They’re one of the biggest bands in the world, about to launch one of the most anticipated album campaigns of the year. And this is their first interview about it. Welcome to the new era of The 1975.
Right now, there are approximately 3,000 posters pasted around London, advertising an album that doesn’t exist yet. If you’ve not seen them there, then you will have seen them in your city, or on Instagram, or Facebook. They’re cryptic things, filled with Black Mirror-esque dystopian jokes about a future that’s actually just kind of the present: a toddler in a VR headset emblazoned with the phrase ‘MODERNITY HAS FAILED US’. A group of people on their phones at an art gallery, with a link to the Bible passage of Isaiah 6:9-10 (sample quote: ‘Make these people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes’). A plain black poster with a dense mass of text filled with dry, darkly humorous observations on the modern, “more distracted world”.
It’s the seven other characters printed in the top left that people really care about though. And that’s why we’re sat with the figurehead at the centre of it all, to start to unpick the hungrily-awaited new era of The 1975: an era centred around an album that’s still “nowhere near done”. It’d be an insane stunt, were it not so ridiculously them. “It’s just part of the way that we do things, so to complain or to celebrate seems a bit pointless. We’re gonna do it. We always do it,” shrugs Matty Healy. “It’s a trip, man. The most amount of posters around London are our posters. There’s one in London Bridge and I went past it in an Uber and thought, ‘that’s me. And that’s advertising an album that I haven’t finished. What am I doing!?’”
Pressure, it seems, has never really been a factor for the quartet (completed by guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald and drummer George Daniel). Last year, during their Latitude headline set, Matty consistently peppered between-song breaks with repetitions of “The first of June, The 1975” - a nod to their name origin story, but also seemingly a suggestion of a forthcoming release date. The following day they posted a flickering video to Instagram showing the neon signage of second album ‘I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ being turned off and replaced by a new phrase, ‘Music For Cars 2018’. Earlier that year, Matty had told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe that the name – previously the title of an early 2013 EP – would be the title of their next record.
Before they’d even begun recording, the band had put all the cornerstones not only in place, but out in the public eye, ready to be discussed and dissected. It’s an intense way of working, and one that could cripple a lot of people. “I think we always put a bit of pressure on ourselves because we thrive off excitement. The indie mentality is that the more excited people get, the less they care. Fuck that!” he grins. “The more excited people get, the more we care. If you don’t care, why the fuck should [anyone else] care?!” Safe to say, the singer is not in that camp.
It also doesn’t really matter anymore, because now almost all of that early information has changed at least partially anyway.
By now, you’ll know that the first of June is not, as predicted by hordes of excitable fans on the internet, the date of an album drop. Instead, as this issue hits streets, you’ll be able to hear intriguingly abrasive first single ‘Give Yourself A Try’ – a jarring fizz of one, repeated riff and an 808 drum machine. The album itself, we’re told, is due in October. And as for ‘Music For Cars’?
“‘Music For Cars’ isn’t an album.”
So what is it?
“That’s the only thing I can say. Between me and you, I’d never say anything as wanky as ‘Music For Cars’ is an era, but that’s what I have to do for the interview…”
So is ‘A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships’ – the phrase that’s been written across the band’s recent posters – the album?
“That’s… an album.”
But it’s not this album?
“That’s… this album.”
So there we go. And why the change of plan? “Because things always change, man! Because things did fucking change when we started making it. There’s a lot to say but that’s all I can say for now. This is a really important time for The 1975 and… yeah,” he groans, laughing at his own grandiose phrasing. “What a wanker. But I have to be that wanker for now.”
Taken on face value, you sense that a lot of people saw Matty as “that wanker” for a while. It takes a lot of chutzpah, after all, to name a record as extravagantly as ‘I like it when you sleep…’. But there’s something far more self-aware about him than just another Johnny Borrell with an ego overload. He might embrace the pretentious, but there’s a knowingness to it all that keeps him one step ahead. “My thing’s always been, how can you criticise someone that criticises themselves?” he shrugs. In other words, if you find yourself calling him out on something, chances are he’s already pulled himself up on it first.
