In a way, The 1975 are the ultimate pop band. Their delectable slices of pop funk are accompanied by an incredibly carefully curated narrative — from their disappearing social media games, to strange cartoons that seemed to announce the end of the band, to their abrupt reappearance amid splashes of neon-pink — there’s not a piece of The 1975 that hasn’t been planned.
Their latest record, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, may just be the most self-reflexive pop release of recent years, with buried lyrical jokes and references that occur like Easter eggs.
On their recent Australian tour Rolling Stone caught up with vocalist and front man Matt Healy to chat about the creation of the new album, as well as the music business, fame, and David Bowie.
When did you get into Sydney?
Literally about 1pm, we flew in from Brisbane, so it wasn’t too bad.
You would have been here a couple of times before?
Yeah we’ve been here a couple of times, I think we even played the same venue last time – the Hordern Pavilion.
Do you like it?
Yeah we love Sydney, it’s just so far away [laughs].
It’s a bit different from Manchester, this kind of weather. I lived up in Sheffield for a while.
Steel city bloody hell. You got the same weather and kind of northern architecture. Manchester and Sheffield…those areas inspire a lot of music though don’t they? Because it’s just brutalist architecture and the subsidisation of industry that’s just everywhere.
Yeah of course, look at The Smiths, look at Joy Division…
Well Joy Division are from up the road from us, but we kind of went the other way, we created more sunshine music. And that’s what Manchester’s about, that tribalist attitude that exists in Manchester is funny because it’s inherently ironic, the way that all the bands that are famously from Manchester – they rose to fame because of how different they were. And then what was expected was this kind of repetition, so everyone was expecting this band like Joy Division to come out and why would you want that? Surely the next Manchester band has to stand up and be its own thing.
You don’t want miserablist music all the time.
Of course. The thing with us that’s interesting is that even though we may sound at times like Scritti Politti or Hall & Oates, lyrically and narratively – although I don’t want to put myself with Morrissey – but that self-deprecating, very British way of thinking.
You had released music under a different name before The 1975 didn’t you? Under the name the Slowdown?
Yeah we had done, but we were kind of just like an internet band, just post-YouTube band, when that had just started happening and we were just experimenting with it. In a way to partially try and get a record deal, and in a way to figure ourselves out because we’d been in lots of bands before. We’d been in an emo band, and like an emo emo band – like American Football or Rights Of Spring kind of band. Then we got our manager at 18 – we’d had the same band lineup for 12, 11 years, we’d been making music since we were kids. The 1975 was when everything fell into place. The first album was very successful, especially in regards to what we expected.
Did it surprise you?
Yeah yeah, because for years we had been told ‘no’. Record labels said “well all of your songs sound different”, and we said “well yeah, because that’s representative of our generation, that’s how we create and consume”. We want to be representative of how this generatino creates and consumes music, and the older generation that held the key to our success didn’t really understand that – so we took it from them and set up our own label. It was a real Cinderella story. We were kind of the underdogs, and all of these bands that were our contemporaries got signed and we didn’t, and we were devastated. And they ended up doing fuck all.
So you really saw the inner machinations of the music industry, what do you think about it?
Well the music industry is a funny place, because when you talk about the industry, you’re actually talking about the individuals and the attitudes that go into A & R.
The publicists, the label managers…
Exactly – it’s a weird industry. It’s them working towards an artist, when it should be about the facilitation of the artists ego, but what it very much becomes about is the ego of the individual that works there. You have a lot of people who are trying to appropriate their position. So many people come up to me – grown up people, educated people that I respect – and they’ll say shit like “oh I really want to get involved in music’, and I want to say ‘well you want to be a bit more specific, do you want to be a drummer? Do you want to be a manager?” But people want to be involved because they think that being a fan of music is enough to qualify you to work in it. But it’s a bit like being 26 and saying ‘oh I’d like to get involved in medicine’ or “I’d like to get involved in professional sport”. But some people do slip through the cracks – you’re the son of a thing, or the cousin of a what of a person who met a somebody – and they get in there and fuck up the whole social dynamic.
I’ve wanted to be a producer and an artist since I was 10 years old, and my whole life work has been towards that. If you’re 24 and your dad gives you a job in the music industry and says ‘okay, now you’re a product manager’ …how can you…things that people connect with and things that people really believe in are things that are honest, and that people think that somebody has really thought about. And the music industry is unfortunately full of people that are just trying to facilitate their own ego, and trying to make up a job. I never say that we’re not signed to a major label because we kind of are – we’re distributed by a major label [Sony]. But for example, no one was allowed to know the address of the studio…
I was about to ask – this is such a massive follow-up, how much input did the label or distributor have with this?
