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The 1975: Neon is the New Black

The UK band’s vocalist Matty Healy discusses their reinvented image and why powerful pop stars have great responsibility towards their audience

Riddhi Chakraborty Apr 06, 2016
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SWITCHING GEARS: The 1975 (From left) George Daniel, Matty Healy, Ross MacDonald, Adam Hann. Photo: Jenn Five

The 1975 (From left) George Daniel, Matty Healy, Ross MacDonald, Adam Hann. Photo: Jenn Five

In 2013, you took notice of the 1975 because of their many slick, black-and-white videos. Less than three years from then, the UK alt rock/pop band have comfortably moved to the other end of the color spectrum ”“ they have traded in their stark image [“Chocolate”,“Settle Down”] for some ”˜neon’ self-reinvention.

Their recent videos are evidence enough ”“ “Love Me” and “Ugh!” are more Eighties synth-pop than anything else. The songs themselves might touch some serious issues ”“ the band tear down modern celebrity on “Love Me”, while the sprightly “Ugh!” is about cocaine addiction ”“ but they’re both wrapped in frothy grooves from back in the day. “Electric pink as opposed to black-and-white,” says frontman Matty Healy over the phone from London.

The 1975 ”“ featuring Healy [vocals, guitar], George Daniel [drums], Adam Hann [lead guitar] and Ross MacDonald [bass] ”“ have been a band for over 14 years. After their chart-topping debut album The 1975 [2013], they released their sophomore album I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It on February 26th. In an exclusive, first-time interview with ROLLING STONE INDIA, Healy talks about his music, their audience and why he loves planting Easter eggs in his song lyrics.

Tell us about the change in your look and the aesthetic in your videos. You have so much more color and neon. What prompted this sort of reinvention?

Well, reinvention was what it was about. A lot of our favorite artists have always reinvented themselves from album to album. I think that’s what it’s about, keeping it fresh. That’s what art is in its essence. It’s about evolution, about building on things, building on previous ideas and changing the landscape. And I think that when it came to doing that with the music it seemed like a very natural, easy thing to do. That’s always the way that we’ve written. The visuals came very shortly afterwards because we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We pretty much thought of what was the opposite of what we had done before and did that. Electric pink as opposed to black and white.

Your album title is very long [I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It]. Was there any fear about naming it that?

I suppose it kind of came from fear, because when we first started writing the record we didn’t know what we were going to do and it was a very scary time. We were encumbered with ideas of judgment, because we knew that people were watching us. That lyric is kind of a silly lyric. It’s just one of the lyrics that were on the album and at one point for whatever reason I just made the decision to call it that because I wanted to set an example of how I wanted to make the record. A record of bold decisions.

You’ve stated in many interviews that a good second album is a distillation of the first. Do you feel you’ve achieved that with I Like It When You Sleep”¦?

Yeah, definitely. Not to say that it sounds similar to the first, but when I say a distillation, I mean it’s everything that made the first album what it was, [but] exaggerated. The heavy moments are heavier, the religious aspect of it is more so. Even in the title, the reference to our ethos is very obvious. It felt like a very 1975 thing to do because it’s about subtext. It feels more like a human thing, like a personality.

You’ve also got really interesting Easter eggs in some of the songs. For example lyrics from “Robbers” from your debut album The 1975, feature in “Change of Heart” in this album. Do you feel that’s part of the distillation?

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Yeah, it’s about the extension and cultivation of the world we’ve created. One of my main things with music or any art is when it makes you feel personally addressed. Like when you read a book and it feels like they’re reading it to you or when you hear a record and it feels like they’re speaking to you. One of my favorite things in any art is a self awareness when you feel part of a gang. If you understand those lyrics on “Change of Heart”, then you know that you’re in on the joke. There’s people that won’t get that. And it’s not a contrived thing, I’m not doing that to try and be clever, that’s how I feel. I’m the same person and the way that I’m talking to my audience is the way that you would to a friend. I know that you guys know. We’re all in it together.

Matty Healy. Photo: Alex Liscio/Flickr

Matty Healy. Photo: Alex Liscio/Flickr

In an interview with The Guardian, you said “No one’s asking you to inspire revolution, but inspire something.” So what do you want to inspire in your fans?

