The 1975: the end of an era
As ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’'s reign comes to a close, we dig back to read how Matty Healy and co. came to create an album that redefined British pop.
Published: 8:58 am, July 14, 2017
Tonight, The 1975 bring an era to a close. Their second album, ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’, has taken them to a whole new level. A worldwide phenomenon, they’re quite probably the most important band of their generation right now. More than just music, from their jaw dropping live set up to the playful pop genius that ticks away behind Matty Healy’s eyes, they’ve made themselves genuine icons. As they prepare to move away to work on their next record, the enigmatically titled ‘Music For Cars’, we’ve dug out a snippet of our 2016 ‘Band of the Year feature to explain just why tonight is quite probably the most important moment of festival season 2017.
Looking back at the creation of ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’, Matty Healy has convinced himself that “at no point did I think about the critics or being objectified or worried. I think I’ve idealised that album recording process as me just creatively gallivanting around the studio, doing whatever I wanted. I’d convinced myself I didn’t really care. ‘I don’t give a fuck about awards; I just want to make records. I’m going to be a pop outsider, don’t include me in anything. Oh, Mercury nomination, that does feel quite nice.’ Maybe I do care about these things.” Not that the reaction has been that much of a surprise. “I live these records. I do a show, go to a hotel room, work on music and document my psyche. But it makes me think, if somebody does put as much heart into what they do as we did with that record, then it should be commercially successful. So, I have been a bit surprised, but I have been a bit, ‘Yeah, too fucking right’, too. I worked really hard and I can tell that song connects with people. What I’ve done now is start to accept the fact that The 1975 is more accepted in different worlds.”
‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ is – in its own way – a bizarre album. It covers so much ground and deals in everything from acceptance to loss, ranging from delicate minimalism to commanding blow-out. As big as the record reaches, though, The 1975 never use that scale to hide or distract. The band deals in the blunt truth.
“It’s interesting when you talk about hiding behind something because I would rather lacerate the pomposity in front of you. As much as there’s that ‘Love Me’ rock star, post-Marc Bolan, ridiculous cliché part of my performance, there’s an insecurity there. When I perform live, I’m never thinking I’m actually Mick Jagger. There’s a fragility there and I think it’s the same in the record. When things get too much for me, in regards to it feeling faux or slightly contrived, then I have to reference it or change it. I think the problem is the self-awareness of it. You can’t be a proper rock star anymore because everybody else has everyone’s number. Everybody knows being cool is just referencing stuff. It was way harder to be cool ten or twenty years ago because you had to have seen that film or been to that bookshop or been at that show, whereas now everybody’s got a computer in their pockets so you can reference things at a million miles an hour. Now my generation’s first response when they see something cool is to be suspicious of that. They think that’s probably not real, or they’ve learnt that from somewhere else, and that’s the way that people act now. There’s an element of that in my identity, so there’s an element of that in my music. It’s calling myself out before people get a chance to do it. I even do it musically, the number of times I call myself a cliché, it’s all part of the way that I hope I become relatable.”
Whichever way you look at it, The 1975 connect. Self-aware and tuned in, everything they say feels real. The more the band have opened up, the more the world has taken to them. “You know what I hate, though,” asks Matty, answering instantly: “People who say, ‘Oh, I just say it like it is’. Yeah but that doesn’t mean you’re not a dickhead. It doesn’t stop you from just saying things that make you a dick. But what I am very aware of is when people are really honest, respectful and they’re frank and they say how they’re feeling, even if talking about part of themselves that’s quite distasteful, it can be quite endearing having someone saying it how it is. Loads of people come up and talk to me about ‘Nana’. Of course, if you write a song about the death of a loved one, it’s going to connect with loads of people, ‘cause people die. The specific thing that people talk to me about with that song is its lack of metaphor because death is the ultimate context of metaphor. I’m not that good at metaphor and when I had to write about it, there’s a line in it that goes ‘I don’t like it now that you’re dead’. When there are things that make me feel blunt, it provokes me to be blunt. And I think that’s what we’re talking about in terms of that openness; there’s something about me being frank about something that maybe you’d be less frank about.”
