- Wed, 2010-05-05 11:46
It might seem like only yesterday The Futureheads stormed common musical consciousness with their ubiquitous cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, but since the self-titled debut from which that was taken, they’ve released a further three records, built up a rabidly loyal fanbase and toured the world over, firmly establishing themselves as one of Britain’s best-loved bands.
I Like Music spoke with the lads about making the new album, the Sunderland scene, the pros and cons of the digital revolution, and their earliest musical memories.
"I Like Music because… it likes me.” Barry, The Futureheads
"I Like Music because… you couldn’t dance without it.” Ross, The Futureheads
ILM: How would you describe the process of putting together The Chaos?
Ross: I’d say it was agenda-less in the beginning.
Barry: Yeah, it was a bit like making your first album. With this album I really feel like we’ve put ourselves back in that kind of naïve, innocent mindset of just seeing how it goes.
Ross: It’s like going back to being a band in your own bubble. We were very aware that the last album was very anthemic. It was our rock album. Most of the songs didn’t have the twists, turns or craziness that the first or second album had. But it was an essential record for us to make. With The Chaos the only thing we really talked about was bringing the chops back; going to town with the songs, with the intricacies of them. Spending more time on the riffs and time signature changes. Then we just let it go from there.
ILM: Harmonies have always played a wonderful part in your music, at what stage of the process do they fall into place?
Barry: At the very end. We always write harmonies in the studio. It’s a great weapon to have. They bring an entirely new dimension. When you sing in harmony with people you’re in love with it’s a very special thing!
Jaff: When someone brings a song in and we’re working on it, someone will say “we’ll have this harmony bit here,” and you don’t have to describe what it’ll be like cos everyone knows. It’s a musical understanding we’ve developed.
Dave: I always get the really high ones. I’ve got the lowest voice as well! I don’t know how that’s happened!
ILM: How do you approach the transition of songs from the studio to the stage?
Barry: On this album we’ve made it very easy for ourselves, always bearing in mind the live aspect. That’s something we didn’t do with the second album. We made it as a studio album, and just thought “we can do anything!” But you can’t sing impossible harmonies live!
Jaff: If you pick the right harmonies you can have four notes that do the job, whereas sometimes you could write a harmony with twelve notes in, we could never recreate that live.
Ross: When we play the songs off this record live, we’re trying to do it as close to the record as we can. We’re not reinterpreting or rearranging them; it’ll be as it is on the record. We had one eye on the live show at every stage of making the music.
ILM: What do you look forward to the most about playing live?
Barry: It’s alter ego territory. You become a rock monster! It’s fantastical. When the time comes to go out on stage the connection is what you want. I always try and make eye contact with at least thirty people so that they’re drawn in. Then I try and expand my awareness so that eventually we’re playing to everyone personally.
ILM: When you look back over your career as musicians, what moments really standout for you?
Barry: All of them! They’re all linked! Every point of the journey is connected. If we hadn’t got together we wouldn’t be sitting here. If we hadn’t all had a certain taste in music… Our first ever gig was a very important moment for us. It was like a bomb going off!
ILM: You still remember it clearly?
Barry: I remember it well. I even remember where people were sitting!
Ross: That’s because we’d prepared for that gig so much.
Barry: We’d had about 25 rehearsals for a seven minute gig!
Ross: Sunderland is quite a small city of musicians. We knew who would be there. They all knew us from different bands before and they were dying to see what we’d come up with! We gave ourselves months of preparation for that gig. It was only four songs! It sounds egotistical, but people expected it to be good straight off the bat. We got such a buzz from that positive response that it couldn’t help but kick everything off. We got this real lust to do more shows and more songs...
ILM: Which you certainly did! Out of all the gigs following that show, which have been some of the most memorable?
Ross: Touring America. That’s always a great thrill. The first time we did Glastonbury on an outside stage! Fuji Rock festival in Japan. Travelling experiences combined with a great gig become the best times you can have! You always look back and crave them again.
Dave: Playing Wembley was a good’un, supporting the Foos! We got a lift on their private jet from Scandinavia to Scotland. That was pretty cool. It was like, “what the fuck’s going on here!”
ILM: What influence has Sunderland had on your music?
Barry: Realness. A lack of pretension. It’s not tolerated in Sunderland to be anything but real, honest and very forthright about what you are and what you want. We’re all very polite, which I think is a typically Northern trait. Maybe overly polite!
Ross: Gotta be number one. I think the hunger to get everything going came from the area. The first proper tour we did was in squats in Europe. When you get the chance to do something like that you don’t think twice. Not to do it as a living or a career, that never crossed our minds in the early days, but just to have that experience.
Barry: As a teenager, the romance of picking up a guitar, learning to write songs, persevering with a band, making it work then going to every single corner of the globe is just a fantastic thing. That’s the dream. It’s not about having expensive cars, or a fifty-guitar collection. It’s waking up in the morning and knowing that you’ve inflicted something positive on yourself by learning an instrument and becoming an artist. That is our main payment. That payment will always be there. The real and essential things to appreciate are the artistry and the adventure.
ILM: What would be your advice to artists at the beginning of that journey?
Barry: Have you ever tried to give a young musician advice? Do you know what they say? They say “fuck off!”
