“Cup of tea? Cup of tea? Sugar?”
Seconds after springing through the studio door, Matty Healy is asking the engineers, producers and assistants if they fancy a cuppa.
He’s polite and fidgety in scruffy skate gear and couldn’t be less like the strident, screaming rock star who fronted The 1975 as they headlined the Reading and Leeds Festivals last month.
“I’m just gonna look round the studio,” he announces, suddenly distracted, and hops off, leaving the band’s bemused drummer George Daniel to dunk teabags into the mugs.
Next Thursday, the band are hoping to swap brews for bubbly at the Mercury Prize, where they are shortlisted for album of the year.
Their nomination comes in support of the genre-hopping, convention-defying, headline-generating A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
It’s already a Brit Award winner – which could count against them as the judges weigh up whether other albums by artists like Dave, Slowthai, Idles and Anna Calvi deserve a share of the spotlight.
Ahead of the ceremony, Healy and Daniel sat down to discuss the nomination, the creation of their biggest-ever album and its imminent follow-up.
How does it feel to be up for the Mercury Prize?
Matt Healy: We’re so humbled. We were a scene band in our teen years; we grew up in the emo, hardcore, pop-punk scene, so to win a Brit or something like that? It always seemed ridiculous. But I really, really would love to win a Mercury. I know what it’s like being there. I know what it’s like being in that room. It’s a powerful room.
How was the making of the album? In terms of genre it’s hugely ambitious.
MH: We were 23 by the time our first record came out. It was a concept record and every record that’s [followed] has been a distillation of that. The poppy moments become poppier, the sincere moments become more sincere. I think that there’s an inherent freedom over those first releases that informed how we were going to have our career. We were never going to stay with one idea. By the time we’d even got to our first album we were already a couple of different things.
We grew up not wanting to be in The Strokes. Actually, we wanted to be in The Strokes, but we also wanted to be in every single band. I, particularly, don’t have the attention span for anything… I’ve wanted to be in a heavy metal band on Monday and I want to be in a yacht rock band on Tuesday. And it became this innate way of just expressing ourselves. It’s the magpie analogy. Doesn’t matter to a magpie if it’s a piece of foil or a piece of glass or the crown jewels, as long as it’s shiny. Do you know what I mean? As long as it’s shiny, man, it doesn’t matter.
What did you learn about yourselves from making the record?
MH: The drugs thing is a bit old now, for me [Healy entered rehab for a heroin addiction during the recording sessions]. I was in a place when I made that record and I’m, most of the time, not in that place any more. I’m kind of glad that it exists as a documentation, but it’s different now. I think just [recording] it was a sense of therapy for me.
George Daniel: I learned a lot. I keep going back to saying we made things a bit more intimate. But I think I just learned, as somebody who doesn’t write any lyrics, how to create emotion from my side.
Thematically are there one or two things that tie it together?
MH: I think it had a title that was quite evocative of a particular idea. Not necessarily a Black Mirror fear of the internet, but an analysis. The record was essentially about how we communicate with each other.
What are our relationships? How do they manifest in the modern world so mediated by the internet? Outside of us sat here face-to-face, all human interaction is done on the internet, whether it’s an iMessage to find out how we got here or the app that we used to get here. Every single bit of human communication is mediated through the internet.
Now, if you said that to somebody 15 years ago, “By the way, you know text and all that kind of stuff? Forget about it. Every single thing is going to be done on the internet”, we’d have definitely asked questions or been interested in that idea. Whereas we’ve just let that idea become a reality and let it raise its head.
How is work going on the new album, Notes on a Conditional Form?
MH: It’s like half-way done. Sometimes we’ll write a song and it has a really traditional form, and we’ll go, “Oh, that’s cool”. A ‘song-song’ we call it. And then a lot of stuff is less linear, all over the place. But we just love the way it exists like that too. With this record at the moment, I’m constantly thinking, we’re getting pretty big, can we really make a record like this? Can we really make a record that the only thing we thought about is, am I vibing on this?
GD: It’s definitely just [about] getting better at our own craft. You’re still just making whatever you want that makes you feel good. But there are a lot of moments where Matty just won’t sit still in a chair and every morning you can hear [manager] Jamie on the other end of the phone trying to convince him that it is a good album and that it’s not hopeless. It’s the worst thing.
MH: What did we call it – Friday feelings? Where I sit everyone down and I go, “Right, guys. We’re not going to make this record. It’s not going to happen. I just can’t do it. I’m off.” I have a full-on nervous breakdown for about six months.
GD: To be honest, after about four or five Fridays, you’re just mindful of what happened last Friday. I’m just like, “I’m not buying into this.”
MH: At that point I just start going, “You know what? I think that I’m actually even catching myself in a cycle! Let’s just make it!”