Photo: Roberto Finizio/NurPhoto
The members of the British pop band the 1975 — Matthew Healy, Adam Hann, George Daniel and Ross MacDonald — are marooned in a house in the Hollywood Hills. MacDonald runs up a hill, a trainer behind him. “He’s made me run round this house six times,” he says, panting. In the kitchen, fifth unofficial member Jamie Oborne — manager/co-owner of label Dirty Hit — stands inside a sea of weed products, empty takeaway containers, and printouts of artwork for the band’s third LP, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, which is out this Friday. The 1975 were here this time last year, trying to make this record after two years touring their second LP, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, which catapulted them from emo outsiders to lauded stars. The first time I spoke to Healy was in the eye of that storm, at the Sunset Marquis. He could barely hold his head up.
Putting his spliff down, Healy offers a hug. He is now a recovering heroin addict. His hair is a Mohawk of salt-and-pepper. “In five years I’m gonna be gray like David Byrne,” he says, looking healthier than ever. Outside Hann, Daniel, and MacDonald are shirtless, surrounded by weights, doing reps to Rage Against the Machine. Healy skipped today’s session. “I bitched out,” he says. It’s typical for him to exclude himself in favor of working on music. He’s not only finished one album in L.A., he’s started another. Notes on a Conditional Form is due in March.
“I haven’t been social for a year,” he says. Oborne looks exasperated. “You haven’t been social since I met you.” “When people come over I’m gregarious,” adds Healy. “We might go to Drake tonight.” Oborne scoffs, “Is Drake playing this house?” They won’t be going. These days, Healy mostly socializes online. We’ve DM’d before, but I quit social media recently. He asks me how life is offline, and I tell him it’s awesome, and that I didn’t know I was an addict until I quit. “It’s a constant consultation, isn’t it?” he says. “Is this good? Am I right? Are we right? Our generation is trapped.”
How much longer do you have in L.A.?
We’re leaving on Halloween, the day I left L.A. last year to go to rehab. We’re going via New York for Pitchfork who now love the 1975. The world is funny, man.
You enjoy converting your critics.
Listen, by the time we got to I Like It When You Sleep … I didn’t give a fuck. I work on music, don’t talk to anybody. Then somebody sits down with me and it’s like, What do I think? Well, considering what’s going on in pop, I’d be suspicious if somebody was slagging this record off. Give me a better one. Show me the other big band who’s fucking amazing.
What is the 1975 now?
It’s not a rock band. It is a rock band in the way that we’re four white blokes playing guitars a lot of the time. But we’re an R&B band before we’re a rock band.
Does deconstructing the idea of what a “rock band” is supposed to be interest you?
I’ve always liked playing with any form. I don’t think about it when it comes to making music. I hear something I love and go, Let’s do that. I’m one of these kids with a low attention span, access to the internet, and fucking shit loads of time. I wanna be everything. I’m so excited about the present.
If you become a household name on this third album you’ll lose some cult kudos. Do you think about that?
I don’t. I can see that we’re popular because I know what The Fader is; all these avenues that talk about us. If we go to Urban Outfitters, people come over, but that’s not how I gauge whether we’re big. It’s just me and George producing the record. Us in a house with no shirts on.
You haven’t gone into a massive studio.
Exactly, no [Alan] Moulder. We’ve done it humble, like the early EPs. I never think about us becoming a household name. You have Adele/Ed Sheeran tiers. We’re still the biggest band nobody’s ever heard of. I’m not like Kanye. I won’t go to the Beverly Center, paparazzi turn up, and it’ll be a shutdown. But I also don’t have passive interactions with people. It’s either intense — “FUCK ME, I LOVE THE 1975!” — or it’s nothing.
You told Billboard that you’re the most interesting band making music. Was that bravado?
It was read as that.
Did you mean that you’re the only band making music to so many in such a DIY way?
That’s my point! This is why I want to do interviews on film. You don’t write the spiel where I said: Take out heritage artists — Radiohead, Foo Fighters. Then new bands — Let’s Eat Grandma, Idles. What’s left is us. We’re headlining festivals on the second album the night after Foo Fighters, before Beyoncé. There are no bands at our stage doing anything as interesting. I’m not saying: I’m a fucking legend. Find me one! Tell me one!
