- 28 Dec 22
As part of our 12 Interviews of Xmas series, we're looking back at some of our unmissable interviews of 2022. In October, The 1975 returned with their fifth studio album, Being Funny In A Foreign Language. Ahead of the release, in a cover story interview, Matty Healy spoke to us about QAnon, love songs, country music, philistines, Japanese stadium adventures, ju-jitsu, the Rolling Stones and Peter Gabriel...
Matty Healy’s body may be in his bijou Manchester residence, but his mind is still on the British Airways 787-9 Dreamliner the singer flew back on the other day from Tokyo with the rest of The 1975.
“This jetlag feels personal,” Matty winces. “I’ve flown to and from the States and Australia loads of times and been fine, but for some reason Japan is heavy. The show was in this sold-out mega stadium with Kacey Musgraves, who’s one of my favourite country artists, co-headlining. If you strip down what I do, it’s just country music in essence. It tends to be three or four chords and the melody, y’know? Have you seen the Ken Burns series, Country Music?”
The PBS/BBC nine-parter that includes remarkable footage of everyone from Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash to Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson? I have indeed.
“It’s sooooo good,” Matty resumes. “Japan was amazing. It’s been difficult for me to gauge how big we are there because I can’t read their social media and then when you get there… I walk around America, I walk around England, I meet people and it makes sense. Japan feels like being on Mars, though. They do their own thing there.”
The answer to “How big are The 1975 in Japan?” being enough to pack 30,000 people into the Zozo Marine Stadium, home for the rest of the year to the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team.
“It was basically a Dirty Hit festival,” Matty says referring to the London label The 1975 are signed to, and which he’s also Creative Director of. “There was us, Rina Sawayama and Beabadoobee on the same stage so afterwards we all went out and got messed up.”
Who was the last one standing?
“Definitely the Bea crew,” he shoots back. “I was done before that lot.”
Talking recently to Hot Press, Beabadoobee said, “Matty Healy’s my big brother. He’s great and he’s talented, and he has the best advice in the world.”
Which, you’ll agree, is quite the testimonial.
“Bea and Rina, they’re both incredible artists,” he says returning the love. “Part of my role with Dirty Hit is to help accommodate the ego and vision of our artists. The Creative Director bit refers more to The 1975 records: no one ‘creative directs’ Rina Sawayama or Wolf Alice. They’ve got it all sorted out! I’ve done bits and pieces of production and video directing for the likes of The Japanese House and Pale Waves and am there to give advice – but only if it’s asked for.”
We’re just over a month away from the release of Being Funny In A Foreign Language, album number five from The 1975, which is all thumping electropop floor-fillers one moment and sensual love/lust songs the next.
Into the former category falls ‘The 1975’, a rival to Fontaines D.C.’s ‘In ár gCroíthe go deo’ in the Most Extraordinary Album Opener of 2022 stakes that sticks the Beta Band, LCD Soundsystem, The Cure’s ‘Caterpillar’ and The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’ into a blender. Lyrically, there are nods to Aperol, QAnon and, well, you’ll find out for yourself shortly.
“Fontaines D.C. are one of my favourite bands at the moment, especially those first two records,” Matty enthuses. “We expanded so far on the last album and then realised, ‘Okay, that’s not what we want to do.’ We asked ourselves ‘What is The 1975?’ and agreed that it’s just good songs. We’ve had this synthesis of art and technology for so long that it’s now kind of meaningless. An analogy I’ve been using is the 100 metres. You don’t need to get Paul Thomas Anderson to do an artsy cut up of it. You just want to watch happens. People now are hungry for something that’s remarkable but with as little technology as possible. Notes On A Conditional Form is like going to the fucking IMAX whereas Being Funny In A Foreign Language is like going to the theatre. It’s way more intimate and an experience as opposed to a construct.”
Which is one of the best artist descriptions of their own record that you’re going to hear this or any other year. I’ve lost count of the number of shows I’ve come away from recently thinking, “I wish they’d stripped it back a bit.”
