The 1975’s Matty Healy: „I can’t prioritize my desire to be on stage at the moment“

When I talk to Matty Healy on the phone, he is somewhere in the countryside in the UK, in a studio/living space where he recorded the last two albums with his band The 1975 (Healy and his longtime friends George Daniel, Adam Hann and Ross MacDonald), and  it sounds like he is out walking his dog. He recently got a new dog, a Cane Corso, whom he boldly named Mayhem, and while we talk, from time to time he has to sort him out. „Sorry, I have to look after my puppy so that he doesn’t shit“, he says at some point. Later there is a short interruption when he asks someone to get a plastic bag and take care of things (so let’s hope he is outside the house). 

That he likes doing interviews on the side of other things (he’s already been documented answering questions on the phone while he’s driving around in his car) does not mean he doesn’t give you his full attention. It rather contributes to a nice, somewhat casual atmosphere, which makes you almost forget that you are talking to the frontman of a band that is, especially in the UK and the US, one of the biggest and most hyped of our current time. This and the fact that Matty Healy, despite the huge, obsessive cult being made around his persona, proves to be a very focused and attentive conversation partner, who doesn’t only say what he thinks right from the heart, but also knows how to listen.

Here’s the thing with Matty Healy: you either hate him or love him. When he utters his opinion in public (which he tends to do a lot and very freely), when he speaks out about issues like racism, bigotry, lacks of equality and freedom, people twist his words and slaughter him publicly on the internet. When he posts a picture of himself on Instagram, he gets thousands of likes and comments filled with heart emojis, expressing love. It is not an easy path to move on. He never gets tired of using his platforms to get his points across, even if posting about a human rights case that is important to him gets him a tenth of the reactions as compared to the latest selfie. The point is: for someone who is so much in the centre of public opinion, who is an object of hate, love and often unabashedly expressed physical desire, Matty Healy can be quite a humble person who is trying hard to care more about the bigger picture than about himself – sometimes even maybe a bit too hard. A couple of times during our conversation he tries to direct the focus away from talking about himself. And when we talk about The 1975’s upcoming album „Notes On A Conditional Form“ he is perceptibly happy when we find out that my favorite song on the album has not been written by him, but by The 1975 member George Daniel, his closest creative partner. Numerous legends have been created around Healy’s allegedly huge ego. Sure, he likes to play with it, and he likes to state that his band is the greatest in the world right now. But when he flaunts his charismatic, eccentric Rockstar persona on stage, he has the tendency to mock himself – he wiggles his hips and at the same time laughs at the crowd’s ecstatic reaction. 

„Notes On A Conditional Form“ is the fourth album of The 1975 and the follow-up to their 2018 release „A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships“. In early 2019, Matty Healy said that the band was already working on a new album and that he wanted it out as soon as possible. The release was then delayed several times, it will now finally be released on May 22nd. It was written, produced and recorded between August 2018 and February 2020, while the band was on tour almost constantly. The album contains an insane number of 22 full length songs, the list of studios where it has been recorded reads like a road trip, from the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, to Los Angeles, Sydney, Vienna and back, including a recording tour bus the band took on the road with them through the US. It was produced by George Daniel and Matty Healy with a little bit of help on some of the songs by producer Jonathan Gilmore. All that makes it sound like an insane, overly ambitious project which easily could have failed. But „Notes On A Conditional Form“ represents a band putting a wild amount of different styles into one album and proving at the same time that they can easily get away with it. In its diversity and length, it completely makes sense, especially as a component within The 1975’s universe. While Matty Healy likes to reference himself lyric-wise (meet lines like „I never fucked in a car, I was lying“), the band, at the same time,  is far away from repeating themselves creatively. Matty‘s voice is glowing with pride when we talk about the album, and when he says that it could be their best work yet, I tend to agree with him.

Right now The 1975 should be on a huge arena tour through the US. Instead, Matty Healy is out in the country with a new dog and more time to himself than he ever had in the past couple of years. It isn’t easy for him, but he still knows how privileged he is, as he can always continue to be creative. „Making music, you can do that in your head, if you need to, you know?“, he says at the beginning of our conversation. So without further ado, here it is.

