Wednesday 19 December 2018

'I was a heroin addict, you know' - The 1975's frontman Matt Healy on addiction coupled with the band's meteoric rise

The 1975's frontman Matt Healy tells John Meagher how his greatest drug-related woes coincided with the band's meteoric rise

Reflection: Matt Healy is already working on The 1975's fourth album
Reflection: Matt Healy is already working on The 1975's fourth album
The 1975’s Matthew Healy has said a drug-fuelled rant at his bandmates convinced him to go to rehab (Matt Crossick/PA)
John Meagher

John Meagher

Matt Healy is so disarmingly open you almost feel like telling him to keep his guard up. He is chatting about the addictive aspects of social media when he drops a line - "I was a heroin addict, you know" - into the conversation.

He's making the point that addiction to both Twitter and the rock star drug of choice aren't as far removed as one might think, but it's a jarring comparison nonetheless, especially when one is accustomed to witnessing celebrity creative types being so careful with the information they drip-feed.

With a new album that looks - among many other things - at our increased obsession with social media, it's little surprise that the frontman and chief songwriter of The 1975 should want to talk about his own complex relationship with the online world, but few of his peers would be quite as transparent about their consumption of hard drugs.

Healy says he was addicted to heroin for four years in his mid-20s but feels he has come out the other side now, helped in part by a seven-week stay at a posh rehab facility in the Bahamas. But he abhors the idea of glamorising it. "I really loathe that whole Williams Burroughs and Trainspotting thing - and I've always understood them for what they were: excuses to be a dickhead.

"I don't want anyone to think that I was some countercultural hero who had done a bit of smack. That idea repulsed me, as did the idea of being like some kind of Pete Doherty kind of caricature. It's nothing like that. I didn't take heroin to be cool or edgy, it's more that I have an addictive personality..." His voice trails off.

Healy, now 29, is unwilling to blame the business of being a rock star in a major, arena-playing, chart-topping band for his heroin problems. "I think it would have happened anyway," he says. "There's something very deep-seated in me. From quite a young age, I've had the desire to sedate myself."

He says he is only willing to talk about heroin now that he is clean.

"I have perspective now, and I wouldn't have had that when I was in that place [addiction]. And I sing about it on the new album, too."

He's referring to the just-released third The 1975 album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, and to a particular song, 'It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)'. Although he sings about a character called Danny who has become dependent on drugs, he admits that the track is really about himself. "It's writing about it from a distance, because if you're writing a heroin song when you're on it, it's something else entirely. It could turn into a celebration - and I definitely don't see it that way."

Early reviews for the new album have been ecstatic, with one critic suggesting it could be this era's OK Computer. It's high praise, but one that Healy is keen to distance himself and his band from. "I have huge respect for Radiohead and what they've done, but we never want to compare ourselves to other bands. We make the music that we want to make, but did we want to write about some of the big questions that we face today? Absolutely."

He's as good as his word. A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships feels like an album that captures the business of being alive in 2018. And those advance notices aren't over-the-top: it's one of the standout albums of the year as well as being a hugely impressive song collection that's almost impossible to pigeonhole.

"We make music in the way that we listen to it," he says. "It's eclectic. We don't want to be painted into a corner. So, just like I might listen to The Velvet Underground on Spotify one moment and Lil Peep the next, it's the same when it comes to writing songs and recording them. The influences are everywhere.

"It's that magpie thing," he adds. "We're like that. A magpie will pick up a diamond or a piece of foil - it doesn't matter as long as it's shiny. And beautiful melody is my shiny. It doesn't matter whether it's a song by Ride or a song by John Coltrane."

The album was produced by Healy and The 1975 drummer George Daniel. "We learned [to produce] the hard way," he says. "Back in the days, when we couldn't get arrested - when we were trying to get a record deal and nobody wanted to know - we had already started producing for other bands. We were bad producers at first, but over the years we became good producers and I now think that George is one of the best producers in the world and I'm very lucky to have him by my side at all times."

Healy is close to his three bandmates and it's hardly surprising when one considers that they have been playing in some form or other since his early years in secondary school in the suburbs of Manchester. Those friendships and those of old classmates - one works in lighting for The 1975, another is an "assistant" - ensure that he keeps his feet on the ground.

"And the fact that for the first 10 years nobody wanted to know us," he says. "But we were learning the ropes and having a really good time and just enjoying being able to make music and go out and play it. Then the venues started to get bigger and bigger."

Healy says he has been creative for as long as he can remember - hardly surprising when one considers that both his parents are well-known actors. His mother, Denise Welch, was in Coronation Street for years and is a regular on the daytime panel show Loose Women. His father, Tim Healy, was one of the stars of the 1980s hit comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

If The 1975's first decade together was inauspicious, they truly got noticed with the Sex EP in 2012. A rousing guitar anthem, the title track offered a hint of what would come the following year on their self-titled debut album.

But it was their follow-up album, 2016's I Like it When You Sleep, For You are so Beautiful Yet so Unaware of It, that placed Healy and friends into a whole new realm - creatively and commercially. David Bowie and Peter Gabriel were just two of the iconic names that were bandied about by those who became seduced by songs that were smart, sophisticated and machine-tooled for widespread appeal.

If their first album was a comparative sales success, the second was a sensation. Here was a British guitar band who weren't just enjoying a number one album in their own country, but in the US, too. And Healy, easy on the eye and with a yen for being shirtless in his videos, became a fully fledged star.

Today, he says he enjoyed the meteoric rise even if it did coincide with some of his greatest heroin-related woes. When it came to working on its follow-up, he says he refused to put himself under pressure. "After I Like it When You Sleep, I was ready to make my best record. Every time you tour, every time you do an album, you finish it and you immediately look back on it and think, 'Fucking hell, that was the time of my life'. It's all good, man. I'm not one of these people that moans about being in a band that gets to play all over the world.

"On this record, we let it happen organically. There was a lot of love going around and it materialised on the record. I try not to overthink things, to look back and wonder why such and such a song really connected. You can't think that way - you just have to write the song you want to write. Otherwise, it becomes a Sisyphean task. And maybe the very best stuff happens to be the unthought-out stuff."

And yet, plenty of thought has clearly gone into the new album. "Every relationship that one has outside of face-to-face is mediated by the internet," he says.

"Our relationship with the totality of the internet is now taken as a given. If you proposed these ideas to someone 10 or 15 years ago [before social media took hold], they would have a lot of questions... questions that aren't being asked now, like why the necessity for it? What it means? How it changes the way we communicate? How it changes our attention span? Whether it makes us needy?"

Healy is a restless figure during our interview, his mind wandering into tangents - and there's some of that restlessness on the album, too. He's already working on its follow-up, a fourth album called Notes on a Conditional Form, which he describes as a "night-time album".

He hopes it will be ready in time for release next summer.

"As soon as I put Brief Inquiry down, I went away for a week with my girlfriend. And then I started Notes on a Conditional Form straight after. I'm in the middle of it at the moment." He pauses. "It's good," he deadpans, "to be busy."

'A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships' is out now. The 1975 play the SSE Arena, Belfast, and the 3Arena, Dublin, on January 9 and 10 respectively

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