“Yeah, me too,” Matty agrees. “Writing wise, technology is sort of my zone, my speciality. I write about how we communicate through the lens of the internet. Visually, I’ve done that a lot too. And then that has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger and become like an almost Adam Curtis-esque thing. I think we accomplished what we wanted with Notes On A Conditional Form, but I didn’t want to keep heading in a direction that would stop us having an emotional transference with our audience.”
Adam Curtis, in case you’re wondering, being the British documentary filmmaker whose work has been described as involving “whiplash digressions, menacing atmospheres and arpeggiated scores, and the near-psychedelic compilation of archival footage.”
Going back to that QAnon reference: does Matty watch the likes of Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor-Greene spewing their conspiracy theories with the same morbid fascination that I do?
“Yes, 100% Like a lot of English people, I grew up fascinated by American culture – that was what I was fed. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life in America and have been very drawn to writing about it. My relationship with America is conflicted because it’s simultaneously the most revolutionary progressive and conservative country ever. It’s completely paradoxical. I don’t think I could live there, but it does tend to hold a lot of my attention.”
Being Funny In A Foreign Language also takes lyrical pot-shots at Brexit Britain and a Conservative government whose awfulness is encapsulated by Nadine Dorries being its Minister for Culture, an oxymoron if ever there was one.
“I do believe there are people who on a psychological level are philistines,” Matty proffers. “I can just see by the way you are that you’ve been transformed by cultural moments like records or live performances that reach for something bigger. There are people who, at whatever age, hear Blue by Joni Mitchell or a Bob Dylan album and are forever changed. They’re kind of the civilising agents in our society. It’s not that the people in charge of culture aren’t cool, sexy and suave: it’s that they’ve never been transformed like you and I have.”
Does Matty see any way of healing the divisions that the Culture War has created on both sides of the Atlantic?
“What’s happened is that there’s been this individualisation across the board,” he says switching into psychoanalyst mode. “If you look at, for example, the living-room, a family would get a linear source of information from sitting around and watching TV. During and afterwards they’d talk about it. There was a community embedded within the consumption of media. Now there’s no community embedded within the consumption of media. Not only is it individualistic, but it’s also pernicious and pointed: there’s an algorithm dictating. The TV never used to watch you back and see how you reacted to adverts.
“People have been fed this façade of being more connected, but what’s actually happened is we’ve become more isolated. That connection is an artifice. With the UK, I’m as bored with the nonsense of the right as I am with the apathy of the left. The Labour Party here can’t even get behind the rail workers and dockers’ strikes. I feel politically homeless at the moment.”
Matty’s mood hasn’t been lifted by Liz Truss becoming the UK’s new Prime Minister.
“Oh my god, it’s so fucking depressing,” he groans. “You think it can’t get any worse – and then it does. There’s a line on the new album – ‘I’m sorry if you’re alive and seventeen’ – which is me acknowledging how terrifying it must be for someone of that age at the moment. What sort of a future are they looking at?”
You’ll already be familiar with ‘Part Of The Band’, Being Funny In A Foreign Language’s wantonly eclectic flagship single, which includes such close to the bone couplets as “So many cringes in the heroin binges/ I was coming off the hinges, living on the fringes.” That’s a lot of one’s self to be putting into a song.
“It doesn’t resonate when people say that particular lines are brave or kind of raw because I don’t really care that much – that’s what I think good art is,” he counters “I did this for, like, twelve years without anybody watching. It doesn’t really feel that much different now. Writing lyrics is a reflex thing. It’s like a muscle memory. I don’t overthink them.”
The sensuous love/lust songs I mentioned earlier include ‘Human Too’, which might just be the most gorgeous thing Matthew Timothy Healy has ever written.
“Thank you,” he blushes. “It’s kind of an apologetic, sexual kind of thing. In the past I’ve tended to cut myself off. I think that’s because I’ve been very postmodern. Like, there’s been a lot of jokes in my records. Every time I get too sincere, I apologise for it and take the piss out of myself. On this record, I didn’t do that. I was way more willing to be earnest and open and slightly naïve, which I think is a bit more charming. Sincerity and irony are equal tyrants but sincerity just about wins. I was a bit bored of joking about everything and wanted to be real, y’know?”
