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Pop Art

23 May 2016, 09:30
Words by Laurence Day
Original Photography by Burak Cingi

The 1975's Matty Healy tells Larry Day about the nature of culture and pop as an artform.

The 1975 are a pop band. They are a big pop band. They break records with nonchalance and top charts before breakfast. But The 1975 aren't just a pop band.

Their latest album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, is a jukebox of brilliance, paying homage to James Turrell, Dan Flavin, and My Bloody Valentine in the same breath as Soft Cell, The Blue Nile, and Duran Duran, fidgeting between styles, wearing disguises, revealing alter egos, and repositioning itself on the fly. It's a 17-track behemoth that flirts between post rock, funk, electro, cinematic instrumentals, gospel, pop, acoustic balladry, dance, shoegaze, and more. It's doused in astute wit and acerbic observations on love, people, fame, and society. It's a complex record, and it's born from the minds of four young men.

“The polarising, stylistic element of it and the fact it doesn't stick to one genre... that's 'the thing', isn't it?” Says Matty Healy, one of these four men. “That's what the record stands for; that's what the record is.”

While the hacks have struggled to pigeonhole The 1975's new LP, Healy summed it up as “Post-Modern Pop”.

“I suppose why I said that is because it's self aware, not only due to the references in it, but also because it knows it's pop music. It's overtly juxtaposed with a lyrical content that's different to how I am musically. The words are a lot more morose compared to the music.”

He's not wrong: I like it when you sleep... often pairs deep, dark backdrops with sassy lyrics, and peppy pop with shadowy ruminations.

“It's been defined by how polarising it is,” Healy continues. “I think that it's just a record that doesn't and doesn't need to adhere to any rules. We never had any preconceptions of what kind of record we wanted to make – we just made the music for the purity of it. My tagline is: 'We create in the way that we consume'.”

To feed his insatiable appetite to create, Healy devours a lot. What he consumes has a direct relationship with what emerges from his fingers and lips. “It's being part of a generation that has that the apparatus to reference at a million miles a minute. Being 'cool' is referencing things, referencing 'cool' things – back in the day, it was harder to attain that status. You had to have read that book, seen that film, and you had to actively search these things out.”

Healy's mouth doesn't work as fast as he'd like, to his frustration. He edits his ideas as he speaks them, stumbling through sentences to dive onto a new tangent or train of thought.

“But now we have the opportunity to reference at a million miles a minute and I think that it's bred a generation that consumes media in a different way from so many other outlets.”

His eyes are wide.

“There's no linear consumption of media anymore.”

He scours the room as he ponders, and when he puts his finger on a point he locks eye contact.

“Everything is homogenised. Everything is becoming more self aware and meta. We live in this world where everything has to be 'ironic' and it's getting weird now. Culturally, things are getting weird – culture is just spinning faster and faster in on itself.”

Curled up in an armchair, knees to his chin, he perches, peering from above his legs to catapult sixty different ideas in a minute. He waves his arms as if he's about to pull a rabbit from a hat, fingers splayed, snapping as he latches onto a point he's trying to make.

“We're getting this analog re-immersion – I mean take the amount of kids in the past few years I've seen with Polaroid cameras. With the world now, accessibility is paramount isn't it? Especially with the Internet – that's what it's about.”

Healy leans in, elbows on knees.

“I think when you grow up around those cameras it's like you had the picture, but as you got older you wanted the picture on the camera so you could look at it, and then you wanted it on Facebook, and then you wanted it on your phone, but once it's on your phone you don't even want it on your phone anymore you just want the picture. The instantaneous nature of the Polaroids has meant that's possible again – all these things are recyclable... cyclical. Culture is so cyclical anyway, but if you give it the Internet, it just accelerates and accelerates and accelerates and gets recycled quicker.”

Before he even gets time to catch a breath, he hurtles down a new path. “We've killed all the rockstars,” Healy proclaims. “You can't be a pantheon in the way you used to be – this is just an observation, it's not something I strive for – but like your Michael Jacksons, your Elvis Presleys, you go back further and you have your Fred Astaires, your Clark Gables. For those people, the separation between normal people and celebrity was way bigger than it is now. It's because we have the apparatus to connect with these people – I mean some don't – but on any given day there's a strong chance you could talk to, say, Aston from JLS. Pre-Internet, even bands like Boyzone still had this mystical presence... all of the channels that gave you the ability to see who they were were controlled. You didn't have this rogue thing where you could go around and get all the Boyzone information – it was fed to you. All these pre-packaged ideas made the separation massive, but now? 'Celebrity' is obtainable. It's very easy, and therefore it dilutes it.”

Healy's awful close to the modern-day equivalent of that pantheon, whatever that may be. He says culture's cyclical – will rockstars be resurrected?

“Oh it will. It has to,” Healy says, surer than anything he's said tonight. “We're predisposed to yearn for people. There will be a way we get all that back, I mean even now you've still got massive celebrities like Kanye West. Regardless of how much he goes on Twitter, he's still a rockstar.”

“People like you and me,” Healy continues, perhaps oblivious of his own celebrity status. “People like us – we've seen a famous person before. We could go to somewhere like Soho House and see famous people. There aren't that many people who could walk into the catering area of a festival and we'd be like 'oh my fucking god...' I mean who? Like Beyoncé? Kanye? Taylor Swift? Being a rockstar still exists for that level of celebrity, but for most of them, it's not the same anymore. Whether we get another Michael Jackson, or another Elvis? We'll see I guess, but I'm certain we'll create an environment for it to happen.”

