Tuesday 28 March 2017

Hurts and minds

The pop duo met during a brawl, but felt fighting their differences would create something special— and they’re not wrong, says Ailbhe Malone

Ailbhe Malone

With their dapper gloom-pop, Hurts are possibly the most hyped band of the year. And for good reason too. Their Brylcreem-and-a-sulk aesthetic, combined with anthemic Balearic-influenced disco lento all culminate in one irresistible package. And it's not by chance, either.

'Detail' is the key word. And we're talking about an insane amount of detail. Here are just two examples. Number one: the advance copies of Hurts's album Happiness arrived in a leather box, velvet lined, complete with a Hurts-branded comb. ("The box was our idea, we even chose the material," notes lead singer Theo Hutchcraft).

Number two: during the interview, synth-player Adam Anderson excuses himself to go and fetch a glass of water. He returns with an interesting neon orange liquid, in a glass. Upon further questioning, he responds "it's actually Lucozade Hydro-Sport, I didn't want to bring the bottle in, because it doesn't look very... "Anyway," he muses, "it's ruined now."

It's the level of attention to minutiae that one would normally expect of a rap mogul, not a BBC-promoted, Sound-of-2010 duo from Manchester. The band have even selected the location for our interview -- the Royal Institute of British Architecture -- and sit at the end of a long table, one in the shadows, one in the sun. Surely, this amount of control over their image must be overwhelming?

Hutchcraft smiles, and agrees. "The amount of detail we go into sometimes... for our own sanity. It's very time-consuming. If we don't get involved... we're both control freaks. It's the only way to stay on top of your life. Sometimes you resent those around you for interfering, but, it's important. At the moment, we're not making music. So anything we can do that's part of the plan is exciting. Like the videos as well. The videos are so important, they come from exactly the same place as the music. We think that the product and the music are equally important. For us, they need each other. Doing the rest of it helps inform the music and helps us understand the music we're making, and why we're making it. It helps to create the world you want around you."

Chalk and cheese, Hutchcraft and Anderson seem like an odd pairing. The former is intensely charismatic, jocular and chatty. The latter is pensive and quiet -- occasionally offering a brief comment. So, what brought these two together? A fight outside a nightclub, apparently.

"The brawl was a funny way of meeting," laughs Hutchcraft. "But it's quite important that we met in a situation like that because duos have to be different, you can't be the same person. So the fact that we met in a situation that was a little bit awkward and a bit like... if we'd had another drink, we probably would have fought too, and now we'd be on the dole in Manchester, wishing we were in a band."

The pair subsequently spent a year communicating only via email, sending tracks back and forth, fearful of investing too much emotionally in each other, lest it spoil their working relationship.

"To be honest," confirms Anderson. "If we weren't friends, and we were in the band, that would have been perfect. If you're in a band with your mates, you just become lazy. The fact that we were different, professionally made us flourish."

Nodding, Hutchcraft adds: "It made the music more interesting as well. At first there was no discussion -- it was literally just emails, music, and vocals. It was done. It was kind of cool, because we got to see who each other was -- very plain, black and white."

The Manchester Department of Work and Pensions is sardonically thanked in the liner notes of Happiness, as, in between meeting and releasing their first single, the duo spent almost four years on the dole, working towards their goal.

"Neither of us played an instrument properly, and instead of learning to be proficient on an instrument, we decided to learn how to write pop music, which is a very different thing," explains Hutchcraft. "For three and half years, we used to sit and learn and learn and learn. One thing I've realised about pop music is that no two pop songs are the same. There's no formula for a pop song, you just have to be honest with it."

Well then, pop professor, what's the best pop song ever written? Almost immediately, Hutchcraft responds. "I think He Ain't Heavy by The Hollies is one of the most perfect songs ever. There's not one second of it that's not genius. Purple Rain is close -- that keeps getting better every time I listen to it. I think also that any state of mind, any situation you're in, it fits. And also, for me perfect songs don't remind you of a time, perfect songs remind you of all the time. Because I could listen to He Ain't Heavy all the time, and it doesn't remind me of any specific time in my life."

Despite all their research -- and pop-schooling -- and the fact that they clearly know what they're doing, Hurts's debut single Wonderful Life only reached number 21. Clearly upset, Anderson mentions this figure before I even have time to bring it up. Hutchcraft has a more measured approach: "What it is, though, is there's two sides to pop music -- a prime example of it is Spice Girls and Oasis. They were both pop, but the same people would have potentially bought both records. It happens throughout history. In the 80s, for example, you had Nick Kershaw, and all the SAW stuff, but you also had Depeche Mode and Prince. I think people always need to have the chance to see the two sides of the coin.

"Our pop music comes from the same heart as Taio Cruz... For example, The Drums are a great pop band, who write amazing pop songs and their performances are good. And Florence -- it's strange that she's so popular, as again, she's the other side of the coin."

Outside of the UK, though, they're huge. Happiness is currently the number 1 album in Germany, and Wonderful Life beat Katy Perry, Eminem and Lady Gaga to number 1 in Croatia.

"It's amazing," admits Hutchcraft. "But at the same time, though, every country's a country with people. And the more time you spend there, you realise that no country's better or worse than another country. It's just a population, a people who buy music. You've got to see it to appreciate the success."

Anderson nods quietly, before adding the inevitable kicker: "But we're a band from England, we're a band from Manchester. We want where we're from to be proud of us." All in due course, lads. All in due course.

Happiness is out now

Irish Independent

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