The Week In Pop Q&A: The 1975’s Matt Healy On His Band’s Massive, Adventurous New LP
Matthew Healy answers the phone in a daze. “I get in to New York tomorrow. I’m in the UK at the moment. I just flew in from Singapore yesterday.” In the week leading up to their Saturday Night Live debut, the 1975’s shameless, ambitious, endlessly polarizing frontman has been all over the world.
His band’s new album covers almost as much ground. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it has an ungodly long title and a run time to match: 17 tracks spanning 74 minutes and a nearly unmanageable number of stylistic detours. Whereas 2013’s self-titled debut synthesized a wide range of influences into a gleaming guitar-pop signature sound, this one explodes outward, each track isolating various strands in the band’s DNA.
The album leads off with early singles “Love Me” and “UGH!” mining funky ’80s art-pop elements à la INXS, Peter Gabriel, and Scritti Politti, a kind of music that hasn’t made headway at American radio for decades. That sound alone would be a fascinating move from a pop-rock band in 2016, but the album merely uses it as a springboard for a wide array of sonic excursions. There’s an atheist gospel confession, an M83 ripoff that does justice to M83, an impeccable chillwave jam, a vibrant synth-pop track about the value Americans place on good teeth, a six-minute ambient electronic sprawl, a barebones acoustic ballad, a callback to the heyday of blog house, something like Savage Garden covering the Police, a mental breakdown anthem that bridges the gap between Phil Collins and Warped Tour, a saccharine tribute to Healy’s grandmother, and a Sigur Rós-esque instrumental called “Please Be Naked.”
Not all of it is great, but the highlights absolutely soar, and the accumulated mass of ideas makes for one of the most audacious pop albums in recent memory. Yet despite the band’s knack for pop craftsmanship and restless creative spirit, they inspire some of the angriest vitriol on the internet. Maybe it’s because Healy hams it up so preposterously, like a boy band pinup whose Robert Plant impression needs some work. Perhaps his tendency toward self-contradiction and pseudo-intellectual bloviation renders his music valueless for some — as if pretentious blowhards can’t also make inspired music. It could be that modern listeners no longer have a category for an adventurous rock band that’s also a sleek pop act. Whatever the reason, the 1975 are as passionately hated as they are fiercely beloved. Read my interview with Healy below.
STEREOGUM: On the first album you really honed in on this sound and did one thing exceptionally well. I get the sense that with this album you were really trying to spread it out in every direction and kind of destroy all expectations of what the band can be.
MATT HEALY: I don’t think there was as much conviction behind it in that sense as much as we just wanted it to be truly expressive. We’ve always been quite genre-less and we just wanted to expand on all the ideas that made the band what it is, so we wanted the poppier moments to be more poppy, the ’80s John Hughes-inspired moments to be more so, and all of these things to be sort of exaggerated. So yeah, we were just doing what we wanted.
STEREOGUM: Is that part of the reason the album is so long? Just so many different threads to explore?
HEALY: Well we kind of just went on this creative bender and let it finish when it finished. I mean, we didn’t have any rules. We named the album very early on what it is, and it kind of became this philosophy for the rest of the record that it was all about bold decisions and making music that inspired us.
STEREOGUM: The album title is quite long. What’s the story behind that?
HEALY: It’s just a lyric that was written down at the time we were trying to figure out what and how we were going to approach making a record. Being objectified and all these kinds of things and making a record as a public figure, it was a weird concept because it was always such an intimate, personal thing for us. But we had been writing a lot. And then we just decided early on, “Well fuck it, let’s just call it I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” because it was a lyric that was there that I liked that didn’t necessarily delineate what the record was going to be about. It was about making a bold decision so it was like, “Well, if it’s called that, it can be whatever the fuck we want.”
STEREOGUM: The subject matter on the album is pretty diverse too. You’ve got a song about mental health, a song about your grandmother, a song about religion and spirituality. It seems like your thoughts must be all over the place.
HEALY: Yeah, I undulate quite a lot mentally. I think about a lot, and when I write, it’s kind of a form of catharsis, and it gives things context for me. It’s quite a personal thing, it really is, writing music. That’s why I’m very lucky to be able to do it because it’s still a pursuit of enjoyment for me and genuine catharsis. I kind of need it.
STEREOGUM: You’ve talked some about not being a part of the celebrity VIP culture. You’ll be back at the epicenter of all that in a few months when you play Coachella again. Are you dreading it at all?
