemically charged experimentation of that Beat movement. I loved the idea of that. I loved the idea of being part of that. I love the idea of the instigation of that; I love the idea of being part of that kind of cultural movement.
HV: Was the plan always to make a career of it?
Matthew: I suppose it was originally, because you start when you’re 13. When I was at school and stuff, I just thought school was a tedious imposition, imposing and getting in the way of me being in a band. I thought it was silly. When we left that age, we were making music and playing in bands; we weren’t always desperate for a record deal. I suppose when you’re 20 and you’re living in your mate’s flat in the city and playing with your friends’ bands and stuff, you’re not thinking, “What am I going to do with my life?” You’re thinking, “This is fun. I’m just going to do this for a bit.” And when you get to 23 you start thinking about that kind of thing; and it wasn’t necessarily like that, we just thought, “Well, let’s see what people think about our music.” And then we put stuff out, and no one’s shut up since. I don’t mean you – you’ve just caught me on a weird day, to be honest with you. I’m just tired; I just want the world to be quiet for a bit. I’ve been in a band for 10 years. I’ve been making music for 10 years with no reaction, no process of qualification or validation to acquire praise or to acquire an elevated social status and stuff like that. I’ve never had those weird connotations hogging my life, and now I’m defined by this constant barrage of opinion and debate.
HV: I suppose some might prefer that all the fame had an on/off switch.
Matthew: I think you do, but then again I suppose I’m really embracing it because we’re in such an amazing position. But my life has changed so dramatically in the past eight months; I’m really trying to catch up with it.
HV: Those familiar with the 1975 have come to associate your band with the black and white photographs you take and post on your website and social media sites. How did you come to incorporate photography into your image?
Matthew: The idea started about when Instagram came out. We’re lovers of art and the idea of situationism and posing your identity without being attention-seeking. We wanted to create our own little world with The 1975. And again, it wasn’t a contrived thing: everything we do is stylized. We like everything to be as cool as possible, I suppose. George just started taking pictures; by the third one, they looked like that, and then we were like, “Yeah, let’s make a little installation piece.” And that was it.
HV: Your debut album is set for an early September release. Did you have a mission statement in mind while you were recording the album?
Matthew: We wanted to create a soundtrack as if John Hughes had directed a movie about our lives. It’s a record of idealization, of antiquated memories and that kind of faded splendor. You know, like why Polaroids are better than digital photos – because the colors look more like a memory. The idea is that everything that actually happens in regards to, say, a photograph of a house for a brochure is never going to have the same emotional connectivity as a Polaroid of a house, and that’s because it’s a lot more visually linked to the idea of memory. If you can apply that to music- that sounds like such a pretentious, stoned thing to say- but what I mean is we do not have a clinical view of our history. We have a very romanticized view, and that’s the way we wanted it to come across. I think that’s what everyone has with their life. I think this album lyrically is so romantic – needlessly romantic, hopelessly romantic. That’s one of the main things about it.
HV: Will it be difficult to keep up the creative momentum after your first album is released?
Matthew: I don’t think so, no. You hear a lot of bands say, “Oh we went off to write a second album,” and that’s always confused us. We kind of exist in this perpetual cycle of creativity. Writing music is what we do. I mean, if you give me and the boys a laptop and a night off, we won’t watch a movie – we’ll make a song because that’s what we do, that’s how we enjoy ourselves. I can’t wait to start writing – I can’t wait. I say it every day. I’m not the easiest person– I’m an easy person to be around, I’m a nice person, but I wouldn’t say I’m the easiest person to work with, and I’m not the easiest person in regards to keeping creatively happy. I need to be constantly stimulated. How I acquire that stimulation changes, whether it’s from girls to drugs to anything. I’m only being honest with you. We are a band and we do perform, but I’m a songwriter. I write every day: it’s what I do. And I miss it so much.
HV: Let’s talk about the dichotomy between pop songs like “Chocolate” and experimental tracks like “Head.Cars.Bending.” What are you trying to achieve with each style?
