The 1975’s Matty Healy: “I’m kind of taking the piss a little bit with that fake rockstar thing”
While driving around town with his manager, The 1975’s frontman Matty Healy spoke to MATILDA EDWARDS about the band’s visual and sonic changes, the self-awareness that comes with celebrity, and those internet haters who wrote them off as a boyband.
The 1975 don’t particularly care if you don’t like them. Far from the nonchalant, blasé indie pop quartet they are so often painted as, the Manchester group couldn’t possibly be more invested in every facet of what they do. Their recent second record, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, is a pretty perfect embodiment of that attitude – verging on pretentious at first glance, sure, but as the band’s frontman Matty Healy recently told the NME, “I’d rather people think I’m pretentious than not care. The idea of provoking ambivalence is my biggest fear.”
The new record is – at 75 minutes and 17 tracks long – certainly not one that provokes ambivalence. Spanning the entire spectrum of pop music, it weaves through the history of the pop machine, sticks two fingers up to the band’s critics and, more often than not, enthusiastically takes the piss.
So the record’s just been released; how’s it all been going?
I mean, yeah – it’s been manic. It’s strange, it’s like absolutely everything has been building up to this but then once it’s here, you’re really firing on all cylinders. It’s been really good, very rewarding. Although I try not to pay too much attention to how to record is doing kind of commercially, cause I’ll freak myself out. But yeah, I’m very happy with it and how it’s been embraced.
Talking about the sort of re-brand that you guys did: the aesthetic, the way you channelled everything and refreshed yourselves on social media –where was that all born from?
I think the consistency or the coalition between our visuals and our music has always been very important. We wanted it to be as consistent as we felt our music was to our identity. The black and white thing was very important to us, and then when it came to – I don’t know what you’d call it, really – the rebranding or re-colourisation of our aesthetic it was just due to the new body of work, and the fact that we really have evolved as a band. We’re very aware of wanting to really have this feeling of evolution, but also distillation, and I think that it felt like the natural thing to do, to evolve visually as well as sonically. The ideas sort of came naturally, but I think it goes back to about two and a half years ago, and I said something like “Oh, the next album should just be a pink box”, and it sort of just stuck.
Influence-wise, it feels like you’re going even deeper into ’80s funk and synth pop than on the last record – and the music feels very keen to almost point explicitly to its origins, particularly things like Bowie, INXS, Talking Heads…
Yeah! I feel they’re often not so much influences as references, musically, do you know what I mean? I mean, we’re holding them so much on our sleeves that we’re almost referencing other songs. Like in ‘Love Me’, there’s even a point where I say “Fame!” very overtly, that kind of thing – and, as it would have it, [Bowie’s] ‘Fame’ came out in 1975, so I see it as there more being a collection of subtextual references to the vocabulary of pop music. But yeah, there’s really everything in there – from Peter Gabriel to Kate Bush to even elements of Liquid Liquid – so yeah, there’s a lot going on!
I definitely feel like there’s a PhD in the way that record goes through the history of modern pop, for sure –
Oh, totally! Someone could write a lot of words about it.
I did recently come across a photo of you next to a photo of Michael Hutchence and I’m actually convinced that you are his reincarnation, to be honest. There is some next-level shit going on there.
It’s the hair, it’s just so similar! I mean, I’m kind of taking the piss a little bit with it, that fake rockstar thing, aren’t I?
“I think that most people resent the idea of people being famous just for the sake of being famous”
Speaking of celebrity, actually – quite a lot of lines all the way through the record speak to the vapidness of celebrity, and the notion of how fabricated and unreal that whole world is. Was that a reaction to the band’s fairly speedy rise to “fame” or was it something that you’d grown up with? [Healy is the son of British actors Denise Welch and Tim Healy.]
I think that because I was a witness to fame when I was younger, I understood where the value in it was. I think that most people resent the idea of people being famous just for the sake of being famous – I think everybody resents that, really – but I think it rings true when you’re associated with it. I’ve never spent much time sort of walking around being pissed off with cultural things that piss me off, like the way we galvanise celebrities, or the way that whole thing seems to be the new “religion” of the world, but I think that I was never really that annoyed about it until I became a little bit famous myself and I realised how much responsibility it holds, and how much of the time that responsibility is taken for granted or not utilised properly. I just think that with great power comes great responsibility, and you have to use it right.
That attitude that comes out in your video for ‘The Sound’, isn’t it? Once you get into the public eye people will take the first chance they have to try and viciously tear you apart, but you’ve sort of just chosen to say, well, “fuck you, I’m just doing what I’m doing.”
Yes! It was very much like that. I think ‘The Sound’ video – well, initially we wanted to do a video where we were in a confined space and we were either drowning, or we were immersed in something that represented some sort of potential commercial success – because we sort of knew that ‘The Sound’ might be our biggest song ever – so we always wanted to do something quite self-aware. If you spend any time on the internet with any artists, but especially ones who are quite involved online like us, you can find loads of hate, and loads of awful comments – so we just went and pulled all our favourite accusations that we found on the internet and just threw them all in the video.
There are some pretty incredible comments on there. I suppose, though, while’s there’s hate you also have a massive fanbase. I’ve always found it fascinating that for a band with so many cultural influences, and so many – like you said – complex subtextual references to history and the evolution of music, that you’re so often written off as just another boyband, you know?
“Anyone who thinks we don’t sort of stand for something is wrong”
I think a lot of people just don’t have time to invest in it. There are plenty of people who have just heard ‘Girls’ or ‘The Sound’ and written it all off superficially, or said the things that exist in that video. But if somebody listens to all of our EPs and then both of our albums, and still says there’s no value there then that’s fine, that’s subjective to your music, but that’s not really the case most of the time. Anyone who thinks we don’t sort of stand for something is… well, wrong. That’s not really about subjectivity, they’re just wrong about our band and I don’t even have the time to worry about them, really. I mean I’ve got plenty of people, like you, who do get it, so that’s fine, really.
Leading on from that, I feel like a lot of people sort of take one look at your aesthetic and make the assumption that you don’t care at all or that you’re just some random indie poppers slopping around. But I’ve never seen a band be more involved or more invested in anything they’re doing, who they’re doing it to and how they relate to them.
That means a lot, because it’s exactly how we want people to see us, we do care, and why wouldn’t we?!