The 1975: Parts of the band

With their fifth album, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’, The 1975 turned inwards to push out. A record that focuses on what makes them so special, playing to strengths to produce quite possibly their best work to date, we gathered all four members for a rare full-band sit down that proves the magic is in those real-life relationships built along the way.

Words: Jamie Muir.
Photos: Jennifer McCord.

Around a table in East London, four mates while away the day. They’re chatting about anything and everything, cracking jokes, eating a takeaway. Laughing at memes on the day the short-lived prime ministerial reign of Liz Truss comes to a spectacular end – a particular favourite being the fact that ‘Believe’ by Cher was Number 1 for longer than her entire time in office. Recommending the films and TV shows that have caught their eye since they’ve last seen each other, which isn’t very long at all. Catching up on the weekend’s football – one jokingly considering supporting Tottenham Hotspur “for the lols”. It sounds like the kind of everyday scene you’ll find in any home, coffee shop, bar or pub. Then again, most mates aren’t at the centre of a storm that has shaped modern alternative culture for the past decade. Most aren’t Matty Healy, George Daniel, Adam Hann and Ross MacDonald. And most aren’t entering a bold new chapter, At Their Very Best. 

As a wet and windy mid-October afternoon falls outside, The 1975 watch as the world digests ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’. It’s a matter of days since its release, and the ripples of its impact are already plain to see. In just 24 hours, they’ll have their fifth UK Number 1 album, joining an elite club of artists to have every studio album hit the top spot. And 24 hours after that, they’re heading to America ahead of the start of their most ambitious and bold headline tour to date. Yet again, everyone is focused on four childhood friends from Wilmslow, but you wouldn’t know it today. While reinvention and revolution have come with each chapter of their story, consistency is found in their bond. The same dynamic. The same jokes. “Well…” cracks George as they all laugh at the suggestion. “The jokes have got worse.”

It’s rare for all of them to sit down together for something like this. “We haven’t done a chat like this for a while,” notes Ross. They agree that everything would take four times as long. “I think we stopped doing it because we kept laughing at each other, and it descended into nothing. In-jokes and nonsense.”

“Exactly,” adds Matty. “And you’ve got to remember that it is a job in itself and the guys aren’t… we are the least work-shy band in the world, but it’s less ‘Matty wants to do all the interviews’ than it is the guys can’t really be arsed to do the interviews.”

“WOAH,” George cracks. “THAT IS NOT TRUE!!” The collective laughter that follows from the band again probably indicates it is. 

“Wait, wait, wait, no, no. I’m sorry, can’t be arsed is the wrong word, but you’re not pining when I’m sat there doing these interviews is all I’m saying,” smiles Matty. “We’re not shy of being a band. The ‘75 is very formal; we’ve got a fucking routine, d’you know what I mean?”

For all the in-jokes and nonsense, The 1975 take their position seriously. A band of self-confessed outsiders, they spent years knocking at the music industry’s door before deciding to build and burst through their own entrance. That mentality has remained ever since. ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ is just where everything clicks even more into place. It’s an album that follows the panoramic expansiveness of ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ by turning an eye inwards. What makes The 1975, The 1975? The result is a record Matty sees as “kind of a bigger risk, even though I know that it feels like it’s in service of the fans a bit. It’s braver than another record like ‘Notes…’. It was scarier because we could have been cleverer with it. We could have been fucking mental and obtuse to the point that it can’t be criticised. We had that opportunity, but you need to be a bit fucking nervous about it. It’s like what [David] Bowie said: you need to be a little bit out of your depth. What scared us, and what does scare us, is repeating ourselves.”

Nobody could accuse them of that. With every era of The 1975, a line has been drawn in the sand from what came before it. It began with the 80s teen movie black-and-white of their self-titled debut and earlier EPs, transitioning to the neon-drenched wonderland of ‘I like it when you sleep…’. Then we had the defining digital takedown of ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ moving on to the maximalist, free-flowing, genre-hopping punch of ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ (which Matty confirms is his favourite ‘75 album “at this moment”). They have always been set on looking forward. They are a band whose legacy and importance can be seen in the countless fans whose lives have been soundtracked by each step. Yet looking back they find challenging. 

The records, the shows, those life milestones – they all intersect with why The 1975 have become synonymous with a generation growing up in the modern world. It’s ‘the box’. June 1st – The 1975. ‘She said’. ‘What a shame’. ‘It’s about time’. It means everything to a community that traverses nationality, age, culture and race. For the band themselves, it’s their personal journey too. “The 1975 has been our entire life,” states Matty. “You can get it, right? People have documented that feeling really well. James Murphy [of LCD Soundsystem] in their documentary [‘Shut Up And Play The Hits’] – when he walks back into the rehearsal room, and it’s the band’s gear, then a photo of a memory. Then the gear and then a photo… I can’t say gear then a photo of a memory more than a couple of times, because I’ll start crying. I think that’s why we’re always moving forward. Do you know what I mean? To look back, I’d have to let myself get nostalgic, and I think the main driving force and why our albums sound so different from each other is continuing to move forward.

