“We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.” – I’ve been thinking about these words a lot for the past twelve months. I might have heard them in similar form before climate activist Greta Thunberg prominently spoke them over a gentle piano-and-strings-instrumental provided by The 1975 back in July 2019 but those words surely left a mark. And they still do. “The rules have to be changed” … I’ve been haunted by this notion for many months now and it slowly but steady affected all aspects of my life. What is my part in this society? How does my job description should look like? How shall I interact with the people surrounding me? How does that affect the way I consume things? Usually people say you are pretty much settled in your life when you’re in your mid-thirties like me but … well, what if the rules have changed and we’re all forced to adapt in order for us and our society to survive? Greta’s words resonate even many months later and they get even more weight in the current Corona crisis which forced this aching earth to hit the ‘pause’ button for a few months, forcing us all to re-evaluate our role in this society as well, simply by giving us time to think and freeing us from all the capitalistic distractions we grew up with. No clubs, no bars, no travelling and no pointless shopping tours – what matters in our life? Well, what better time to obey those old rules and make a change than now, am I right?
Obviously, Matt Healy and The 1975 weren’t prepared to release their fourth full-length in the middle of a drastically changing world although they probably don’t mind. A change is gonna come and Healy is open for it, especially since Notes On A Conditional Form marks the end of a long chapter for the mega stars from Manchester. “This feels like the end of something,” he tells me, “the final chapter of this decade-long movie we started back then.” I phone up with Matt in the middle of the Corona peak, from one apartment to another. He loves to visualize things so envisioning this ten-year-winning-streak of The 1975 as a movie isn’t so far out. “It’s an ending but more like the graduation scene you see in these movies,” he explains. Notes On A Conditional Form also marks the start of a new era although it’s not clear yet how this next chapter might look like. “Life isn’t like the movies,” Healy sums up the issue, “Those ends aren’t tied up in the same way, it’s more loose and fractured.” And although the current Corona crisis sounds like the perfect movie script it’s a bit weirder in reality, it forces us to adapt and to adjust in order to find a new set of rules. “Being creative is the best thing I can do in these days,” the 31-year old musician explains while also saying that he likes to keep things easy these days. Taking care of his puppy is more essential than creating countless live streams although the band did listening sessions for previous The 1975 records with their fans and Healy also recently released a series of podcasts which saw him talking to iconic people like Brian Eno and Fleetwood Mac‘s Stevie Nicks. I can only imagine how that feels like. “Brian Eno knows that he’s my ultimate Number One hero,” he says, “but I didn’t know that Stevie was such a big fan. That was incredibly moving.” In those moments (and many others) Matt Healy doesn’t feel like a rockstar with Millions of fans all around the world but – like he puts it –“a proper music fan who has done his homework.” It’s that dedication for music from various fields that keeps him and his bandmates moving and saw The 1975 morph into a global pop phenomenon which still got its roots in an independent DIY understanding of music making and publishing. I already addressed the common underestimation of the band two years ago.
A series of captured moments
The 1975 still don’t care about categories, they don’t consume one type of music so they’re simply not interested in creating one type of music. “We live together when we do records and we work on them every day as we get bored quite easily,” he tells me. “So we’re striving for something bold with these albums. Sticking to just one genre would bore us a lot.” 2018’s An Inquiry Into Online Relationships seemed to finally give them the overdue critical acclaim, partly naming it “the OK Computer of this generation”. A comparison about which I still laugh a lot and Healy as well. It’s flattered but also slightly misguiding. The 1975 aren’t Radiohead and they aren’t BTS as well. Needless to say, they like both of these groups and the fact that they invited Charli XCX and Phoebe Bridgers to their big summer open air in London (which was rescheduled to 2021 on the day we phoned up) says a lot about their understanding. As diverse as all these singles might be (the band released seven tracks ahead of the album’s release) they were always supposed to work as a unit “I make albums,” says Healy. “I don’t concentrate on making singles as I’m not really good at figuring out how to hold somebody’s attention for three and a half minutes.” With a little laugh he adds “I might do it by accident though” and yes, I can’t help but to agree here.
“This album got a similar approach like the last one. It’s a series of captured moments. When I’m working on a song I’m only focussing on the song and its own world but once I’m finished I’m taking a step back and looking at it in the context of the whole record. It’s a bit like working on a painting where you take care of a certain detail for a moment and then step back and take a look how it works together with the rest of the painting. The challenge is to make it work without changing the music that much.”
Notes On A Conditional Form might appear to be slightly overloaded but there’s just so much Healy got to say and that he want so show the audience, like his newly found interest for electronic dance music which even got heavier in isolation as he tells me. Especially ambient dance vibes from artists like Jon Hopkins and Pantha Du Prince fascinate him right now and when I hear him talking about this stuff I can actually sense what he means by saying that he’s simply a fan. And that includes 90s shoegaze as much as contemporary hip hop with his bandmates sharing a similar approach here. “We don’t know anything else besides the band context when it comes to music making,” the songwriter tells me. “We love the idea of working on other things. I do that, our drummer George does that but in the end it’s The 1975 we always turn to when it comes to music making.” And to understand that you must also know that these guys have been playing together since the early 2000s when they were only 12, 13 years old. And that was pretty much a decade before their debut album came out. They are a symbiotic unit, strengthened by their shared socialization as Healy tells me.
“We are like family, we started when we were kids, long before we had any attempts to be cool or being interested in girls. We learned everything together, we are co-dependent and very much lived in our own little world. And that also goes for our crew, it’s very much a family unit. We are entwined in each other’s lives personally. We’re not a band that meets up every few months to start rehearsing.”
The final song on the album, Guys, is a really sweet and wonderful ode to his best friends and the journey they walked together. “You’re not falling out with your family,” Healy continues, “at least you don’t intend to.” The 1975 are very diplomatic and understand each other well. It’s as simple as this. And when they get together each record just marks the next chapter in this movie. “We like to let these albums grow individually and let songs pop out without stopping them,” he explains. “And then they slowly form the album and provide its path.” The first songs Healy wrote for this record were The Birthday Party, Frail State Of Mind and Then Because She Goes. Those songs set the tone of the record for him which is loaded with references to nightlife culture and UK dance culture but also come with quite an intimate, shoegaze-like vibe. The rest of the record follows this context pretty well which makes Notes On A Conditional Form their most personal album so far, despite Greta’s existential speech at the beginning. It’s indeed the end of an era. The band leave their Twenties behind and all the things that come with that. “The stuff I write about gets more fundamental as I get older and also a bit more sentimental,” Healy says. He’s been working on new songs during lockdown and say they’ve gotten quite serious. Are the fun times over? We don’t know yet. The rules are changing once again.
Don’t be afraid of what’s next
Addressing Thunberg’s involvement and society’s environmental struggle I’m interested to know what gives Healy hope that society might turn things around. He struggles to give a clear and inspiring or overly optimistic answer here but well, many of us do. “Politics starts at home, right? I’m not living my life in the hope to change the world. I’m more looking to find it in the places I know. But that also includes going on stage and talking about these things,” he says. The youth, represented by Greta and others is giving our generation a lot of hope (I’m five years older than Healy but think it’s okay to use “our” here, right?) and inspires us to change our set of rules again.
“Yes, young people give me hope. The people I meet also during our shows – they give me hope. We’re in a battle right now. Progressive young voices of change are drowned out by regressive ideals. It’s tough to talk about the aspect of hope for me. I’m not looking for hope in the larger scale of the world as this makes me quite sad. I try to look more inwards and to my relationships for hope. Still, it’s a difficult thing to do.”
It’s easy to turn away from all that negativity but in fact it really helps to search for these answers within you in order to make a change. The current circumstances give us the chance to do exactly that, realize what makes us happy from the inside and search in our close periphery instead of looking for external forces like work, money or hedonism. Greta’s speech might be funded in the environmental necessity (which is as important as it was last year) but it is also fitting for the lockdown times, especially the part with the rules. Matt Healy is also philosophizing about the world after. He thinks it might provide in a massive investment in technology as we are all pushed to go online due to the pandemic. “There’s an obvious demand to stay connected and there’s a desire to extend that especially since the internet isn’t quite there yet,” he explains. “I’m looking forward to this massive technological investment. For me this is nice, it follows the utopian idea of connecting humans with each other on multiple levels. We might enter a new era of the internet and personally I’m not afraid of that.” I agree. A more optimistic and constructive approach towards technology – especially in a sustainable joint venture with the real world – isn’t the worst thing to happen to this planet. Who says we’re gonna leave the technological advantage to the trolls, Trumps and hateful people? Who says Facebook, Google and Amazon should own everything? That takes the idea of ‘obeying the rules’ to a whole new level. The 1975 don’t know yet what might follow this decade-long movie they’ve been staring in. Maybe a more progressive and technological forward thinking sequel that isn’t really caring about traditional album concepts anymore? Anything seems to be possible as long as these four lads will get together in a room and let their creative spirits flow. This is the perfect time to rethink everything and The 1975 are one of the few remaining bands to face this challenge with determination. And since it all started with Mrs. Thunberg her contribution to the album also delivers a fitting closing statement for all of us: “Everything needs to change, and it has to start today. So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel!”
Notes On A Conditional Form is out now via Dirty Hit/ Interscope. The 1975 are also set to go on tour later this year but of course we don’t know yet whether or when this is going to happen.