Keith Allen didn’t know what to expect when he met The Futureheads. He had anticipated one word answers, or polished robotic replies from industry professionals. But, that’s not what he got when he met up with Ross and Dave from the band backstage at Levi’s Audio at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton.
The interview was after the band’s ‘secret’ show that Levi’s had put on outside Audio, and their following acoustic session backstage. Did they seem tired, disinterested? No, they were on top form. For a band who will celebrate their 10th birthday this year, they seemed as keen, enthusiastic, driven and confident as you’d expect a new band to be.
Ross: – “We’ve done more or less everything you can do as a band, we’ve toured all over the world, we’ve recorded four albums, and now it comes down to like, when you make a decision to continue making music you’ve gotta have a good reason, it’s not just doing it for a laugh anymore, we’re doing it because we’re interested in playing (the guitar), we wanna write better songs, or play bigger shows.”
Dave: “I think we’re doing that. We are writing better songs, and we are gigging, we’re still gigging which is bizarre, we’re still together, you know like, ten years, not many bands last that long, especially a band with two brothers in it.”
Although the Futureheads have had continued success since 2004’s eponymous debut album, it seems fame hasn’t changed them; they still all live in the North East, and still love local delicacies, such as ‘parmo’.
Ross: “We all still live in the North East….we practice in Sunderland, we rehearse in Sunderland, record in Sunderland so very vey local…being from the North East is a massive part of our band, identity wise, being from the North East, with the accent and the way we play and the songs we write, it’s really important.
“Barry is the Parmo guy, because basically we played Middlesbrough earlier in the tour and he put this thing out on twitter asking for the best place to go for a parmo in ‘Boro”
Dave: “What is it; chicken stuffed with cheese an tomato sauce?”
Ross: “Ay, the twitter went off the Richter on where to get a good parmo.”
Parmo aside, things could have all been very different for the band, they didn’t start out with the intention of making a living from it, as Ross explains, “You start off wonderfully naive, it was the perfect beginning for our band…we didn’t know anything about the business, we didn’t expect to making a living out of it, we were just along for the ride..we were fully prepared to do it on an amateur level.”
Speaking of perfect beginnings, the band’s second single, ‘Decent Days and Nights’ back in 2004, catapulted the band from obscurity to the mainstream, with mass radio play and support from DJs such as Zane Lowe and Huw Stephens. They followed that with what has been their biggest single to date, the cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’. So, five years later, it’s refreshing to find that instead of being bored of the song, ruing their decision to cover it in the first place, and annoyed that they’re intrinsically linked to that song, and most interviewers (including me) will ask them about the song, and its link to their early success, they still seem to love it, and enjoy playing it (it was included in the short set today).
Ross: “Hounds of love changed the way we perceived ourselves… I do think that song and the success of it had an effect on our writing and the way we chose to move our song writing on. But if we hadn’t had that sort of song I think we would have gone the other way and gone a lot more, maybe like, underground you know. I think we would have started our own label sooner than we did… I think we’d still be touring and all that jazz, but I don’t think we’d necessarily be expecting to be played on the radio.”
Radio seems to be an important element for the Futureheads, with Dave adding that, “Twist was a bigger hit for us, almost a bigger hit for us than Hounds; it was a big radio hit.” With the UK’s music scene continuing to change, evolve (and in some instances devolve), it is unsurprising to find the Futureheads very much aware of what’s going on around them, in no mind to change what they’re doing to fit within it.
Ross: “We were part of that Zeitgeist thing in 2004/5, where you had Bloc Party and Franz, it was almost like a sound that summed up that couple of years, you know like, angular guitars, a little bit of dissonance. Now we’ve kinda moved into the last few years and it’s all about the Goddess, you know the female fronted thing, the synthesiser thing, it’s really grabbing all the headlines and I think that’s essential…things move around, things shift about. As long as a band we focus on what we can and can’t do, every band has their limitations, and within that, we’re not about to get in a synthesiser, or a set of decks, you know what I mean, but you move because you’re effected by these new things that come along.”
Along with sticking to their strengths, as an established band they’re keen to champion new music such as Manchester outfit Dutch Uncles and Sunderland’s Frankie & The Heartstrings (who also played at Levi’s Audio this weekend). Ross adds, “When we meet young musicals, if they pass us a CD, it gets listened to…. a lot of time when we tour we’ll have travelling support and a local support band on first.”
Not only do the Futureheads champion new music, they also champion the grey squirrel. I asked them “who would win in a fight between a badger and a squirrel”:
Dave: “What colour squirrel?”
Ross – “Squirrel, the grey squirrel is a real pest, it’s killing off all of the red squirrels.”
Dave: “Badgers are very relaxed; squirrels are very fast, and quite bitchy, aren’t they?”
Ross – “Um hum, and they’ve got about the same reach, so in that case its gotta be the grey squirrel.”
Dave: “I would say the squirrel as well.”
Moving on from Squirrels and Badgers and new bands, it seems that the Futureheads have a big year ahead of them, with festivals across Europe and potentially another tour before taking some time off. Time off which could be followed by a new album.
Ross: “It’s kinda hard to even think about doing another record cos this is the first tour for this album…once we’ve done Europe and America and the songs start coming in a little bit more maybe the fifth album will be on the horizon.”
Or followed by something different
Ross: “We’ve talked about doing other projects, maybe doing something that’s a little bit less traditional than an album, like working with an arts group or like a rock opera type thing maybe…something out of the box”
Dave: “A musical or something like that…kinda do something else for one year”
So there you have it, The Futureheads, at The Great Escape, saying a rock opera is on the cards.
The three other things Keith took away from this interview were:
1) Ross used to look like Pavel Srníček, the old Newcastle Goalkeeper “man that was some bad hair”
2) Dave gets mistaken for Gaz from Supergrass “but that’s just the ape thing”
3) Barry thinks that the best invention in the future would be a teleportation device, but it’s probably already been invented.