The 1975: Playing on my mind…

After a longer wait than originally advertised, ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ is finally here. 22 tracks that see The 1975 in more ambitious, expansive form than ever before, we dialled in to a locked down Matty Healy to delve deep into the minds of the most important band of their generation. Turns out, he had some stuff to say too.

The 1975 have never stopped. Their self-titled debut came in 2013, followed by ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ in 2016 and ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ in 2018. All three records got to Number 1 in the UK, as well as earning them gongs at The BRITs and Ivor Novellos, plus two Mercury Prize noms. They’ve headlined London’s The O2 six times, Brixton Academy eight times and scored a bill-topping slot at last year’s Reading & Leeds. They’ve been hated, they’ve been adored and now, as they prepare to release ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ at a time where the world is in violent flux, The 1975 are one of the biggest, and most beloved, bands around. But it’s not getting any easier.

When The 1975 first exploded onto the scene with the neon-lit romance of their debut, they were – to put it bluntly – despised. (“It’s still our weirdest album. Everyone talks about each album being so different, and they are, but it’s the first one that’s really different.”) What people didn’t get, though, was that their hyper poppy, deeply conceptual music was their way of being rebellious. “We thought making a pop record was really punk because we didn’t do that. We forgot that people didn’t know who ‘we’ were,” admits Matty. “It took a while to get that it was an authentic expression.” For those who did get it, The 1975 quickly became a band to believe in. To live by. Others wrote them off as insincere or annoying, hoping they’d quickly go to The Great Indie Dumper In The Sky. They had other ideas, though. ‘I like it when you sleep’ furthered the battle lines as they took the criticism and turned it into colourful armour. When they performed ‘The Sound’ at The BRITs in 2017, messages taken from the song’s video like “unconvincing emo lyrics”, “punch-your-TV obnoxious”, “vapid derivative pop” and “boring recycled wannabes” flashed alongside them. Turning the hate into a celebration made people even angrier. How dare a band be so damn cocky.

Recently though, there’s been a shift. The 1975 are no longer the same divisive force they once were. The big radio hits of ‘Love It If We Made It’, ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ and ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ made them impossible to avoid, with the bluster of ‘The Sound’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Love Me’ replaced with something altogether warmer. Elsewhere their festival headline slots of 2019 gave the doubters a chance to see them at their undeniable best. For some, it was like the oddly shaped pieces of The 1975 finally slotted into place. On their debut, they were seen by many as irritating. ‘I like it when you sleep’ felt to have that swagger bordering on arrogance of a band who knew exactly what they could become, but ‘A Brief Inquiry’ finally revealed them for what they really were; colourful, contradictory, full of heart.

“The only thing that I wanted by the time we got to Reading was for The 1975 to be like a cartoon. All the best bands are cartoon characters. Aggressive, romantic, aspirational – whatever it was, I wanted it to feel cartoonish and on the nose. Even dropping ‘People’ the night before and opening with it, that was a big moment. People were like ‘fair enough, it takes a lot of bollocks to headline your first major festival and open with a song that’s been out for like, 6 hours’.”

The 1975: Playing on my mind...
The 1975: Playing on my mind...

It was a victory for the underdogs. “We weren’t supposed to get big,” offers Matty. “I wrote that first record pretty much for us to listen to and to play supporting [early-00s Brit-rock stalwarts] Hundred Reasons in Manchester. It was going to be released into the alternative ether of nothingness because I couldn’t get signed. We’d been told we wouldn’t get big. We’d been doing music for ten years, so why would we think it would happen? We’d tried, and it didn’t work. We tried another route, and we were told we weren’t good enough. Fine, we’ll just do it for ourselves.” So they, along with manager Jamie Oborne, set up their own label – Dirty Hit. A year before their debut, the band were playing venues like the 200 capacity Barfly in Camden. Four months after it was released, they’d sold out three headline shows at Brixton Academy. Things didn’t stop growing there, either. Now, they’re one of the biggest and brightest around.

“I don’t know how to be big,” admits Matty. “I don’t know how to do The 1975. I don’t know what making an album is. There is no formula for it, so I can only react naturally to stuff.” It’s why ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ is sprawling and introspective, rather than trying to increase The 1975’s market share with big, brash pop songs alone. “That’s the opposite of what we were doing. If people feel like you’re trying to give them what they want, they smell a rat and then you’re done.”

Rather than being larger than life, album four focuses on the small. The delicate. The vital. Etched on the vinyl is the message ‘If you find this in the future please know that this was us trying’. “And we are just trying,” starts Matty. “We’re just trying to make sense of all of this shit. People put expectations on us, we put expectations on ourselves, some are lived up to some are underwritten. It’s about reacting to what’s happening and trusting my instinct.”