Matty has yet to push that frankness too far. He’s yet to draw a line because he doesn’t need to, “because I’ve got the boys. We’re obviously so close and we’ve been together for so long, everything I write has to be true because one of them, at least, is with me all day. I can’t make up some narrative about some girl I was in love with. If I went too far, one of them would say, ‘Listen, man, you don’t need to be putting that shit out there. That’s too heavy. That’s just indulgent’. There’s a time for it to be harrowing – I adore Antony and The Johnsons – but music is still an escape for people and I only want to write about stuff that’s cathartic for me but also helpful for other people. I don’t want to cross into the aggressively indulgent. There’s no time for that with me.”
As intricate, winding and horizon-stretching as ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ is, the line in ‘Paris’ “Hey kids, we’re all just the same. What a shame” sums it all up. “You can’t be objective to what your favourite lyric is but in regards to when we do it live, when I hear it, when I remember writing it, when I remember the feeling, it sums up the album now. When I wrote that line and I had that song ‘Paris’, I felt like I knew what the album was. That inspired ‘Loving Someone’ which inspired the whole glue of the knowledge of us all being a witness to this madness. I know in The 1975 we use the paradigm of my life to look at the world and talk about it, but most young people’s desire is for everybody to be caramel and queer. I think that line sums up the whole record. Our shows are so multi-everything. When you’ve got white kids, Sikh kids, black kids, all these kids at your show all singing that line and it resonating in such a literal way, it’s hard to get away from.“
Despite the crowds growing, it just makes Matty feel way more a part of it. People spend a lot of time asking him how crowds from different countries compare to one another but that’s a tricky one to answer, ‘cause touring the world has taught him something else. “You realise that it’s not the differences you notice, it’s the consistencies. Whether that’s unique to The 1975 shows, I’m not sure but I’m telling you, we play to the same group of people, the same group of kids every night. Bangladesh, Alaska, Hackney. It’s the same type of people and sure, their hair might be a different colour over here or they might look slightly different over there. The thing is, people seem to notice the differences but for me, you have to search for the differences. It’s the similarities that are blindingly obvious. It’s why it confuses me with the culture we’re in. The internet has opened up the doors and exposed everybody to everybody, shown everybody how different everybody is from one another, and that’s created this hardening of position and people becoming scared of one another. There’s this polarity of stuff, so it’s interesting at The 1975 shows because we don’t really have that as much, it’s just this weird community.”
That’s why The 1975 are soundtracking a generation: they take being an outsider and champion it. They shine a spotlight on what makes them different and people can see themselves in it. “There’s a cultish element to this band,” starts Matty. “It’s just grown. It wasn’t like we had a hardcore group of fans, then we had one hit single and everybody’s mum started showing up to The O2 to see us. It is massive now but it’s grown with every single kid. When we used to play shows to 300 people, 100 would wait behind to meet us and there’d be kids with The 1975 tattoos. There was this intensity early on that just seems to have spread and spread. With these kids, they just live for The 1975 and the thing they all tell me about is how they all met, or are all friends because of this and that’s the community that interests me. It all gets like Skynet, Terminator shit. It’s an idea that starts in your bedroom, and it’s never got any bigger than that. You’ve got people saying that idea is starting to define a generation; there’s no way to be objective about that unless you come across as insanely pretentious or you buy into your own bullshit, and I can’t do that. I’ve just got to keep being me. I need to keep the purity of the pursuit, the pursuit of excellence for my own self.”