Well the way to think about it is: Jamie [Oborne] is my manager, Jamie is my best friend, Jamie is the fifth member of the band. Jamie runs the record label [Dirty Hit] and he manages our band – so every creative decision is discussed between me and him, and every person in the band. The label is me and Jamie, we don’t have any creative compromise, that was part of the deal. Because all of these other labels said no to us, and then when we did it on our own label they wanted to sign us again. So to half of them we said ‘well half of you, no, fuck off’, and second of all we said ‘well actually no, you didn’t sign us but that’s okay, you’re fresh, you can come along for the ride but it’s our car, you’re in the back.’
Without sounding like a wanker, we broke a band in a way that nobody else was breaking a band. There was major label meetings about my marketing techniques. And this goes back to the point – it’s not a technique, it’s a love for what I do. It’s giving subtext. I grew up on a farm just playing video games, on a megadrive. There would be a time – like the sixtieth time you’ve played it – when you would find an easter egg in the game and go into another world. That used to blow my mind! So subtext, the Easter eggs, and the little things that mean something. It creates a desire to know more about it. If it’s honest and truly creative it’ll PR itself. You don’t need a 23 year old with a degree in it.
Getting back to the album, how did the writing for this one begin? Were you pursuing any lyrical themes?
If you’re a huge fan of our band then it is very very self-referential, it is very much a continuation of the last one, even though sonically leagues ahead of the first one. We wanted it to be a complete evolution and in order to do that we needed to discuss that evolution. The music is how we’ve arrived at a point, and the lyrics are telling you how we got there. Songs like “Change Of Heart”, there’s just so many jokes about the first record – the naïveté and the hope of the first record is kind of replaced by the resignation and the wisdom of now. Because I’m comfortable with it I can be funny with it. There are moments on the record where I’m heartbroken, where I’m just crying.
I wanted to execute everything that we’d ever been prided on perfectly, and makes of everything we’d ever been criticised of. So the overt poppiness, I wanted it to be poppier, the criticism of me having swallowed a dictionary, I wanted to do that more. The overuse of vocabulary, I wanted to do that again. It’s about embarrassment and self-awareness
So where was it recorded, and did you handle the production yourselves?
We produced it along side Mike, who produced our first record. When we make a record we kind of make two records. We make the record on a laptop in demos – and on this record to be honest if you don’t have a magical ear you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the demos and what came after, because it’s lifted straight from it – it’s very much a laptop record at times. We made the demos of it on the road over two years, than January to April 2015 we really really honed in on what we were going to put down on the record and we started writing more. Then we moved out to L.A. in June with probably about 12 or 13 songs, and then we finished with 17.
It’s quite an expansive album, was that something you were aiming for?
It’s not something I was aiming for but what I was aiming for was not giving myself any restrictions on things like time or tracklisting. Like ‘you can’t do this or this’ or ‘this has to be this length for a Japanese release’ and all that bullshit. When we feel like the album is there then the album will be there.
You seem to really pride yourself on creating a body of work, and that’s what this album feels like –
Yeah, and that’s why this stage for me is so difficult. I’ve made a record that, in its essence, is defined by the fact that every song sounds different. So how do you put across what your album is like in singles? The whole point of that album is to consumed as one piece and this is like some cultural magpie thing of taking it apart. I don’t know how I would react to it – these three big pop songs – I would be saying ‘oh is that what that record is going to be?’ And it is like that, as you know, but it’s also almost like three records.
Does that frustrate you that you’ve made a coherent record and it’s just going to be pulled apart?
Well it will do for now. But this is really a record for our fans, and that’s the only opinion I really care about. I had this on the last album, and once it was out…it really went. It’s a little thing that frustrates me, but then again you have to keep saying to yourself….I’m in control of so much with my life, and I can worry about all of that, don’t start worrying about stuff that you can’t control.
That’s another reality of the industry now, it’s not to consume whole albums, until it’s all out and then the fans can dive in.
Exactly. I grew up with records, I grew up with CD’s, I grew up with body’s of work. I grew up not having some magazine tell me that this is my new favourite band when they have two songs on Soundcloud, like why are they my new favourite band? I don’t know anything about them.
That’s why before we did our first album we put out 16 tracks, so it was like getting to know a person – the more you know somebody over a long period of time, the more you invest in the relationship, and the more rewarding it is for both parties.
Speaking of your fans, you have a notoriously devoted fanbase, has that led to any hairy situations?
Oh yeah, totally. I didn’t get – I never say famous – I didn’t get “popular” until I was about 24. My parents are famous back home, so I grew up with it and I understood it. So I got to about 24 and suddenly became popular. It’s different to when it happens when you’re 17. When you’re 17 you breathe it in and go “well maybe I am a fucking legend?!”
Instead I’m just 24, I’m from Manchester, I had always struggled to get people to listen to me anyway.
It’s a bit of a laugh?