Originally ‘Notes’ was meant to come out last summer. Then February 2020. Then April. Now it’s 22nd May, and the record is finally yours. When they first started work, there was “a little bit of pressure”, but it only lasted for a week. “We were standing on the top of our most critically acclaimed, successful album, talking about a new album that literally didn’t exist. We had nothing. It was a very daunting prospect.”

‘Frail State Of Mind’ was the first thing written and “as soon as we had that, I knew what we were doing.” The track takes the TikTok urgency of ‘TOOTIME’ and twists it into something fragile and scared to leave the house. “Go outside? Seems unlikely,” Matty sings. “We were making the most real The 1975 record, which is a complete synthesis of aspirational American culture and miserablist British culture.”

But the quiet doesn’t mean ‘Notes’ shies away from being daring. From the call to rebel opening of ‘The 1975’ – a collaboration with climate activist Greta Thunberg – to the bratty nu-metal crunch of ‘People’ that bundles up the band’s long-standing mantra of empowering the youth with the keys to their own future and streamlines it into an impossible to ignore blitz of vitriol, the band are at their most extreme. Even the quiet moments yell. ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ is a snapshot of self-indulgence and societal prejudice, an anthem for anyone feeling alone in their bedroom and a warm reminder that you’re really not. The lush pop of ‘Roadkill’, on the other hand, sees Matty try to make sense of a life lived in the crosshairs, “took shit for being quiet during the election and maybe that’s fair enough”, while the closing ‘Guys’ is a sentimental closing montage on The 1975 story so far. “The moment that we started a band was the best thing that ever happened,” he sings softly. Despite their history of doing whatever the fuck they want, ‘Notes’ is the first album that sees The 1975 acting like it’s now or never. It might be because it feels like the world might actually end any day now, it might be because they’ve reached the very top of the musical pile, it could even be because they were planning to take a much-needed break. Still, whatever it is, The 1975 approached ‘Notes’ with the belief, “If not now, when?”

“All the best bands are cartoon characters”
Matty Healy

In the early days of The 1975, their music dealt with blowjobs and tenbags. Now it’s racism, climate change and the economy, but they don’t miss the simpler times. “I don’t think about other people watching when I’m writing, but I definitely think about me watching. I hold myself to a standard that I didn’t use to. That’s not necessarily about quality, it’s about content.” The band never want to make the same record twice, and that includes the lyrical content. “Every time I make a record, I put everything into it so by the time I get to the next record, the things that I have to talk about get more specific. My records have become more specific in their moments but way broader in scope.”

Because of that, “‘Notes’ doesn’t have one overarching message.” It reflects the world around us, and life is never that simple. “The world isn’t fair. Reality is chaos; therefore, it’s unfair. With the internet, we’re informed of as much chaos as possible, which makes everything feel unbearable. We’re just part of this massive social experiment, and we’re conducting it ourselves.” ‘Notes’, like ‘A Brief Inquiry’, asks questions of our new reality. “Can society sustain the way that we’re communicating with each other? Is my anxiety, my anxiety? Is that separate from the algorithm that is the internet that keeps us informed of all of the chaos in reality? I don’t think so. I’m not surprised when I look at the world and see the amount of mental health issues that there are going around.” ‘Notes’ is a snapshot of a planet in turmoil. “I’m constantly growing and changing, and so is the world. Art and conversation is just a reaction to that. All I do is make art and talk about it,” continues Matty before pausing.

“It’s hard to do now because,” he sighs. “I just need to live, man. I’ve had an amazing life, but I didn’t have a twenties. I was onstage for my whole twenties, and I didn’t grow up properly. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, I’m just saying I need some life experiences that are fundamentally different. [Some of The 1975’s fans] have got kids, proper jobs or have got married. I’m talking to people who have an understanding of a world that I don’t even have access to.”

It’s something other A-list stars are finding themselves forced to tackle too. Earlier this year, Halsey announced she was taking a break from touring for similar reasons. “I pride myself on being able to make mistakes, then write songs about them, so you don’t have to make them,” she said from onstage at London’s The O2. “I started realising I can’t do my job anymore ‘cos you guys are growing up faster than I am. I decided that it’s my time to do some growing up, so I can write better music when I come back. Truth be told, as much fun as I’ve had watching you guys grow up, I want to grow up with you.”

“That’s a very wise thing to say,” starts Matty. “That’s a really commendable stance to take. I don’t want to do that, though. I don’t want to slow down,” he laughs before admitting, “I’m scared. There’s a line on ‘Roadkill’ that’s ‘I’ll take a minute when I think I won’t die from stopping’. I feel a bit like a shark.”

