The 1975 on Channeling Personal Issues Into Chart-Topping Rock

The 1975 on Channeling Personal Issues Into Chart-Topping Rock

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The 1975 on Channeling Personal Issues Into Chart Topping Rock news
The 1975 on Channeling Personal Issues Into Chart Topping Rock news

The 1975 have become one of rock's biggest new bands, thanks to singer 
Matt Healy, a shirtless scatterbrain who channels personal issues into hooks. Photograph by Josh Goleman

Matt Healy reaches his hand into a plastic bag and sparks his third joint of the past hour, then holds it out an open window of his New York hotel suite. “I smoke weed like people drink – like it’s nothing,” Healy says in his light Manchester accent, staring out at the Jersey skyline across the river. The singer, 26, rattles off his other compulsions: biting his nails, checking his phone, chain-smoking cigarettes and masturbating. “I have a hard time sitting still,” he says. “I used to think that I really liked my own company, but I didn’t. I just liked being on drugs.”

The songs Healy writes for his band, the 1975, are a diary of these kinds of issues – depression, fractured relationships, a brief flirtation with heroin – all buried in synths, Eighties pop-funk grooves and huge hooks.

“I’m not that mentally stable, if I’m honest with you,” he says at one point. “I don’t really venture very far out of the world of the 1975, and nobody judges me here, and I’m safe here. I make records, and then I get praised for my honesty. But it drives me crazy because it’s my whole life. And I can’t give my life to anybody else. And then I think, ‘Am I a narcissist?'”

Healy unleashes more head trips on the 1975’s new album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, which will establish the 1975 as the biggest new U.K. band since Mumford & Sons: The album will likely debut at Number One, and the band will launch its first U.S. arena tour this spring. Moods on the LP range from “Nana,” a plain-spoken ballad about the death of Healy’s grandmother, to a four-and-a-half-minute instrumental called “Please Be Naked.” Like Healy himself, the album is rambling, exhausting, confessional, scatterbrained – and a lot of fun. “I like cherry-picking anything shiny I find in my cap,” he says of the band’s slightly schizophrenic sound. “I grew up with the ability to reference things a million miles a minute. I used to have a different vibe every week of school. That’s what our records are like.”

“He’s fleetingly obsessive,” says drummer George Daniel of Healy. “He’ll turn up with a video camera and projector: ‘Look, I’m making a film.’ ‘Yeah, all right.’ Two weeks later, he’s lost the camera charger and he’s forgotten about it. That’s what makes him great when he’s focusing on his work. He’s either all the way on or all the way off.”

The 1975 began as an emo band, back in the genre’s heyday in the early 2000s.

Healy, Daniel, guitarist Adam Hann and bassist Ross MacDonald spent their days after school in Cheshire, England, practicing in a shed owned by Healy’s parents, British TV-sitcom stars Tim Healy and Denise Welch (Electric Light Orchestra leader Jeff Lynne was a close family friend). The band stayed together after graduating from Wilmslow High School (the same high school Harry Styles later attended), striking out with labels for years under several different band names – including Drive Like I Do and the Slowdown – before manager Jamie Oborne began financing the releases himself. “I knew they were going to be fucking huge,” he said.

The 1975 released four EPs in two years, beginning in 2012, overhauling their sound in the process. Gone were the heavy guitars and screamo vocals, replaced by bright keyboards and Michael Jackson falsettos. “It’s just all a very exaggerated world, quite high-intensity,” says Daniel, who writes and produces the music with Healy. “People really relate to it. It’s kind of the new emo. We connect with our fans in an extreme way. There’s a tribalism to it – they feel like we’re theirs.”

The 1975 on Channeling Personal Issues Into Chart Topping Rock news
The 1975 onstage at the Bodega Social Club in Nottingham, England, 2013. Ollie Millington/Getty

Healy began exaggerating the quirks of his personality in videos 
and onstage. He transformed him-
self into a shirtless, mic-humping Lothario – a “sexually confused Ed
ward Scissorhands character,” in his words. “There’s a fragility met with a
kind of aggressive confidence. And a kind of camp,” he says. “Gyrating my hips and stuff – it’s quite Rocky Horror.” Healy had always been good at provocation: “I used to bring sexuality to fighting at school,” he says. “If a kid was trying to fight me, I’d call boys, like, ‘Baby,’ and tell them, ‘I want to suck your dick,’ or something. You know, like, I’d throw them off.”

