When I met Hurts at their central London record company HQ, they were still groggy having gone on an almighty bender in the wake of winning Best New Band at the NME Awards. As they blearily recounted their past few days of excess – a “burlesque freak show” in Soho was involved - it occurred to me that the Manchester duo might be having more fun than any other band on the planet right now.
You can’t blame them for celebrating. Initially dismissed as novelty 80s throwbacks, and subsequently regarded either as plucky underdogs or a kind of grand major label folly, Hurts are now proper mainstream stars, with a colossal pan-European following. Their debut album ‘Happiness’ has sold over 500,000 copies, and gone top 10 in fifteen countries.
In Germany, where 'Stay' is currently number one on the airplay chart, the duo literally get chased down the street by caterwauling female fans. In Iceland, the most requested haircut for men is "a Hurts". Indeed, in Reykjavik, Hurts have been booked to play a 5000-seat ice-hockey arena. This in a nation of 300,000 people. One in 60 people in the country will be at that gig. All this just a year since they performed their first ever gig.
Meanwhile, singer Theo Hutchcraft has been linked in the tabloids with a former Miss Germany (“She’s just a beautiful friend,” he demurs). It all adds up to the impression of a band living out a long-held dream of pop stardom, with all the sense of unreality and surreal-ness that that brings. Certainly, they seem to not quite believe it’s really happening.
It’s weird, because a lot of people in the UK probably don’t realise that you’re a properly big band now
Theo: “It's insane. Bizarre. It's exceeded our expectations tenfold. It's so funny talking about it, because it's literally unbelievable. You don't get a chance to think about it. It's hard to explain, so we often have to bring people with us, just to go: Look at this. Look what's happening."
How did you find the NME Awards?
Theo: “It was honestly one of the best nights of my life. All I learnt about music was from the people in the audience - Jarvis Cocker, Carl Barat, Dave Grohl. You're sat there and you think: What would the sixteen-year-old me do? He'd probably give me five and go, 'What the fuck's happened here?'"
Adam Anderson (keyboards): “I had this surreal moment after the NME Awards at The Ivy, chatting to Matt Bellamy for a couple of hours. I had this overwhelming sense of perspective about what's happening in my life.”
Any other standout experiences?
Theo: “So many. We played table tennis with Nas in Japan! We met Jay-Z too - I was so intimidated. I ended up showing him magic tricks. I was like. ‘I don't really know what this is, I don't know what's happening. I'm from north Yorkshire’.”
Adam: “It was after Summer Sonic in Japan. I ended up in this R&B club with all these beautiful girls running around everywhere. Nine bouncers in a crescent round me and Jay-Z stood at the bar. I couldn't think of what to say, so I started telling him about the fucking dole.”
Theo: “You end up in these bizarre situations…”
Adam: “Every night when we're in Europe you come away with a story that you tell your mates about. Like getting taken to a strip club by gangsters in Poland. Frightening. It's a complete whirlwind of things. We're lucky we've got each other because we can look at each other and go, 'Fuck: what?'
Adam: “Like meeting Boris Becker. At the BAMBIs - which is like the German BAFTAs. We won an award for best new band or something. Sarah Jessica Parker gave us the award and we met Boris Becker afterwards. Here, look…[takes out a picture of him clinking glasses with the tennis legend]”
And yet the album’s only been out, what, less than a year?
Theo: “It's definitely changed a lot from the beginning.”
Adam: “When we signed the deal, we were still on the dole. I was very accustomed to my life being shit.”
Theo: “We were fucking miserable people. It's funny to think about. For so long we sat being bludgeoned in our flat, thinking, 'Please let's get out of here'. Your ambition gets bigger the more hardship there is. We almost gave up. It got to the point where we started talking about what we were going to do with our lives."
I guess the question is: why have all these European countries gone nuts for you? It’s kind of unusual…
Adam: “We try and rationalise why different countries have got into us, but you can't put your finger on it sometimes, it's just one of those things. We sold out a 4000 seat arena in Estonia recently. We got a well wish from the first lady of Estonia, which is insane. We'd never been before.”
Theo: “In terms of why certain places like us… in Germany they seem to like bands with a certain sadness in them. Germany’s brilliant, it’s like a home from home. The whole thing’s mad though. We've been asked to perform on Polish Dancing On Ice. We got asked to do Ukrainian X Factor on Christmas Day. We always laugh at it. When we were in Estonia, a policeman stopped us in the street for an autograph. It's like, What? Ukrainian X Factor - I'd love to have made something like that up.”
You’re gaining a reputation as a band with some properly obsessive fans…
Theo: “It's a testament to the strength of our vision - people want to share in our idea of who we want to be. I know that Muse have fans like that - people who are so desperate in their devotion. It's a good thing.
“Because we got dismissed quite early, we've got fans who feel like we're in it together - they want to tell other people about it. For years we were in bands and no-one wanted to see us play. We had to try and make them want to watch us. All of a sudden you've got people who get it. All you want is for people to get it.”
Does that ever tip over into scary mental devotion though?
Adam: “One thing we've discovered is that when you make sad music you evoke extreme reactions in people. On the one hand you can soundtrack someone's happiness, on the other you can soundtrack their despair and misery.”
Theo: “I had a girl outside my house. She sat outside my flat for a whole day, banging on my door, throwing stuff at my window. I'd met her in Brick Lane, signed an autograph, and she followed me home. I had to call the cops. They moved her on. And I had to move out of my flat…”
Any on-the-road ‘exploits’ to report?
Theo: “You mean drinking? Because we’re a pop band a lot of people think we drink tea, read Kafka and eat scones. But you can't help it. We spend most of our time in a complete daze.”
Adam: “Each day has a similar flow: wake up on the tour bus at midday, feel like total shit from the night before. You kind of drift through the day, do a soundcheck. Get a little bit pissed, do a gig, come offstage, feel elation or despair, carry on drinking, find a party, stay up til 4 o clock…”
“How could you not? It's so incredibly fun. We didn't go out when we were making our record because we didn't have any money. Now it’s women all around the world, and booze all around the world.”
No bust-ups then?
Adam: “Since we met each other I can honestly say we've had one argument. That's because we have insanely compatible personalities. We're the same but we're different. “
Theo: “The more insane things you have to share, the more burden you have to share. It holds us together. When all these mental things happen, it's well good to be able to look at each other and go, ‘Fuck me, this is incredible’. If you were on your own you would probably lose your mind.”
Adam: “We get to do our dream job for a living. How could your life get any better?”