“Other bands don’t really like us, and we don’t really like them. We don’t really get each other”

Matty Healy

“I’m a bit scared of being… this is something I’ve only realised recently, maybe this week, is that I’m hyper-nostalgic. That comes out in the meta stuff and the self-referential parts of what we do, but it’s always in something new and moving forward.”

“The stuff we’re nostalgic about and the memories we think of is simply us hanging out,” adds Ross. “It’s not like remembering when we achieved something or played this place or this festival; it’s never been that. It’s about laughing at a stupid joke this one time or another.”

“If it was answering the question of, ‘How did it feel when you played Shepherd’s Bush Empire at this moment and what was it relative to?’ Well, I can show you,” notes Matty. “We’ve filmed everything, and every time I look at that footage, regardless of how we got it and stuff like that, I don’t like it.” There’s a pause as each member takes a moment to process the emotions of that journey. The one that began with rejection, then acclaim and that is now wrapped into the fabric of their lives. Matty looks up again. “It’s too nostalgic for me to reflect on.”

“There’s a certain amount of blind faith that you have as a 16-20-year-old that just wants to play the music that I definitely wouldn’t have now,” explains George, thinking of those early days of what would later become The 1975. A journey through Me And You Versus Them, Forever Drawing Six, Bigsleep and Drive Like I Do, amongst other forms. From age 13, they put on shows to rooms full of mates and family members, playing with their sound and growing from teenagers into young men. Matty recalls that it wasn’t until SXSW 2013 and the band’s first trip to America that he noted that “people stopped us on the street, and it was not our fucking mates from back home.” That’s where they acknowledged things were changing. Before that, “we couldn’t get a record deal,” continues George. “We did a lot of showcases for major record labels, and it just didn’t happen because, retrospectively, we weren’t ready. We didn’t know what kind of band we were, but we did have some good songs. They didn’t want to take a risk.”

“People didn’t understand us,” picks up Matty. “At the time, it was like 2008, and the biggest bands in the world were indie. It was indie indie indie indie, and we were not that. We were as genreless, and I was as verbose as I am now, so people were just a bit like, ‘these guys don’t know what they’re doing’. Whereas we felt like we knew exactly what we were doing, just what we were doing was very specific.”

The years of different iterations of bands has helped shape the unmistakable formula that is The 1975 to this day. “I always knew I was the frontman, but I didn’t know I was the frontman until it happened. Like, take for examp-”

“WAIT,” jumps in Adam. Matty, George and Ross stop in their tracks, turning to him as he leans forward with a curious look. “… I was the frontman,” he cracks with a wry smile. They burst into laughter before jumping back and forth.

“See, that sums us up,” pulls back Matty between laughs. “We faced each other every time we played until our band got big and we had to play to an audience, so my job became completely different.”

What stood firm was their steadfast determination to make it. If labels and the music industry weren’t going to open the door to them, then The 1975 would kick it down. “It does sound quite romantic and lofty to say that we never doubted ourselves,” explains Matty, “but there was an element there that we were always going to be a band, and you’ve got to remember what our ambition was. If you played the Academy in Manchester, in our heads, you were a big band. The Apollo was really big, like massive bands would play the Apollo. The MEN [Manchester Evening News Arena] is like a football game. It’s like Green Day. That’s not something that you’re thinking about. We were happy touring below the Academy 3 level getting 50 quid a gig.”

“There was no wave of success until we were 24,” continues Ross. “That 6-8 years when you’re supposed to be figuring out your career or whatever, we were committed to this happening.”

“I remember being like – wait, we’ve sold 300 tickets to a show?!” recalls George.

“Yeah, that was at Sound Control,” chips in Matty, recalling the now-defunct Manchester venue.

“That’s it,” George says in agreement, “but even in America, it was like, wow – we’ve sold out our first show in Chicago to 400 people?! It was like, wow, this is actually it!”

“We’re always interested in what’s on the precipice of culture”

George Daniel

Matty puts that down to the continued surge of interest and availability that the growth of online culture provided. “We’d grown up on the internet. We got what the internet was, but it hadn’t taken the linear music industry form, and then it did. If you were in fucking Chicago, it was just as easy to listen to our music because of YouTube. It had this thing that had a life of its own.”