Yeah and people say to me “oh you’re really humble”, but what it is is that I’m a little bit embarrassed. I do have a security guard – people ask me “oh is that your body guard”, and I say “no, it’s my mate Mark, I know he’s big, but he’s my mate”. I refused to have security for ages, but that’s me being naive – as much as I’m embarrassed about it – there will be at certain times 200 young girls that will go to a shopping centre or an airport, and they will do anything to get a photo with me. Now I don’t want security to keep them away from me, but I need security to make sure that they’re safe. We have a huge safety culture surrounding our band because kids do stupid shit. If a kid comes up to me in the street when I’m alone it’s fine – I’ll do pictures, I’ll talk to them -but it can get pretty hairy, and the hairiest place it gets is Australia.
Why do you think that is?
Because you’re so far away, and you’re deprived of it, and they know you’re there at one time and they’re not going to bump into you on the street.
The airport is a pretty small place too…
Exactly. They’re all such a community with the internet now, it’s like they’re ahead of you, they’re so ahead of you [laughs].
What are you proudest of, about the new record?
[Pauses] If we get loads of bad reviews, then I will care, of course I will – you’re a liar if you say you don’t. But I don’t think that pain will last every long, because I don’t really care – it’s taken me so much to get to a place, and I’m so proud of that record, that I don’t think I care. So I think that’s what I’m most proud of. The only way I can ever put something out is if I believe in it. I’ve changed so much since the first record, and my responsibilities – artistically) have changed. When you’re in your early 20’s and you make a record about adolescence, there’s a certain amount of frivolity that you can get away with, whereas now I have the responsibility as an adult that if I’m going to be here, if I’m going to be pantheonised and turned into this thing that I don’t feel I am, I need to give that emotion back.
So to get to that place I had to make a record that I really really believed in. I think I believe in it so much that I don’t care. There’s no fear. That’s what I do, that’s me. For the first two years I couldn’t go on google without looking at what people were saying. What was weird was what grown ups were saying about me, I felt really juvenile. I felt like I’d been put into this world of judgement and I didn’t realise that was going to happen. I was making records in my bedroom, and someone went “those are good, hey everybody listen to these records!” By the time we got big I’d stop trying, so when everyone started judging me I just went “hey fuck off, I just made that in my room!” If someone says something great about me, it fills me up, I can take the compliment like anybody. And if someone slags me off it fucking kills me. So for self-preservation, not for like, trying to be Sting or anything, I stopped reading about myself because it hurt a lot of the time.
Do you read reviews?
If someone tells me there’s a good review then I’ll read it, but I don’t go looking for it. I don’t need the ego burst, and I don’t need the deflation.
And you’re always going to pick at something –
You can get fifty good reviews, and one bad blog from fucking Birmingham Students Newsletter will absolutely destroy you and it will ruin you for ages. So I just don’t. I’m so lucky to have a creative existence. You get the good with the bad. I’ve had relationships with bands where for years I’ve gone ‘oh they’re shit oh I don’t like them’ and there’s been a moment where I’ve gone ‘oh I actually get it now, I really like them’. If being objectified and being judged a little bit on the internet is the downside to the amazing life that I have, then I’ll take that.
One last questions – the funk rhythms of the guitars, where did that all come from?
It’s funny because people ask me that question all the time because the song “Sex” exists and it holds such a big part of our identity. If you take that out, all of our music is inherently inspired by black music, even on our first record. It’s all funk pop based stuff. Where the guitars come from is partly from Scritti Politti, and a lot of Michael Jackson and Barry White. But the thing is the guiars in those records were buried in the syncopation. I play like three notes most of the time, and I put it in everything and it becomes part of our sound. For me it’s about feel, it’s about groove, ‘cos I grew up listening to soul music. ‘Love Me’ is interesting because its roots, like the cadences and everything, it’s just a funk song but we kind of make like a Bowie kind of art-funk abstraction in. It’s almost got a Talking Heads feeling to it.
There’s an amazing ascending and descending part of “Love Me” –
Yeah! Well that was basically because the guitar is on the down, so the melody [sings the melodic line], is all on the up. So it’s got a lot of momentum to it. So that guitar is pulling it back, that guitar is pushing it forward. And that’s how I spend most of my time, so much thought goes into our music. Actually you know what? When we’re talking about pride, I’m fucking proud that we made a record from the ground up. Every thing you hear, every sound, every capture, every lyric, every note was written by me and George [Daniel, drummer]. There’s no bands that are doing that, and I’m not afraid to say that. That makes me sound like I wanker but that’s what I – oh actually no I forgot about Tame Impala…so good. So that was kind of bullshit what I said but you kind of know what I mean? I mean…where’s fucking Bowie at?
I’m not talking about it much in interviews because there are people who are way more appropriate to talk about it but it’s just fucking sad. I’m a big Bowie fan – look at “Love Me”, I was so obviously playing with that cliché that he created. He was someone that I was watching interviews of day in day out, taking direct inspiration from. And you know what I thought? This is going to sound mental. I thought, ‘If David Bowie can die, I can die.’ You think people are immortal. He crawled out of Brixton totally original, totally unparalleled.