This cover feature is taken from issue 88 of Clash magazine (details). We’re sorry to say the issue has sold out online, but can still be found at all newsagents worth your custom and numerous branches of WHSmith.
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What The 1975 have achieved in the last 12 months most musicians don’t manage in a lifetime. Four acclaimed EPs, a top-20 single, supports with The Rolling Stones and Muse, and an American tour… It makes you wonder what the synth-pop four-piece dream about, because it all seems to be happening for them in reality.
As Clash calls the band’s frontman, Matthew Healy, to find out, he’s 5,864.49 miles away from the band’s Manchester home, playing shows to crazed fans in Tokyo, Japan.
“When we got here there were girls waiting for us at the airport with chocolates they’d made with our faces on,” he says minutes after picking up (and you can almost hear the beaming smile on his face down the crackly phone line). “To come to the other side of the world, to a place you’ve never been anywhere near, and have people know your songs is really humbling. It’s crazy how an idea can start in a room and spread across the world.”
Some people have all the luck, you might think bitterly, but The 1975’s success is the result of a decade’s hard work. Healy met fellow members George Daniel (drums), Ross MacDonald (bass) and Adam Hann (guitar) in his early teens at high school, and they’ve been playing together ever since, honing their skills under different names in Manchester before becoming the inventive stadium-bound act they are today.
“It’s been my entire life,” says Healy. “I’ve never done anything else, and that’s partially to do with the creative environment I was brought up in.”
Healy was born in London, grew up in Newcastle, and moved to Manchester aged 10. He’s the son of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet actor Tim Healy and actress Denise Welch, so the idea of achieving success in the entertainment industry wasn’t far-fetched.
His dad would bring home fellow actors and rock stars regularly, and the first guitar his son ever played was the steel one used on Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo And Juliet’, but Tim was a “rags to riches guy”, so working-class values were intrinsic to his son’s upbringing, too. “My extended family ranges from people like Christopher Biggins to the welders my dad’s known for 20 years,” he laughs.
When not playing Dire Straits’ guitars, Healy was watching videos of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Otis Redding on repeat, subconsciously soaking up influences that would shape his own music in years to come. He vividly remembers being six years old and first appreciating he was a creative person.
“I was watching a live video of Michael Jackson, and my dad’s mates were sat behind me while I was knelt up against the TV. I remember them expressing the opinion of, ‘God. He’s like an alien isn’t he? He’s so unrelatable.’ And I remember thinking, ‘I’m a lot more like him than you. I totally get what he’s doing.’”
That dichotomy of working-class ‘hard graft’ and a ‘sky is the limit’ belief is probably the perfect recipe to nurture the frontman of a global outfit, but having parents in the media has made it harder for Healy to be taken seriously as an individual, too.
“I think it’s funny when people try and assume that they have any idea what I’m about based on who my parents are. Can you imagine if you put me in a room with your mum for an hour? For me to make assumptions about you based on what your mum is like would be stupid.”
We mention odious online comments that have even insinuated he’s only in this position because of parental connections and how frustrating that must be.
“Whoever writes things like that is a f*cking idiot. If you listen to our music and think that’s the only reason I’m successful then you’re an idiot. Do you f*cking think that it’s easy to be in an alternative rock band when your parents are celebrities, embedded in the mainstream media? It’s f*cking five times harder.
“To be honest, this is the first interview where I’ve actually allowed someone to ask me a proper question about it. I was interviewed by a guy from The Sun and I said, ‘What does your mum do?’ and he said she was a florist. I said, ‘Do you work in a fucking florist, then?!’”
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The 1975, ‘Chocolate’
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His venom is understandable given that The 1975 aren’t exactly finding it difficult to stand up on their own merit. Just one listen to the coruscating guitar riffs at the heart of recent hit ‘Chocolate’ are testament to that, and as far as the self-titled debut album (Clash review) is concerned there’s plenty more where that came from.
The band’s debut is a record aiming to parallel 1980s icons such as Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Talking Heads, without sounding the least bit nostalgic or pastiche. This isn’t some hipster art school band trying to look disaffectedly cool while hiding a dearth of material, and there’s no style over substance here (even though the four gents have “all these girls going on about us,” and have become pin-ups for the fans).
It’s the sound of friends who’ve imbibed each other’s influences to become a tight unit with a proclivity for crafting great pop songs. Even at the mere age of 23, each member is a veteran with years of experience. Together, they believe they’ve made “one of the best albums of the past 20 years,” but what have they been doing all this time?
One of the band’s first tastes of the rock star lifestyle strangely came from playing at an old people’s centre near Macclesfield, where they “used to play bingo and there was a little stage”. A councillor started putting on gigs for the youths there – the classic, ‘there’s nothing for the kids to do round here’ argument – and the bingo hall became the centre of an unlikely scene.
“It was the closest anyone in our generation came to feeling something like punk,” Healy remembers fondly. “At the age of 14 it was our version of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. The first gig we ever played was there, to a room of about 250 kids who were all going absolutely mental, and once we came offstage we decided, right, that is it – that’s what we want to do with the rest of our lives.”
