Love Is Here: The 1975 Interviewed

Peeling back the layers of 2016's most remarkable group...

The hotels of LA’s Sunset Strip become rock ‘n’ roll rehab centres during the second week of April, AKA Coachella purgatory. Music royalty come here between the festival’s consecutive weekends like little Formula 1 racecars pulling into their pit stop before another crucial lap of the touring circuit. One such racecar – The 1975 – is parked in the Sunset Marquis, which is hidden behind the Strip like the forgotten backroom of a club you never have to leave (unless you’re Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, sonic elder to The 1975, who was carried out of here in a stretcher after a bad speedball in 1996). Indeed, The 1975 have made it here all the way from the M56 in Macclesfield. Not “made it” in a One Direction kinda way, despite their likeness to a “boyband” (chart tunes, Number 1 albums, testicle-defying leather legwear, Snapchat accounts named after them, etc). More “made it” in a future U2/Mötley Crüe kinda way. The band’s ratio of excessive:excessively-poor behaviour over the next 24 months will determine which of those bands they’ll look likely to become. My money’s on U2.

Before we begin, here’s something nobody ever tells you: despite the calibre of A-listers at hotels such as the Marquis, it’s tantalisingly easy to wander beyond the front desk. Feign to either be, or be with, somebody. Sometimes you don’t even need to say anything, though Clash does, in search of unofficial fifth member of The 1975, their manager. “Jamie?” I enquire. A response comes from a man in reception: “Mr. Hince is by the pool.” That'll do. One can surmise The 1975 are somewhere near The Kills within the winding labyrinth of these courtyards. Venturing along past Skrillex, as you do, who glides by in a towelling robe, there sits a dainty figure with its back to Clash, perched in a lonely corner like Rodin’s The Thinker. The figure is translucent in sunlight, an afro of Sigourney Weaver-esque curls eclipsed in size ONLY by some white hotel slippers. “Matty?” I ask the ’fro. “Are you Matty?”

The ’fro turns around to reveal Matthew Healy, frontman of The 1975, who peers through half-closed eyes, ponderous, and eventually descending from his cloud. “Yes,” he concludes. Offering a hug, he asks for two secs to finish his “ciggy”. He joins Clash at a table in the restaurant – the ends of his black trousers look ridiculous, like they’ve been slashed at the shin by a pair of scissors. “Are they ridiculous?” he wonders, rhetorically. Healy is a ragamuffin of stick ‘n’ poke tattoos and chipped nail varnish. If he were a chorus member from Les Mis, the trousers would pass. Alas, he is not. Ordering a burger, he picks at it, nervous about tonight’s post-Coachella show at LA’s The Shrine.

Given the circumstances (Skrillex, abandoned burger, ridiculous trousers), you have to ask: is everything alright? “I’m OK,” he says, twirling a curl, his hair an object of equal parts lust and envy among female admirers. “I’m a bit scatterbrained. It’s jetlag, we’ve got eight shows in a row. I’ve got a poorly family member here, I’m a bit…” He looks up to the light. He loves the light. He’s just had a skylight installed in his first house in Hackney, a 27-year-old first-time buyer. “I’m alright. I’m always trying to catch up.”

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There’s a lot to catch up on. Previously on The 1975: Four boyish men from Macclesfield released a Number 1 self-titled debut in 2013, climbed aboard a gravy train, hurtled towards Transatlantic fame via incessant tours, an army of fans joined, and Healy became a voice for displaced millennial youths. It happened just as fast as that sentence. Healy adjusted, but only just.

“Am I a wanker if I think people look to me for an opinion on politics?” he asks a French fry. “The 1975 has 1.1m followers [on Twitter]. I’ve got 600,000 followers, and I’m a pop star,” he says properly – pop, not pap like *Nsync. “I’m not a politician, I’m not a world leader, but I’ve got more followers combined than every politician in the fucking world.” This is a slight exaggeration, but allow Healy his hyperbole because he’s the kind of popstar you want to have opinions. He’s engaged, compelling and has a great grasp of the English language, except for when he asks, “D’you know what I mean?” like Liam Gallagher stood legs akimbo on a helipad, making literally zero sense. Healy does not abbreviate his speech; he makes it longer (see lyrics to ‘The Sound’: “It’s a simple Epicurian philosophy”). Please Matthew, exert some influence upon the youth. “It’s difficult,” he says, rejecting the plea. “The fear of becoming Sting is massive.”

“You see, I’d created this character for myself,” he continues. “This self-deprecating Pied Piper of a young guy. Then I became that.” He pulls a cartoonish sad clown face. Healy fought against the rhetoric of ‘woe is me, poor rockstar’ but admits to feelings of empty fame, of screaming “when will I be happy?” at the light. “Still, I have perspective. I mean, look where we are!” We look. We see Skrillex again. We continue talking. Healy throws out Shawn Ryder quotes; he is a most affable rapscallion. “I know that I'm not the real victim,” he stops. “Wait, you asked quite a specific question, didn’t you? Ask it again.”

