Matty Healy is so direct it's disconcerting. The first time I interviewed The 1975 frontman - just before the release of the band's third album, the UK chart-topping A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships - I tentatively broached the subject of his former drug addiction. He discussed his dependency on heroin with the sort of frankness that is completely at odds with big-name pop stars who try to reveal as little of their weaknesses as possible.
This time, when I ask the Cheshire-raised frontman about how he is coping with lockdown imposed to contain Covid-19, he doesn't sugar-coat it. "I'm struggling, mate." Healy has locked himself away in the studio in rural Northamptonshire where the band have recorded most of their music. He's there with bandmate George Daniel - drummer and co-producer - and a handful of unnamed musicians. He says he is trying to find positives "in this really shitty time".
When he speaks to Review, he is still coming to terms with the disappointment of the cancellation of a world tour in support of The 1975's latest album, Notes on a Conditional Form. "We were so looking forward to getting out there and playing these songs." He sighs. "In the scheme of things, it's not a huge thing - I'm not asking for people's sympathy. It's just... who saw this coming? And when does it end?"
Those desperately missing the pleasure of going to gigs can relate, especially as The 1975 in concert is a superlative live experience. The band attracted rapturous reviews for their headline set at Electric Picnic last September, while their gig at the 3Arena in Dublin in January last year was one of the best gigs this writer has ever seen at that venue.
"I don't know if I'm a confident person," Healy says, picking his words carefully. "But when I'm on stage, the showman in me takes over. And who knows when any of us will be able to that again?"
But, he insists, some good has to come out of the pandemic. "Here in the UK, no government will ever take our NHS for granted again, or to try to dismantle it whether it's through privatisation or withholding funding. Not even a Tory government - their most die-hard supporters wouldn't want that, surely. You just hope there will be respect for people working on the frontline and there's a true understanding of what's important in society."
Healy says he and Daniel are trying to use the imposed downtime to work on new material. "I want to stay positive," he says, "and the best way for me to do that is to try to work on new songs. So when you're in a studio like I am now, there's no excuse not to do that." He says the lockdown is making its way into some of the lyrics, but he quips that the next 1975 album won't be Covid-obsessed.
He says he is a restless figure, and you believe him. He admits to being more interested in talking about forthcoming work than discussing an album that has only just been released. This is a frontman who makes albums featuring the kitchen sink and everything else, although it is a testament to his smarts as a musician that his work can feel thrilling - sometimes essential - rather than messy and overly self-indulgent. Yet even the most avowed 1975 aficionado would have to concede that there is some self-indulgence there.
But being holed up in a studio and away from family and friends is not how he saw 2020 panning out. Right now, The 1975 would be in the midst of the American leg of their world tour. Tonight, they would have been playing The Anthem arena in Washington DC.
He consoles himself that the band managed to play some shows before lockdown came into effect, including a well-received March 3 gig in Dublin. "Don't feel sorry for us," he says. "It's the people in this industry who've lost their livelihoods [who deserve sympathy]." When The 1975 play live, there may be four people on stage, but he says there are countless others who make the experience happen.
The 1975 occupy something of a unique place in British music today. Ostensibly, they are a pop-rock band who appeal to screaming teenagers and chin-stroking critics alike. It's true that they polarise opinion, but those who love their music tend to be evangelical. In 2018, before the release of A Brief Inquiry..., the former MTV presenter Eddy Temple-Morris declared that he was so enamoured with the album that he was "practically in tears".
The group have lofty ambitions and set high targets for themselves, and Healy says they were determined that their latest album would be a "truly significant" piece of work. At 80 minutes and 22 tracks, the austerely titled Notes on a Conditional Form is about as lengthy as a conventional CD can be and would constitute most people's ideas of a double album. But Healy doesn't see it that way.
"This album and A Brief Inquiry... are part of something I call 'Music for Cars'," he says, before adding, somewhat confusingly, "it is a real-time expression".
Eliciting an explanation is no easy task. Healy may be smart and engaging, but he has a tendency towards the verbose. On occasion, he has difficulty articulating the ideas circulating in his head, something he cheerfully admits. "Let me put it this way," he says of the 'Music for Cars' concept. "I was a huge fan of Brian Eno in my formative years and the title is a nod to him [Eno's albums include Music for Airports and Music for Films]. I'd remember being in the car listening to Eno for hours on end and getting stoned." What he's driving at, I think, is the idea that The 1975 listener will be similarly transported.
Like every 1975 album to date and especially since the breakthrough second offering, I Like it When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, there's a dazzling array of styles and influences on this latest one. There are several contributors too, including the increasingly in-demand American singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, who was set to support the band in the US, and the English alt-pop star FKA Twigs, whom Healy is rumoured to be dating. He split with his model girlfriend Gabriella Brooks last summer.
Healy insists that he and his band are free to do whatever they want when it comes to making albums. He says he feels no pressure to deliver hits, despite the fact that the most striking 1975 songs, such as 'Somebody Else' are wonderfully catchy anthems for the mass market.
The band are on the Dirty Hit independent label, which was formed a decade ago by Jamie Oborne, Brian Smith and - curiously - former England footballer Ugo Ehiogu, and their albums are distributed by the heavyweight Polydor group.
Healy is keen to put me straight when I wonder if Polydor has any say in singles selection or length of albums. "They don't even have my number! Not that I'm not friends with them, but our relationship with Polydor is purely about the commercial side of things, not the creative." He pauses. "Sorry, I sounded like a pompous wanker when I said that. I just wanted to explain to you that the only creative people are the four of us in the band and our manager, Jamie [Oborne]."
The singer has a disarmingly sweet way of tying himself up in knots before going back to explain himself. He even does it in song. 'Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied' from the new album finds him admitting that a declaration about sexual adventures in one of his most totemic tunes, 'Love It If We Made It' was false. It's a different level of self-deprecation.
Healy (31) grew up in showbiz. Both his parents are actors. His father, Tim Healy, was in the 1980s comedy-drama series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, while his mother, Denise Welch, became well-known among soap lovers thanks to her portrayal of the brassy barmaid Natalie in Coronation Street.
Healy started making music in his teens and was 23 when people begun to take notice of The 1975. His fame has long eclipsed that of both his parents, but he says he is ambivalent about his celebrity. "Don't get me wrong, I want people to hear our music. I want them to come to our gigs - whenever that happens. But I don't crave fame. I'm happiest when I'm in the studio, making music."
And with that, he's gone. Another lockdown shift with George Daniel beckons and an opportunity to work on the next 1975 album.
'Notes on a Conditional Form' is out now