The circumstances that society needs to create that kind of celebrity again elude even Healy. Despite having a label for the band's sound, he's unsure of where that puts them in the hierarchy of fame and music.

“There's pop music that is pop music today that I wouldn't consider pop music,” he says. “I wouldn't consider Rudimental pop music, but it is. I consider Olly Murs pop music, and he is. Do we make pop music? Is it too broad? We've purposefully subverted that question from the beginning.”

The 1975 are two albums deep, and from the outside it looks like they've got it all: fame, fortune, critical plaudits by the tonne. Subversion is surely the harder path to tread.

“I make music because I love it... we started making music together when we were 13 – the same time we first played football together or played video games together. It wasn't to get laid or to wear leather jackets or even because we were into bands... it was because me doing this and the guys doing that, and it sounding like it did was fucking exciting. So exciting that 13 year old kids could be into it. We started at 13 and couldn't get arrested by the time we were 23 – to get to 23 in the first place meant that we had to be doing it out of love. We're only three or four years later and that doesn't negate 11 years of what we did before – we're backstage in an arena today, but the setup is the same as when we were rehearsing at my mum's.”

Even if they've stayed the same, the world hasn't. The 1975 are among the biggest modern music stars. Transatlantic success was a cinch. They're at a pinnacle – where do they go from here?

“Don't ask me that,” Healy laughs. “Seriously.”

“I'm already making the third record. I was already making it before this one was out. I can't stop,” he says. “I read something funny that George [Daniel] had said about me in the press, he said that I'll come in one day making a film and a week later I've lost my charger but I'm writing an opera. That's just the way I am. If I have a big project to focus on then it works, like I Like It When You Sleep... which was pulled in from a million miles away. If I have the time then I can turn it into one thing, but I'm an excessive thinker and I don't take anything for granted. At this moment in my life I'm on a bit of a buzz. Everything's happening so fast that I couldn't tell you what's next,” he sighs.

“I'm excited though.”

While The 1975's debut dealt more with youth and lust, LP2 tackles – in parts – the ritual of fame, in particular its downsides. Healy may not know what's next, but if he was having issues before, the future must be terrifying.

“I'm a bit of a hermit,” Healy admits. “I don't really go out. I'm either watching films forensically, or searching for inspiration, or... like after we finish a show, me and George will watch a film then I'll go to bed. There's no big celebrity social life, and there's no whirlwind of fame and sex and drugs.”

In fact, the album's not even necessarily about Healy's dalliances with the A-list. “I've just made some observations which are, I think at least, interesting. I really didn't want to make a record that was all 'poor me, isn't being famous hard' or 'ooh! Look at me! I'm famous, how great is that?!' I was worried about it not being relatable initially, but I tried to really make sure that it was more about something we're all aware of. I want everyone to feel like they're in on the joke.”

Via a potent mixture of humour and emotion, Healy's done that, for the most part. I like it when you sleep... is many things, but self-obsessed isn't one of them, and that's mostly down to an authoritarian control. Everything is slickly produced and formed as part of Healy and The 1975's singular vision.

“I guess at this stage I want to rid any misconceptions that people may have about us having a marketing team – we don't. It's me, Jamie [Oborne, manager], and [Dirty Hit label boss] Ed Blow who operate all this stuff, and we have one of my best friends, Sam, who does the artwork. The artwork means as much as the record – it's all one thing. 'A Camel Is A Horse Designed By Committee' – I've said that a million times. If you've got a horse in your head, and you give it to 11 people, you're gonna get a camel – one person's vision is always more concise than something that's been diluted and compromised.”

“So yeah, we still control everything,” Healy continues. “Every visual, every video has been written by me – and I'm not sat here like Dennis Waterman saying 'I write the theme tune, I play the theme tune, I sing the theme tune'. It's a vision. The 1975 is our idea. It's our personality, and people buy into and believe personalities – we don't sell any fucking singles. The way you sell singles is very specific – it's the sum of loads of different parts. A number one single is a cultural movement in a way. Artist X or artist Y will sell fucking shitloads of singles, but first week the album will only do a few thousand copies. Why is that? People like having that artist's music on as part of their day, but they don't want to buy into the identity as part of their life. That's different for The 1975. A lot of people believe in us, people buy into our ideas; that's why we're so defined by our records. People ask me 'why albums?', i.e. such a strict, traditional format, but that's just what we are.”

When Healy says that people buy into The 1975, it's impossible to disagree. The devout fandom surrounding these four men is unreal.

“Manchester Apollo was weird because I'd been in that venue so many times,” Healy says. “Sometimes I'd get caught off guard when I was sat there, and I'd think about every single kid that's come in – I know the infrastructure of going to a gig there, the bus routes there, the bus routes home, where I stood all the times I'd watched bands. I can vividly imagine going to a show. If I start thinking about that, and all of these kids, the sheer numbers... after 10 minutes, especially if you're someone like me, you go fucking crazy.”

“I have suitcases I have to buy every time we go on tour to fit fan mail in. Having literal emotional baggage feels weird. That's part of why this record became what it is. I mean I can't take responsibility for all that – I'd be mad to do it. I'd go insane. No one expects that to be the case. But artistically, creatively, sentimentally... fucking hell, if we're getting this much emotional investment, the only rule is give that back. More so, even. Why is the album so long? Because of that. Why does it sound like it does? Because of that. That's the reason we doing everything; that and out of love of doing what we do.”

The 1975's latest single "A Change Of Heart" is out now.

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