The Big Read – The 1975: Notes on an exceptional year

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOUR NME ALBUM OF THE YEAR WINNERS: THE 1975. WORDS BY DAN STUBBS, PICTURES BY MARA PALENA. 


 

The four members of The 1975 – Matty Healy, George Daniel, Adam Hann and Ross MacDonald – are sat around a table in an East London studio working a production line, signing CD inserts for their new album, ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’, a record about online relationships that is, apparently, being bought in some quantities on CD. A courier has just dropped off their award for reaching Number One on the official UK albums chart, and NME is here to tell them they’ve been named the makers of our Album Of The Year – their second time receiving the honour – following our five star review and enough gushing praise to embarrass a low-level deity. As the rest of the band break off for a photoshoot (and to avoid RSI), frontman Matty Healy sat down with us to pick over a furious few weeks around the November 30 release, and to talk about the future. And talk he did: this was manic Matty: synapses firing, hands fidgeting, 12,000 words in one hour. Here’s what we talked about.

‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ has had comparisons to Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ (not least from us). Does that freak you out?

Matty Healy: “I think that I’ve stated my love for Radiohead for years and years and years and I don’t think that you would get the 1975 without Radiohead, so I think that it’s irrelevant what I think.”

Are you worried about the effect on your ego?

“I’m worried what it’s going to do to the attention span of people being nice…”

Ah, a backlash, you mean?

“I know that people will be more willing for my next record not to be a… I don’t know what people are calling it [he does air quotes] – a ‘modern classic’. There’s always an eagerness for people to fail and that’s exaggerated the bigger that you get.”

Would you have been pissed off if it hadn’t been named NME’s Album Of The Year?

“Give me two seconds I’m going to try and think of one’s better.”

[About a minute passes]

“Oh! To answer your question would we have been pissed off, no not at all, not at all. My ego was a lot more wrapped up in my previous record than it is this. I don’t think I was guilty of Serious Artist Syndrome because I’m always having a laugh, but [2016’s ‘I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It] was about ego and the superficial.”

“I just would have been disappointed if people had said this record was disingenuous, or if people had said that it was attempting to be kind of, ‘WATCH OUT, SHEEPLE!’ You know, like if people thought it was me trying to do a 1975 episode of Black Mirror.”

The 1975 | NME Album of the year 2018

 

Ever wondered what it’s like being in Matty Healy’s head? Watch the band’s recent videos, because most are inspired directly by his dreams. Take, for example, the opening scene of ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ – Matty lives it nightly in his sleep.

“I wake up lucidly – I think that I’m awake – and I go to the mirror and I scream and it’s a woman’s scream,” he says. “And then I wake up.”

“I keep telling people about my nightmares but people don’t really listen to me that much,” he says. “Nightmares and migraines are the two defining problems in my life. I have four migraines a week that will put me out. I feel it coming at about 10 in the morning and by five in the evening it’s impossible for me to do anything apart from lie in a dark room.”

“I spend so much of my life being scared, wanting to go to sleep so much, physically, because of the bliss of it, but being so terrified of it because of the nightmares.”

“Drugs make you go to sleep then keep you asleep, so you don’t have the nightmares, but then you’re a drug addict. Then you can get soft drugs like weed and that will make you sleep a bit better but then you smoke that for ages and you get addicted to it. Then you have to stop smoking it, and coming off THC, getting THC out of your body, takes a long time. And when you stop smoking weed one of the traits is to have quite exaggerated nightmares.”

In typical Matty fashion, he realises he’s sounding a bit moany, and so brushes the whole thing off.

“You know, everyone’s got their physical cross to bear you know what I mean. Some people have irritable bowel syndrome.”

I notice he’s gesticulating towards me.

Healy recently said Arctic Monkeys were the band of the last decade, and The 1975 are the band of the 20-teens. Cue: angry Facebookers.

“I did say it, but I only did it because if I think about it, I’m not going to call Bon Iver a band and Kanye is a solo artist and Arctic Monkeys were so definitive of the 2000s. I’m not trying to take anything away from their impact on this generation but I’m trying to exemplify how much the one before was theirs.”

“There’s loads of bands that I fucking love and I think I fucking amazing. Tame Impala…”

He pauses.

