The 1975 are backstage at The Fillmore in Philadelphia competing in a slam dunk competition with members of Swim Deep. The band are due onstage in 10 minutes, and assistants rush around making sure everything is in hand – edging past a shirtless and energetic Matthew Healy, George Daniel and Ross MacDonald (who are currently alley-ooping into a comically tiny net) with water, towels and bottles of red wine for the stage. Meanwhile out in the venue’s main room, the band’s ambient droning soundtrack continues to make it’s slow ascent, with fans already in a frenzy, with occasional screams of teenage excitement punctuating shouts of joy from the band every time a dunk is made.
This is the third night in an intimate run of US dates for The 1975, just days after rounding off a long awaited return to the stage in the UK which saw them play 16 shows – everywhere from Swindon’s Oasis Leisure Centre to the iconic Hammersmith Apollo. Though dubbed as a series of shows for the dedicated fans (each venue has a decidedly smaller capacity than they have sold out in the past), no limits have been put on the production of these gigs, with a stadium-worthy set up taking over these intimate venues, an intriguing dichotomy that perhaps best encapsulates how The 1975 are in a stage of transition as they build up to the release of their second record; I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it.
I’m joining the band in the US for five days to try and dissect how their mindsets have changed this time around, the thought processes behind the album and ultimately how they are dealing with their (relatively) newfound worldwide fame.
It becomes clear very quickly that the dedicated fandom that surrounds The 1975 is not limited to the UK, as I arrive at the venue in Philadelphia around three hours before the show to find around 1000 fans queuing outside. Some have sleeping bags and tents, others sit shivering on the sidewalk waiting for the doors to open – and when they do, it’s a rush to get as close to the stage as possible. The band’s bodyguard informs me that in the states some fans camp out for up to three days before the show, something that seems to perplex most of the band and crew, particularly when it’s winter on The East Coast and the weather is far from temperate. The fierce dedication of followers is one of the first things I bring up with Healy as we sit at the back of the band’s tourbus, their home on the road and where I’m staying throughout the trip.
“When it’s in pursuit of their interests, people don’t tend to do things they don’t want to do” he explains, peering out the window at a line of fans sat behind a fence. “When it comes to the things I’m into, I don’t share the same fanaticism as some of these kids, but I love the ceremony of it. If they either want to prove their commitment to themselves or to other people in this way then I think that’s fine.”
We start to go into more detail about this idea that some fans have found their identity through the band. When The 1975 first emerged, their monochromatic aesthetic brought a somewhat refreshing edge to the norms of popular music culture. Sure, a lot of bands wear all black and look moody in press shots, but a wealth of visual themes carried through live shows, day to day clothing choices, videos and the sonic groundings of their self titled debut album, created an immersive experience for impressionable teens to indulge in, something much deeper than colour choices alone. In short, there was perhaps a new identity there to latch onto, which many have done and continued to do so, making The 1975’s fandom unlike any other group in their position – “We’re like the biggest band in the world that no one’s ever heard of”. Healy fondly recalls the impact the identity of the band has had on some of their more well-known fans, most notably a teenager who goes by the twitter handle @Tomm1975, who has followed them since the very start. “He’s really changed in the last three years, he’s found himself, he’s pursuing his interests” Healy says with a content smile, “and kids like him have almost been liberated – not necessarily by trying to mimic the person I am, but by following the sense of freedom I have with my image.”
It’s apparent that Healy places great importance on challenging the discourse of popular culture and thus influencing the masses, most importantly through the band’s music. I like it when you sleep is an undeniably forward thinking effort, a record that captures the nuances that have defined pop music across the decades and reinvents them in The 1975’s image, injecting colour into their old aesthetic and pushing their definitive sound to every end of the spectrum.
When premiering ‘Love Me’ on BBC Radio 1 last year, Healy briefly aired his opinions on modern pop music, and ultimately what needs to change in the genre, something that’s addressed both on the album, and in one of our conversations over the five days.
