- Tue, 2010-05-18 09:12
Almost twelve months ago a song called Wonderful Life by a mysterious outfit called Hurts appeared as if from nowhere. And a lot of people got very, very excited. Initially its enigmatic creators eschewed the limelight, choosing instead to tease the increasing number of onlookers with grainy monochrome photos and thirty-second slices of arthouse film. Following an appearance on the BBC Sound of 2010 list, continuing attention and a developed live show, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson finally stepped out of the shade, ready to release their debut album in July 2010.
I Like Music met the duo and found about the inception of Hurts, its slow evolution, the impact that home-town Manchester has had on the project, and the magic of the three-minute pop song.
“I Like Music because… it’s an escape. It allows me as a man to express myself in a way that I’m not hard-wired to do, for any emotion. Men are quite guarded a lot of the time, and music offers a very easy way to express yourself.” Theo, Hurts
“I Like Music because…it’s literally the only thing that I know. When I remove it from my life I feel like I’ve got an empty personality.” Adam, Hurts
ILM: When Hurts first began the two of you were careful to remain anonymous and let the music speak for itself. That anonymity seems to be less of a concern now. What was the turning point?
Theo: That’s a good observation, and it’s so true! We were in bands before and we did so much faffing around, we decided we’d had enough of it all. Following that we slowly started to make music again. We thought to ourselves “let’s just forget about the rest of the world and put a lot of time into the songs.” They’re your currency really, and we get the most enjoyment out of them that way. When we started Hurts we felt we’d hit something. We wanted to run with it for as long as possible. We wanted to know the identity of it before we presented it to anyone else.
Adam: When we were writing those songs at the start of 2009, we were writing them for ourselves. We decided to write songs we wanted to write, rather than chasing anyone else’s approval. We weren’t thinking about record labels or anything like that.
ILM: It must have been very refreshing to work that way?
Theo: It was a great feeling! We’ve spent a lot of years trying to write songs. Learning and practicing. But for the first time we felt comfortable and confident, which is really important. It was twelve months from playing our last gig with our last band to playing the first gig as Hurts. The transition into making it more public was when we realised that we’d hit something. The songs had so much that went with them. When we were writing we thought about everything; where we could play them, how we could present them, their videos. It all just grew.
Adam: The big step was making a video. It gave us a visual identity. Once the cat got out of the bag that period of anonymity was over.
Theo: We’ve done all this in the past with previous bands, so we thought “why do all these pointless gigs for no reason, no gain.” Instead we'd rather build it all up, get it tightly locked and play one incredible show. We did the songs, then put them to the side. It’s all worked out great!
ILM: Going further back, when did you first start experimenting with music?
Theo: It’s funny, neither of us started making music ‘til fairly late on. We spent a lot of time listening and learning I suppose. I didn’t start thinking about it seriously until I was seventeen. I’ve always attributed music to escapism. I think the first album I bought was Eminem, which is funny! I must have been about twelve. It was really important to me. It made me realise that there was a world out there. It kick-started me.
Adam: I didn’t really get into music until I was twenty. I’d never really had any interest in it. Then when I did, I mainly got in to the music not the lyrics. I used to make 13-14 minute epics with five key changes. That was what I cared about. Then once I met Theo we started to distil our separate identities.
ILM: How do those separate identities come together?
Theo: It’s instant gratification combined with grandeur. That’s where we’ve arrived. All the music I’ve ever liked has been pop music, all very instant and emotional, but in a concise way. Whereas Adam’s is more of an expanse. When we first met some of the songs were very weird. I was pulling in one direction and Adam was pulling in the other. Now it feels like sonically and melodically we’ve managed to get those firework moments.
ILM: Having established your ability to work together, regardless of success and commercialisation, at what point did your debut album begin to take shape?
Theo: We work slowly, but we work a lot. When we write a song and we know it’s good, we don’t just shelve it and move on to the next one; we make sure it’s brilliant. That takes us a long time. Before we even signed the record deal we had six or seven of the songs on the album done. They all came from very different places. The environment that a song is written in is very important to us.
ILM: Can you recall the direct influences for each track?
Theo: Absolutely. We wrote Wonderful Life, a song called Unspoken, and a couple of others about a year ago when we were totally down and out. We had nothing, no money. We couldn’t even afford to get the bus to go and see each other. We wrote those from a very desperate point of view. Then when things started to look up we wrote a few more songs, like Blood, Tears and Gold. Then when we came through to the other end we wrote a whole load more. We spent a lot of time at Christmas thinking “wouldn’t it be great if we could write another song in the mindset of Wonderful Life,” but we could never get it again.
Adam: There are twelve tracks on the record, and I always think of it as threes. There were four very definite stages for me. There’s the start, when we had nothing. Then we wrote three songs when we knew we were in with a chance, they have their own sense of hope.
Theo: Then there are three when we’re on the ride, when it was all happening.
Adam: Some of the best ones are from after that third period, we decided we wanted to feel like we did in the beginning. We went to Sweden in the middle of January in minus twenty degrees, to a disused radio station to try to feel that again.
Theo: To try and feel that desperation.
Adam: Over the three weeks in the freezing cold, we wrote a song…
Theo: When we first discovered the sound and template for what we wanted to do it was a fast process. Wonderful Life took a day. Not even that, half a day. It goes from that to a song called Stay, which is very overly thought out; it’s the complete opposite!
ILM: With songs so saturated with emotion and dependent upon their environment, how do you approach the transition from recorded to live
Adam: They were fighting their way out of the box to be honest! We were desperate to get them out. We literally spent six months underground writing. The problem with writing songs is that you instantly lose perspective, the way to get perspective back is to perform them live, because you feel the way you did when you wrote them.