Before long, The 1975 had become more than just ‘a band’. They had devoted fans scribbling lyrics onto tattoos and notebooks alike. Their live shows had an explosive and almost spiritual quality, with the crowd reaching out for them. They had their finger firmly on the pulse of modern millennial culture and its trials and tribulations for those living through it – the world soon became The 1975’s playground. “It happened so quickly,” says Ross. “There wasn’t time to get accustomed to being on a certain level – what we’re achieving or what gigs we were now doing – because the next one was already booked, and it was bigger. We were just doing laps of the world, and it’s growing and growing.”

As Matty makes clear, there’s never been a focus on how big a band The 1975 were becoming or are today. It’s something he sees as a conversation that could quickly get in the way of the creativity and drive that has brought them to where they are now. “We’d never have made an album like ‘Notes’ if we focused on that.”

“Just wait until we get smaller,” cracks George. “I reckon we’ll have that conversation,” he laughs. 

“See, I don’t think we will,” Matty answers. “I think everything makes sense. If we started to play theatres now, we wouldn’t be like, ‘oh, where is everyone?’ Then again, like I said, and I’ve been saying before, The 1975 doesn’t really sit next to many ‘bands’, y’know? We came at a time defined by, well, not bands. Basically, everything else. Male solo artists, female solo artists, rappers and stuff like that. The band was a very tried and tested idea. Still is, but there’s a ceiling to how big bands can get because it’s almost like it has to become an imitation of something that has gone before.”

There’s an argument to be made that The 1975 are the most ‘outsider’ band to go big and invade the mainstream, as per that oft-repeated phrase that they are the biggest band that nobody has heard of. Trying to place them within a certain box (aside from their own) is a fruitless task and one they show no interest in. As Matty puts it, “we were always outsiders in the scene. We’ve never been part of a scene, ever. Even when we were kids, we were never part of a scene. We’ve always felt like outsiders in the mainstream because the other bands don’t really like us,” he laughs, “and we don’t really like them. We don’t really get each other. I think that’s one of the things we’ve embraced with becoming friends with Phoebe [Bridgers] or Taylor [Swift] or our relationship with Jack [Antonoff] or George’s relationship with that scene of PC Music. We’ve always been on our own, and it’s funny how our bedfellows have all been more modern American artists who have come in the wake of it all.”

At this point, we should interject and say that in the going on seven years we’ve been making Dork, there’s no act that other musicians bring up and shower with almost fawning adoration and praise in interviews more than The 1975. Honestly, at times we worry it looks like we’re prompting it. But regardless, we continue.

“I think that definitely changed after the second record [‘I like it when you sleep…’] and ‘Brief Inquiry…’,” notes George, as Matty agrees. “During that ‘Brief Inquiry…’ era, we realised that actually, we were an artist for a lot of artists, whereas on the first two albums, we definitely didn’t feel like that and we felt saddened by that sometimes. I did. I was like, why aren’t we in the scene? I mean, there weren’t really any scenes, but still.”

“It was weird to be big but kind of homeless,” ponders Matty. “Kinda cool at the same time, though.”

“I’ve learned to shut the fuck up a bit more now”

Matty Healy

With that distance comes freedom. Freedom to build a back catalogue of music which could easily sit as part of a Hollywood blockbuster but then wrenches at the heart like an A24 Oscar-nominated gem. When creating, they are set on the need to trust their instinct – it’s not let them down so far – and be fearless in the directions it takes them. Even the walls around the word ‘band’ are something the four of them enjoy tearing apart. “We definitely think we were fighting against that a bit with ‘Brief Inquiry…’ and ‘Notes…’, like you said,” George notes to Matty. “We were seeing how far we could push it, partly because we felt a bit insecure at the time about just being a band. There are moments when you’re like: it’s not good enough to just be a band. Because we’re always looking forward and we’re always interested in what’s on the precipice of culture and what was happening – sonically for me, I was always insecure about being a drummer in a band.”

“On ‘Notes…’ we subconsciously took what being a band is as far as we can,” explains Matty. “Then again, we’re just not that interested in form. If George didn’t have to, he wouldn’t play drums. If Ross didn’t have to, he wouldn’t play bass. Hann…” Adam looks up with a grin. “…well, he would probably still play guitar,” he laughs. 

The transition from ‘Notes..’ to ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ moves them towards something even more exciting. At Their Very Best may seem like a brilliant tagline for a tour, but it perfectly encapsulates this current era too – completely new, but distilling every magical moment that made them a global force into something that almost feels like it could be a Greatest Hits. It has state-of-the-nation addresses (this album’s ‘The 1975’ and ‘Part Of The Band’), gut-punching social commentaries turned into unstoppable dancefloor hits (‘Looking For Somebody (To Love)’), joyful funk-pop grooves (‘Happiness’), and soaring emotional soundtracks taken straight from the heartbreaking moments of an 80s movie (‘About You’). It also finds the band at their most direct. If you were going to play someone who had never heard of The 1975 an album, something that made it clear what they are all about, then ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ might just well be it. Compared to what’s come before, would you call it refined? “Well, it wasn’t really hard to refine down from ‘Notes…’, was it?” George laughs. “I joke, but it was very difficult. The reason we’ve never made a short record – I think, anyway – is because we thought we couldn’t do it. It’s literally as simple as that.”

