MAGNIFICENT SEVENTY FIVE
The 1975 singer Matthew Healy tells Eamon Sweeney why, as his pop band enjoys a no.1 album, he measures success in more personal ways
Matthew Healy of The 1975 immediately turns heads everywhere with his striking looking hair, but Macclesfield's newest pop star is also winning over plenty of hearts and minds. His band's self-titled debut has just gone straight to number one in the UK charts. A Dublin date in the Academy has already sold out. Just about everybody wants to party like it's 1975. The Eighties-influenced band with the Seventies name are currently outselling their nearest chart rival, Nine Inch Nails' Hesitation Marks, by two and half copies to one. It's the culmination of what the curiously coiffured singer calls the "weirdest year of my life." The son of Auf Wierdersehen Pet actor Tim Healy and former Coronation Street star and Celebrity Big Brother winner Denise Welch only left home last Christmas.
Healy has been living a strange and nomadic fairy tale ever since, which he is struggling to take in. "Absolutely everything has been totally beyond our expectations," says a flabbergasted Healy. "It's all been incredibly surreal. Eight months ago, I was making music in my bedroom. Now, we're playing venues like Brixton Academy and performing to 20,000 people at a festival. We haven't really had a chance to process it at all."
How did a virtually unheard of band from a Mancunian satellite town blow up so quickly? Well, like so many other new sensations, Healy and The 1975 are an old-fashioned example of an overnight success story that's been over a decade in the making.
"We've had the same line-up since we were 13, so that's 10 years," Healy reveals. "It has given us a prolific attitude to songwriting and a sense of history. This album is the soundtrack to our formative years that was essentially five years in the making. It was an odd time, because my parents were separating just as the band were beginning to kick off.
"We were very much an alternative, ambient musical project for a long time. Then, we decided to embrace pop sensibilities, because we liked making life-affirming music just for ourselves. Our agenda was to make an album about our lives."
Healy is as equally obsessed with blockbuster albums like Michael Jackson's Thriller as avant-garde masterpieces like Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain. "My favourite time for music was the Eighties, when pop wasn't encumbered with irony or cynicism," Healy states.
"There were massive artists creating records that had huge hit singles, but were still very brave. Peter Gabriel is a great example of a really forward-looking artist making stunning pop music." Healy confesses that for the five years before the band became a more serious endeavour, there wasn't any master plan that could have possibly led to a number one hit album or opening for the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park.
"We never put any music out because we didn't really care," Healy reveals. "Eventually, we thought we might as well, so we put out The City, then Sex and then Chocolate. Everyone went mental. They wondered who the hell this new glossy pop band were."
Healy's catchy but intricate songs have won favour from radio playlist-makers and alternative so-called taste-makers alike, which is no mean achievement considering such a populist-sounding act could have been unmercifully ripped to shreds by the music press.
"When you start anything at 13, you are just doing it for immediate fun, whether it be playing football or a video game," Healy says. "We've always carried that attitude ever since. It was just about kids having fun and making noise."
A pivotal platform for the fledgling band was when a progressive and forward-thinking local council officer in Macclesfield first gave them an opportunity to play live.
"When we first started playing when we were 13, there was this woman who worked for the council called Sheila," Healy explains. "She'd let us play in old bingo halls that the council weren't using.
"Hundreds and hundreds of kids used to go to these gigs. Everyone would have their own band. Some were brilliant and some were absolute rubbish, but that didn't matter.
"It was such a cool thing because we come from such a middle-of-the-road, middle-class town. In Macclesfield, Cheshire, Cheadle and Stockport, there isn't that much counter-culture or violence. It's a very pedestrian, English place.
"It was like a miniature punk movement for my generation and it inspired so many people in bands.
"A guy called Elliot Williams was in a band called Airship. He ended up playing keyboards and doing vocals for Editors. It was our punk co-operative."
Healy quite literally wrote a wide screen musical version of the trials and tribulations of these teenage years.
"We wanted to make a John Hughes soundtrack for our lives," he says, referencing the late director responsible for The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off and affectionately known as the king of teen flicks.
"Everybody looks on their past and teenage years as very antiquated and John Hughes-esque way with an almost lustful and sensual feeling," Healy elaborates.
"When I watch those movies, I realise just how powerful music is. I thought if I'm not going to have an opportunity to make a movie, at least I'm going to write the soundtrack."
It seems Healy is also creating the soundtrack for many other people's lives. "One couple came up to me and told me how they first hooked up at a party," Healy says. "They ended up talking about our band and going upstairs and finding a computer to listen to our EP. Since then, they've been together and they're hopelessly and madly in love. They told me that our record brought them together and it will always be their record."
"That is what I care about and how I process success," Healy says emphatically. "Those are the moments when your identity and ideas bleed into society, people and culture. That excites me more than anything.
"It was a very humbling experience that I'll never take for granted. They're the moments when I feel that our band is truly validated.
"To move people like that and soundtrack their lives is the real reason you make music in the first place."
The 1975 is out today. They play the Academy, Dublin on September 30 (sold out), Dolan's Limerick on February 20, 2014, The Pavilion, Cork on February 19, Roisin Dubh, Galway on February 20 and the Olympia, Dublin on February 21.