Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Evening with The 1975

Photos and Interview Feature by: Kellen Nordstrom

There's a lot of intrigue behind The 1975, England's next big group to grab America's attention, so to use the word anxious to describe my state of mind before this interview would be an understatement.

It was literally the day after I got home from SXSW. My mind was warped, and after learning that Matt Healy (frontman of The 1975) and the guys had just played 11 shows in 5 days, I was nervous thinking his brain would be as fried as mine, and the interview process would not go as smoothly as I'd hoped, or that he would feel somewhat reserved during the interview: scheduled exactly one hour before their first U.S. headlining gig. Granted, the group got an alarming amount of support playing at the fest, "it was crazy there was people at these shows, man," Matt said. And the guys have gotten little rest since their EP, Sex, was released last fall, touring the UK and Europe shortly after its release.

All of this recording and touring left Matt in a state of shock when reflecting his SXSW experience. "We went home [to record] Music for Cars, but we've been on tour since December and our whole acceleration and profile is kind of... we've not really been there to see it that much because we've been in a different city everyday. So it hasn't really felt that real. So the fact that so many people from America know who our band are, let alone come to our shows, THAT'S crazy.. like, genuinely crazy."

So that's it. That's how The 1975 were introduced to the United States of America: with a general whirlwind of a festival, playing 11 shows in 5 days, and surviving off of adderall, alcohol, and cigarettes. They then came to Milwaukee to play Turner Hall Ballroom and thus, begin their first headlining tour of the States, and were greeted by a gracious and open-minded crowd.

This may seem like it was rushed, as The 1975's name hadn't been introduced to anyone in the US for more than a few months. But the group has been together longer than their babyfaces would lead you to believe.

"We've been a band for about ten years now," Healy says, "we started when we were like 13, and just kind of like in pop punk and punk bands and cover bands - covering bands like Lagwagon and Bad Religion and then we just kind of grew up together and it just became what we did. It became a very integral part of our identity, and it just happened that we made so much music together when we had gotten to our late teens... we were kind of studying and just making music." 

"We didn't know if we wanted to release anything," he continues, "because it was such a personal thing and we'd never done it, and we don't like being judged because we're people. So we didn't know whether we wanted to actually put something out properly; or we knew that we didn't want to put anything out until we were really ready. And we saw so many bands put stuff out there when they were 16 or 17, and it comes back to bite them later on; they lose their credibility for their new project or whatever."

Before Sex-- a 4-song EP released in August 2012, there was the Facedown EP-- a 4 song EP, and after SexMusic for Cars was released earlier this year. It contains 5 songs. Noticing a trend here?

It seemed bizarre to me that a group like The 1975 would base their entire catalog off of a trio of EPs, (and now, a confirmed fourth EP). But these aren't normal EPs. Each one has a base single, or a lead track as its centerpiece; each EP backed by a song so undeniably catchy, it's almost alienating. Facedown had "The City", Sex had, get ready, "Sex" and Music for Cars has "Chocolate", a song that's been taking American radio air waves by storm.

So what's the strategy behind these three EPs?

"We didn't really know how to do it. We had signed to our best friend's label [Dirty Hit] who is also our manager, and then we just kind of knew that you had to put singles out - that's how it works, regardless of how you want to do it, you need that lead track. But we kind of didn't like the idea of just lead tracks, followed by a remix, followed by a fucking acoustic version, and have that be the EP, you know?

We wanted the EPs to be more like mini-records. We've treated these EPs as our debut album... almost. Because none of our material has been subject to compromise or committee. They're all bodies of work that have been written as EPs, y'know? It's not like 'oh those songs aren't good enough for the album, let's put them on the EP.'

And the idea of doing them more over a period of time, was because... we didn't think people would catch on to it, and we want people to kind of fall in love with us, and you need time and a decent amount of investment in one another, in order to have that happen. And unless you have a body of work that really says something about who you are, then you can't really have that emotional investment."

As you read this I hope you realize something that I actually realized around this point in the interview: these guys are actually incredibly wise when it comes to music and the industry. They seem like they've released 4 full lengths over the past ten years, the way they are maneuvering their releases around their tours; the way they build an EP with its tracks.

This raises some skepticism, however. Releasing nothing but EPs over the course of 9 months, will raise some doubt in the band's ability to put together an actual album of standout tracks, especially if they plan to release an LP solely with new material. Healy squashed this skepticism without me even mentioning it.

"We love pop music, and we love making pop music - not in order to obtain the right perception - but for us, we only really love stuff when we pitch it and it's slightly left-of-center, y'know? It always needs to be in the more "alternative" end of it otherwise you get something that doesn't feel quite human. And I think there's a lot of humanity in our music, even though there's a lot of pop sensibilities, and our EPs, the tracks that surround the lead tracks are more alternative and they do kind of highlight a stylistic experimentation; there's a lot of R&B and 80's pop. 

With our album -- we've been together for a long time, and our EPs we wrote the majority of after we wrote the album, we wanted the album to be our version of a John Hughes movie soundtrack.

And that was a decision that we made about like a year and a half ago, that was the plan. And that wasn't based on any sort of reaction from people or development in evolution that we started stylistically, that was something that we've always wanted to do. And it's still what we've done. So I think it will open us up to some criticism because albums like that, the music that we're interested in making, is - when we wrote "Chocolate" we were like if this is a real sort of pursuit of excellence, I want ten of them. I want to feel how I do about that song as I do about every single song on the record. And that's something that we really really focused on doing. It's a big pop record."

