It’s surprising to think that the 25-year-old lead singer of a recently (and highly) successful band could be going through an existential crisis. After years of writing, recording and major label rejection, The 1975 have finally broken through – from an outsider’s perspective, it’s all coming up Matt Healy. But, in his own words, Healy admits, “I have gone a bit mental this year.” So what is going on?
“I’m just having totally conflicting views of my identity and not really knowing who I am anymore, or what I’m doing or why I’m doing it … it’s like doing promo for your journal. That’s what it feels like at the moment.”
When he puts it like that, it makes sense. Most 20-somethings can relate to the feeling of having no idea what they are doing, but going through that while pouring your insecurities out onstage every night is an identity crisis on crack.
Given the rapid rise to fame of The 1975, from a number one debut album in the UK last year to a jam-packed international touring schedule, perhaps it’s an approach that’s paying off for Healy. With his rock star image, good looks and spades of charisma, the undercurrent of insecurity is unexpected.
“Are you calling me a rock star?” he asks. “Thanks.” He seems to mean it, even if he doesn’t quite agree with the assessment. But it must be tempting to succumb to fulfilling a persona – the sensitive musician is an image that’s worked in the past, and it sells, too.
However, Healy insists that pandering to a particular archetype was never part of a grand plan for him. “I think that there are a lot of people that are a lot more mentally stable and are a lot less neurotic who are doing it for a lot less personal reasons … They’ve seen other bands and they think, ‘Oh, well I want to do that because I want that life,’ whereas I ended up in a band by accident.”
Healy explains that a lot of The 1975’s appeal stems from innate curiosity: people love prying. Whether listening in on conversations or following someone on social media, everyone wants to know what other people are talking about. Beneath Healy’s slickly produced pop vocals are lyrics that make you feel like you’re overhearing something you shouldn’t be.
“A lot of it is quotes. Like in ‘Sex’ – ‘And I’m not trying to stop you, love / If we’re gonna do anything we might as well just fuck’– that doesn’t even rhyme. That’s not a line, that’s not like a clever line – that’s just something that was said. One of the things I will say; a lot of the time it sounds like I’m talking about someone else but I’m really talking about me.”
While The 1975’s self-titled album is undeniably pop, the themes range from sex to drug use to general self-destruction. Given that a huge number of the band’s fans are teens, does Healy ever find it unsettling that they relate so strongly to the lyrics?
“There were 15-year-old girls salivating over Jim Morrison back in the day – not to compare myself to Jim Morrison, do not put that in the magazine that I said that – but what I meant was, that’s always going to happen. I mean, the reason Elvis got so big is that he was dangerous, he was sexy.
“And throughout this entire album I’m not remotely, at any point, condoning my behaviour. If anything, I think there is a profound disdain for my own behaviour running throughout the record. Social responsibility for a generation of 15-year-olds is not something I want to be dealing [with] … I’m a 25-year-old writer/producer, not a 16-year-old in a boy band, so I probably do deal with it a bit differently.”
Hailing from Manchester – where any remnants of a ‘scene’ had long dissipated by the time he started writing – Healy contends that The 1975 sound more like an American band from the ’70s or ’80s than a guitar band from the UK. A lot of labels have been applied to their music, from alt-rock to power pop, but none of them seem to stick. Part of the reason is the pastiche of influences; notably, the shameless love Healy fosters for R&B and pop music.
“I wasn’t necessarily, like, a hipster music kid – all the records that I loved were kind of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey; hit R&B and ’80s pop. I went through a big phase of being a very alternative guy … Then I think that the things that were really, really true to me – like the big, classic pop songs – they just kind of came out and people seemed to like it.”
They liked it enough to see The 1975 sell out 15,000-seat venues, embark on worldwide tours, open for The Rolling Stones and get routinely mobbed by adoring fans at airports.
For all his purported self-doubt, Healy seems absolutely clear about one thing. “I’m a songwriter,” he says. “It’s all I really do.”
The 1975 out now through Dirty Hit / Sony. Catch them live at the Enmore Theatre on Wednesday July 30, tickets available online. They’ll also be appearing alongside Outkast, Foster The People, Two Door Cinema Club, Lily Allen and many more at Splendour In The Grass 2014, North Byron Parklands, Friday July 25 to Sunday July 27