“Pop music just needs to have more thought behind it” he ponders when I probe his thoughts on the current landscape. “I mean we’re obviously allowed to have pop music, and it’s great and it’s what I do, but good pop music is hard to find.”
Healy goes into great detail dissecting how small sub-genres have become increasingly reappropriated in modern pop, from the evolution of trap house in the charts to the new wave of dancehall that Justin Bieber is currently capitalising on. Naturally, this leads to us dissecting the inspirational grounding of this record – the 1980’s. Throughout the tour the importance of the 1980’s repeatedly comes into play in the day-to-day life of the band, from a singalong of Hall & Oates’ ‘She’s Gone’ (which drummer George Daniel describes as “the best break up song of all time”) in the dressing room after the Philadelphia show, through to the in-depth chat Healy and I later have on the merits of Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’. Unsurprisingly then, the new record has distinct elements of the decade, from the Phil Collins-esque drum fills on ‘She’s American’ through to the downbeat synths and driving bassline of ‘Somebody Else’. But as we sit down for dinner in Columbus, Ohio on my second day in the US it becomes clear the band want to explore the 80’s in a different way to their predecessors.
“The sensibilities of the 80’s culture have been totally exploited in dance and pop music because people have gone for the blaring, superficial elements of what the 80’s was, whereas what we take from the 80’s is the ethos, the spirit of records that were unabashed” Healy attests, before further detailing the role of this decade on his inspiration; “This is an entire album that speaks of a time when pop music wasn’t afraid to be pop music, it wasn’t over encumbered with self awareness and cynicism, it was free. You had bands like Japan and Scritti Politti and Peter Gabriel pushing the boundaries, and it was an amazingly rewarding time. The feeling of songs by those artists, not necessarily the sonic stylistics, was what we try to capture, which I guess is what makes this album hard to put your finger on.”
That last point proves particularly poignant when listening to the record as a whole. Sitting at 17 tracks and one hour, 15 minutes long, there’s no denying that to some it may prove to be a trying listen, but once you get under the surface and see the complex thought and meticulous craft that has gone into every track, it becomes apparent that it could well be one of 2016’s most inventive, important albums. Cuts such as ‘She’s American’ and ‘Ugh!’ will appeal to fans of The 1975’s poppier pursuits, while the record’s title track takes their sound further into electronic territories than ever before, something which Healy describes as coming from a love of Four Tet and “electronic music that doesn’t rely too heavily on loops”.
It’s the more urgent moments of the record that really shine though, as ‘If I Believe You’ pits sultry instrumentation against a gospel choir and introspective lyrical work, and ‘The Ballad of Me and My Brain’ sees Healy give his most visceral vocal performance to date, cut with witty wordplay “..would you sign an autograph for my daughter Laura, because she adores you, but I think you’re shit“.
Sitting as one of the album’s most intriguing tracks, Healy seems to take particular pride in how this song came into fruition, mainly because it’s deeply personal grounding; “With that song I wanted to do The Replacements doing Dr Seuss… and after I stopped doing certain things, I felt a bit mad, but I kind of had a knowledge that I was going to be alright. Which is why there’s a resignation to my madness in the opening lyric “well I think i’ve gone mad, isn’t that so sad.”
“In the pre-production I got about four or five lines in before realising that we’d have to cut it up and record it in bits” he details, “but then I had a bit of a psychedelic experience at FYF Festival, so the next day in the studio I was a broken man, I felt really on edge. That night I did the whole song twice, then that second take made it onto the record.”
Self preservation and adapting to change are overarching themes on this record, and perhaps unsurprisingly, each track has a different personal relevance to Healy and the rest of The 1975. As we travel from Ohio to Chicago I learn that the band didn’t give the address of the studio to anyone apart from those in their inner circle, and the process of making this record meant shutting themselves away and putting themselves on lockdown. “There’s no room for democracy in art” Healy says when I ask him more about the band’s creative process, “and I’m not willing to compromise or dilute the integrity or sound of the record because of the opinions of too many different people, especially when the record is so personal, it’s about the fundamental aspects of being a person. I felt selfish a lot of the time because I didn’t come up for air and I didn’t think about anyone else’s standards, it was our standards and our truth.”