Would you like there to be one?
I’m not competitive! But the fact that there isn’t one has nothing to do with me.
Would it be nice to open doors for other bands?
I don’t care. I’m not a purist. I don’t think that groups of people who make music are gonna go out of fashion. The only interesting things happening in punk are girl bands because it’s something new within the form. I do like Idles. I don’t care about them. They’re a punk band of 30-year-old blokes. Who cares?! I’ll tell you who: some people who they probably know. When I started, that’s what I was doing — making records for my mates. Then I realized maybe I could have an impact on the world.
This new record is your best, speaking to the times we live in, summing up what it is to be young in a sad, confusing, anxious …
That’s what I’ve always tried to do.
You continue to write from an outsider’s perspective because you haven’t disappeared into fame. You are your audience.
I’m the same person. I’m not socially awkward, but I don’t go outside. I watch a lot. I walk around. But I mean emotionally. I don’t go to the pub. I don’t go to a party. I have a private life. When I go outside I only really exist as Matty from the 1975. But … Oh, it doesn’t matter.
That’s what [the song] “I Couldn’t Be More in Love” is about. It sounds like it’s a love song, but it’s about what happens when no one cares anymore. What about these feelings I’ve got? I don’t know about opening doors for people. I’ve never known what we sound like, so I don’t know what we’re doing for people other than saying, “Do whatever the fuck you want.”
This record has been written in real time. How close was the last song written to you releasing it?
Oh, fucking days! The vocals come so late.
The line “Thank you Kanye, very cool” from “Love It If We Made It” came just after Kanye dropped his album.
Right! Four days before it came out I finished the lyrics. Loads of songs were down to the fucking wire. If you don’t take risks, you don’t get rewards.
Is the material on this album from before you got clean?
Most of it. George wrote the instrumental to “Love It If We Made It” in 2015. You know where Dirty Hit is? Grenfell’s round the corner. A year before that happened, I’d ask Ed [Blow, label co-manager] every day if he’d go to the newsagents for tabloids. My idea for “Love It If We Made It” was a list of press headlines. Then Grenfell happened. I was so upset. That’s when the song became this outward exorcism.
When I heard it I thought it was from the perspective of staring death in the face.
I mean, yeah. It’s not opinionated. It’s stuff that’s happened. It’s what I was worried about. A combination of not being able to focus on one thing, and talking about my drug addiction, interspersed with the world, then me, then the world. I’ve always been staring death in the face. Always an existentialist, a nihilist. I just wanna have a baby now. Then I’ll stop doing that.
You want to have a baby now?
I’m too busy, but do you ever think that sometimes? God! Well, at least then me will go away! I’d like to become a vessel for somebody else’s happiness. That’s where I get meaning in life. I make music; it makes people happy. I find everything else a bit hard. I love my girlfriend.
If this album failed, what would you do?
If it was a failure … I’ve already won, ha! Fuck me. Putting it out on November 30 is not gonna get me a No. 1. I’m doing it because I wanna make the right record. It’s out a week after Kanye. [Editor’s note: Kanye has since delayed the release of this album.] I like the idea of being up there with him. We’re saying quite different things at the moment.
What’s your relationship with Kanye?
It’s sad to see somebody so famed for self-awareness lose that. He’s supporting regressive ideas. If his objective is to make as much noise then it works, but ostracizing black people isn’t just morally bankrupt, it’s not even a good idea! He seems really, really mentally ill.
The album is titled after online relationships. The 1975 wouldn’t exist without the internet.
No! I remember a time when the internet was a thing that somebody’s big brother had in their room. Now everything is online, right? What’s the foundation of reality? What does it mean in 30 years? We’re gonna burn up in a ball before then anyway.
Presumably, when you were in rehab you were offline …
No, I wasn’t! Credit to Steve.
Steve was my doctor. It was a new facility in Barbados. Just me on my own. I wanted to get clean, so I told them everything. I said, “I’ve got these in my bag, blah, blah.” They made an assessment.