The band played nearly 200 shows over the course of a year, earning fans like Rihanna, who invited the 1975 to tour with her (they had to turn her down due to a scheduling conf lict), and One Direction, who asked Healy to write songs for them. Taylor Swift also started wearing the band’s shirts. After she came to a couple of shows, gossip sites even speculated Swift and Healy were dating. “Nothing really happened,” he says. “It showed me a world that I wasn’t really prepared for. One thing that must happen, and will happen, is that before anything else, I’ll be spoken about because of my records, not because I’m the guy that dated someone.”

Healy’s uneasiness with the pop world is a major theme on the band’s new album. The sleaze-funk single “Love Me” blasts Hollywood’s fake friendships. “It’s this whole ‘squad-goals’-y thing, this aspirational upper-echelon social hierarchy,” he says. “The whole thing is kind of constructed. It’s aspiring to be people in a picture.”

Healy’s unchained personality has gotten him into trouble. In 2014, he was accused of conflating ISIS with the Muslim faith on Twitter. After a fan criticized him, he shot back, “I resent being ‘educated’ by a Harry Styles fan account.” Last summer, Healy’s drunken behavior at Los Angeles hot spot the Nice Guy had Justin Bieber openly wondering who Healy was, and who let him in. “I’m like, ‘Fuck you, Justin Bieber, you little bitch!’ ” Healy says. He ended up smoking a bong with a group of fans outside, which was memorialized on TMZ. “Really stupid,” he says. “I usually never put myself in those situations.”

As he eats dessert at the hotel bar, Healy has harsh words for today’s pop stars, running through the biggest songs on the charts and pointing out how shallow they are. “We resent a lot of people because we fucking care about what we do. And people don’t care about what they do. If they did, they wouldn’t be in a shitty band that’s put together by somebody. They wouldn’t be molded. I worry people don’t like my band. But at least I stand for something.”

In December 2014, Healy had an onstage meltdown at Boston’s House of Blues. He cried throughout the set. In a moment that was seized on by the U.K. press, a fan shouted she loved him. “You don’t have the right to love me,” Healy barked. “You don’t know me. I love you, but you don’t get to love me.” Now, Healy blames the incident on “too much drinking, too many drugs, getting more famous.” “I was on a bit of a downward spiral,” he adds. “It was like, ‘Fuck it. If you want this character, I can give you that. If I want to cry, I’m going to cry.’ I think I kind of wanted to see what it was like, being truly indulgent. Like a true tragedy. It was kind of cool, actually. I think I enjoyed it.” Healy insists he’s trying to behave himself these days. He derides cocaine as “a quick way to a nervous breakdown. But as soon as I have three drinks…” He snorts an imaginary line. “That’s always gonna be there.”

Three weeks later, on a frigid Friday afternoon on New York’s Lower East Side, a line slopes around Orchard Street outside the band’s “pop-up shop,” a storefront decorated in the new album’s artwork where the band is holding meet-and-greet sessions all day. Fans started lining up last night, and more than 1,000 have showed up today. Inside the shop, drummer Daniel sniffs one of the weed jars a fan gave the band. “Everyone’s been giving it to us today,” he says with a grin.

The 1975 on Channeling Personal Issues Into Chart Topping Rock news
Matthew Healy, during the first night of a five-night residency at the Brixton Academy in London, 2016. Ollie Millington/Getty Images

The crowd is girl-heavy, but the band hasn’t been slipped any phone numbers: “Most of them are, like, 15,” MacDonald jokes. Between meeting groups of fans, Oborne keeps the 1975 up to date on early sales figures for I Like It When You Sleep. Good news: He says they’re number one in 37 countries. He also notes the album’s songs take the top 11 chart spots in Jordan. “Jordan? Love it,” says Daniel. “I couldn’t really tell you where it is,” adds Healy. “It’s an Arabic country, right?”

Every 10 minutes a different group of fans files in, asking for autographs, photos and videos for friends who couldn’t make it. There are lots of tears. A recently divorced dad thanks Healy for helping him bond with his daughter. Earlier, Healy met a girl who told him the band’s music helped her overcome three bouts of cancer. “It’s really powerful. I don’t really know what to say most of the time,” he says.

Healy knows many of these fans by name and keeps track of who he’s taken photos with and who he hasn’t, ushering each group out after its allotted time. “Everyone get the fuck out of my shop,” he deadpans, rolling his eyes. “Fucking kids.” At 4 p.m. sharp, the band races past screaming fans to a waiting SUV and speeds off, leaving many girls here in tears. The band will do the same thing in London the day after tomorrow, but Healy isn’t complaining. This is exactly what he’s been waiting for. “We have no intentions apart from reaching our potential,” he says. “On our last album, I was expecting bigger things. I wanted every step we took to be bigger and better. So I’m prepared for this.”

From The Archives Issue 1257: March 9, 2016

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