Today, sat on the balcony of an impossibly fancy East London hotel, the singer is sporting a bleached blonde crop (which he’ll soon dye bright orange), a skin-tight rollneck emblazoned with Jean Paul Gaultier logos, a black leather trenchcoat, extravagant cowboy boots and orange ‘90s raver sunglasses. It is not hard to work out which person is the pop star in this particular room. Matty doesn’t, however, act with the stereotypically jumped-up pomp that cliche dictates might come with it. “Look at me! I look like Julian Clary!” he hoots, partway through our chat; for a man with nearly a million-strong social media following and an outfit likely worth an average few months’ rent, there’s more of the lovable goof about Matty than you might imagine. It’s why he can get away with describing a recent trip as “having a bit of a namaste” - “you have to write the way I say these things by the way because I can come across as a complete cunt, but I’m only messing,” he chuckles. And it’s also why he’s developed a reputation as something of a journalist’s dream. If most people in his lofty position are guarded to an understandably high degree, then Matty is the opposite: a gregarious, excitable conversationalist with a tendency to word vomit and little to no sense of self-censorship.
Having been holed up writing album three in Oxfordshire since November, today he’s on hyperactive form. Referencing the theories of noted author and speaker David Foster Wallace, the skits of Monty Python and the problems of Maoist China in the space of about two minutes, his brain is clearly buzzing with a thousand thoughts and ideas happening all at once. After an initial ten-minute splurge of barely drawing breath, he pauses: “Sorry, I’ve been in the fucking woods for six months. Somebody asks me a question and I’m like ‘woohoo!’’”
It means that talk around The 1975’s next move is even denser and grander and more verbose than you might expect. Matty might be being a bit cagey around the specifics (“I’m doing a Nicholas on you there,” he jokes), but lord knows he’s up for spiritedly waxing lyrical about the concepts behind it all.
Rewind a year, however, and things were rather different.
At the end of the campaign for the last record, Matty “wasn’t in a good place”. “I was experiencing [some problems] and also thinking, fuck I need to make a record out of this without making a ‘poor me’ record,” he says. “It’s so boring when you hear people do that, because they become unrelatable. There’s a great Jim Carrey joke where he says, ‘Nobody goes on stage and goes, ‘Fucking hell, threesomes are a nightmare aren’t they?’’. And at the end of that album I was very concerned about the truth of what I was saying and the truth was me turning into that. I was playing huge festivals. I was becoming a rockstar, objectively.”
When he first brings the subject up, he explains that to combat this he took himself off to Barbados for a prolonged stint “to really get away”. That period, however, crops up in conversation again a little later.
There’s a line in ‘Give Yourself A Try’, we ask, where you mention “get[ting] addicted to drugs”. Did that happen? Would you say you had a problem? “Yeah! Oh yeah! Full on!” he nods, before pausing and going off to check with his manager about continuing. He comes back. “So when I went away to Barbados, I actually went to rehab. And I should have just said that because it makes me sound like I didn’t wanna say it, but I’ve been telling anybody who’ll fucking listen. I went and worked with horses for seven weeks. I didn’t get dragged away to rehab, I was fucking exhausted and at the [risk] of being another statistic in that prescription drug opioid crisis that hit America, because that’s the way I dealt with things on tour. I loved going out on stage and talking to 12,000 people. I didn’t like going back to my hotel room and sitting on my own for another three hours and then being expected to go to bed when I wanted to, I don’t know, change culture or something ridiculously grandiose,” he laughs.
“And I knew that I wasn’t going to detox myself, so I went away and I got clean. I wasn’t going there to get straight edge, I didn’t have a drinking problem or anything else, I was just chemically dependent on a substance and I didn’t wanna make a record as a fucking junkie. Who wants to hear that?”
Knowing that people would likely pick up on that line, was there any hesitation over including it? “Nah, because I don’t have anything else. I don’t have a particularly rounded world view. I always talk about myself and people go, oh there’s a bit of me in that. And then you do that enough and it touches the world,” he continues. “That’s what people want. That’s what I want as well. Tell me the fucking truth. If you’re gonna care as much as you do with all this pretentious fucking bullshit and all these campaigns, then let’s do it then. Let’s make this exchange really honest and I will, as a fan, give myself to you and not judge you if you just tell me the truth. And it makes for more interesting art, and that’s what I’m here for now I’ve decided.”
It’s these kind of impassioned statements that make The 1975 a band that cause such devotion. Give yourself over to Matty and his vision, and they’ll give you far more than most in return.