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I’d created this character for myself…

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The subject is what’s called a dream interviewee. He will try to stay in his lane and not become Sting. “If I wanna talk about religion, or depression, or drugs, then I do it on the record.” But eventually he will fold and do it on the non-album version of ‘the record’ anyway. In conversation, Healy is a James Joyce novel.

On past drug abuse: “I never sensationalise, romanticise, glamourise or fetishise drug use,” he says, using four words that mean the same thing. “I’m not a junkie and I’m not an ambassador for bad behaviour and I hate the idea of people thinking that I think I’m controversial.”

On stating that dating former not-really-girlfriend Taylor Swift would be “emasculating” then being accused of misogyny: “If you have the right to call me a misogynist I have the right to say, ‘Fuck off and do your research.’ If you’re gonna pick fights, pick fights with the right people.”

On the biggest rapper on earth: “Kanye is a broken clock that’s right twice. You have to get through the bullshit before he says something amazing. The guy is a cultural visionary but his emotional self hasn’t caught up to his relationship with women. Wait, did I just slag Kanye off in an interview?”

Yes he did, but he’s 100% correct. Kanye needs to stop using the word “bitch”.

Healy’s thinking-out-loud addiction is his greatest asset, but also his undoing. Up until now, his critics really didn’t get The 1975. So when Healy flits from convincingly explaining how he’s never struggled to be charismatic (“I know how to talk to people”), to digging himself a grave six-feet underground (“If Brian Jonestown Massacre had existed in the ’60s they would have just been another ’60s band whereas I genuinely do believe that if The 1975 had existed in the ’80s we would have been one of The Great ’80s Bands”), he’s aware of the implications. “Oh, please write that to make me not sound like a massive cunt,” he says, burying his ’fro.

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The struggle between narcissism and frailty means that Healy is always on the outside looking in, but now things are coming up roses from that position via The 1975’s second album, titled ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’. Healy himself can’t be bothered saying the title aloud. Having personally checked the accuracy of it three times in print, Clash will henceforth refer to it as Album Two. Album Two is a true reflection of Healy: a glamorous, extravagant refugee of a pop album at 17 tracks in length and just eight minutes shy of a viewing of This Is Spinal Tap. In theory, it’s the opposite of a Number 1 record. And yet it is Number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

To promote its release, The 1975 appeared on Saturday Night Live, performing lead singles ‘Love Me’ and ‘The Sound’. Healy writhed shirtless against objects inanimate and alive onstage, then repeatedly stuck his tongue out, and gurned. It was grotesque. “It was! It was post-ironic!” says Healy, turning this into a compliment. It threw up headlines such as ‘The 1975: Most Hated And Loved Band In The World’. “I love that stuff. My fear is provoking ambivalence.” Unlike, say, Radiohead, Healy’s not trolling his own fans, just “people in Arkansas and Nebraska who have no context for who I am.”

“To be a rockstar now, you have to be a self-aware wanker,” he says, before discovering one of his many tangents. This one’s about Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, how it changed the world, and how social media would have ruined it with just one tweet. “He’s not walking backwards!” for instance. The tangent doesn’t have any point until Healy strikes gold. The lack of demystification in modern celebrity has meant that rockstars need to beat their adversaries to the punch line now. “We aren’t allowed to be impressed by superstars any more,” he says. “So when you are one,” he points two thumbs at his chest then makes reference to his own song, “love me.”

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Where did this sense of anxious bravado come from? You have to go back to the start. When The 1975 return to being 13 again, they return to being what any gang of boys are like at 13: fucking invincible. Album Two’s extroverted ambition actually began from a place of introversion when the band retreated to LA’s San Fernando Valley last summer. If you’ve never been, the Valley is too hot for anything to happen. It’s too hot for tumbleweed. So The 1975 forgot they were famous and turned to each other once more, the same group of lads who didn’t come up through reality TV or YouTube like 1D or Bieber, but who daydreamed out of the same classroom windows in the same school.

They formed in the early-2000s after guitarist Adam Hann’s then-girlfriend approached Healy during break time and said, ‘My boyfriend wants to start a band with you.’ “We were the band in school, but we wanted to be the band who were in the year above called The Connection Theory – so emo,” he laughs, and breaks for another ciggy. Starting as they meant to go on – contrary, very stoned, obsessed with making music together – Adam and Matt joined forces with rhythmic mischief-makers George Daniel (drums) and Ross MacDonald (bass) to build grand flights of fancy from suburban middle class bedrooms because they weren’t old enough to go out in Manchester. Their first performance for 200 people was as part of the council-run MYD (Macclesfield Youth Bands). “It was a big community hall with a shit PA, and everybody started bands to play it. It was punk.” Healy’s favourite bands are still from that scene. One of them is called Airship.

