This year, one band has stood out above all others. Bringing people together in a divided world, they’ve become the voice of a generation.
he trouble with real life is that there’s no danger music,” quips Jim Carrey as he climbs a satellite dish at the climax of ‘The Cable Guy’. Yeah, the film’s pretty shitty but a young Matt Healy, perhaps six or seven years old, heard this and it resonated. Suddenly everything made sense; life would be better with musical accompaniment.
“When I was younger, music was a portal,” he explains. That line from The Cable Guy was the first time that idea had occurred to him. “I soundtracked my life. My wish was that in all of those moments where I felt certain things, they were viewed with a musical memory. That’s why The 1975 became so cinematic.” Documenting his life in song, “you can see the inspiration from John Hughes and the cinematic portrayal of youth and that apocalyptic feeling of being young,” across both albums. “That all comes from me wanting to live my life soundtracked.”
Based in the everyday grime of reality but treasured like it’s the only thing that’s ever mattered, The 1975 tackle it all. Singing about loss, acceptance and a devil-may-care abandon, they capture very real moments. For Matty, the band has always sung ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Brain’. It just so happens that with ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’, he’s written a soundtrack for an entire generation. Not that he’s buying into that idea just yet.
his year, The 1975 have indeed gone and fucking done it. They’ve had a couple of big years behind them, but 2016 has been bigger still. They’ve gone from a weird cult band with a Number One album to a weird not-really-that-cult-anymore band with two Number One albums. With their self-titled debut, people struggled to place them in the larger musical landscape, but with the follow-up, they’ve got a space all of their own. Matty and the boys (George Daniel, Adam Hann and Ross Macdonald) haven’t had much time for that, though. After all, it’s hard to be objective; they’ve become immersed in their world.
“Touring is almost the foundation for my life now,” explains Matty. “I get to go out most nights and see thousands of people who want to come and see us, so that’s incredibly humbling, rewarding and a big change from the majority of the time I’ve spent in this band.”
Formed in 2002, The 1975 have spent most of their existence being ignored. They’ve struggled to sell ten tickets in Manchester and “couldn’t get fucking arrested” until they were 24. “All the labels came down to meet us. We were a known band in the industry, but nobody wanted to sign us.” Apparently, they were just too eclectic. It shaped who and how they are today. “We got used to being this insular band that just operated in and around Manchester and Cheshire. There was a lot of safety in that. All those songs that are on the first album were written in that time, and when it came out and became so successful, especially amongst so many young people, I was like, ‘Woah, woah, woah, woah! That’s not all I’ve got to say.’ The whole thing just happened so fast. For me, that album was quite confusing, so I don’t know what it was like for other people.
“In my mind, that record is tied to the idea of becoming known. Not a desire to be famous but wanting people to know who my band is. There’s an element of ego involved in that, an element of jostling for position and for people to take you seriously or think you’re cool.”
With the release of ‘The 1975’, people started listening. And looking. The band had a position. They were known, and they were cool. Suddenly, the insular group had to deal with the world as a whole. When it came to making album two, they had to pretend it wasn’t there. “We had to not care to make the album that we did in the end. We made a really, really honest record; a record we wanted to make, and for us, it was really uncompromising. I know we make pop music but we just wanted to make a really free record and that was the record that, in turn, went on to be our most commercially successful and globally accepted. My only intention was to show what we do. To be these ambassadors for this generation of millennials who consume music in a certain type of way. It’s been amazing for us. When you stop trying so hard, it kinda works.”
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.”
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."
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‘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.”
“I think every great artist has been about evolution and progression, but the greatest artists have had that Thom Yorke quote-thing where your records become distillations of the records that preceded them. You take what’s amazing about the previous record and you distil it and you refine it and extend it and you build upon, that’s always our idea.” But as for specifics, “I don’t fucking know. I talk a million miles a minute and I’ll be writing one song and I’ll think I’ll know what the whole record is going to sound like and it completely changes. I know that it’s going to be more all over the place than the last record in regards to it being recorded in so many different places. It’s already quite a weird record. I’ve written a lot of it. It’s going to be… I don’t know. It is interesting to think I don’t know. I’ve got an idea of what I want to do visually and then it becomes a process of procrastination, figuring out exactly what I want to do.” There was talk of new The 1975 in 2017 because of a blunt tweet that said “New The 1975 – 2017.” And, “there will be something but that was me slightly pissed and being honest with myself about how impatient I am. There’s not going to be another album next year because we all know how seriously I take our albums, but I think we’ll put out a piece of music. We’ve met so many people recently along the way and we’ve met so many artists who we’re not necessarily going to be working with, but it’s been a very inspiring time for us. I just know we’ll definitely put out a single next year or an EP which will lead up to the album which I reckon will come out early summer 2018, and it’ll be really sad but it’ll change the world ‘cause it’ll be fucking sick. There’s a quote for you.”
The 1975 have connected like so few bands manage. They’re a genuine, worldwide phenomenon but you ask Matty why he thinks this is, and he’s more interested in what you think. He listens and readily admits he doesn’t fucking know. “If I knew, I’d be doing it more. If there was remotely a formula to it, I’d have done it another two times.” He pauses, before asking: “Do I have to care? Like, because I can feel like I can appreciate it without intellectualising it too much. I don’t want to review it. That’s the sort of thing you do when you come out of a relationship. Maybe when we break up, I’ll do a mind retrospective where I’ll figure everything out but right now, I’m really humble and I’m very lucky. I don’t think people realise how much we do it for ourselves. Anytime you pull a leather jacket on or go out on stage, there’s an element of showmanship there. What the 1975 really is, is me and George smoking weed in a bedroom and making records. That’s all we do. Instead of sitting there and watching a film and getting wrecked, we’d play around and make a tune on a laptop. Now, imagine sitting around and watching a film became your job. That’s fucking wicked, and that’s what’s happened with me. It’s the same thing. I’m just in Toronto and it’s a hotel room instead of my bedroom but still, why would you want to go out?
“There’s a great Noel Gallagher quote in that new film that goes, ‘When I found weed and guitars, what the fuck do you want to go out for’. It was the same with George and me, once we found weed and a laptop, what’s the point? Why would you want to go out, people can come over but let this be the nucleus of our life and everything else can orbit around it. That’s been happening for ten years. I don’t need to think about it more than that; it’s my life and it’s what I do. I just want people to do what I did. Music, y’know? Awards and being part of culture that way, that’s all really nice but what really excited me is a couple arguing in their car in Cheadle, near where I’m from, while one of our songs is on and then that forever becomes part of their history. That’s the shit that excites me, when our music bleeds into humanity. That’s what I’m into and that’s because of how I write it. It’s all a cinematic version of reality. That’s what I want people to take away from it. It’s just nostalgia, innit. I want it to be nostalgia.”