HEALY: It’s like high school in an oven, that’s what Coachella’s like. No, I’m not dreading it. I haven’t really been like slagging people off or name-checking anybody. What I’m really talking about is that I’ve just been making this record and living in this world so long that I don’t really exist in the world that my band exists in. You know what I mean? Like I’m not really going out partying with other people who are there because they do the same thing. I don’t really know. But then again I’m not really making that a part of my identity like, “Hey guys, I’m an outsider!” Do you know what I mean? I just kind of reference that a little bit in “Love Me.” I think it’s an interesting thing for the media to pick up on. I’m not being like, “Hey, I’m not in with the cool guys therefore I am cool.” Do you know what I mean? I’m not saying that at all. I’m just very very concentrated on my work is what I’m saying.
STEREOGUM: There are all kinds of different sounds on the album. It seems like rock is not a very radio-friendly genre in America anymore and there isn’t really another band that sounds quite like the 1975. Do you feel like you’re carving out a new lane in that respect?
HEALY: Yeah, but I think that because of our innate sensibilities to kind of always evolve — not in the sense of wanting to stay ahead of the game, but the way we create music is very similar to the way that we consume music — I think we’ll always be a step ahead of bands that are trying to sound like us, because by the time they sound like us, we don’t sound like that anymore.
STEREOGUM: I hear a lot of kind of different types of ’80s music in the sound of the album — a lot of INXS, Scritti Politti, Peter Gabriel, that sort of thing. Do you see those bands as a big reference point?
HEALY: Yeah, those are kind of the three main ones in “Love Me” aren’t they? The obvious ones. Along with Talking Heads and “Let’s Dance” by Bowie and that kind of thing. I mean So was an enormous part of my life. Tango In The Night is a really big record for us as well, by Fleetwood Mac. That really inspired this record. Yeah, Scritti Polliti. Alexander O’Neal, funnily enough, was a big part of this record; we love that album Hearsay. Michael and Janet Jackson too.
STEREOGUM: On “She’s American” you sing, “If she says I’ve got to fix my teeth, she’s so American.” I imagine that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but do American girls actually bug you about your teeth?
HEALY: No, no, no, but it’s more alluding to the fact that it holds a lot of currency in America, having good teeth. British people don’t have bad teeth, but that song is more about being British than it is about girls being American. I think that one was very playful and, like you said, very tongue-in-cheek. But it’s just based on the very kind of minute aspects of the interplay between kind of “young British boy in rock band and American girl.” Yeah, it’s a tale as old as time, it’s just another one of those songs.
STEREOGUM: In “The Ballad Of Me And My Brain” you get into some fairly heavy stuff about mental health. How have you been feeling in terms of our state of mind? Have you been feeling pretty together or all over the place or what?
HEALY: Not really — I mean my mind is kind of all over the place. My mind’s especially all over the place today because I do these interviews and I get really introspective. I’m sorry you’ve come right at the end the interviews, I’ve been doing a million today and it provokes a certain amount of introspection, and now I kind of maybe shut down a little bit. I’m OK, I just have a lot going on in my head, and it’s just difficult to articulate everything sometimes. That’s why music’s very important to me, because there’s loads of sounds and stuff going on that I just need to kind of get out. But yeah, I’m OK. I think that “The Ballad Of Me And My Brain” I wanted to be like the Replacements singing a Dr. Zeus song. I wanted it to be a berserk concoction of ideas and have this screaming kind of narrative. And it was quite intense; I actually did that in one take.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned the Replacements and Bowie and Talking Heads. You have a very young fan base. Are you hoping that your music will point your fans back in those artists’ directions? Do you see the possibility of the 1975 turning on some younger fans to classic older acts?
HEALY: I imagine so. I don’t ever reference anything for any contrived reason like that, thinking, “Hey, the kids will think I’m cool.” But then again I suppose when you have a following, like a literal following that you can see the numbers of on the internet, I suppose it’s a nice idea to think that if it’s good — you know, not in a patronizing way, but if people haven’t heard great records, it’s great to inform them of it.
STEREOGUM: Is there anything I didn’t ask that seems important to talk about?
HEALY: This album was me getting everything out. That’s how I want to be heard now, you know? That’s what I want to be judged on, and that’s what I want to be spoken about. That’s why we talk about not being part of celebrity culture. It’s not like I’m averse to all of these things, it’s that I want to be defined by my records, so that’s what I want to talk about. That’s what I stand for. The music that I make is the only thing that I want to be and be judged upon. I don’t care about anything else, you know? I don’t know if people find my behavior or the band’s interesting or anything like that.