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We’re just a group of friends getting away with murder…

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Since then, they’ve nurtured their own subculture, basing all decisions around an almighty navel-gazing question: “What would The 1975 do?” Their MO – “to create music as it is consumed” – means they have no regard for genre tribalism or consistency. They approach songwriting like you’d approach an iTunes library on shuffle mode, i.e. let’s just see what happens. Poking their beaks into past influences (John Hughes movies, unknown emo bands), they pierced through to their own sound. “I can’t stick to one genre because I can’t fucking concentrate. I wanna be in Boards Of Canada on Tuesday and INXS on Thursday,” says Healy, aware that’s a great soundbite. But every record label didn’t buy that soundbite. “I told them: ‘We're representative of a generation that consumes music at a million miles an hour. Fucking trust me!’”

They didn’t trust him. Now it doesn’t matter because The 1975 formed Dirty Hit, a label of their own, putting their money where their potty mouths were, hiring all their friends, including “Dan from maths” (Healy’s assistant). They released two EPs, then an album appeasing experimental flourishes with undeniable hits like ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Robbers’, the latter sounding like U2’s ‘With Or Without You’ via Fall Out Boy. The labels ate their hats. “Then we were able to say, ‘Right you’re coming for the ride but it’s our car.’ No creative compromise,” says Healy. Dirty Hit is an indie, under the umbrella of Universal. “We’re just a group of friends getting away with murder,” says Healy. “That’s what all the great rock bands were: a gang of people you believe in.”

Album Two builds on that pre-established world, fuelled by their own myth-making and a quote by Thom Yorke that Healy became obsessed with: “Every great record has to be a distillation of everything that precedes it”. It’s filled with subtext and “little Easter Eggs” (did he borrow that from his own Pitchfork review?). “We want people to fall in love with our band like you fall in love with a person. Over and over and over and,” he says Ad infinitum. It’s a seductive sell. The critics have done some hat eating of their own. Healy laughs. “It’s like when you get rich and people start chucking free tellys at you. I needed this telly a year ago!”

“What do you want from pop?” he asks. “Huge sentiment. The ability to lose yourself. If you believe the person delivering that, it’s pure.” Like ‘1989’ or Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘E.MO.TION’, Album Two is an ode to the ’80s, but Healy insists that his ’80s revival is the place where he “naturally arrives”. He talks about ’80s’ ideals and unabashed sonic excess, rather than specific 808s or The Terminator. “Who didn’t like ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ or ‘So’ by Peter Gabriel? We had permission to love,” he says. Healy might not have a song titled ‘New Romantics’ but if London’s Blitz Club was active now, it would be The 1975 who’d brush shoulder-pads with Boy George and Spandau Ballet. He grabs his heart. He’d let me hold it if he could. “That's where my love for life lives: inside a big pop song.”

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We had permission to love…

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There are many big pop songs inside The Shrine this evening. You’d hope the world is big enough for all of Healy’s hifalutin lunchtime philosophies, but this 6,000-capacity room, which looks like a corridor, isn’t big enough for the way The 1975 play it. It’s not big enough to house all the production which is stacked throughout this room and the venue behind it, just crate upon crate marked ‘THE 1975’. One crew member notes, “The idea is that we evolve once we get to far bigger venues.” It’s a stadium mentality befitting of peak Duran Duran or Depeche Mode, which is really the only way to tour Album Two. The wide palette of genres comes alive via a towering light show that Healy conceived of, probably while staring at his Hackney skylight.

Experiencing it from the sound desk, stood atop two flight cases, feels like watching a Pyramid Stage headline slot from the Heavens. It demonstrates the sheer versatility of the band’s playing (bolstered by saxophonist John Waugh), while maintaining a solid sense of where they came from. At certain points Healy is lit from behind, resembling a silhouette of Robert Smith, or Prince. That’s the moment in the set when he’s alone in his thoughts. He can see the audience, but they are watching a faceless ’fro. “That’s when I see myself in them,” says Healy backstage.

Upstairs, Ross, Adam and George towel down, chucking beers in the air, while Healy chaperones his family who are out in full force, including his mother, TV personality Denise Welch. She apologises while lobbing a sweaty hug at Clash. “I haven’t been this soaked since riding the log flume at Alton Towers,” she says. There’ll be an after-party, of course, but Healy – repeating something he said earlier and ever the martyr – scoffs, “Everyone knows! I never go to my own afterparty.” Two hours later, he’s at his own afterparty. He stands against a wall, observing. The portrait of the artist as a young man.

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Words: Eve Barlow
Photography: Luc Coiffait
Fashion: Sean Knight
Grooming: Marlaine Reiner

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