The 1975: Playing on my mind...

Matty thought he could have it all; a successful life on the road and a healthy, normal one to come home. “[But] building a relationship with a place, an animal, a person is dangerous when you do what I do. I just feel like, in order to be as emotionally present in my art and on stage, I’ve had to get rid of some of that emotional presence in my real life, and it’s fucking me up now.” In the past ten years, the most time Matty’s had off in a row is six days. He runs his own label, so that’s his decision, but he’s quickly discovering that it’s unsustainable. “I felt like there were no sacrifices, no compromises that I needed to make, but that’s left me in a place where I don’t want to be, and it could have been avoided.”

“This pandemic has been really difficult for me,” he continues. “I’m a weird person because I’m madly self-obsessed, but I also don’t like myself. I’m better on stage or in an interview than I am in real life, I’ll tell you that much. Doing what I do, you can very easily become a narcissist. I have a lot of love in my life, but I’ve made a habit of getting up in the morning and curating a world around me that is in service of my vision. I inherently become selfish,” he starts, before apologising. “Sorry I’ve made so much of the interview about this, it’s just that I’m really going through it right now.

“I’ve also been depressed for a very long time. I don’t really talk about it that much because I find it romanticises or fetishes my already quite sadboy image, but the fact of the matter is, I’ve been really fucking depressed for a long time. I’ve been fine with it. I’ve made a career out of it. I’ve made excuses out of it. I’ve done everything that I can do with it, and I’m tired now. I’m just tired of it.”

Young people have always looked at Matty for guidance. His ever-evolving world view and ability to own his various mistakes made him an endearing and relatable role model. “I never pretended that I have the answers, but now I’m starting to get wary of even talking. Not because I get cancelled every week, I can deal with that. It’s more to do with the fact that I feel irresponsible. On the last tour, young people were literally looking up at me, and I felt like I was too mentally ill to understand that responsibility properly.

“I feel like an imposter a lot of the time because I do talk about anxiety, depression and all these things in my music, and I fucking mean them, but when someone’s actually looking at you, it doesn’t feel like they’re looking at your music. It feels like they’re looking at you. It feels like they want an answer, and I feel so unequipped to give them one or to guide them in the right way. I don’t know how comfortable I am now celebrating the idea of ‘this is what I would do’ because that’s gotten me here and this is the last place that I want any of you to be.”

Even though Matty might not have the answers, what The 1975 have always done really well in their music is offer a sense of community. Whether that’s through headphones on the back of a bus or in an arena with thousands of strangers, their songs are anthems of never truly being alone. ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ is a stark admission of suicidal thoughts but it’s twisted to sound like Oasis at their stadium-commanding best. Live, people sing along not just because they know the words, but because they mean them from the depths of their hearts. It takes a special band to inspire such moments of tear-flecked joy.

“Creating that environment for people is worth being that open, but when you’re on stage, and they’re staring at me, I don’t feel enough. And I want to feel enough now. I want to feel adequate. I feel like I deserve to really enjoy the things that I’ve achieved. I don’t want to be crying before I go onstage at Madison Square Garden because I don’t feel anything.”

The band have “always” felt like they needed a break, but it’s easier said than done. “I can’t not create because that makes me depressed. I do feel pointless if I’m not doing something or making something of value. The idea of stopping terrifies me so much because I have to tour in order to make a living. The 1975 is successful, but we’re still essentially the world’s biggest alternative band. My money is in live, and I’ve spent all my money on The 1975.”

Matty promises us that he’s looking after himself and that he’s going to be alright.

“This situation has given me a lot of time to think and the one thing that I needed, that I didn’t have, was time. People don’t change until it’s too hard not to. I’m looking after myself. I’m really trying to anyway because I’ve really not wanted to and it’s so easy to slide. I am depressive, and if I don’t put the work in, then I am depressed. I’m doing the work, but I’m not very well. I always talk about it as if I am, but I’ve realised that I’m not. I don’t want to do this anymore unless I’m alright because there’s no point. Everyone’s got a lot of work to do on themselves, but this situation has really highlighted it for me.”

“‘Notes’ feels like the end of something but it’s quite obviously the start of something else”
Matty Healy

It’s not just ‘Notes’ that trembles with a now or never attitude; The 1975 have also been taking that approach to making bigger changes. The band have started doing things like planting trees for every ticket sold and making a pledge to only play festivals with a more equal gender balance.

