In The 1975’s New Album, Matty Healy Takes a Sledgehammer to His Ego

Carolina Dalia Gonzalez

Matty Healy, the lead singer of The 1975, is experiencing somewhat spotty service. The musician, 31, has been quarantining with his bandmate George Daniel since March, but when Healy and I speak, he is driving around the English countryside. On May 22, the band is releasing their fourth album, Notes On A Conditional Form, originally scheduled for February 21, and then April 24. The 22-track release was recorded a year ago, while the band was on tour, and so far, promoting an album with stay-at-home orders in place hasn’t been easy.

Founded seventeen years ago in Manchester, England, The 1975 came of age during the Internet Era, with plenty of growing pains along the way. Their eponymous debut album, released in 2013, garnered attention for its relatable angst backdropped with 80s synth-pop melodies, while in their last, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships from 2018, the band meditated on the now. Take “Love It If We Made It,” a song Pitchfork called “a generational anthem” for its raw authenticity; Healy stripped headlines straight from the news, and transformed them into lyrical mementos.

Their current sound is hard to condense into a single genre, especially with the mix of ambient noise, orchestrated strings, screamo vocals, and gospel choir backings that feature on Notes. But it’s their very musical idiosyncrasy that makes The 1975 resonate. “It’s just like a mirror—that’s all I want my records to be, a mirror to myself,” Healy says. “I really don’t think that I’m special. I think that if I hold a mirror up to myself, I have to be holding a mirror up to lots of other people.”

Ahead of the release of Notes, Healy spoke to Vogue about vulnerability; his revised definition of punk rock; and his new quarantine buddy, a puppy called Mayhem.

Why do you feel that this album is the right conclusion to the Music For Cars era for The 1975? The release date kept being pushed back, and now Notes is set to come out during this uncertain time.

I think it fits because it doesn’t really do what life promises it [will]. Like Notes doesn’t really provide a kind of a result. It doesn’t really put a ribbon on anything ... I think it’s a bit like the end of The Graduate, which is like my favorite ending of a movie ever! They run away and they have the whole romantic thing and it’s beautiful and it’s cinematic and it’s ideal. And then the camera lingers on them as they’re driving away on the bus, [there are] all of these questions that you start asking: Where are they going? Have they got any money? What are they going to do tomorrow? … I think that this record is like that, as well. There’s moments like [the song] “Guys,” where they look back and it’s quite retrospective. But there’s still a search and a yearning and I think that our records are always defined by that. So they’re always looking forward, inherently.

You are so vulnerable in this album, and it’s most noticeably reflected in your lyric choices. The line “Life feels like a lie, I need something to be true” in “Everything Revealed, Nothing Denied” immediately comes to mind. Is this an intentional choice?

Not really—it just happens by proxy. Every time I make a record I put everything into it, so by the time I record the next one, of course I’m a slightly different person. But it’s not that the well is dry because I’ve put everything in previously. It’s just that the stuff that I have to draw from either becomes hyper-specific or really fundamental.

So the stuff that I’m kind of talking about nowadays on my past two records, since I’ve really gotten through a lot of the surface stuff like ego, now it’s all about purpose and truth. The big ones, the big players, the big kind of ingredients to existential thinking. I could probably expose myself by being more vulnerable in other places, but I think that the places where I show my vulnerability are places that everybody relates to. It cuts with me, but it almost cuts more [with you] because you’re a bit like, “Oh shit, I like that because that's how I feel.”

The only time that my ego even comes out is when I’m taking a sledgehammer to it. There’s always like a wink or a nod or a knowing in what I’m doing. Something like “The Birthday Party” or “Roadkill,” there’s almost bits in there. I think it’s because I’m not into deconstructing everything with the postmodern lens anymore. Sincerity is the most important thing.

What was your approach when it came to engaging with and shifting within so many different genres in this album? It has gospel, Jamaican dancehall, ambient sounds, 80s synth-pop...

I didn’t grow up wanting to be in a particular band—I grew up wanting to be in every band. I couldn’t decide on one thing because I loved things for what they were. So for me it wasn’t about my ability. I think people learn, as well, especially in England, if you’re good at one thing it takes away your ability to be good at another. [But] it’s music at the end of the day—it’s all music. And I understand it for what it is. Yeah, I can make something that sounds like Orange Juice or Peter Gabriel but I can also make something that sounds like fucking Boards of Canada or I can make something that sounds like Glenn Branca because I love music. We consume music a certain way and we create music exactly the same way.

Is there a specific song that links back to how you all want to be every band?