With that conviction cemented, the guys were content for a good while simply playing together for fun, like anyone else their age. “When you’re 18 to 21, and you’re in a stoner band living in and out of mates’ houses, you’re not really thinking, ‘Oh, I need to do something with my life’,” says Healy. “It was enough to be creating music that I loved to impress myself and my mates while living a life of shitty jobs.”
He worked in call centres and coffee outlets, content to spend the evenings writing music. “In a non-arrogant way I’ve always been waiting for the rest of the world to catch up,” Healy says of his mentality at the time. “I always thought if we go for it and we’re not 100% sure what we’re gonna do then it might not work, so we waited.”
Under different monikers – Talkhouse, The Slowdown, Bigsleep, Drive Like I Do – the band played around Greater Manchester, waiting for both the right moment and for a fanbase to really grow. After making a video for the track ‘Robbers’, they got a call from their now manager Jamie Oborne, who came to a rehearsal and declared: “You guys are gonna be fucking huge!”
Healy found the prospect laughable at the time. But once Jamie was on board, things started getting serious. He’d previously had success with One Night Only, and gave the guys some much-needed focus. Oborne kept the band secret for four years as they hermetically hid away to focus on writing, only occasionally touring behind the scenes.
“When we put out our first video for ‘Ghosts’, which is when we were called Bigsleep, we got label interest,” Healy recalls. “Then every week someone was coming to our rehearsal room – Sony BMG, this publishing, whatever records – and it started out as a really exciting time. But it quickly became soul destroying because we kept getting told that we didn’t know what we wanted to be. It was really frustrating because we were asking, ‘Why do you have to know that? Can’t we be a band that’s defined by constant evolution?’”
Healy pauses to put on his record label executive voice (a few tones deeper): “‘You haven’t got the songs mate,’ they kept saying.” With money in music dwindling he found majors to have lost their way when it came to developing talent. “They wanted a fully-formed band to come along and smack them in the face with massive singles. They weren’t willing to invest in a band that had the potential to be big, and now they’re f*cking kicking themselves.”
In the end they signed to Dirty Hit, a label set up by their manager, and born out of his frustration with major labels turning down his acts. “It took ‘Chocolate’ being in the top 20 in order for us to get offers from majors in the end,” the frontman continues. “We didn’t sign a major label deal, though. It’s a marketing deal we’ve got with Polydor. They tried to get us to sign a proper record deal and I said, ‘No f*cking way am I signing to a major label, because you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing.’”
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The 1975, ‘Sex’ (album version)
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The 1975 signed with Polydor because the label wasn’t one of those who rejected the group in the nascent stages of their career. And, when they did approach, Healy dealt with them on his own terms. “Our attitude was, ‘Right, we’ll give you a lift, but it’s our f*cking car… You can get in the back.’ That kind of attitude.”
Sticking to their guns has proven the right decision – they weren’t firing blanks. Now, fans everywhere are investing their faith in what The 1975 are creating. As far as Healy’s concerned the whole process has been a “blessing in disguise” that’s enabled the band to stockpile songs without the pressure many hyped bands have to suffer. There was no expectation when their material was written. They were just four kids idling around Manchester playing for each other.
“When people got into our band we had the attitude of, ‘Well, if you like that, we can f*cking do that. It’s what we do!’ Everything’s very true to our vision. It’s an extension of ourselves, so when people support that it instils a lot of confidence in you.”
Nothing brought more confidence than when ‘Chocolate’ hit the top 20. “That’s when things first got really big,” Healy says, “and it was weird because you imagine everything coming together like that, but you’ve no idea it’s actually going to happen.”
Unfortunately childhood dreams of driving around and listening to the radio stations blasting out the song every 10 seconds weren’t exactly what it was like in reality: “We went on tour with Two Door Cinema Club straight away, and then went to America, so I only heard it about twice. It was crazy when we got back to the UK though, because that song goes back a long way. I sit there and think: ‘Wow, those words came out of my head.’”
Any what about the words? Lyrically Healy feels the album is an exploration of “love, sex, fear, drugs, and intoxication as a result of all four of those things”: an honest depiction of youthfulness. Song titles include ‘Sex’, ‘Girls’ and ‘M.O.N.E.Y.’, as if you needed any more clarification on the thematic issues at play, but everything comes back to one word: honesty. That’s what lends originality to the discussion of perpetual motifs.
Having written without an audience in mind, Healy’s heart is very much on his sleeve, which is one of the central reasons he hopes the record will connect.
“Say in ‘M.O.N.E.Y.’, for example, people find honesty a really endearing characteristic,” he explains. “It gives you a sense of security and makes you relatable. As long as I’m honest I find I can talk about things that paint me in a bad light because it’s sincere. It’s a song about the fact I find it difficult to have platonic relationships with women and the way I’m constantly in search of the next high. Those aren’t good qualities in anyone but because it’s dressed up in major pop music with a real sense of openness people relate to it and give me the benefit of the doubt.”
Like Healy’s already said: the band is an extension of himself. And as our interview closes, we couldn’t agree more. Like the music, he’s honest, sincere, erudite, and endearing. Those crazed Japanese fans won’t be the last as The 1975 charm crowds around the world.
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Interview: Simon Butcher
Portrait Photography: Alex Sainsbury
Portrait Fashion: Matthew Josephs
Check issue 88 of Clash magazine for fashion credits
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Stream ‘The 1975’ in full via Deezer, below…