Theo: The funny thing about these songs is that they don’t deserve anything less than the amount of attention we give them. They kind of tell us what to do. When we close our eyes we think of orchestras and an amazing environment. To do them in a ramshackle way in a pub somewhere wouldn’t work. It’s almost like they’ve got control over how we play them.
ILM: Where have they worked best so far?
Adam: The churches.
Theo: I’ve noticed two different sides. We played two churches and we did Wilton’s Music Hall, that side is very grand. But in clubs the music becomes very dark, which is not how we envisaged it. It’s a very tense environment. We played in Berlin in a warehouse, and it became a lot more sinister. It’s a whole different side we didn’t forsee, but it's obviously present in the music. It’s interesting to test it out.
Adam: I think the grander the venue the more context the music has.
Theo: Music needs context. We’re very conscious of that. The videos are very important. They can both exist independently, but if someone had just seen the pictures and the videos they think one thing, and if they’ve just heard the music they think a completely different thing. It’s when you see them together that it all makes sense.
ILM: It sounds like the context is something that came quite early, which I imagine gives you greater control over the presentation of Hurts as a whole. You won’t have someone telling you what your posters should look like…
Theo: We’d written the songs with a perspective, and we were like “it’s got to be done like this.” We were comfortable with what we were doing, which is very important. The great thing is that Sony just said “okay.” It’s stressful because we have to get involved in every aspect of it, but it’s good. It helps us write music. Doing the videos and the artwork and all those things helps us to understand the music that we’re making.
ILM: How do you think your music is going to evolve?
Theo: We started very simple. It’s only a year old. We’ve been writing together for a long time, but Hurts and everything it is, is only a year old. When we wrote Wonderful Life, we would never have imagined it ending up how it has. We’ve intentionally done it small step by small step.
Adam: There’s always somewhere to go if you start simple, which is the main thing.
Theo: And because we write pop songs, that’s always a grounding point. Then it’s about how we decorate what we do, how we present it. We’re just learning ourselves!
ILM: You mentioned an orchestra, is that something that you’d like to experiment with?
Theo: It can go as big or as small as possible. We could do it as two of us with a piano somewhere, or with a huge orchestra.
ILM: Alongside the appreciation of grandeur, I understand you have a fascination with the three minute pop song?
Theo: It’s the constraint of it that fascinates me. It’s an art-form separate from genre. Every genre has pop songs. They’re never the same. There isn’t a formula. If you look at Sugar Sugar by The Archies then you look at Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones, you couldn’t identify a common template. The great thing about them is that they affect you so much in such a short period of time. These huge songs shape your whole life. It’s a puzzle. We’ve sat and written stuff down and asked “why does that work? Why doesn’t that work?” We’ve put songs on endless loops and just asked “but why?”
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Theo: I’ve found myself finding it again. For a long time we were just so busy with what we were doing… You’ve almost got to take in your influences and then shut the door and get on with what you’ve got to do.
Adam: We’ve found ourselves listening to a lot of women.
Theo: We do. It’s something I’ve never really done in my life, but we’ve been listening to a lot of female artists. A lot of Florence and Marina. At the moment people are doing pop music on their own terms again. The British are good at that. The Americans don’t do it really, they do everything in a mass way. We have a great history of people being alone and doing it themselves. People sometimes ask “is that too pop to be indie,” or “too indie to be pop?” That shouldn’t exist anymore. The whole idea is that uniqueness. Now we’ve got a pop landscape that’s very interesting because no-one is similar. If you look at all the breakthrough acts the only thread is that they all do pop music in their own way.
ILM: What live shows have you seen that have left a lasting mark upon you?
Adam: In 2005 I watched Arcade Fire at the Manchester Academy. That was absolutely mind-blowing. I’d only just got into music properly and I was just like “that is what I want to do!”
Theo: One of the biggest things to have influenced what we’re doing with Hurts was watching Prince play at the O2. For me, that’s how you do a show. At the other end of the scale was watching Babyshambles play in a pub. Although their music is a kind of ‘boy next door’ thing, they managed to create this massive barrier in front of themselves in this small pub. It made you think “this isn’t real life!” I find that fascinating about live performances; when there’s a shield in front of you and it’s like watching TV. They’re almost not there.
ILM: Your from Manchester, what impact has that had on your music?
Adam: I think it was quite influential on the process of making this album.
Theo: If we’d made it in London or Ibiza, it would have been a very different album. You don’t realise until afterwards. Recently, having finished the songs, we’ve wandered around Manchester and had this realisation. I’ve noticed recently that Manchester is very proud of it’s heritage, but it doesn’t dwell on it. Visually, as a city, it’s all new buildings. It’s always thinking about the future, and pushing things forward. It’s a very proud and very honest city, which I think is very important for our music.
Adam: Perhaps as a place it’s had more influence on us than its music culture.
Theo: The musical heritage made me realise how important location is. You wander around listening to The Smiths and Joy Division and it makes sense. It’s the only time in my life that I’ve wandered around somewhere and gone “wow! I understand why they’ve written their music.”
ILM: Will you continue to write there in the future, or are there other places that you’d like to go and write?
Theo: We’ve been toying with the idea of vanishing to Barbados for two years! We’re fascinated with the idea of going somewhere hot. Having spent time in Sweden and with all the rain in Manchester, the whole album is written essentially in winter, and it’s going to be released in the summer, which is bizarre. I think this album is rooted in Manchester. It’s very much ‘of’ there. But we’ve written it so that it expands out from there. Writing another album somewhere else would be very exciting for us.
Adam: We’ll see where this album takes us first....
Theo: ...and if we end up in Tenerife or Magaluf, then so be it!