I’m not going to ask with whom, but judging by ‘Human Too’ and the equally heart-on-their-record-sleeve ‘When We Are Together’ and ‘I’m In Love With You’, I’m surmising that Matty is coupled up at the moment.
“What I can’t do is be in pain and write,” he confides. “If it’s something topical, no problem, but if I’m writing about myself I’m probably about a year-and-a-half, two years behind. If something’s happened, I don’t want to deal with that right now. I’m not going to sit there and play the guitar and like pour my heart out. I don’t do that. My writing is reflecting on how I felt.”
So, Matty Healy was probably head-over-heels in love a year-and-a-half, two years ago. We’ll find out if he still is sometime in 2024.
“I’ve had as complicated a love life as any touring rock star,” he adds teasingly. “A lot of my songs have been a kind of compilation of how I’ve dealt with that.”
Asked if there’s a song by somebody else that tears at the Healy heartstrings. Matty immediately nods and says, “‘Both Sides Now’ by Joni Mitchell gets me every time. In terms of something that gives me a lift, my favourite song possibly ever is LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’. It contains everything you could possibly want from a piece of music.”
The recording of Being Funny In A Foreign Language was split between Jimi Hendrix’s old New York hangout, Electric Ladyland, and Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios near Bath in England. Does the history just ooze out of the walls?
“Yeah,” he nods. “A big one for us is that along with David Bowie and Hendrix, D’Angelo recorded in the Electric Ladyland room that we were in. Real World is the one I was most excited about because that’s my favourite studio ever: it hasn’t changed in twenty years. Peter’s very quiet and humble and wise and invested in what he does. You can tell that the art always comes first with him.”
Sprinkling his sonic fairy dust on Being Funny… is Jack Antonoff, the Grammy Award-winning Bleachers man who also produced Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore, St. Vincent’s Masseducation and Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell – to name just four recent classics he’s had a major hand in.
“I love the sound Jack got on Norman Fucking Rockwell,” Matty says. “I’m a massive Lana Del Rey fan. I met her briefly once standing next to the truck she’s always driving around in. She’s so good at myth-building and doing that sort of ’60s Nancy Sinatra thing.
“Originally we were talking about Jack producing the Beabadoobee album,” Matty continues. “We met, hit it off and became friends. George [Daniels, The 1975 drummer] and I are both producers but sometimes we’re just too close to things. We spent the whole of last year trying to work out what Being Funny… should be and, loving his energy, I thought Jack could help us with that – which he did. Like me, he’s full of cultural references and is able to identify what you’re good at and where you can possibly go.”
Whereas a lot of bands start atrophying after their first few albums, The 1975 – and this is why I’ve grown to love ‘em – are in a perpetual state of evolution.
“People have been talking to me about how there’s always an excitement about what we’re doing,” Matty says. “I don’t think we conform to the traditional idea of a band. Our world is more Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver – artists that have defined the past ten years.
“It’s interesting because we’ve kind of been in our own world, our own lane,” he adds. “We’ve never been in competition with anybody; there’s no Blur to our Oasis.”
From day one U2 were upfront about wanting to become the biggest band in the world. What were 13-year-old Matty Healy’s expectations when The 1975 started up in 2002?
“In my teenage mind, playing the Academy 1 in Manchester meant you were a big band. If you’re playing the Apollo, you’re massive. If you’re in the Manchester Arena, world domination. My parents [Loose Women’s Denise Welch and Auf Wiedersehen Pet actor Tim Healy] were famous, but I had no desire to be big. I just wanted to do what my favourite bands had done and get all of this music out of my head.”
Who was the first artist Matty claimed ownership of?
“The one where I knew I was going to start a band was The Streets,” he reminisces fondly. “Original Pirate Material was such a great record. Growing up, I was really into all the stuff you can hear in The 1975 – the Stones and James Brown who I absolutely love. The first ‘alternative’ band I got into were Hundred Reasons who were doing American music but with an English accent. I was like, ‘Oh, I can sing in my own accent too.’ It was a real revelation. I think the reason The 1975 survived our emo phase is that we didn’t release any music during it!”