I think I stand for the truth. I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my career where I could lie to my audience or just do something because I know that I’m a pop star and I know that people will listen regardless. But I’m never trying to make myself look cool. If you take the five biggest pop stars in the world, like a member of a big band or a female pop star, they’ll have more followers than every politician combined. With that power you have a great responsibility. There are loads of people hanging off your every word and you choose to go out and say just some generic bullshit ”“ it’s not good enough in my book. Now for me, it’s the pot calling the kettle black. For me, telling people to think about what they say is very contradictory because I don’t do that and I’m always putting my foot in my mouth. But when it comes to my music, when it comes to my art, it doesn’t even have to be a particularly profound message or a message that provokes introspection. It can be a message of joy and happiness and the message can be frivolity and fun. But it needs to be genuine. I just don’t believe half the lyrics that I hear now.

Your album has 17 tracks. Was working on such an expansive record a challenge?

It’s not a challenge for me. A challenge would be making a record that people would expect. I always say, ”˜we create in the way that we consume’. We create music exactly how we take it in. It doesn’t mean that because we want to do that we make these kind of post modern records- that’s just who we are.

There aren’t a lot of artists like that anymore.

That’s the thing. For me, honestly, that’s all I do pretty much. I make music at home and the pursuit of that for me is so personal and so part of my history. Remember I wasn’t 16 or 17 when my band took off, the age when you’re designed to change and turn into something you want to be. I didn’t leave my bedroom until I was 23 years old. I’ve been making music in there for 12 years on my own with nobody hearing it. So the process of making music is exactly the same for me. I’m not out at night clubs getting off with pop stars. I do shows with the 1975 and then I sit in my bedroom and I make records. When I’m writing, how deep and how true that feeling is within me, that’s what I do it for. That’s why I’m really lucky- I’m doing what I love. People say they’re doing what they love by going out and performing. I get to sit at home on my own and create whatever the fuck I want and nobody asks me any questions about it.

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We heard a little bit of David Bowie and INXS on “Love Me.” Which are the other artists or records that have influenced the other songs on I Like It When You Sleep”¦?

There’s loads of everything. Mazzy Star, Smashing Pumpkins, Boards of Canada, The Sundays, the Sugarcubes. There are so many weird references in that record. Obviously the ones in “Love Me” are Peter Gabriel, INXS and the Bowie reference in there is when I say ”˜fame’, but the song actually sounds a bit like “Let’s Dance”.

What was it like working with [director] Diane Martel on “Love Me”?

It was amazing. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and what I wanted to achieve, so it was really easy for me to think of directors. I just needed to think of people who were extremely stylish and had an amazing eye for what we wanted to do. So I went over to Diane’s house and spoke to her and she loved the idea. She added the 2D audience and the hot tub and great little details and turned it into “Love Me”.

I think your character in the video is a brilliant picture of what we believe a rock star is.

Exactly. It was very post-modern, that’s what I was going for. And then I did that character on Saturday Night Live as well, but a lot of people were very confused by it. I think if you approach my band without the irony and without the context, it’s probably quite a lot to take in.

You said your debut album The 1975 was ”˜drenched’ in your identity. Is it the same thing here? Will we see a lot of your personality come through?

Yeah definitely. I think I’ll probably say that more and more with every record. This record is everything that I am or at least everything that I am now and that’s why I’m happy with it.

How does it feel to have fans who get tattoos of your lyrics, your logo?

I can understand that because I can relate to that. I used to be one of those fans. We’re such a weird band because we’ve got millions of fans, but if you don’t know who I am you really don’t know who I am. I’m a person in a band and with that band I’m massively famous.

When it comes to performances, do you still get nervous before you go onstage?

I get ner vous at festivals or at Saturday Night Live, somewhere that isn’t our crowd. But when I go and do a sold out 1975 show I’m not nervous because I know everybody in that room is going to give me the benefit of the doubt. Nobody’s come there to judge me; everyone’s come there to enjoy themselves. Our shows are about trying to connect with each other and it’s very much a shared experience. So it feels like the whole room takes on the responsibility a little bit more so I’m not too scared.

Finally, what would you define a good third album as?

That’s actually a really good question and something I could talk about for a while but I don’t want to give away my ideas [laughs]. But it’s all about length, vibe, and it needs to have subtext.

Listen to ‘UGH’ here.

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