You can hear it if you listen to “People”—it’s obviously Refused. Or if you listen to “Bagsy Not In Net,” it’s kind of like The Streets. I think the artists I’ve gone on about for a long time, The Streets, My Bloody Valentine, Brian Eno, Sigur Rós—they’re always in there. I want my band to be all these kinds of things. I suppose in that pursuit I learn what all of those things were to me, and now it’s just become a musical vocabulary.

Any memorable moments while making this album? Any kind of like “aha” moment that you had with a specific lyric?

God, it was a long period. I remember making “People” on the bus—that was a moment where we knew we were onto something. A lot of it was quite fun and nice—“Me and You Together Song” happened really quickly. I wrote and tracked that in a night and it was just there, so that was a really good one. I remember “Frail State of Mind” and “Then Because She Goes” were the first two things for the record, and as soon as I had those two songs, I was like, “Okay, I think I understand this record.” It's kind of like a faded Polaroid of garage and slacker, emo music. I could see the record through those two songs.

What was it like working with Phoebe Bridgers for The 1975’s first on-record collaboration? Why did you think this was the moment to include a track like that?

It was just a natural thing. I’d written that song and I was a big fan of Phoebe, so we started talking. I wasn’t thinking about it as a collab or anything. It just was an amazing tone to have on the record. And then she was so cool about it and she really loved the song. Then I just got her to sing on a bunch of stuff and I was like, “Fucking hell, if it sounds that good, every harmony that I don’t like, I’m gonna get Phoebe to do it.” It was kind of as simple as that. We hung out a bunch, her and George [Daniel] are friends, so yeah, it was simple as that.

It’s clear that the internet is more than just a muse for you all. How has your relationship with the internet progressed up to now? Your thoughts on it has often been really relatable to your listeners.

I was very pre-internet in my teens, I was there just before all that shit happened. I think the internet, for me, I just find it incredibly fascinating. At the moment there’s a lot of Zoom and FaceTime and stuff. People are very much using it as the original idea, which was about extending our preexisting relationships so that you can talk to your fucking mum when she’s on holiday, or you can talk to Barry from work when he’s in China. It was about extending pre-existing communication. It wasn’t about what social media has become at large, like this huge forum.

We’re in an interesting place now, where there’s going to be a lot of financial investment in that original utopian idea because people are doing it right now. We’ve had, let’s say, the “real world” taken away from us. We’ve had communication and tactility taken away from us. So the first thing we try and do is replicate anything we don’t have online. No one even knew what the fuck Zoom was a couple of months ago and now it’s like the thing, so that's going to have some massive investment. They’ll be working on like, 3-D Zoom right now. What I’m talking about is the idea of expanding proximity and tactility and it is happening very much in the online space. And I think it’s going to be accelerated because of what has happened now.

What do you feel is your responsibility right now as an artist?

I don’t know, I don’t have a particular responsibility that’s put on me. I feel like I come from punk and hardcore really, and that was about [the idea that] if you’re on that stage, make it mean something. All the ideas that were surrounding me, that were fueling a lot of the music that I was into—it was about standing up to ideas that promoted inequality, and that happens in a small space. I think that that’s just how I feel. I mean I don't have to try or anything. It’s just the way things are.

My whole thing is that I use beauty as the sharpest tool that we have in order to convey ideas. You show someone something beautiful, then they’re going to sit up and listen. You then get the opportunity to present them with an ethical dilemma—that's my new version of punk rock. It just comes from a place of wanting to inspire people, change the individual, and therefore change the world.

The opening track with Greta Thunberg and her speech on ecological change is a really timely message today. Is there anything you’ve been reading, watching, listening to while in quarantine that might influence the future of the 1975?

I’m into games at the moment. I’m really interested in the digital space, to be honest with you. I’m interested in new content, whatever that is. You know how movies can resonate with you in a way that the games can’t, and games can resonate with you in a way that music can’t, and music can resonate with you in a way that literature can’t? I want to synthesize all of those can’ts—I want something where you can experience a narrative in the way that you do in a movie and you can relate to decision-making and interface in the way that you do with an amazing game and you can relate to music in the way that you do when you’re creating it. This one experience is what I’m interested in curating. A lot of the 1975 stuff will be just my experimentation with the digital space, wherever that means, you know, like VR. So technology is kind of what I’m interested in.

You got a dog during quarantine named Mayhem. How’s it been training him?

He's a really good boy! He’s being really good—he’s a big bit of dog. I’ve got a responsibility to have him really trained. I’m super into really trained dogs—I hate fucking dogs that aren’t good. It drives me mental because I just feel sorry for them. There’s no excuse!

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Originally Appeared on Vogue