© Ria Smith-Bain

Do you know what the last thing I did was before this whole lockdown situation started to happen? I visited a friend in Manchester and we went to your show together.

Oh really? Shit, man…

And you know what? We had such a wonderful time, that at some point I said: if this was my last night out for a long time, I’d be perfectly fine with it. Isn’t that weird?

That is weird, isn’t it? It’s nice tho you had that moment of appreciation. I think most of us appreciate anything when it happens and then you’re like wow… we are all retracing and trying to find out what the last thing was that we did or the last time we saw that person. So I suppose you’re lucky in that regard, that you knew it was a positive experience. Playing a show every night has become kind of my normality. It was a nice break initially, but now it just feels strange not to have any shows lined up. That’s just weird. 

How long do you feel you could cope with the situation as it is now? How long do you think you will feel okay, without going on stage every night?

(breathes)… Couple of years, maybe? I don’t know. I’ll do what I have to. I mean, I need to be comfortable with it as well, it’s not just whether it’s allowed, it’s whether it’s tasteless. I can’t prioritize my desire to be on stage at the moment. The global priority is not that… I just started thinking, I can’t be miserable about things. I am talking about it on the record, about how we need to change something, or something will change it for us. And it seems like something is moving forward. To pretend we can go back to the way things were, that would be a bit silly. It’s more about focussing on how we can move forward and change things. What I think at the moment is, instead of being upset I feel kind of responsible. Even with someone like you, who is a grown, intelligent woman in the field, still, you have an upward relationship with people in the industry. So you ask me this question, what am I to do about this situation. I want to ask that question – but I don’t have anyone to ask it to. I haven’t got an upward relationship with anyone, I am kind of in the premium league of bands or artists now. It’s not gonna change itself, the thing with the climate crisis and stuff. Before this situation, what everyone was doing was trying to keep doing exactly what they do, but just massage it enough to make it kind of socially acceptable. Whereas now, we need a complete reinvention. So instead of sitting there and wanting it, I try to think of how to reinvent live music. I started having conversations about that with people. How we can do things, reinvent the way we think about things. 

I already felt that right in the beginning, when this whole situation started. Even when we were still only talking about a couple of weeks first. I think this is going to change the perspective on how we look at things very profoundly.

Yeah, we now will enter a traffic jam state of changing. When we‘re back to normal, this will be normal, and by the time it changes, that will be normal. We will be busy adapting to a new kind of normal for a long time. 

But in the meantime, you will bring out an album! It’s finally finished, and it will bring a lot of joy to people. 

Yeah, I mean, that’s why I’m doing it, that’s why I’m comfortable with it. I’m comfortable with long form expression that isn’t self-interested, a record or a podcast with somebody. That’s an expression I am interested in, because these things can comfort people and they subjectively are art. Fucking just doing stuff to make me feel good is not what I’m interested in. 

So I thought a couple of things when I listened to the album. What really impresses me is that it is 22 songs long, but I wouldn’t want to miss a single song from it. It is super diverse, but then again it makes so much sense as a whole. And seriously, I don’t know any other band or artist right now who would make an album like that. But you know what? I think Prince would have had fun with it. That was my first thought. 

(laughs) Thank you so much, that is such a lovely compliment. I think it’s our best work in regards to if I think of it like a painting. The whole thing kind of makes sense, but it’s definitely made up of hyper concentration on really specific areas. It is like its own world, but we very much live in our own world and I kind of live in my own world, like in my head. I’m trying to get that out sonically. Those were the songs that we wanted to put out, we didn’t think about if it were too many of them. I mean, all our albums have always been quite weird in their form. I’ve always been a massive fan of Prince’ ability to do anything and it will still feel like Prince. But this record… this is my most „me“ record. I like the idea of people trying to copy this kind of record. I think it is quite an original record. So thank you, I really appreciate it. I like to think that it is possibly our best record. I don’t know. But if you don’t think that, then what’s the point of it?