Despite leaving the studio a couple of months ago, the record seems like it was only just finished for The 1975, as I learn that they essentially haven’t stopped between albums. After their last day in the studio the band flew back to the UK and went straight from the airport to premiere ‘Love Me’ on BBC Radio 1, a process which Healy describes as “almost like I’d just put my trousers on”. After that, the band spent the following weeks in vigorous rehearsals for the live show, before embarking on the tour. Because of this intensity, it would be fair to say that Healy is in two minds as to how he feels the album will be received; “I just laugh when I hear the record now, because to me every song is a room, and a set of people, and I still know what the project looks like, it’s just not a thing for me yet.”
Despite this though, the band clearly went into the recording process thinking of themselves rather than the opinions of other people, which bleeds into the personal nature of this record as a whole. “It’s difficult to say “oh I left no fear at the door”, but I went through a hard time… I had so much shit that I’d gotten rid of, like stopping certain things, so once I got round to making the record I just embraced actually making music” Healy admits as I ask him to explain his mindset when making the album.
“I love making music like I love having sex, I put it in the same category. I always say that when I get an idea and I feel it coming into fruition, that’s it for me, I put that alongside any other carnal feelings that you’d get from sexual urges, so when I made this record that’s what I was in pursuit of.”
Putting so much of himself into his art clearly hasn’t been an easy ride for Healy however, which is perhaps unsurprising when one considers the idea of documenting every resonant experience in your life on record, from the feelings of madness we mentioned on ‘The Ballad of Me and My Brain’, through to ‘She Lays Down’ which deals with his mother’s past depression, or ‘Nana’, one of the album’s acoustic tracks which is about his grandmother. This method of creative outpour has arguably made The 1975 a defence mechanism for the frontman, as he candidly explains “I don’t know what it is, but now I hide behind my music. On the first record I hid behind a character of sorts, and the bolsh of it, but now I struggle with the duality of art and reality. I spoke to Simon Amstell about this once actually, and he said that his comedy is such a defence mechanism, that he can have emotional pain and think it’s ok because it’s immediately material, as soon as you make a joke about it, it becomes cathartic.”
“For me as soon as i’m genuinely affected by something, I have to put it in a song to give it context. Moments like that benefit the art, which benefit you as a person, but then that makes you feel like a wanker for doing so.”
If so much of his material comes from personal experience, then the idea of being constantly on tour or in the studio must naturally have a huge effect on the way the band writes nowadays. This question leads Healy into a moment of self-assessment about where he sees himself on a personal level. “I don’t have that many friends outside The 1975” he explains frankly, “I do have friends, but I live very much in my own world, and I know i’m not gonna hurt anybody in that world by saying who I am. Basically, i’ll say things on the record that I would say to the boys in the band, but I wouldn’t say to anyone else in real life, and I wouldn’t talk about it because i’d be upset.”
This close relationship between the band is vital to everything The 1975 have done to date – from their aesthetic to the live shows, videos and material, which becomes overwhelmingly apparent as our afternoon in Ohio is spent by each member dissecting the forthcoming video for new single ‘Ugh!’. “The next year will be about cultivating a world where everything is perfectly represented – from our aesthetic to our live shows to our fanbase to the album, just one vision”, Healy explains as we look over the footage, before Daniel cuts in and jokes “every shot of me I look like I can’t play the drums.”
