With their epically wordily titled Mercury Prize-nominated second set I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, The 1975 have matched Adele and David Bowie by becoming one of the few British artists, so far in 2016, to score a chart-topping album in both Britain and America. An upcoming arena tour will see them play 64 shows in 23 countries on three contin-ents, to the best part of a million people. They’re one of the most talked-about groups in the world right now. Just don’t go assuming everyone’s saying nice things.
“There was this one time,” frontman Matt Healy (pictured) laughs to himself. “Very seldom does anyone come over to you and say, ‘Hi mate, don’t like your band’. Most people are lovely and then you go on tour and play to 10,000 lovely people every night. But one time we were in east London and there were these guys on a night out, and they went ‘oi, The 1975’ and we went ‘alright’ and they went ‘you’re fucking shit!’.”
If Healy received even a fraction of the trolling in real life he gets online then he’d be a quivering wreck. The band he formed in Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 2002 with guitarist Adam Hann (pictured below, far right), bassist Ross MacDonald (far right) and drummer George Daniel (inside left) have been pals since school, bound together by a long slog to recognition that finally paid off in 2013 when they took their hook-laden self-titled debut album of monochrome, distinctly 1980s-sounding rock music for pop fans to more than one million sales worldwide. But 27-year-old Healy is very much their leader, mouthpiece and lightning rod.
Between his consequences-be-damned outspokenness, confessional lyrics, tattoos in odd places and red-wine-out-of-the-bottle slurping, posturing, leather trousered and typically shirtless stagecraft (“a sort of emo Peter Pan self-lacerating Pied Piper kind of character” is how he rather fantastically describes himself), Healy elicits adoration above all things. Particularly among people of a certain age and gender. “Playing to 10,000 screaming young women who hang on your every word and live their lives soundtracked by your music or a bunch of crusty north London liberals – I’m telling you, anybody would pick that. Because it fucking means something to them.”
Very seldom does anyone come over to you and say, ‘Hi mate, don’t like your band’
Yet with it all comes a whole lot of scorn too. To adapt a cliché: the girls want to be with him, and the guys if they don’t want to be him seem to want to beat on him. Take one recent particularly flamboyant American TV performance on Saturday Night Live, enlightened opinions of which expressed on Twitter included: “How did that kid make it out of the #SNL studios without someone punching him” and “The lead singer of #the1975 makes me want to bring bullying back into fashion”. And yet Healy’s confidence seems iron cast. “You get used to it,” he shrugs. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact his dad, actor Tim Healy of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet fame, has since birth told him he’s John Lennon reincarnate.
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Healy’s mum is an actress and TV personality too – Denise Welch, once of Coronation Street and Loose Women. Being raised in a home where “being creative was endorsed” was undoubtedly formative, Healy reflects, but he never wanted to be an actor himself. Considering that by his own admission he often “plays a bit of a character”, one who has a habit of spilling over into caricature – “there was a time when I was doing a lot of drugs” he admits – to some extent he may be in the family business whether he likes it or not.
When Healy arrives for our interview and attendant photo shoot at a hip east London warehouse studio, dressed in a baggy grey jumper and beanie hat, taking leave for a moment to drink a cup of tea and suck a Marlboro, his is the somewhat po-faced demeanour of a man who might as well be about to be asked to clean the toilet. But stick a dictaphone in front of the guy – even more so a camera – and suddenly he becomes fabulous. Gobby, fidgety, cocky, funny and candidly fabulous. When the camera starts clicking, he fingers a head of thick black curls all females present later agree they covet.
He’s never short of an opinion. Opinions on The 1975’s worth (“We’re a very important band now, I believe that”). Opinions on other celebrities’ worth (“Justin Bieber is a bit of a knob, whatever, that’s the shared consensus that everyone thinks about him. But I do sympathize with him, because this is a guy who hasn’t been able to go outside since he was about 17, and that would drive you mental by the time you’re 25.”). Opinions of nigh-on Noel Gallagherian intemperance (“I fucking hate indie music. All indie bands act fey and disinterested so they don’t get rumbled for being shit”).