I’ve been listening to it a couple of times as a whole, and then I checked which songs I kept coming back to. I really have a thing for the electronic songs. „Having No Head“ is one of my favorites.

Oh, George will be happy with that. Yeah, me too! I think that’s possibly my favorite on the record. I mean, I didn’t write that. That’s why maybe it’s my favorite (laughs). That’s George’s big moment. So I agree, I keep coming back to that as well. I like „Shiny Collarbone“ as well. But that’s all the George stuff. 

To me you sound creatively more free than ever on this record. And I was wondering if that is also because you might be putting more and more space between you and the subject of addiction? You really can tell me if I’m wrong here or digging too deep, but I feel like, or hope… it’s probably always going to be a part of you, but it might not be such a pressing subject anymore. Does that make you more free as an artist? 

A little bit, I think. I think we’ve just grown up a little bit. We’ve gotten better at what we do and kind of understood the better parts of what we do and the truer parts of what we do. It’s not remotely thought out. We’re not trying to prove anything to anybody. I think it’s a real, genuine statement, and I think people believe real things. But I don’t know if it’s about where I am in myself. I think… „A Brief Inquiry…“ was quite intense. This record was our antidote do dealing with that and not having to face it head on. 

It’s a bit more playful to me.

It has a lot of heart. And it’s not afraid to be playful. It’s not afraid to be aggressive. It’s not afraid to be intimate and tender, almost naive. It doesn’t care. It doesn’t have any ego. I don’t talk about my ego. I deconstruct my ego a bit. It’s not a self-interested record. It’s kind of a real life, real time expression. 

Talking about ego, I have to say I really admire how you manage to stay so open and real, as an artist as well as as a person. I see you taking shit from people on the internet all the time (Matty laughs). And then I am wondering: how the hell can people be offended by someone speaking up for women’s rights, for example?

The internet has kind of told everybody that the world is a forum and their opinion is the most important thing. And the opposition to another opinion is the way to get attention. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, people literally deconstructing narratives in order for them to be virtuous or edgy or clever or victimized. People just change information to make themselves look more interesting on the internet. 

But have you always been like that? So aware of what is happening around you and willing to fight for what is important to you? Looking at myself, I think I was a lot more self-centered when I was your age.

I just think when there are so many people looking at you, self-interest or doing something because it’s fun, that didn’t last very long for me. All the artists that really influenced me kind of documented their time. I know what’s right, and I can’t stand there and… I don’t know, maybe I’ve always been like that, I haven’t thought about it. I am better at challenging ideas in the wider world than in myself. I still got a lot of work to do on those kind of things. Politics start at home. And I think I do stand for all of those kind of ideas. But I think I need to focus on my world a bit more. 

You just started doing a series of podcasts, where you talk with your personal musical heroes, like Stevie Nicks, Brian Eno and Conor Oberst. Would you have done this, if it weren’t for the current situation?

No, I don’t think I would have done that. I was doing this bit for „The Face“ magazine. The reason why it worked out so well is that the music editor for „The Face“ is one of my oldest best friends from 20 years ago. We used to hang out when we were like 15,16. So now he is the music editor, and we were just talking about what would be cool. So I had creative freedom, he said I could do whatever I wanted. I said, I think the coolest would be something long form, like a series of converations or something. So then we decided to host the couple of first on „The Face“ and then I’m going to continue and do some more. I’m reaching out to some people at the moment and seeing if they get back. Ninety percent of the people I asked so far have gotten back to me and said that they want to do it. It’s so cool. 

That must have been such an interesting change of perspective for you. When normally you are the one who’s answering questions all the time. And to hear how much someone like Stevie Nicks admires you!

Yeah, it was amazing. You never get to reflect on how people think about your music. And in these conversations the dynamic was very much that I was in awe of these people. It kind of took Brian (Eno) and Stevie (Nicks) to stop me. That they wanted to say something about my… about our band’s music. These conversations… they didn’t kind of validate me, but they made me realise that I have made a difference. We have made a difference in music. We definitely have. We have made an impact. And I’m kind of proud of that. 

Interview: Gabi Rudolph

Fotos © Jordan Hughes (except where indicated)