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it is out 2/26 on Interscope/Dirty Hit.
Future’s EVOL debuts at #1 this week, giving the ATLien his third chart-topping debut in just over six months following last year’s DS2 and What A Time To Be Alive. As previously reported, Future racked up those three #1s faster than any artist since the cast of Glee did it in just one month and 19 days in 2010. 134,000 equivalent units (100,000 in pure sales) was just enough to beat Adele’s 25, which tallied 121,000 units in its 12th week on the chart. After Rihanna’s ANTI at #3 with 96,000 comes Coldplay’s A Head Full Of Dreams, which zooms from #16 to #4 with 90,000 units thanks to their part in the Super Bowl halftime show.
Justin Bieber’s Purpose is holding strong at #5. Then comes Wiz Khalifa’s new Khalifa at #6 with 64,000, a significant drop-off from the 90,000-strong #1 debut for 2014’s Blacc Hollywood. (Blame Kanye?) Also debuting are the Now 57 compilation (#7, 63,000) and Elton John’s Wonderful Crazy Night (#8, 58,000). Twenty One Pilots’ Blurryface and Kevin Gates’ Islah round out the top 10.
The top of the Hot 100 shuffles about quite a bit this week. Most notably, ZAYN’s #1-debuting “Pillowtalk” falls to #7 in its second week, clearing the way for Bieber’s “Love Yourself” to return to #1. That also allows Twenty One Pilots’ “Stressed Out” to reach a new peak of #2. Two other top-10 hits reach new highs, with Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” climbing to #4 and G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha’s “Me, Myself & I” ascends to #8.
ZAYN – “It’s You”
Although it instantly shot to #1, “Pillowtalk” was an underwhelming opening statement. “It’s You” is much more promising, an easy R&B ballad that reminds me of Radiohead’s “House Of Cards,” oddly enough.
Gwen Stefani – “Make Me Like You”
This roller-rink disco ditty is the most likable Stefani single in years. And, Target sponsorship aside, I actually thought the live video was pretty cool?
Walk The Moon – “Work This Body”
It’s pretty wild to hear late-aughts blog fodder becoming top-40 pop. Arguably it’s been happening for years, but I’ve never heard it crystallize quite so clearly as on Walk The Moon’s big “Shut Up And Dance” followup. The most obvious influence on “Work This Body” is Vampire Weekend, but there’s also a heavy Animal Collective undercurrent, which is wild in multiple senses of the word.
Pitbull – “Bad Man” (Feat. Robin Thicke, Joe Perry, & Travis Barker)
This is like if Applebee’s, Olive Garden, T.G.I. Fridays, and Outback Steakhouse collaborated on a special limited-time menu.
Christina Milian – “Liar”
Milian is a cipher, but this is a better Jhené Aiko song than I’ve heard from Aiko herself in a while.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- This week’s Grammys had a 7-year-low in viewership. [AP]
- TMZ hints that it wasn’t bronchitis that kept Rihanna from performing at the Grammys. [TMZ]
- And speaking of Rihanna, she held her first fashion show for Puma at NYFW. Gigi Hadid closed the show sporting the line’s humongous hoodie. [NYT]
- And one more Rihanna thing: Her British accent is hilarious. [Twitter]
- Fifth Harmony’s new single is out next week. [Direct Lyrics]
- Brace yourself for Bastille LP2. [YouTube]
- Justin Bieber offered an in-depth explanation of his various tattoos. [GQ]
- Cartoon animals sing pop songs in the cute trailer for American Idol-meets-Madagascar movie Sing. Tori Kelly plays the elephant. [YouTube]
- For the second time this month, police picked up a strange man outside Taylor Swift’s house in LA. [TMZ]
- Justin Timberlake and Alfonso Ribeiro did the Carlton together on a golf course. [Twitter]
- Pink covers Jefferson Airplane in the new Alice Through The Looking Glass trailer. [YouTube]
- No one showed up to that much-discussed Anti-Beyoncé rally, which was probably a prank. [Deadspin]
- Vanessa Hudgens is under criminal investigation for defacing rocks in Arizona. [TMZ]
- Metalcore band Bring Me The Horizon trashed Coldplay’s table at the NME Awards. [Idolator]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
— Philadelphia Police (@PhillyPolice) February 18, 2016