I remember I sat in a park with a girl for about two hours talking with her about her parents breaking up
Studded with sex, drugs, neurosis, self-interrogation and soul-bearing, and sounding like a mad amalgam of INXS, John Hughes film soundtracks, Jimmy Jam and My Bloody Valentine, The 1975’s music willfully isn’t for everyone. Songs such as The Sound, which hitches retro bubblegum house beats to floridly self-mythologising lyrics (“it’s just all about me / a sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe”), and R’n’B informed tear-stained synth-pop ballad Somebody Else could nonetheless give many grown men a head-rush. Their effect on teenage and early 20-something girls must be practically levitational.
It follows that some of them believe Healy must possess the answers to all of life’s problems. “The first two years I was like, ‘Yes, I will talk to you about suicide, yes I’ll do that’. I remember I sat in a park with a girl for about two hours talking with her about her parents breaking up. Now I realise my responsibility ends with my music.” These days he prefers to duck such extracurricular obligations. “I see on the internet stuff like ‘if I saw Matt Healy in the street we would just sit there for hours and speak about life’. We fucking wouldn’t. The last thing I want to do when I’m not writing songs is have a deep and meaningful. I’m very happy to sit with my dog and watch This Morning eating toast.”
Repeatedly rejected by labels in their early years because all of their songs sounded different to one another, The 1975 started out by self-releasing via their manager Jamie Oborne’s label Dirty Hit (fun fact: one of Dirty Hit’s backers is former England footballer Ugo Ehiogu). Then as now Healy argued that The 1975’s music is “generationally informed” and makes perfect sense to fellow millennials for whom random playlist shuffle is the default way of consuming music. He subsequently feels vindicated in having made a Transatlantic chart-topper out of a pretty weird 17-track record on which just about every song sounds unlike the last – from obvious Duran Duran pastiche Love Me, to the Boards of Canada-inspired electronica of Please Be Naked. In some ways The 1975 are an unashamed product of our times, and the Faustian pact between music, digital technology and the internet; shortened attention spans, knowing reference-point obsessed post-modernism and the sense all of contemporary culture, much less music, seems to be stuck on constant random playlist shuffle.
Probably the greatest argument against democracy is a three-minute conversation with your average voter
The 1975’s visual identity, cultivated via youth-centric portals such as Instagram, is one of the most savvy and identifiable in the business – so much so the UK government produced a series of ads for the EU referendum featuring suspiciously similar looking pink neon strip-light lettering. The campaign for I Like It When You Sleep… got off to an ingenious start in June last year when The 1975 suspended their social media accounts, creating the presumption they had split up, cue a storm of hysterical grief and schadenfreude. When they rebooted 24 hours later with the announcement of a new record, the PR coup was complete. Except it wasn’t a PR coup, says Healy. “You know what fucking pisses me off – the words ‘marketing team’, ‘PR staff’,” he grumbles, at which point his PR listening in raises an eyebrow. “It’s just me and my manager.”
It can feel as if Healy’s mouth is on random shuffle at times. In the same long spiel he makes an astute assessment of the causes of Brexit, knowingly or otherwise cribs Winston Churchill (“Probably the greatest argument against democracy is a three-minute conversation with your average voter”), promptly switches tack to proclaim he’s still a kid at heart, confesses he doesn’t like beer, then asks to go off the record to conspiratorially share The 1975’s favourite backstage ritual, which is so puerile it’d make a teenage boy roll his eyes. Hann, MacDonald and Daniel’s part in the dynamic becomes apparent after they arrive a little later for the photo shoot, one of them jibing: “God, is he still talking?” They seem down-to-earth and prick their singer’s ego when it needs pricking. When he’s being routinely hounded by fans, some of whom would literally rip the shirt from his back if he more often wore one, it’s easy to imagine Healy must find his bandmates a grounding presence.
— The 1975 (@the1975) September 30, 2016
They really can be fanatical, fans of The 1975 – hanging around outside recording studios, stuffing letters into Healy’s jacket pockets when he’s not looking, sharing gratuitous fan fiction, generating endless tweets and Facebook and Instagram comments, selfying, selfying, selfying. Does it ever get too much? “You can’t really relate to a 60-year-old woman from Arkansas with five children and a husband flying into Kuala Lumpur, sleeping in a hotel lobby to see you there,” Healy concedes, exasperatedly. “And then she bursts into tears. That is weird.”
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it is out now / the1975.com
The 1975 photographed for The Big Issue by Louise Haywood-Schiefer in London on September 21 / lhschiefer.com