“Well there’s not loads. Idles. Put that in: Idles. I think they’re fucking amazing. But outside of ‘I think Matty Healy is a dickhead’ – and I think that’s a fair opinion to have – but outside of that thought, who is the band of the decade? Who is there?”

There was a mini-beef with Idles back in August, when Matty said, in an interview, “There are no big bands who are doing anything as interesting as us right now”. Idles responded saying they were “wondering if that dude actually has ears and listens to what they do”. Both Idles and The 1975 have made the Top Five in NME’s Albums Of The Year.

“I don’t want to try to do some truce between us because we are not battling with each other, but I know that some misrepresentation of where I come from has been presented to them, whether that’s in my control or not. The interesting things for me in, let’s say ‘guitar music’, it’s pretty much women now. Look at who’s signed to my label [Dirty Hit, home to Wolf Alice, Japanese House].”

“People get confused, they can’t understand why a lad their age wouldn’t be wanting to be in The Courteeners or be in a punk band more than my band. It’s because it’s done, lads, it’s done. We’ve done it. It was great but we’ve done it. It’s like, white men shouting has been done so many times and the interesting perspective in punk is where women are. But that’s why there are interesting bands like Idles who deal with stuff like fragility and toxic masculinity. If there’s meaning, it’ll resonate.”

Madonna gave us the conical bra. Michael Jackson the single, bejewelled glove. This year, Matty Healy gave us the rabbit hat, the kawaii cutester floppy-eared beanie he wore first on November’s NME cover shot, then in the ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ video. You can now buy replicas in the band’s store.

According to Matty, the hat was actually something of a security blanket.

I lost my confidence so brutally around January, February this year and it took me quite a while to get it back,” he says.

“You’re facing this apprenticeship into mature-hood, and there’s a reluctance to go through that apprenticeship, kind of ‘rabbit in the headlights’ thing. There’s a naivety and a fantasy and a removal and a kind of childlike thing [about the hat].”

Matty sourced the original from the prop store at the National Theatre in London. The replicas are made of knitted wool. He goes and gets one and pulls it on.

“I think it’s pretty dope.”

In the run-up to ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’, Matty opened up in interviews about his addiction to heroin, and the stint in rehab in the Bahamas that helped him go straight. It’s been a difficult revelation to square for many of his young fans, who now see other behaviours – such as his smoking or drinking – as causes for concern.

What I think is weird is almost being painted as this beacon of sobriety or reformation. I’m not – I’ve just stopped doing smack,” says Healy. “I’m exactly the same person I just don’t do smack. I do smoke too much weed and I’m addicted to smoking weed so I’m still technically a drug addict. I never said I wasn’t going to have a glass of wine or sig I don’t want to disappoint people by only sticking to not doing heroin.”

Do you find attention from motherly fans difficult?

“No, but I had a glass of wine on stage the other night and I could see a couple of the kids being like, ‘WHAT?!’ I’ll talk about addiction very openly but then they have a symbol of addiction to look at and they think, ‘NO’, whereas I talk just as openly and explicitly about mental health, and I’ll cry on stage, but there wont – –“

He trails off.  

“Sorry, no. That just doesn’t make any sense [to me].”

You recently explained to fans that the song ‘Medicine’ [a standalone single for 2014’s re-release of the film Drive] is about heroin, partly to stop them getting tattoos related to it without knowing. Why did you feel that was necessary?

“It came on my shuffle, and it’s my favourite 1975 song musically, the one I’ve listened to the most, it’s got the ambient pop thing and it reminds me of Lost in Translation and stuff like that. But it came on and I just realised it’s so ‘There She Goes’, not in quality but in the message: you know, ‘Opiate this hazy head of mine’.”

So why say now?

“I was really emotional, I was in my house, I had a bit of a cry and I thought about wanting to score. When I do that, I put it into something else. That’s how I deal with it. So I thought I need to explain myself a little bit.”

It must be difficult being back in London, the phone numbers still in your contacts…

“Yeah, obviously I’m scared. I’m terrified of relapsing because of how embarrassed I’d be. I’d be so embarrassed.”

For someone who had, one week before, released an album about the many forms of online communication, there was a certain irony when Matty experienced the beginnings of one of the most gut-wrenching facets of that world, when a clumsily worded quote from an interview in which he spoke about misogyny in hip-hop began to be circulated on Twitter. Healy wrote a response that concluded with him saying he’d “[simplified] a complex issue without the right amount of education on the subject.” It had all taken place the day before our interview, on December 5.  So how did it feel to be in a Twitterstorm?