Healy would go on to liken this process of thought to how he felt about albums in the 80's. Albums like Michael Jackson's Bad, Peter Gabriel's So, and Paul Simon's Graceland. If The 1975's aim is true, their full length album will encapsulate the nostalgic feeling held within those albums. Not necessarily stylistically, but instead focused on the way the music makes a listener feel. And if you don't feel that way about music, well, Healy is ready to leave you in the dust.

"With our music I always give credit to the saying "we create in the same way that we consume" and I think that's the same with everybody at the moment. Nobody consumes any kind of media in a straight-forward way. So it's difficult, being part of this generation, for me, to try and do that anyway. And I think this record and a lot of our band's music speaks a lot to people our age, and people like me, and I like that. Because I want a sort of "strict door" policy on our band. I don't want fucking idiots who don't understand music getting in, y'know?"

The full length is done. It's ready. Co-produced by The 1975 and Mike Crossey (who's worked with some of the best British acts of the last decade - Arctic Monkeys, Foals, Keane, and The Kooks, most notably), Healy can only describe the process as brilliant and seemingly ideal.

"We kind of fell in love with each other, we made each other better. And it was just a great experience and because there was such a long time and writing process, with no compromise, every one of those songs on the album, at some point or another has been the most important song in my life. And I don't think you get that when you produce a record in six months. You can't be taken somewhere by memory. There's some songs that we wrote that I hated for six months. And then something in my life reminded me of why I loved the song so much and aspired me to finish it off, and that's how I think great records are made; made peacefully through human moments. Thats why the majority of our lyrics are quotes, because I've lived all of them."

All of this is done with the listener in mind. Healy cares about his fans, and wants to have that

"What I really didn't want to do now, is that there are these people that really love our band, that we really owe our success to, so if we just came out now and didn't do something that was our ilk, like another EP, that is available for it's own credit and merit, I think that would be pretty lame. We don't just want to release a single, and be like 'hey, yeah, we're getting big now, here's LESS of what we do.'"

But this doesn't mean The 1975 don't deserve some reclusiveness. And Healy reserves that right to some seclusion, and holds the band's writing process close to his chest.

"I don't really talk about it that much, to be honest with you. Not in a kind of 'back off' way, but it's hard to explain to people how personal this band is for so many different reasons, for reasons that we'd thought we'd never be able to do what we're doing now. Certain things happened, y'know, and it's the only thing that we've got left. People can know everything about us, and our story, and where we come from, and there's certain things that people don't know, that I'd like to keep personal. Because I don't like people to see us that much as individuals, because we don't really see ourselves that much as individuals anymore. (pauses) That sounds really pretentious right?

I like being The 1975. We all have names, but we're unfinished without each other's company. That's kind of why I don't talk about the way it works, not to kind of break the illusion so people kind of 'get too close' but in the same way that we live in a world now that accessibility is paramount and I think that if you kind of counteract that a little bit it's more refreshing for both people. I love people coming to shows, and I love hanging out with people, but stuff like the writing process and the intricacies of how it works is kind of for us, you know?"

So what's next for The 1975? They've announced their next EP, aptly titled IV, which will be released on May 20/21 (UK/US) and have recently released a video for the single, "The City". The 1975 just finished their first U.S. headlining tour, which found them selling out venues throughout the country.

"It's awesome because playing live now... we've been together for so long, yet we've never ever headlined a show until our first headlining tour, like never once. We never did a one-off headline show, or anything like that, we've only ever opened up for bands. So when we had a sold-out headline tour, it was this kind of juxtaposition of it being very nostalgic and very refreshing at the same time. So it was this amazing dichotomy, it was all four of us - which was so familiar, in an environment we'd always dreamed of but never thought would happen. 

The shows? We wanted them to be big, we wanted them to grab people's attentions, because that's kinda the way we are: we want people to get their money's worth. And we've been playing a lot of stuff off of the album. Because what seems to be happening, our popularity is accelerating quite rapidly in the UK, and so we could play all the stuff on the EPs. But we wanted to give people a glimpse of what's to come, so they can have that 'Oh, I remember when they played that before anybody else heard it' because I used to be one of those kids at shows. I used to love all of that shit. I used to live for that shit. For the knowledge of things to do with bands, and to hold things like that personally, and meeting band members. That's why I go out [to the crowd] after shows, not to bask in the glory, but if there are kids there who like my band as much as I liked bands.. that's the only reason I'm doing it now, man. I want people to feel about our records the same way I felt about records; I want them to be a kind of antiquated and nostalgic soundtrack to their memories."

As the interview came to a close, I ended it with a question I like to end a lot of my interviews with, asking Healy how many albums he saw The 1975 making. Allowing a glimpse into not only the current state of the band, but also getting a feel for where they've been.

That's an interesting question. Honestly, to try and project into the future, after how far things have come recently; every expectation has been blown out of the water. So I've almost kind of conditioned myself to second guess every single prediction. There's definitely, 100% going to be two, I know that. So let's stick with two.

After the interview, I joined the Turner Hall crowd and enjoyed another set by local favorite Boy Blue. The 1975 came out after, and absolutely killed it. The sound was spot on, punching you in the gut with ethereal pop and melting the hearts of many of the adorning female fans surrounding me. But more so than anything, the group was incredibly gracious. There wasn't a break in the set that wasn't filled with Healy either saying thank you (and truly meaning it) or giving the audience a glimpse into what The 1975 is all about. And all of this leads me to think that The 1975 is going to gain an exponential amount of praise and success in the coming year, and I'll be the first to say that the guys deserve everything that's coming to them.

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