What was in your bag?
Pills. Steve asked what I thought of people being on the internet there. I don’t think it’s good for people ripping themselves off drugs at their worst. I wasn’t [at that stage]. The removal of my relationships would’ve been negative. Most people go to rehab and everyone’s like, “This is the 15th time you’ve stolen ten quid out my purse.” I’d caught myself talking shit, talking like an addict. By the time I got to rehab everybody was supportive.
So you were tweeting from rehab?
A bit. I was mainly on YouTube. I’d go down right-wing rabbit holes watching all this mad rhetoric. You should do it. Search for anything anti-liberal and watch three videos. The adverts you get are fucking wild.
You finished Brief Inquiry … here, and are recording Notes on a Conditional Form.
Slowly to be honest.
Why do you feel such an urgency to make so much music?
I don’t know. Do you not feel really urgent right now? To articulate that is weird, right? I’m such a drama queen. Everybody is living their own movie, everybody is the protagonist in the world. If you’re a writer, you want a great ending, right? I was obsessed: I’m gonna do three records. We’ve got artwork for the third. That’s gonna be it.
What was the artwork for the last record gonna be?
I’ve still got it. That’s for later.
For the end?
It’s for Music for Cars. It’s the artwork for both the records.
You put out an EP in 2013 called Music For Cars, then teased the third album as Music For Cars before announcing A Brief Inquiry… What is Music For Cars? Is it the end?
[Pause.] No! Surely not. It’s a semicolon. That’s longer than a comma, isn’t it? But shorter than a full stop?
It’s introducing a new idea.
Our Gorillaz moment. I sat myself down and said, Okay, you haven’t told anyone this ending yet, so think about it. Are you willing to sacrifice the reason you get out of bed because you want a good ending at 28 years old? What I wanted to do was make a load of music. Since I made that decision, I’ve shat myself.
Are you too smart to self-sabotage?
I care about others a bit more than I care about myself. Some people’s happiness is contingent on your existence. When we do an interview, there’s this focus on “I’m a nihilist. I’m damaged. I’ve been to rehab.” But I’m also a person.
It’s important not to sensationalize rehab, damage, addiction because they’re relatable truisms.
They’re slow burns. It’s human. It’s complicated.
Do you think you would be surprised by yourself now, a year after entering rehab?
Yeah. I had to write two letters to myself. One for in the future if I stayed clean, and one if I didn’t. What else am I gonna do? Be a fucking junkie? It doesn’t work. I would still be doing it if it worked. [Healy becomes distracted.] Did you see that fly? It literally just rolled over and died.
Photo: Magdalena Wosinska
What is your relationship with yourself like at the moment?
Eh … I wanna be … the best I can be. I was reminded recently of what it meant to go to a show; that feeling of being a pariah, then meeting people that feel the same. I want it to be the ultimate release. I want to do it for people because parking is a nightmare. The last time I went to a show I was watching 33-year-olds. They probably got a babysitter. They have to sit in traffic. When I’m doing press-ups that’s what I’m thinking about. It takes a lot for me to go to a show. Drake tonight. I’ve got three tickets. Can’t be arsed. But I love Drake. [Pause.] Fuck man. That’s hard. What’s my relationship with myself. Good? Good.
We’ve talked in the past about getting political. Why do you think it’s appealing to pop stars? Do you think it’s part of selling the product?
Make art and stand by it. Don’t make art that’s not political then expect us to listen to you. I see artists and their main projection isn’t related to their music. If it was in the music I wouldn’t have a problem, but it seems opportunistic when it’s not. It’s easy to learn the rhetoric of the left. Of course racism’s bad, of course women must be heard. Let’s make something inspiring that isn’t just part of this stream of fucking talking, right? Do I sound like an arse?
If you’re not going to make art that’s important to culture, don’t use easy rhetoric to sell it.
You’ve signed female artists the Japanese House and Pale Waves to Dirty Hit. How much is the M.O. of the label to generate more art from a female point of view?