The band and their creative team clearly have huge plans for the future, from making the live show an even grander affair as they play bigger venues and huge festival slots later this year, to intriguing new video concepts for the future singles. Healy even tells me he wants to play the album from start to finish at some point in the future, “because the record deserves that.” Over the five days the band don’t seem to stop working, no matter the environment. Whether it’s adapting their introduction for different shows, editing video, working on new material or assessing how they will add more new tracks into the live show, their work ethic is relentless, The 1975 totally engulfing their entire lives. Before we even finish talking about their forthcoming second album, Healy excitedly reveals “I’ve got an idea of what the next record’s gonna be and it’s completely different.”
He explains that with each record to date he’s gone back 10 years with his influences; “On the first record there’s elements of emo and ambient music, which is what I was listening to from 15-20, then with this record i’m going back to garage music in a way, and on the other side of that artists like Michael Jackson. Basically it’s the records that my parents were listening to, from D’angelo (I don’t know how my mum got hold of that) to just big pop moments, everything I listened to when I was an adolescent, which resonates on the second record.”
This idea leads Healy onto explaining that the band’s next record could have an even more throwback feel; “The first music I listened to was Motown and Doo-Wop. ‘One Fine Day’ by The Chiffons was my first favourite song, and that really set me up to how I write music, so I think we could go towards that on the next record. I’ve even got a name for the next album, but that’s not going in this piece (laughs).”
If the first album was the story of The 1975 so far, then I like it when you sleep is arguably the perfect development, the encapsulation of how much their lives have changed since becoming a worldwide phenomenon, a record that’s unafraid to be raw and personal, yet still feels luxurious, slick, and above all else complex. “If people could understand how much The 1975 is my complete life… this band has made me closer to everything” says Healy as we round off one of our chats on the bus, further exemplifying how important this band is for him, even if it does come with certain issues in your personal life. Later on I ask about maintaining relationships on the road and the polarity of receiving adoration from thousands of people every night, yet not having a significant other at this time, a trait which I found permeated from the record, particularly on glistening synth-led cut ‘Paris’.
“You go out on stage and you connect with people in the most extreme way you can, but then you come off and you’re on your own. I think every single fear I have comes back to being alone, and i’ve said that on the record. But saying that i’ll find a wife, have some kids and it’ll all be cool. It’s just hard to fall in love with somebody when you don’t live anywhere.”
Putting love to one side, I bring up a line that appears on the Echo and The Bunnymen-esque album cut ‘A Change of Heart’ – “You said i’m full of diseases, your eyes were full of regret, then you took a picture of your salad and put it on the internet” and we come to the mutual agreement that Healy is in the best place he could possibly be right now, in his most creatively fertile environment surrounded by the people that matter most.
“My Instagram feed is just prams and avocado salads, everyone’s getting married man, it’s scary” he laughs.
The next day we sit in the dressing room in Chicago’s Riviera Theatre watching Shut Up and Play The Hits, the film that documents the last days of LCD Soundsystem, including a concert at the iconic Madison Square Garden. Throughout, Healy mentions the importance of this band to him, admiring James Murphy’s stage presence and how each member of the group are perfectly in sync. We bring up the idea of doing a final show and bringing a band to an end at their prime, a topic which sees Healy reminisce; “I’ve never been good with goodbyes or endings, like going on holiday was always a massively emotional experience. I’d invest so much in where I was and the moment, then i’d have to leave and it would kill me.”
“I guess I just have no attention span emotionally, so I’m always onto the next thing – I mean fucking hell I was talking to you about an album that doesn’t even exist yet because I have to move on.”
This idea of having to move on is ultimately what makes this new record such an interesting listen. When moving onto a second album, a lot of artists fall into the trap of merely rehashing elements that resonated well with critics from their first effort, whereas I like it when you sleep sees The 1975 push themselves into new territories and further prove why they are one of pop’s most inventive groups. “If this record is what I say it is, which is me in pursuit of being truthful, about the purity of making it and how much I enjoyed that, then if it gets fucking destroyed then I’ll be devastated” Healy admits as I round off our final chat.
“…But if this is the record that does really well and defines me, then i’ll be happy with that, because I believe in this record. It’s the definitive The 1975.”