Incidentally, if Matty is looking buffer than usual these days he’s taken up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. What does it do for body and soul?
“Physically, I’m as fit as I have been in years,” he enthuses. “Mentally, I think it’s really important as a man to be able to lose regularly and accept it. It gets that Neanderthal alpha male bullshit out of your system.
“As a kid I wanted to do kung-fu because it was on the telly, but my dad signed me up to a karate club when I was seven. I kept training until I was sixteen when the usual stuff, girls and music, took over. I started training again in my mid-twenties and gradually got drawn to jiu-jitsu, partly because of the mental chess aspect. It’s not supposed to be violent – if you are violent, you’ll be kicked out of the club.
“I’ve no desire to jump into the octagon myself but I’m a big MMA fan. Conor McGregor was fighting in New York at the exact same time we were playing there, so I missed it. I think he’s iconic in terms of what he’s done for the sport.”
Matty must be very proud of what his friend and duet partner – they collaborated on Notes On A Conditional Form’s ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ – Phoebe Bridgers has achieved these past few years.
“She’s one of my favourite artists,” he coos. “I admire her so much as a lyricist. We became really good friends with her and Marshall Vore who she’s written with. I’m incredibly proud to see how connected she is with people because from the second I heard Phoebe, I knew it was all there.”
Shortly before Covid struck in 2020, Matty pledged that The 1975 would from thereon in only play gender balanced festivals. How’s that panned out?
“Nowadays I try not to comment on the morally obvious,” he says. “Obviously things should be representative and fair. I’m a classic liberal: I believe in equal opportunities. But, no, I don’t know what the maths looks like. That’s not actually my job. I, em, also have the tendency to be quite unhinged on the internet and make big sweeping statements…”
Matty has spoken in the past to Hot Press about the pressures of being stuck on the album/promo/tour/album/promo/tour treadmill, but says today that the magic moments far outweigh the negative ones.
“When we supported the Stones, we were in our dressing-room and heard what we thought was a Stones record being played next door,” he says recalling one of them. “We went outside and realised they’re in the next room rehearsing before they went on. They’ve been in a band for 50 years and they’re still rehearsing! There’s no way they’re rehearsing for any other reason than they fucking care. They really, really care about it. That was the main thing I took away from that Stones gig. Jagger was on the side of the stage dancing during ‘Chocolate’; that was a bit of a moment. It was an amazing day.”
Another amazing day was when he bagged not one, but two Ivor Novello Awards, AKA the Songwriters’ Oscars.
“Unfortunately, I was trying to do this ridiculously ambitious thing of doing two albums at one time,” Matty rues. “I didn’t get to enjoy any of A Brief Enquiry’s success because I was gigging in support of it at night and by day making Notes on the bus. So, I missed out on the awards ceremony but I did get to spend three months in Peter Gabriel’s studio making acquaintances with the greatest people ever.
“It was a really big deal for us, though,” he concludes. “We’d had a very tumultuous relationship with the press in the early days, but then our third album, A Brief Enquiry, was revered and I felt very understood. I got two Ivors and the New York Times Song of the Year – accolades that really meant something to me. It was this strange feeling of a small humble idea spreading around the world and meaning something, y’know?”
This being the Hot Press Student Special, it would be remiss of me not to ask Matty what he was like when he was eighteen.
“God, what I was like?” he ponders. “I know what I was doing, which was trying to persuade the other members’ parents that, for the sake of the ’75, their sons should all go to uni in Manchester. I didn’t get any GCSEs so I didn’t have options. It was the band or nothing.”
I get the impression talking to Matty that him and The 1975 are in a good place right now.
“Yeah, we are,” he concludes. “George has just had a baby with his partner, I’ve been off hard drugs for quite a while now. I’ve got some chronic illnesses – don’t worry, they’re not serious – I’m gradually working my way through. We’ve a new album that we’re extremely proud of. Yeah, it’s all good.”
Listen to Being Funny in a Foreign Language below: