Interview: The 1975's Matty Healy on their new album 'A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships'.
"Well, I stayed up late for you and I'm a popstar, so let's not start counting who's done each other favours before we even start doing the interview," says a sarcastic voice on the other end of the phone line. This is the Matty Healy that we all know and love - frontman of The 1975, completely unfiltered and unbridled, and today, mock affronted that I've just woken up and have started asking interview questions as soon as he answers our call ("Whoah! Whoah! Whoah! That was so fast, Sha, you're just straight into it. But, how are you? How's life? What's going on?"). Amidst a cacophony of background beeps, Healy is trying to make a coffee, you see.
But that's not all he's trying to make. As I soon learn, at any given time upcoming, Healy may be recording the band's next album 'Notes On A Conditional Form', working on a clothing line, thinking about wanting to design furniture, in talks to create a movie, or wanting to score a soundtrack. Whatever the ambition, it's probably already crossed Healy's mind.
And ahead of The 1975's just announced 2019 tour of New Zealand and Australia (tickets on sale here), Coup De Main caught up with Matty Healy to discuss the band's transcendent new album 'A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships' (out now!), what relationships mean in the modern era, and the intellectual dialogue between the band and their fans...
We need to create an environment where conversation is easier and is more associated with real-life conversation online. Like the way that you wouldn't say things in real-life that you would say online, for example. If we could create an environment online that provoked us to be more like we are person-to-person, which is essentially more empathetic, then we can start talking about bolstering ideas like love and community...
CDM: You've just announced a 2019 tour of New Zealand and Australia! Which means that next time we see you, you're going to have released two new The 1975 albums. How's your sleep schedule been lately?
THE 1975 - MATTY HEALY: <laughs> That's a fair question. Kinda erratic, because of the amount of travelling and going to America and stuff like that, and shooting videos, and getting up super early - and I hate that, but it's good. That is weird, right? It is as much of a new experience for me as it is for everybody else. I don't have a view on how it's going to be or how it's going to pan out. Like, I don't know how we're going to get new songs from 'Notes [On A Conditional Form]' in the set in the middle of tour. I don't know if we're going to play new stuff. I don't know what it's going to be like. But I know it's going to be pretty wild if we're playing a set that has songs from 'A Brief Inquiry [Into Online Relationships]', and then we play a song off Notes, and A Brief Inquiry has only been out for a couple months. It's exciting.
CDM: Since your last Auckland show back in 2016, if we include the two new upcoming albums, you will have actually released three albums since you were last here. How are you going to decide what will be on the setlist for the show?
MATTY: Fucking hell, that's mental. That's a good point, we'll have released three albums by the time we return to New Zealand. I don't know how we'll choose a set, I mean, it's fucking impossible now. That's just the way it is. You know what I mean? What do you say? I can't keep a set that makes so many people-- Especially because our shows seem to be filled up with so many hardcore fans. We don't have that much of a transient live audience, so it seems like everybody who's there is well into it, so everybody's got a fucking favourite. I don't know what to do, but I'll just play what I want to play.
CDM: Well, I'll always put in a vote for 'Milk'.
MATTY: Hmmm... 'Milk' is a popular request.
CDM: And will we finally get a full The 1975 experience with production? We've still never had a lightbox at a New Zealand The 1975 show.
MATTY: Oh yeah! New Zealand will have the full shebang, yeah! 100%!
CDM: Were you inspired by Gene McHugh's essay 'The Context Of The Digital: A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships' when naming this new album?
MATTY: Not necessarily by the essay itself, but by the title - it was curated [by Omar Kholeif] into a book called 'You Are Here: Art After The Internet'. At the time, I lived in quite a hipstery part of London, so if you get the train from Clapton into Central there's normally a lot of arty types on the train. So I just happened to be sat next to somebody who must have been reading that book, because that was the page that I glanced at, and the sentence just made a lot of sense. And then I went and read the essay, but to be honest with you, I wasn't making a record about the internet. I just wanted to make a record about life and about the human experience, and because the internet is so total within that, I kind of couldn't avoid making a record about the internet.
CDM: In McHugh's essay he summarises that society laughs at the possibility of online intimacy, but is also deeply paranoid about the possibility of real exchange online. You addressed similar themes in one of the teaser posters for the new album, saying that "in groups we search ironically to find our self identity" and "inside our phones our need has grown for inside there we're not alone." Do you think an online relationship can be as meaningful as a real-life relationship?
MATTY: I don't know, because I think you're getting to the semantic conversation of what a relationship means in the modern era. The obvious answer is, no, one can't gain real-life intimacy through an online relationship in the way that a husband and a wife could. That would be an obvious thing to say, but that would discredit the fans that I know who have met through the band and gone to university together and then become godparents of each other's kids in this six-year period. It's not good or bad. It's what it is. I don't see it as a disingenuous vehicle to start authentic relationships. I think that a lot of people meet on the internet and that's one of the great things about it - that it brings people together. But unfortunately, it unites you with everybody, so obviously you're also going to meet people that you disagree with.
CDM: Are online and real-life relationships maybe just one and the same for anyone who was born in a post-internet world?
MATTY: Yeah exactly, they're exactly the same. They're sometimes more real to some people.
CDM: I got really emotional listening to 'The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme' from your new album. It's so sad.
MATTY: It is sad, isn't it? But it's not written to be sad. It's not sad. It reads as quite dystopian, but it's about 'now'. It's maybe quite revealing, which is why it's emotional. Because we're so used to that [Siri] voice, we kind of think of it as being at one with our values, and that robot voice, the idea of this AI there to help and aid the human perspective. Whereas 'The Man Who Married A Robot', because it's narrated by that voice, it seems like it comes from the perspective of that voice. So I think that's quite unsettling to people, because the objectivity of the way it talks about things is the way that a robot would talk about things. And it is pretty fucked up.
CDM: Have you heard about the AI 'friend' bot called Replika?
CDM: It's an app you can download to your phone which creates a chatbot that over time memorises your moods, mannerisms, preferences and patterns of speech, to replicate yourself in chatbot form.
MATTY: Wow, I love it.
CDM: That's the world we're living in.
MATTY: But the thing is, all of these things are all the same things that everything has always done. All of these things are just the same things that philosophy and religion and sex and psychedelic experiences and cults, that all these things have tried to do over millennia, which is just quell the fear of death and the perpetual loneliness of existence. So all of these things are weird because they've been prophesied through science-fiction, and now it's reality, but the reason that they were prophesied was because it's obvious when humans have the means to make themselves feel better about the fundamental terrifying aspects of reality, then they're going to do it.
CDM: McHugh also asked in his essay if it is "possible to go beyond flirtation and share more complex emotions, such as love, through a technological medium?" Is that question something that spoke to you when you were creating this new album?
MATTY: I think that the transcendence of the bigger ideas, like truth, love, family, even a traditional religious life, all these things, there seems to be a reversion back to those things. The ideas that were presented through those things. The ideas that were presented through modernity as opposed to post-modern ideas, I have faith in those kinds of things. Not necessarily in religion itself, but the adherence to something bigger than yourself and parts of the Christian doctrine, so I think that there will always be a reversion back to love and truth. So if we're going to exist fundamentally on the Internet, we will create a way to express those ideas more fundamentally. But it's how you use it though, right? It can just be a medium to extend any kind of intimate relationship, really. I saw a viral video yesterday of a middle-aged woman on FaceTime with her son in Australia, and he was talking to her, and then the doorbell rang, and he hadn't seen her in like six years, and then he was outside and he's played this whole elaborate joke on her, and you couldn't do that previously. It's how you use it. And what do we mean? We need to create an environment where conversation is easier and is more associated with real-life conversation online. Like the way that you wouldn't say things in real-life that you would say online, for example. If we could create an environment online that provoked us to be more like we are person-to-person, which is essentially more empathetic, then we can start talking about bolstering ideas like love and community. But I think that naturally will happen.
CDM: What does 'love' mean to you?
MATTY: It's too big of a question. That's too big of a question. I wouldn't even know where to start answering that. Would you?
CDM: You mention marriage quite a few times on this new album. How do you think that institution will hold up in the future?
MATTY: God, I don't know. I think that there is a tendency to denounce ideas of traditionalism amongst the younger generation. I think that due to the economic situation that most young people find themselves in, as well, it can have varying appeal. I understand why people don't want to do it, because a lot of our generation have seen 50% of marriages kind of ending in divorce. So I don't know how appealing of an ideal it is. For me, I'm not that bothered. So I always think, like, if I'm not that bothered, then if it really makes the other person happy then I'll do it. It seems like more of an economic necessity for me, it doesn't seem to be the ultimate testament of love. But maybe it is. Maybe you've got me! Maybe you've actually got me trying to define what love is. But I reckon people will still get married. Won't they? Religion will still be around, and as long as religion is still around then traditional ideas will still be around. Religion is not really going anywhere, so I don't really think that marriage is going anywhere.
CDM: And it's such a big industry, all of those companies aren't going to let it die.
MATTY: Exactly. And any traditional idea like that is really, really twinned with religious piety. And that's never going to go away, so I think they're really one and the same.
CDM: The comics posted at the beginning of your last album era were based on The Situationist International and there was also a teaser photo which featured a book about the organisation. Did you already know then that you wanted the 'Music For Cars' era to reference the May 1968 Paris protests?
MATTY: Yeah, I did want to, because visually and in the ideas that we were talking about, it just always felt like something that we wanted to reference. I think that there's always been a dialogue as well, between us and our fans, of exchanging cultural ideas. So I found that the things I've been interested in, that have informed what I'm doing, I tend to kind of try and share and utilise as part of what we're doing.
CDM: Situationist International founding member Guy Debord was a proponent of Détournement as a weapon against consumer culture and the mass media, which you guys utilised yourselves by hijacking billboard ads back in May with The 1975 rectangle logo. Do you think détournement can be applied, even in small ways, to everyday social life - i.e. ultradétournement?
MATTY: It's kind of an intellectual idea more than it is really a practice. I think they were profound thinkers much more than they were do-ers. It's very, very difficult now. Obviously the way that The Situationists saw it, it was really, really brought into a more understandable medium in the Warholian sense. Like, Warhol really expanded on those ideas incredibly, and I think that we all identify with those ideas now. And the creating of a situation, or the performance within the structures outside of art, is something that's so commonplace now it's almost overtaken the Situationists idea. The Situationists now in culture are more of an aesthetic and a base.
CDM: What is it about Joseph Beuys' performance work 'I Like America and America Likes Me' that meant so much to you that you decided to name a song after it?
MATTY: I just liked the way that that piece was about having-- He had such a turbulent relationship with America, and I think that it's very interesting being somebody like me nowadays, because I'm very much a global citizen. I don't really identify as being from anywhere and I have a really interesting relationship with America in the way that I write about America a lot and I talk about America a lot in my work and I feel very American at times in my life, I feel very part of the culture. And it's a very tried and tested and documented idea - a foreign artist's relationship with America as an idea politically and culturally. And it sometimes is looked down upon to speak about your opinion of America. It's not just about going to places, but I've spent so much time in America over my whole life - every state in America - and I've never met an American person that's ever done that, so there must be some kind of objectivity that I do have. And I think that piece is amazing anyway, and it was always something that really, really stuck with me, and that I relate to.
CDM: Do the different coloured squares on your new album cover represent anything specifically?
MATTY: They did and then I changed it. There's black and pink on there, and there's yellow on there which is the ultimate colour, but it was supposed to be all opposing colours from the full colour spectrum. It was supposed to represent the polarising elements of the spectrum, which is kind of how it feels to me to be alive. But then I changed it.
CDM: Have you on purpose been dying your hair all of the different colours of the album cover squares?
MATTY: No, no, I wasn't. I was just kind of going a bit mad living in the house, and then Rome had been living with me, and that's just, like, never-ending hair dye, so I just started fucking around.
CDM: Last year in November your manager Jamie Oborne tweeted about a song that he said is about your love of The 1975 fandom/fans. Did that song make the new album?