“Yeah, I don’t think we knew we could do it. I didn’t believe that I could be succinct enough, and I kind of convinced you guys of that, too,” Matty admits. “We convinced ourselves that was what we did.”

“To be fair,” responds Ross. “We just had loads of good ideas, and we’ve had loads more ideas that aren’t on any of the records.”

“That’s a good way of saying it, to be honest with you,” continues Matty. “Sometimes when people talk about how long our records are, we do get a bit like – the reason why that is, is because we want it to be like that. That’s the album we want to fucking make, and we think all those songs are good, or they wouldn’t be there.”

‘Being Funny…’ wasn’t an album that came together at the click of a finger. It took time to figure out in what direction the record and the band would go. And for a band who’ve reached across genre divides countless times, figuring that out wasn’t simple. At one point, conversations were getting pretty lofty. They wondered, “well, if we’ve played with genre, why don’t we try and invent a genre? It was getting fucking insane because it is insane now to try to do anything truly original with so much information,” explains Matty. Instead, ‘Being Funny…’ came from a place of simply looking around at each other. They focussed on who they were, how they’d gotten to this point, and what they’d been through. They used all that to create an album of inward observation, an intimate DNA weaved with everything they’ve come to be both as a band and as people. “What we had was this,” states Matty, pointing around to the four of them, “and no one else has that. The brotherhood, the ability, the musicianship and the confidence to go in and go – no! No! No! We’re fresh as fuck. Let’s do this! But it took us a long time to feel like that.”

Adam recalls a time when, on a regular basis, they’d be in George’s house, “and you [Matty] were like, ‘all the songs have been written’.”

“Honestly, Friday afternoons…” adds George. “It would just be, ‘look, guys, EVERYTHING has been written. Everything good has been done – not just us, but in general.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that,” Matty cracks. “There’s a video of me sat there in a hoody, and I’m like ‘guys… I’m out. I’m not doing this anymore’. But then it’s like, why continue then because there’s no fucking record label knocking on the door. Everyone was just like, ‘oh, right then’. And that made me be like, ‘awwww, come on’, because I want a reaction! You have to pick yourself up and be reflective.”

Those sessions went from very loose and unscheduled to a more direct approach. Unusually for them, they brought in an outsider, and Jack Antonoff helped them harness what makes The 1975 so great. Turning up at scheduled times with everyone in the studio at once meant a more honed-in look at who they are as a band. When you take it in its purest form, what is The 1975? 

The result is an album that captures everything that pulls people towards The 1975. Twenty years on from first meeting in school classrooms and halls, it’s the story of a band who’ve come to signify that defiance in the face of everything modern life throws. Those complicated relationships with a world that can be harsh yet compassionate, relentless yet rewarding. And for the fans who have been around for a while, it all feels so familiar and comforting.  

Here in 2022, Matty, George, Adam and Ross are off to prepare for the world tour to come (“seriously, I’ve got to go home and hang the washing up,” admits Ross). Filled with confidence that arrives with growing older, there remains an indescribable magic that happens when four people click together. It’s front and centre for The 1975, now that the world is theirs. Bad jokes and all. 

With one eye on defining yet another decade, not even criticism can stop The 1975 from owning their legacy. “I mean, we’re not as down for a scrap as we were when we were 18,” laughs Matty. “Nobody criticises The 1975 like I do, anyway. But say, if someone’s calling me a cunt, right? If I were a proper cunt, I wouldn’t have 20 people around me since I was the age of 12 if I was actually not playing up to being an obnoxious person. I’m not an obnoxious person.” He turns to George, Adam and Ross. “I’m not, am I?”

Seizing their chance, all three smile back at him before erupting into laughter. Consoling Matty, more jokes are shared. It is like observing an interaction they’ve probably had infinite times over the years. A friendship built on love and history, still as potent and vital today as it ever was. 

“Fuck sake,” Matty smiles wryly. “You see, again, we’re just messing about! It’s all either make good music and make jokes or shut the fuck up, and I’ve learned to shut the fuck up a bit more now. So I make music, and I make jokes. I put my points in my music instead of just fucking going off on Twitter or onstage. That era’s done as well. It’s boring. It doesn’t work. That’s not my fucking job anymore”. 

There’s no doubt. The 1975 are At Their Very Best, and for that matter – so are Matty, George, Adam and Ross. ■

Taken from the December 2022 / January 2023 edition of Dork. The 1975’s album ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ is out now. They tour the UK in January 2023.