An Interview with The 1975: Soundtracking

Editor’s Note: This interview originally appeared in The Aquarian Weekly

In an era where boy bands are once again popping up like Starbucks shops in Manhattan, it’s easy not to bat an eye at yet another group of guys (English ones at that). But be implored to give a listen to The 1975, a mature and stylish quartet that is staking chart claim with instruments in tow. Phew.

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The 1975—lead singer Matty Healy, drummer George Daniel, guitarist Adam Hann, and bassist Ross MacDonald—deserve a non-condescending pat on the head. Seeing such a young act with a fresh and exciting sound that walks the fine tightrope between appealing to the masses and serving their unique repertoire is a musical moment to mark. Formed at Wilmslow High School near Manchester, UK as underclassmen, the foursome began playing music together in 2004.

Their sound calls on a cocktail fusion of synthpop, alternative, and electronic grooves. Though 1975 was the year the Sex Pistols formed and Talking Heads played their first gigs, the name has nothing to do with the date itself (or those preceding acts, for that matter). Lead singer Matty Healy found it written in the back of a beat-era book given to him by a “gregarious artist” he met at a yard sale in northern Majorca when he was 19. It was dated at the bottom “1st June, The 1975.” Intrigued by the use of the word “The,” the band’s moniker was born.

The band has released four EPs, and their self-titled debut album was released in September 2013 on Dirty Hit/Polydor. The album debuted at No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart.

Their songs highlight traditional themes rooted in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll cliché, but somehow do so in an unthreatening and understanding way. See the popular track “Girls” for an easy beat. Healy sings, “They’re just girls breaking hearts/Eyes bright, uptight, just girls/But she can’t be what you need if she’s 17/They’re just girls.”

The band’s lyrics are a time capsule of sorts, acting as a personal record of Healy & Co.’s own experiences, but these instances are classified as more general and succinct in song. The cautionary tale “M.O.N.E.Y.” chronicles an alternative perception: “Drink slow to feed the nose/You know he likes to get blown/Has he got enough money to spend?/Leave? No. He’s to and fro/He doesn’t like it when the girls go.”

Healy took a palpable pause to talk about the band’s rise to mainstream fame, the elements of their audience appeal, and his commitment to becoming a soundtrack to fans’ lives.

Congratulations on your first headlining tour! How has the fan response been on your first leg? Does it feel like a dream come true?
Matty Healy: It has been a sort of culmination of 10 years of being together. I suppose that it’s evolved so much because even since when we first went out on tour in 2012, it has been a learning process. We started off playing tiny venues and then all of the sudden a few years down the line, it almost feels like a completely different world because of the venues we’re going to play—they’re massive. We’ve not stopped touring since that initial leg so we haven’t really had much time to retrospect and analyze what’s happening or how the dynamics have changed. It is kind of a dream but when it becomes a reality it’s kind of stark, having to accept that this is it now—onward and upward.

You’ve gotten an early start, playing drums and guitar in your early teens. Has a career in music always been your professional pursuit?
I suppose I was provided with the environment to believe that being creative was a legitimate course of action; do you know what I mean? I had the infrastructure being from a Bohemian background—my parents were jobbing actors and they were very creative people. Music was the only thing I was passionate about. Not only was I interested in music on a superficial level, but also the way that it made me feel. I used to question that and wondered why it made me feel that way—why does that cord give me this sort of feeling? I was always very open to the idea of how music affects people. I suppose my life has been a flirtation with that concept of utilizing my ability to emotionally control the way that I feel and others feel through music. Once I finally got that out there and people started to understand it, it kind of took on a life of its own.

I think the main reason we’re successful as a band is because of the music, and there are so many young people who have found a bit more of an identity with our band because there is such a history there—10 years of growing up. It is kind of the story of my childhood. The whole record is attached to the fact that my whole life has been encapsulated by music.

How do you and the guys go about crafting your music?
MH: By now it’s very subjective and it works in a lot of different ways because we have spent so much time writing music together. There’s an indiscriminate audience for our band even though there’s the whole teenage girl thing. The reason for that is that young people (under 40) don’t consume music in the same way that they used to, even five years ago. There’s this kind of non-linear consumption of music. Our band is a representation of that generation. We create in the way that we consume, and having that attitude was the reason we didn’t get signed. People saw that as an inconsistency, whereas we saw it as divine continuity.

Our music always is going to be derivative of our ideas, but stylistically that became our identity. We’ve believed in that for so long. We put out a 39-track debut album so it doesn’t surprise me that people from all age groups understand our band. People were threatened by us, initially, particularly guys, because we had a stylistic, visual aesthetic and there were so many young women getting into the band. There was a boy band element, the way there was so much excitement surrounding us. If you understand where our band comes from it’s a very relatable place. We started to represent this part of our generation of music culture. It’s really nice to see.

Your songwriting has sustainability and clout—particularly more so than some charting pop today. How has your personal love of music influenced your writing?
MH: I’ve almost removed ego from it to a certain extent. When I talk about the “soundtracking” of one’s life—which I speak about a lot—I want our music to transcend the superficial elements that draw people. It’s not that I fear not having sustainability because I believe that’s my responsibility. If I keep putting out really good records, there will be sustainability. Especially for me, because success is really only being proud of yourself.

I grew up with music totally controlling my life. When I spoke before about being quite a philosophical youngster into music, it was the idea that music has the power to command how you feel because it’s intangible and doesn’t exist, and I find that interesting. I fell in love with music in the most pedestrian way. I want to be part of people’s lives because I’m more excited about one of our records playing when someone has a first kiss with someone they like, for example.

There was this couple that came to one of our early shows and said to me, “We met at a party and it was really awkward and we both looked at each other but we weren’t saying anything, and then one of us brought up your band and we ended up escaping off to a bedroom and listening to the record and talking about it—and now we’re getting married.” That’s what I’m talking about—that transcends superficial elements of what people expect and having it truly resonate with people in their lives. When I say I want to remove ego, that’s not for me. That’s for them. I know what it’s like to love records that much. Once you write a song it doesn’t really belong to you anymore, so I get really excited about the idea about the idea of it becoming something that exists to someone else.

To that end, who are some of the artists and bands you’ve been influenced by?
MH: I was a Michael Jackson kid, and I was fanatical about him as an idea. I learned so much about so much through his music. I was kind of an old school emo kid so I grew up with Braid, Mineral, Softball, and Rival Schools—I was big into that scene. My Bloody Valentine are probably my favorite band of all time just because I’ve never tried to copy what they do musically but I’ve always tried to channel what they do theoretically because their music is kind of like a pop song that’s drowning and always gasping for air. There’s a certain beauty to that. I always used to say, my idea of a perfect song would have the sound elements of Whitney Houston’s “I Want To Dance With Somebody.” It has narrative and conviction. I’m constantly in pursuit of that idea—the idea of a truly uplifting piece of music juxtaposed with a narrative that makes you feel slightly more introspective.

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