“I do spend time thinking about my platform and my privilege, but what I think about more is that I don’t really have an upward relationship with other bands anymore.” Sure, he still has heroes, and he still gets giddy when he mentions conversations he’s recently had with Brian Eno and Stevie Nicks, “but in regards to other bands that are operating now, I’m very much in the Premier League.” The 1975 are part of the world they want changed and, “I don’t think the doors can be kicked in from the outside when it comes to the reinvention of the live music industry. Who’s going to do it? This is what I do. I say to 70,000 people, do you want to come to my party at Finsbury Park? That’s a privilege of mine, but it’s also a massive responsibility.

“If I don’t say no, it has to change, who else is going to do that? Who else is going to make that stance apart from the artist? All the big acts need to do it, and it does require your agent to be like, ‘what about my five houses?’ but the gig’s up mate. We’ve been caught out. It doesn’t work anymore. It’s not sustainable.”

The global pandemic has hit pause on live music for the foreseeable. Summer 2020 has been postponed to 2021 and, “everyone keeps talking about how they can’t wait to go back to normal, but it’s going to be a different time when this is finished.” Because of that, “I’m not going to tour ‘Notes’ I just don’t think it’s going to happen. By the time it’s possible, I’ll be in a different place. It will be a retrospective statement, and I never want to be retrospective with The 1975. I’m not interested in looking backwards.”

It’s the same reason the ten-years-in-the-making documentary about The 1975 has never been finished. “I’d do it after an album, but it’s always a retrospective statement.”

There’s also the eco-debt their current stage show racks up. “It’s as eco as you can get, but it’s still not good enough, so I’m not doing that show again. It’s so obviously mammoth in its requirements, it’s just impossible to do that and for me to be alright about it. I’m going to get very desperate to play live at some point, but I’m not going to do something that could be tasteless, let alone dangerous.”

Despite the political leanings of the first couple of songs shared from ‘Notes’ and the band’s vocal extracurricular beliefs, album four isn’t blatantly political. Right now, “politics begins at home.”

“The records are always about me. They’re about what I’m scared of and what excites me. Shared fears and shared excitements are in there – the climate and things like that – but it’s a record about now from the perspective of an individual. ‘Notes’ is a punk record. It feels more political or more punk because it’s about the self and this idea of individualism.”

The 1975: Playing on my mind...
The 1975: Playing on my mind...

Before there was ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ and ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’, there was going to be the album ‘Music For Cars’. It was going to be the final album from The 1975 because, according to Matty, “when you’re a writer, you want a good ending. It would have been at the end of the decade, and The 1975 would have been this whole decade-long thing, and stylistically I love that.”

Like most ideas The 1975 have, though, it evolved. “The only thing we were going to do after ‘Notes’ was not make The 1975 music for a bit. But I’ve already started on the next record. It already has a title, and I already had a feeling of what it was going to be like,” he teases. “That decade, I was always talking about coming to an end – it happened. That era ended when this all happened. Shit. Easy. Onto the next thing.”

“I didn’t really have a choice,” he protests. “It sounds pretentious, but I don’t think you choose when you start to write a new record. The world just tells you. ‘Notes’ doesn’t feel like old news, but it’s already a different time. I’m not in that place anymore. I have to react to that; otherwise, I’ll feel stale.” The music they’ve been working on has “not really required me to be that happy,” he says. “Not that it’s sour, it’s just not about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about what I see which is violence, anxiety, unattainable beauty and nothing in between. I think I’m just going to work on that.”

Even though the band are going to continue, there’s a very real plan to take a much-needed break which is why the sprawling ‘Notes’ is wrapped so tightly and offers such bedroom comfort. It’ll be there even if The 1975 aren’t. “There’s no such thing as a natural conclusion. The 1975 and all the records are like a movie, and ‘Notes’ has become the end. But it turns out the movie is ‘The Graduate’.” There’s chaos, conflict, love, but “there’s no real ending. ‘Notes’ feels like the end of something, but it’s quite obviously the start of something else. What it really is, is a tribute to the passing of time. “

‘Notes’ embraces loneliness. It acknowledges being down. It’s confused, heartbroken and lost. It comes with the message, “Don’t keep aspiring to happiness if you don’t feel happy. You’ll teach yourself that when you don’t feel happy, you’re wrong. But you’re not, you’re just a human.”

Afterall, “Life is chaos, and we’re just constantly reacting to that. ‘Notes’ is an album about trying to be. Negotiating with the now and what that means. It’s just me saying that I’m here.” Right now, being heard is enough. Trying is aspirational. “On all our albums, I’ve tried to figure out why or what, and on this album, I’m just saying ‘I was here, and I tried’. That’s the best that we can hope for.”

Taken from the June issue of Dork. The 1975’s album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ is out now.

Words: Ali Shutler

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