THE SUNDAY TIMES
28 MAY 2017
MATT HEALY - MEET ROCK’N’ROLL’S UNCENSORED FRONTMAN OF THE MOMENT.
Festival season is here, and the 1975 are the biggest, most-talked-about band out there this summer. Interview by Christa D’Souza.
I wish I had a teenage daughter. Why? Because here I am with Matt Healy, the frontman of the 1975, who has just offered to take his shirt off in order to give me a tattoo tour. There’s the one dedicated to his nana; his mum, Denise “Loose Women” Welch, is on his foot; his dad, Tim “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” Healy, is on his arm; and his brother, Louis, on the back of a calf; there’s the one dedicated to William Burroughs, the author of his favourite ever book, Queer; then there’s the one on the inside of his left wrist… of his passport number. “I got bored of being constantly woken up by a woman offering me a landing card while my tour manager, who always carries my passport, is conked out somewhere behind me. I thought it would be useful. It’s really all I need on a plane.”
Welcome to the world of the 1975, whose second album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It (yes, really), went straight to No 1 in both America and the UK last year, and who won the best band award at the Brits in February. They have just announced that their third album, Music for Cars, will be out next year, and when we meet they are about to go on tour, kicking off in Mexico and ending in July at Latitude Festival in Suffolk, where they will headline alongside Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons. If you’re not familiar with their music — think Pete Doherty mixed with One Direction, maybe — it’s probably because, like me, you’re too old. That said, Mick Jagger, whom the band supported when the Stones played Hyde Park in 2013, is a huge fan — so fond of their hit single Chocolate, he has been known to put it on after dinner for guests.
“Yeah, I remember that gig,” says the 28-year-old Healy, with a faint Northern accent. “It was before I had my eyes lasered and I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Pointless. There were 50,000 people there and I could only see about four of them, but out of the corner of my eye I could just make out this gyrating figure and it was Jagger dancing to Chocolate. Mick Jagger — can you f****** believe it?”
Dressed this afternoon in a billowing silk shirt and tartan drummer-boy trews (“Not sure where they’re from, we rent a lot of stuff from the costume-hire department at the National Theatre”), Healy cuts the perfect figure of postmodern pop star: a kind of hybrid of Adam Ant and Robert Smith of the Cure, but sexier somehow, with those pouchy eyes and chiselled curls. Sprinkled across his fingers are an assortment of knuckle-dusters by Gucci, at his feet a women’s saddle bag, also by Gucci, all part of the vague Louis XV look, as he calls it, that the band are currently channelling. Gucci, McQueen, Loewe — these are some of his favourite labels at the moment. “Although if you are talking a label for life, it’s probably Dries [Van Noten]. He’s my Sir Alex Ferguson of fashion — beaten once or twice in his career, but always the best.” Then there’s his “mate” Erdem, with whom he likes to discuss “Fellini, contemporary dance and the concept of elegance”. Oh yes, Healy likes his fashion, although he admits he’s not mad about going to the actual shows. “They make me realise I’m more famous than I think I am. It’s like, ‘Don’t take pics of me, I’m here to look at the bloody clothes!’ But I’m not sure how you’re going to write that without making me sound like a dickhead.”
The pair of us are sitting in the spotlessly tidy, pine-surfaced kitchen of Healy’s east London townhouse, which he shares with the artist and creative director Sam Burgess-Johnson and Allen Ginsberg, his beloved year-old bull mastiff. Like Healy himself — a sylphy 5ft 8in and 10st who can fit into his girlfriend’s vintage clothes — the house is small and perfectly formed, and it is filled with well-tended spider plants, candles and stuffed birds. The only blot on this exemplary tableau of millennial domesticity is the unmistakable smell. (If you saw the grainy film that emerged the day after the Brits, of him and fellow band member George Daniel sharing a, um, “cigarette” under their table, you will know what I mean.)
“Like the inside of Bob Marley’s sock, right?’ he sighs apologetically. “Yeah, I know I’ve got to be careful here, haven’t I? But, yes, if I’m honest, I do like to smoke.”
Brought up on a farm in Northumberland, before moving to Cheshire at the age of 10, Healy likes to describe his upbringing as middle-class suburban, but obviously that’s not quite accurate. Regular visitors to the family home included his dad’s mates Rick Wakeman, Jeff Lynne of ELO and Mark Knopfler, and there was never any question that Healy, who got his first drum kit when he was only five, was going to do anything other than perform. When his mother was struggling with a dependence on cocaine and alcohol, he wrote a song about it (he proudly tells me that she and her third husband, the painter Lincoln Townley, have been clean and sober for six years; his parents divorced in 2012). Healy has referred to his own struggles with addiction when the band first rose to fame. “But I don’t drink any more, or at least I don’t drink at home. And although I still smoke weed, I consider it a lesser of many evils.”
Healy is a master provocateur: during the band’s Brits performance, lines from the some of their worst reviews flashed up on screen — “Pretentious”, “shallow”, “punch-your-TV obnoxious” and so on — causing some of the audience to think they had been hacked. That’s his role, as the Mick of the band, but not everything he says, and goodness does he have a lot to say, is merely for effect.
In the two hours plus I’m at his house, he treats our interview a little like a therapy session, talking about how he struggles with his “carnal impulses — a beautiful woman, that’s the closest I’ve ever come to divinity”, and how he is all too aware of his messianic influence over a certain demographic, girls between the ages of 13 and 17. Upstairs he has a suitcase full of the gifts he has been showered with on tour: artwork, books, knickers, you name it. One of his most treasured is a rare signed copy of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood that was pressed into his hands after a gig in Sheffield.
“I wouldn’t accept it until she brought her dad backstage to say it was OK,” he says. “I’m not sure she realised what a find it was. But then look at Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein when she was only 18. The desires of a teenage girl can be as sophisticated as mine, and when they are looking to me as a source of information, that’s a big responsibility. You can see where impostor syndrome sets in.”
Self-aware, in other words, doesn’t describe the half of it. But then, like Stormzy with his depression and Zayn with his anxiety and even Riz Ahmed with his views on Islamophobia, public emoting is part of Healy’s schtick. As he shared in his acceptance speech at the Brits: “In pop music … they tell you to stay in your lane when it comes to talking about social issues — but if you have a platform, don’t do that, please don’t do that.”
“Well, that whole ‘I don’t give a shit’ thing has never really gone far with me,” he says. “It’s why indie is my most hated [music] scene — a scene where you pretend you don’t care in order to not get judged on how bad you are as a musician. But times have moved on. I’m a privileged middle-class kid from Macclesfield. I can’t pretend to be what I’m not.”
Back, please, to his love life. He was rumoured to have dated Taylor Swift,but I can confirm they never even kissed, they “only fancied each other”. At the Brits there was a Lily-Rose Depp lookalike in a silver dress sitting next to him — Gabriella Brooks, an Australian who, yes, is a model, “but not a model model. She’s a chilled-out surfer chick who has never once asked to go out to an event, which is just amazing because I hate those big red-carpet events.” So, is this the future Mrs Matt Healy? Might he, at the tender age of 28, be settling down?
“Oh, bless. I’ve put her through the mill, brought her closer, pushed her away, brought her closer. See, although I know now I don’t need my equal on the intensity spectrum, I enjoy fantasising. What if someone like, say, Rihanna wanted to marry me? Am I shutting myself off from the opportunity of marrying someone like Rihanna?
“Oh, I don’t know,” he says suddenly looking terribly young.“I’m still trying to figure it all out.”