“A storm is loads of shit reaching fever pitch and you watching it happen and going, ‘Fuck, how do I deal with this?’ That’s not what happened to me yesterday. I saw one or two people that I respect questioning something that I had said I read it and thought, ‘Hold on, that doesn’t read right to me.’ And I went, ‘Hold on everyone, you’ve probably not even seen this but I have and this is bullshit so it just means something for me to clear this up.’”

Healy says it was the result of meaning translating badly to the page. “No video of me talking has ever gone viral for me being any kind of ‘-ist’, he notes.

“I have days now where I do eight one hour interviews. I said something that was partially something silly, partially a misrepresentation and partially me eight hours into answering the same questions and wanting to, maybe, I don’t know, think about something slightly more interesting.”

It’s perhaps not ironic but apposite that it happened now.

“One of the things about ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ is talking about creating a set of quite forgiving social circumstances where if somebody genuinely apologises then we believe them,” says Matty.

One of the greatest things about The 1975’s album campaign has been the videos accompanying various tracks. The ‘TOOTIME’ clip, which saw Matty bouncing around with fans, was utterly joyous.

The latest two, ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ and ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’, have marked The 1975 out as Michel Gondry-like surrealists. In a scene in the latter, an unsettling hybrid of Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense and The X Factor, Matty finds himself walking onto the set of the preceding video, in a moment of inspired, meta madness. That video, ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, is a real piece of work, a La La Land-like dance sequence inspired by classic musicals Singin’ In The Rain and My Sister Eileen. Shot on a fake US street on a Hollywood movie lot, the video is as wholesome as a charity fun run down Sesame Street.

For Matty it was a chance to realise a childhood dream. “I grew up wanting to be a dancer,” he says. “I was obsessed with Michael Jackson.”

What put you off? Comments from other kids?

“It wasn’t so much that; you know, I was also doing karate when I was 11, 12 and then I found cigs and girls and rock music.”

Tell us about where you filmed it.  

“It was the Disney lot in LA, and on the other side of the wall is desert. It’s hard because I try not to brag about ‘Sincerity…’ but it is my proudest visual thing. I invented stuff for it, like at the end, no one’s noticed it yet, but when the marching band come along and I’m walking on the spot, that’s because I put a treadmill in front of the camera. I’m always just sliding around this one space in the frame.”

You challenged fans to find Easter Eggs in the video. Did people find them all?

“Yeah, people even got the amount of women in Congress thing, with the women in pant suits, all the little things like that. The most debate is whether me doing the football trick is CGI or not. Come on, I’m from Manchester. Everyone’s got one keepy-up thing they can do.”

In many ways, the record sets its stall with ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, a renunciation of postmodernism and cynicism. Was it important to get that message across what that track and video?

“I think that like it’s very easy to check whether we’re meeting our quotas of how funny and witty and sardonic we are but we never trying to meet are quotas of how nice or genuine or emotionally reliable we are. The one thing I’ve learned is that when I’m at my most honest on record, that’s when I’m at my best.”

The 1975 made their live comeback playing a double gig at Kingston’s Pryzm for Banquet Records on the eve of the record’s release, November 29 (“the most emotional show of my life”), and a Spotify Premium session at London’s Camden Assembly, formerly The Barfly, on December 4At the latter, Healy says he was reluctant to leave the stage at the end. He returned to play heart-wrenching album track ‘Be My Mistake’ acoustically, with no amplification.

“We’d been rehearsing for weeks, I wasn’t nervous about it, I knew it was going to be a great show and it’s not that I haven’t done shows without drugs before, but I was nervous about the idea that [drugs were] not remotely an option on the table after,” he says.

“That thing with ‘Be My Mistake’, I felt I hadn’t really been present until halfway through the gig. We finished [final track] ‘Robbers’ and I thought, ‘Nope, not ready to go.’ It was completely unplanned. I did shit myself a little bit.”

Though the band have only played tiny shows in 2018 (Camden Assembly holds just 200), they’re hitting arenas in January, and their biggest-ever show is already in production.

“The arena show is just amazing,” says Matty. “Remember the last one? It’s that on fucking steroids. It’s just enormous.”