Massively. I like people’s perspective I’ve never thought of. Joni Mitchell is one of my favorite artists. She’s a fucking alien species to me. I can never be that. It fascinates me. I want to hear more about it. When I heard Amber [Bain, of Japanese House] for the first time, she was some weird postapocalyptic Alison Moyet, 17, gay, with this lyric: “I watched him kiss her and it felt so boring.” It was new.
You’re going back on the road in January. Will it be hard without pills and heroin?
Yes? But it won’t be that bad because I’ve got weed, the lesser evil. That sounds bad, but I don’t care. I’m a fucking person. I was good at not using on the road.
It’s when you’re off the road …
Way harder. Living in London. Just being in London.
You told The Guardian you don’t like returning to your house.
I’ve ripped it and turned it into a rental. I’ve moved to West London five minutes from the office.
Does that feel like home?
I’ve never been. I’ve got it waiting for me when I get back.
What have you learned about your bandmates since rehab?
It’s reinstated that we’re brothers for life.
What led you to heroin in the first place?
You’re either gonna do that shit or you’re not. It’s not like it was wine, weed, cocaine, then heroin. You make a choice. I had a childhood carnal desire to be sedated. That combined with thinking it was fucking cool. It sounded like my vibe. No one I knew was into it. I’m from a small town outside Manchester, not London. Junkie chic wasn’t my thing. It was always private. I never wanted to be Pete Doherty.
Did it make you feel separate from your band or audience?
No. It made me feel … better. It’s so busy and loud just being alive. When you wake up it’s so fucking loud. So that kind of gets rid of it. I’m a very addictive person. Anything that has ceremony I’m a sucker for.
How do you deal with the noise without it?
You readjust. It used to be one of those commas I looked forward to. The reason it’s so hard to quit is because you have nothing else that does that. Quitting is cognitive behavioral therapy: Keep doing something, eventually it’ll become all right. Sometimes you gotta do it. It’s like fucking getting fit. Just do it. Or don’t. Don’t moan or figure out different ways. There’s only one way: not doing it. That’s how you quit.
Do you feel confident that you’re quitting?
Um. Yeah? But to be honest with you, one of the reasons I don’t wanna talk about it is because I don’t deal with change well. I move forward. If I think about it, I go backward. I’ve tried to distract myself. It’s so hard when there’s no answer as to why. Why? Because it’s better. Because you should. I don’t wanna have a baby because of my sense of salvation.
It’s okay to think that having a kid can be selfish.
Yeah. There’s not much out there for them. I worry if there’s really any point. Is there?
You’re asking if there’s a point to having kids?
Can we not? I don’t wanna go down this road. Some stuff me and my missus have to iron out.
You always write about the truth. Coming out of rehab, do you relisten to material and ask, Who was I?
No, I know who I was. We played “Paris” the other day: “I was picking up on Bethnal Green, she said I’d been romanticizing heroin.” I’m talking about the buildup to all that shit. People never clocked on!
It’s ironic that mental health has, in some sense, become this trend, but people aren’t helping each other …
It pisses me off. It’s trendy to be woke. You weaponize victimhood so anybody that’s had a tough time can win a debate. That’s not a critical course of action. All these debates we see about gender, trans people, racism … nobody ever mentions that they’re enjoying it. Nobody ever references how fun it is to be right. If you’re right, you get 400,000 lovely hearts. Could they be doing it for that? Possibly. A little bit. My favorite is on Instagram where the most beautiful person takes a photo of themselves looking beautiful and gives a speech about how their self-confidence has been low. I don’t get it. I spend so much time on Instagram looking at men who take selfies. I think I’ve taken one.
You’ve taken only one selfie?
No, wait. I did an Instagram live video and took a screenshot from it. I’ve never taken a selfie.
Last time we spoke you called yourself pretentious. You said, “Please don’t write this in a way that makes me sound like a cunt.” Was that a front?
I was so lofty. I thought it was pretentious. It’s an experience learning how to deal with people writing about you. I’d see it and go, That’s not what I said! I sound like a dickhead! I’d say something and roll my eyes and go, “Please write that I rolled my eyes.” It had control of me. Now I have control of it.