MATTY: It's passingly about my love of the fandom. It's 'I Couldn't Be More In Love'. Because 'I Couldn't Be More In Love' reads a little bit like a love song, but what it's about is about what any artist fears - the song is about how I'm not lying when I say that this is so important to me, because it's kind of how I negotiate with the world. It's my catharsis. It's how I express myself. It's how I understand my place in the cosmos. And without it, not the idea of not having an audience, but just not having the vehicle anymore, it terrifies me. And that's why that song is in typical 1975 style, dressed up as a love song, but it's like, "So, what about these feelings I’ve got? We got it wrong and you said you’d had enough. What about these feelings I’ve got? I couldn’t be more in love." And then you have the bridge, "I could have been a great line, I could have been a sign." And it's just about how grateful I am for what I have.
CDM: I just wanted to say that the final three songs on the new album are truly incredible. I think they're my favourites.
MATTY: Me too. They're my favourites as well, the final three. Thank you.
CDM: In the third verse of 'Give Yourself A Try' you speak to your younger self. What do you hope for your future self?
MATTY: I hope the grey keeps going in my hair, because I'm really vibing off it at the moment. And I think that if I hit peak grey by like next year, that would be fucking wild. Because I'd still look like my age, I'd still look like me, but I'd have fully grey hair. That would be fucking lit. I'd be well about that.
CDM: Can you tell me what the Dirty Hit catalogue numbers DH00271 and DH00280 are assigned to?
MATTY: Fucking hell, you have done research. Let me just go find out... <talks to his manager> "Jamie, do you know what Dirty Hit 271 is? It's Coup De Main, innit..." Me and Jamie [Oborne] have just got our own ones. That's just us, yeah, we have just got our own. My house has got one as well.
CDM: What is the significance of the hat that you wear in the 'Sincerity Is Scary' music video?
MATTY: I suppose it's kind of a combination of, well... I was looking through things that I loved, and I felt like... I lost my confidence a lot when I came out of rehab. And the first time I remember, I did an interview, I think it was for DIY or something, I was just terrified. And they did a picture of me and I kind of liked the rabbit in the headlights thing. I love the innocence of things like 'Where The Wild Things Are'. And then I just found this hat at the National Theatre Company and that was it.
CDM: It was really cute that 1,500 care packages were mailed out at random to The 1975 fans around the world earlier this year. In a letter enclosed in the care packages you wrote that, "There's an anxiety to the third that isn't present in the first or second or fourth." What do you think fuelled that anxiety?
MATTY: The same thing that fuelled the level of increased anxiety from 2016 to 2018. Like, I'm more anxious than I was two years ago. Are you? Like, I super am. <laughs> So that! There's lots of things in my life, but getting clean from heroin is just really intense, man - I'd been doing it for ages. So not that much has changed, but it's all still pretty intense stuff. All the same stuff's still making me anxious... I'm just anxious all the time.
CDM: I really liked 'The Wrong Drink' short-story inside the care package zine. Did you write that?
MATTY: Oh, you liked 'The Wrong Drink'? Thanks man! I was sat in a bar in Brazil when I wrote that. I don't really write much stuff outside of lyrics, but yeah, thanks, I'm glad you liked that. Thank you, no-one's ever spoken to me about that.
CDM: Final question: Of course we have to ask you, what is your clothing line going to look like?
MATTY: I don't really know! I've got so much on, when I do it with my friend Patti [Patricia Villirillo] and we work on stuff, it will look like loads of different things. Whether I'll do it soon or not, I'm not sure. I want to incorporate everything. I want to do furniture! I want to do pieces. It's interesting. It's building, but I'm making another record at the moment as well, and I think I'm going to be doing a soundtrack pretty soon. I've got a lot of stuff to do.
CDM: Can you tell me anything about the soundtrack?
MATTY: It's difficult because I don't know what I want to do. I was thinking about making a movie... Some people want me to make a movie, like, people who make movies. So I might. And then I'd have to not do the soundtrack. But, I don't know... I can't really talk about soundtrack stuff now, but there's loads of stuff going on, I just have to get it all sorted, but it's a busy time.
The 1975's new album 'A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships' is out now!
Click here to purchase.
And The 1975 x Coup De Main Zine #22 can be pre-ordered here.
Watch the 'Sincerity Is Scary' music video below...