I’m in Austin, Texas. As I sip my first coffee of the day with Matt Healy of The 1975, we’re both in a ruminative mood. “I love watching, as someone from England, people from America, because it’s like a movie,” he says. “It sounds like such a silly thing to say, but they’re not making that up; it’s actually how they sound and talk.”
We’re at the annual “music industry’s holiday” that is SXSW, and we’ve got that ‘Englishman abroad’ feeling. We’re both a touch hungover and we’re eating Mexican burritos for breakfast at a place called Juan In A Million. It’s a little after 9.30am, and I’m in shorts and a t-shirt – the humidity is high and the temperature is rapidly following suit. Despite being “lucky to sleep” between the eleven shows the band have across SXSW, and being in the middle of a near-continuous tour, Matt is enjoying being in Texas “we’ve just got used to being in a different city every day, so I think we’ve actually found some solace in just being in one place even if it is like the busiest festival around. I would be here if I wasn’t in my band, probably.”
The 1975 have I think, been unfairly lumped in with a whole group of nuevo-guitar bands that have surfaced recently, and it’s only when you look past their more radio-friendly hits that you start to reach what they’re about, or trying to at any rate. Matt describes his approach throughout our meeting as “the pursuit of excellence”, qualifying that with “we just made music for our friends and for us to get high to and fall in love to.” They adopted an unconventional approach to releasing music, one that immediately grabbed the listening public and that (with hindsight) seems like such a logical step. He explains: “what we wanted to do, instead of releasing singles, is take three or four tracks off the album as singles and write records around them.”
And why not? Why should you just release a single on its own to the world? Why not release it in a cocoon of context? He elaborates: “Those three EPs we kinda treated as our first album. There’s a certain honesty to them, like a certain feel of 2 in the morning; we’d wake up, we’d record, we’d get high, we’d record, we’d be with our girlfriends, we’d record…” It sounds pretty ideal, and this expansive, louche attitude comes through in the records – they create a world and allow the tracks to breathe; a welcome necessity as Matt concedes “I’ve lived with some of this material for a long time, and I know it back to front.”
It’s an important thing to note – The 1975 aren’t fresh off the major label pop-factory conveyor belt, they’ve been around for years: “We started when we were 13 with this lineup so that’s like 10 years of playing together – we don’t have any growing up to do in public,” he says. In the light of this slow evolution followed by the explosive climax of the last 12 months’ chart success, he’s been re-evaluating his oeuvre. “It’s so interesting having people’s response,” he says, “but when it comes to influences and stuff, I can only live by my own conviction – if I start worrying about how people are going to perceive our music, then it won’t really be our music anymore.” It’s then that the heat and the tiredness start to kick in. We both dive headfirst into the implacable world of complex theory that normally happens after 4am at a house party.
“Listen I’m very pretentious when I get a moment,” he warns, before saying “certain people have said certain things about our songs to me and I kind of think maybe that IS what it’s about. Once I’ve done it, then it exists, then it’s its own thing, you know, where it came from is kinda irrelevant, what people take from it…” We’re straying into Roland Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ territory here, but we’re both enjoying a little morning debate about artistry, authenticity and authorial intent. “I think timeless music is created by people that aren’t even thinking about time and the way things ‘should’ happen,” Matt states; “an individualist vision that is auteured is always gonna be more concise than something that is kinda watered down and diluted by a compromise.”
It is the kind of conversation that you don’t usually find yourself in over breakfast, but like I say, there’s a deeper side to The 1975 and the way they construct their music, something that reminds me of a seminal record from about a decade ago, and Matt agrees: “We’re from a very middle class, Barratt Homes background, and a record like ‘Original Pirate Material’ is one of the most important records to me; I think like that record was like a modern day Dostoyevsky meets like Samuel Pepys. It was genius.” Matt finishes off with a self-effacing shrug, saying “we create in the same way that we consume.”
On the subject of creating, despite a decade in and material that’s grown outwards, there’s no sign of easing off the pedal for the band. “It’s hard for me to not constantly be creating,” Matt says, “I worried so much about this band taking off that now I think fuck it man!” With another few months of a US tour still ahead and then the relentless schedule of the European festival season still to come, are they not daunted by the prospect? “We’ve been doing this for 10 years though; if I moan about that, it’s false economy,” he says plainly, concluding as the third round of coffee refills hits the cup “I genuinely find solace in working; this is holiday for me.”