“My whole thing is I want to make people experience light with their eyes open in the ways they normally experience light with their eyes closed – like in a dream, or the subconscious idea of light. Like a Tumblr images of a gas station that’s all smoky and neon and it’s only it’s a fucking petrol station but it’s not, it’s your dream of a petrol station. I want this to be your dream of a gig. I want it to look like when you look at a Polaroid. I want the Polaroids to be real life.”

The polemic ‘Love It If We Made It’ is the song Matty is most looking forward to playing to big crowds.

“That song has already taken on such a life of its own,” he says. “I think people think, ‘Yeah, it’s fucking hard let’s do it, let’s push forward.’ I’m looking forward to 20,000 people shouting ‘I moved on her like a bitch’ at Reading”.

What are your hopes for that 2019 Reading headline show?

“I want it to be apparent how blown away I am all the way through the gig. I want people to see the kid who went to this festival 13 times fucking giving it his best and trying to not cry and falling over the mic lead and forgetting his lyrics and being really confident and then realising he’s headlining fucking Reading and shitting himself. The last thing I want it to be is slick.”

The 1975 | NME Album of the year 2018

Matty says there’s likely be another couple of videos for ‘A Brief Inquiry…’ (‘Mine’ and future single ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’, then the first material from the band’s next album will appear as early as March 2019.

Where are you with the follow-up, ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’?

“There are 23, 24 demos, all sketched ideas, little musical ideas, a couple of quippy lyrics.”

Can you tell us any?

“There’s ‘Playing On My Mind’. The first two lines are, ‘Could I play Batman / Will I be a fat man?’ It’s just me asking loads of me trying to figure stuff out.”

Is ‘A Brief Inquiry’ a good indication of the sound?

“No, what I’ve realised is it’s never going to be a continuation or an association with ‘A Brief Inquiry’. It’s a completely different record. Six months now is the same as what three years was before. Think about the amount of shit that happens in six months’ time. It will be a different thing and a different time.”

So what’s the feel of it?

“It’s very homely. It’s a lot about home, it’s a lot about mental health, it’s a lot about domesticity. We created ‘A Brief Inquiry’ in the domestic environment that this next record is about. There isn’t a ‘Love It If We Made It’ yet. There isn’t anything like that.”

Does it sound more like your experimental moments?

“Yeah, I think ‘How To Draw / Petrichor’, the way that moves, is a good barometer of what it sounds like.”

What exactly is a petrichor?

“It’s the smell of rain after a long heat.”

Is it right that this album is the one you’ve been talking about for a while, where the songs will have foreign words for untranslatable feelings?

“Yes, but I’m struggling with that because I’ve already put out so many of the working titles in interviews. I think the ambient being stuff will have untranslatable titles.”

What would be the untranslatable foreign word for how you feel right now?

“Hiraeth, in Welsh. The feeling of being homesick for somewhere you’ve never been. That’s how I feel about an unfinished record. Music makes me feel safe.  I want to feel safe at the moment so making that record makes me feel safe. It’s the least stressful thing I have to, and that’s what it sounds like.”

So you aren’t putting much pressure on yourself?

“When I was making the last record that wasn’t trying to make a particular thing. Of course, at times, I wanted to make [My Bloody Valentine’s]’ Loveless’ of course, or at times I wanted to make ‘OK Computer’ – there were all these types of things. [Coltrane’s] ‘Blue Train’. On this record you can hear that at times I want to make my ‘Nebraska’ [Bruce Springsteen’s sparsest album] or I want to make my ‘Immunity’ by John Hopkins. I’d like it to be a moment-in-time record like a ‘Nebraska’.”

With that, Matty’s off for his photos, and to smoke the joint he’s been rolling, and to finish signing the album inserts, and to talk about the ‘Mine’ video with the band’s stylist, all at the same time. Then he’s off to the new house he’s bought, in Northwest London, a brutalist property from which he’s been Instagramming serene pictures of pebbles and stark, concrete walls. It’s minimal and arty, he says. I’m minded of the fact that the first time he was photographed for the cover of NME, in New York in 2015, he requested, rather preposterously, that the band be photographed in front of a painting by the revered abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. Has he got one hanging in his house now? “Fifty-two million?!” he snorts. “I’m more into Korean minimalism – that’s what I’m getting at the moment.”

If he keeps creating at this rate, he might get that Rothko one day.