Matthew: There’s a common misunderstanding that our material has worked chronologically. For example, with Facedown to Sex to Music for Cars to IV, then on to the album. The album came first. We were a pop band at heart, and we’d written an album but we realized that we were an alternative band who’d just basically lived a career behind closed doors. Basically, we wanted people to fall in love with us like you fall in love with a person. The more you know about someone over a longer period of time, the more you both invest in the relationship and the more rewarding it is for both parties. I think in order to get people to really understand where we were coming from with this album and in order for it to achieve as much as we felt it could, we wanted to create a foundation that people could emotionally invest in before we provided them with the most important thing we’ve ever lived for, a very honest album, but a very brash and pop-y album.
People are going to kick off when the album comes out. People are kicking off now because we just released the video for “Sex” and it’s in color. People are going mental; people don’t like it. You have the thing that all fans are going to say: “I prefer the old version.” All that is saying to other people is that you knew the band before it was out. I get that. That’s just part of being a kid, and that’s cool. But this album was always going to be in color. It’s a colorful album. We have a quote about poetry in the street full of living color, and that was always alluding to the fact that we will one day break out into color. We had an opportunity to make a video that was like a movie; all of our videos are like movies. The black and white is a style; it’s an effect. We shot a video that looked better in color, so we put it in color. People think we’re about the black and white. We’re not about the black and white: we’re about the decisions that we make and the way we go about things. Everyone thinks they’ve got us so down. Everyone thinks they know the 1975 so well. They haven’t got a clue. The unpredictability is what defines us.
HV: I’ve heard that you’re deeply inspired by John Hughes films. If you could go back in time and soundtrack one of his movies, which would it be?
Matthew: Probably Pretty in Pink, because I think that’s my favorite John Hughes movie, but with the least memorable soundtrack, apart from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark at the end. You’ve got the Psychedelic Furs who did the soundtrack to “Pretty in Pink,” but I didn’t actually like it that much. I prefer Simple Minds in Breakfast Club and stuff like Furniture – bands like that throughout the whole thing. But yeah, it would be Pretty in Pink. That’s what I wanted to call my band; I just thought that was the best name for a band.
HV: Are there any John Hughes characters you identify with?
Matthew: Not particularly. I just always wanted to be their mate. I’ve always had a very strong sense of identity; I’ve never really had that idea of wanting to be somebody or specifically relating to somebody. It’s always been the idea of wanting them to like me. There’s that great line in that A$AP Rocky song, “My heroes say what’s up to me.” Mick Jagger is a fan of our band. He’s said that and tweeted about it, and written to us to tell us, and we supported him in London. That kind of thing is what I always wanted. Like with Michael Jackson, I was so obsessed with Michael Jackson but I never wanted to be him. I just wanted him to acknowledge who I was. I never spent much time as a kid wishing to be anybody else, just yearning to achieve my own potential.
HV: Looking forward, what are your goals for the 1975?
Matthew: I don’t know. What can we wish for? Everything we could have ever dreamed of happened like that. We haven’t put an album out; we’re still two months away from our album coming out. Forty thousand people came to see us at Glastonbury, we’ve toured the world, we’ve had two Top 20 singles, we supported the Rolling Stones, we’ve turned town a world tour with Rihanna, Arctic Monkeys, Fall Out Boy… we’re playing two nights at Brixton Academy, we just announced that we’re playing the Royal Albert Hall, we sold out two nights at the Bowery Ballroom in a day. What am I supposed to want? I don’t know – you know that I’m not saying that to show off; I’m saying that to try and assess it all. It’s so mental. You imagine everything, because that’s what artists do – that’s what kids do, that’s what humans do. You imagine everything, but you never actually believe it’s going to happen. But I know that as long as I can make kids feel about music the way that I felt about music, I suppose my job’s done, a little bit. I suppose that makes me sound like I’m being a little more selfless than I am. It is quite a selfish perspective when you think about it, because it’s the idea of me, my thoughts being able to transcend and bleed into humanity. The fact that maybe our song’s on when someone’s having an argument, or the fact that somebody can’t listen to the album because it reminds them of something so much – it’s reality that excites me.