Take all the quotes and reference points throughout the campaign so far. Instead of introducing an entirely sci-fi, dystopian record as you might suspect, the theme is only really drawn from one track, but extrapolated out into a whole new thread of clues for people to follow. It’s all part of the rich and constantly evolving world the band try and create with every new move. “I’m bored of doing campaigns where I go, ‘Guys, this is what my album’s like’. So I wanted it to be very esoteric, very specific, very thought-provoking,” the singer explains. “I know that people who are at the point in their lives that I am, who are more well-read than me, they don’t go on this portal of discovery to find out more ideas that could enlighten them about things that I reference in the music. But it really does [do that] with our fans, and it extends our community and it gets people talking about literature and things. The stuff that we do is always to serve our fans.”
Instead, ‘A Brief Enquiry...’ looks set to beat with a far more human and fallible heart than these early technology-infatuated movements might suggest. Of course, there’s an overly complex explanation about the renouncing of his previous postmodern songwriting tendencies (“always referencing myself, always referencing another song”) to explain it all, but really it boils down to a far simpler point: “Everything is so ironic because the idea of sentiment is more difficult to deal with. Being human is more difficult than being ironic.”
At a time where society is more politically polarised than ever, and a fear of being publicly burned on social media has the world treading on fearful eggshells, The 1975 want to tap into the real, human feeling at the centre of it all. “You look at the Right, and the Right has got Nazis in it, so we put that in a box and we know that’s not a good place to go. And then you look at the Left and you’ve got this whole group of people who just won’t stand for any nuance. So everyone’s scared. I’m scared. I think that people are scared to feel, and they don’t know what to say. So I think that going deeper is where this record’s come from,” Matty explains. Later in our conversation, these fears manifest themselves in a way that’s echoed by many conscientious males in the public eye right now. “Let me ask your opinion on something,” he cuts in. “I can be quite tactile, so am I deluded or paranoid to think, would it be good for me to always have a chaperone in interviews if the journalist is female?” he questions. “I’m worried about being myself and just chatting. I know that women are made to feel uncomfortable by men, so is it my moral duty to say, would you like another person around? Or does that make me seem guilty? I’m not a bigot, and I’m not a racist and I’m not sexist, but what if there was some ridiculous scandal that was not true but managed to really discredit me? I worry about it ‘cause I’ve never thought about it [before]...” For the record, the most forward thing Matty does during the hour or so that we’re with him is offer to fetch DIY his “big jumper” in case we’re a bit chilly.
It’s the modern world in all its confusing complexity that’s being brought to the table on ‘A Brief Enquiry…’ - an album that Matty describes as having “an anxiety to it that there wasn’t on the last record.” “[That one] was definitely dense, but I think it was quite a beautiful record. This one’s not as easy.” That anxiety is there in ‘Give Yourself A Try’ and its “abrasive” guitars and it sits over an album that the singer already cites as having “a lot of post-punk” and being “all over the place” before leaning in and raising a conspiratorial eyebrow: “And there’s jazz on the album.” Eh? “There’s lounge,” he nods.
Don’t panic, however, because LP3 is also set to feature some of the band’s most straight-up, “cards on the table” songs yet too. “I want music to be important or I want music to be really, really good. So music can say something and that’s amazing, or music can just be really, really good and it doesn’t have to do both things at the same time,” he states. “‘Into You’ by Ariana Grande needs to be a pop song, ‘cause if she was going [sings] ‘There’s a problem in Gaza…’ it wouldn’t be a good song. There’s certain [times] where I’ve thought, well this is like a love song so why don’t I make it really snide and ironic? But now I’m like, no, why don’t you just write a really beautiful song?”
And so, as we enter the next era of The 1975 and their anxiety-plagued, beauty-ridden, post-punk-jazz-pop odyssey (unsurprisingly, this one looks set to clock in not far off ‘I like it when you sleep’’s 17-song opus too), how is Matty feeling about it all? “I’ll be really honest with you, I’m really fucking nervous, “ he replies, somewhat surprisingly for a man who previously stated that his band’s third album would have to land among the all-time great third LPs. “Yeah, that was silly,” he laughs. “I quoted… didn’t I quote The Smiths?” You quoted ‘OK Computer’, we remind him, as he puts his head in his hands with an amusing groan.
So… what are the chances then?
“Well, if you can say what your album is or isn’t before it comes out, then I think you’re talking shit,” he says, perking up. “I’m a human being and sometimes I’m filled with confidence and sometimes I’m fucking shitting myself. And I can sit here and say I don’t care about reviews, and that I think this record will make more sense in a couple of years, and that when people really hate The 1975, that’s normally because they’ve missed the point. But to say that I don’t want people to fucking love it would be a lie.”
The first of June. The 1975. It’s only the beginning.