People have found a voice within The 1975. That comes with pressure to speak up, to become a spokesperson. It’s one of the things he’s struggled with, “but I’ve realised that I don’t have much control over myself when I’m in an interview, I’m such an impulsive person, and I’m quite a genuine person, so I fuck up quite a bit. I get worried about misrepresenting myself and therefore being an idiot but I don’t feel personally responsible. On this album, what I wanted to do was use my platform to make people as passionate and conscientious as possible, but at the most times, do that through my music. It’s way more powerful to have that line in ‘Paris’ or songs like ‘Loving Someone’ as opposed to a speech every day on Twitter. I’ve got opinions – the amount I could have spoken about American politics – but I’d rather try and create three minutes of something that’ll last forever and really means something as opposed to something that doesn’t mean as much that’ll last for just as long. I try and keep it in the music. There are charities I’m aligned with like the British Humanist Association. There are certain things I stand against; I’m very anti-faith schools and I’m all about the disruption of religious rule. There are lots of things I’ll vocalise, and I’ll talk about if asked but I don’t want to be…,” he goes quiet. “I get very, very, very scared of being known for anything apart from The 1975. I get anxious for being known for anything more than my music. I just think it’s way better for people if they’re persuaded through an art form instead of someone just waxing lyrical about something.”
Despite his fear of being misrepresented, Matty puts a lot of faith in his audience. There’s a subtle art to his delivery. ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ covers everything from heartfelt sincerity to tongue-in-cheek jokes. There’s no chance of being spoon-fed with The 1975. “I give people the benefit of the doubt because I expect to be given it as well. I expect to be able to say things and have people say ‘he’s joking’ and if I don’t do that with other people, then I’m a dick. I want a strict door policy on my band. I don’t want every fucking idiot getting in. I love that saying, ‘If you’re offended, it doesn’t mean you’re right’. I don’t need to justify or apologise or ask permission to talk about anything, but I expect my fans to give me the benefit of the doubt because there’s so much of my personality and morality and what I stand for in our music. If I do say something that’s slightly sassy or a little bit controversial, people will assume that there’s nothing to be offended by. People aren’t fucking stupid, though.”
Take the faux-arrogance of ‘Love Me’, playing up to stereotypes and turning them on their head with a tongue-in-cheek smirk. It walks a line between smart and silly without a disclaimer. The track is “just taking the piss out of myself, basically. Love me, fine, if I’m the one you’ve decided to love then let’s do it. There was enough of a foundation of me being emo and weird and insecure for people to know that between albums I hadn’t become Marc Bolan. ‘Oh my God, he‘s actually turned into *that* guy. I wish I was like that, fuck me, that’d be awesome. I’d love to be that person but unfortunately not. The 1975 is me and my brain. It is a complete paradigm; I suppose that would be the word. It’s a whole vocabulary.”
He doesn’t have synaesthesia but “as soon as we’re working on a song, I know what colour it is. Not in a pretentious, wanky way but there’s an element to it. I knew how I wanted to light the video for ‘Somebody Else’ and how I wanted to light the video for ‘The Sound’. I have quite a visual brain so when I’m writing lyrics, I suppose I’m writing a little video as well. I’m visualising it. I’ll have a book where the song and the lyrics and the video are all on the same page. I write it all at one time, and then we finish at once. It’s the same with the artwork. We had the album cover [for ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’] before we even started writing. That album cover was up in the studio, so we knew what we were working towards because I already knew that was the visual identity. Those kind of things come first. The whole thing feels like a creative expression as opposed to just being the music. It’s my world and my life, and if people are going to be witness to it, then it needs to be perfect.”
‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ celebrates the moment, and the band are trying to live accordingly. “We’ve always had friends on tour with us, taking photos and filming stuff, and occasionally you’ll see a photo and think, ‘Fucking hell, that was three years ago. Look at the size of the venue, look at your beard, you look like a right cunt’. There are always moments of nostalgia that bring you back to the whole thing being a huge story.” The band reflect a lot more than they used to, “just because we’re a bit older and we wear trousers instead of jeans occasionally. The 1975 is a big thing now, so there are grown-up conversations to be had, but we try and subvert them as much as possible by doing them naked or something. It’s very much just us touring the world and having fun.”
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