Dave: Play more solos. That’s what everyone likes!
Ross: You have to have the right mindset. You can’t be searching for the golden fleece of getting signed, getting a record contract, or making an album. You have to do it because you want that form of expression. You can’t use music as a means to make money, or as a way of avoiding doing a more banal everyday job.
ILM: What are your current thoughts toward music and its relationship with online? Illegal downloading etc? I know Ross is a member of the FAC (Featured Artists Coalition)...
Jaff: I think the industry is still trying to find a way to work best. We did a gig last night in a record shop. They sold our albums and gig tickets in the shop. If the people who buy your records and want to see you live get a good service then great, but you can’t swim against the tide. There will always be people who download and steal things, there will always be people who buy it.
Ross: It’s about educating the fan-base with that culture. We run our label and are the only band on it. It’s our cottage industry. We’re transparent about how it works. You only have to be concerned with your hardcore, loyal fan-base. There are a lot of people out there downloading records for free that they would never have purchased. In that case it’s wonderful, they’re hearing new music. But when you’ve got fans who previously would have bought the record getting it for free, if they don’t then go to the gig, buy the merch or do something to remunerate the band or label for their art, then that band or artist will no longer be able to make music at this level. There simply isn’t the money there. It’s a difficult thing. No-one wants to go to their fans and say “you’re a criminal,” because it’s bollocks!
Jaff: It’s too heavy handed. It’s far to fascist.
Ross: You can’t bite the hand that feeds you, can you?
Barry: It’s important that we move forward. I’m worried for the internet. It’s a wonderful thing for communication. I would hate to see the powers-that-be greedily take away our liberty to absorb information for free. That is a crime against humanity as far as I’m concerned, information and education is what we need. Blaming teenage kids who have ten pounds a week pocket money and an incredible thirst for music and art is wrong. That thirst should be celebrated. It’s up to the fat cats who’ve been making billions to sort out the problem.
Ross: There are two problems really. One is access to music. If you’re a teenager it’s impossible to get digital music; you’re not old enough to have a credit card, and it’s rare that you have gift vouchers for iTunes, which aren’t exactly common currency. The cost of a digital album is too much. The quality is worse than a CD and you can probably get the CD cheaper in a shop. We have to re-evaluate how we value our music.
Secondly, sites like Spotify, and Nokia, whose customers have unlimited access to music, aren‘t transparent about their advertising revenue and where that goes in terms of coming back to the musicians. YouTube and PRS made a royalty-rate deal, but one of the stipulations of that deal was that they didn’t have to make it public and tell anyone what the royalty rate was, which is fucking disgusting frankly.
Jaff: When you’re young you think all bands are millionaires, but they aren’t! PRS made a statement with regards to YouTube and Google. They said 90% of their membership earnt less than ten grand a year. That includes making albums, touring the world. Most people aren’t in it for the big bucks.
Barry: The big bucks aren’t there.
Jaff: Record companies make loads of money. That’s why downloading music isn’t that bad because it means the record company doesn’t make money anymore. But the artists still need to make their money. There has to be a compromise.
Barry: Tax free. No tax for artists! We should get paid by the government! There. Sorted. Haha!
ILM: What are your earliest musical memories? When did you first realise it meant something to you?
Jaff: Queen’s Greatest Hits for me. I remember having it in the car. We had it taped off vinyl. I used to think it was the greatest thing ever. I used to imagine being Freddie. I was about seven, and I’d think “I’ll be Freddie now he’s dead! I’ll join Queen, I’ve got a high voice!”
Ross: Just a few years too young Jaff, unfortunately. You could have done that though.
Jaff: Still can mate, they had Paul Rogers. That’s all I’m saying to you. I’ve got a fifty-fifty shout!
Ross: My first memory of music that I felt was mine, not music I listened to becayse of my parents was Document, the REM album. One I Love was a massive hit on the radio, I used to love that when I was a youngster. I got the tape for Christmas.
ILM: Do you still listen to it?
Ross: Oh yeah. I still think it’s a great record.
Dave: For me it was watching either The Last Waltz or Purple Rain. I just wanted to be Prince basically. I fancied the girl in the movie when I was about six!
Dave: Yeah, she was amazing! That got me into it. That last performance on Purple Rain. It’s so mind-blowing.
Barry: I must have only been five or six. Me and Dave got given our Dad’s old vinyl player and we put on Sgt Pepper’s. It was a Sunday morning and we were both in our underpants.
Ross: That sounds like these two! Still normal!
Barry: We put on Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds but it was on the wrong speed. I was mesmerised. I was very lucky, my Dad was a huge music collector. He always tells me, almost to make me feel guilty, “when you were born I had 5000 vinyls. I had to sell them all cos you were born!” But we grew up listening to some great music. I remember hearing Berlin by Lou Reed when I was five years old, and the Velvet Underground and Nico. Or Tyrannosaurus Rex, the band that Mark Bolan did before T Rex, a really out there, hippy-magic-mushroom kind of thing. Classical music as well. All sorts really. Music was just very much in our home. Musical films as well, like Dave was saying. The Blues Brothers, The Last Waltz and Purple Rain. We used to watch a collection of Kate Bush videos as a family. It was like “can we put the Kate Bush video on? Please!”
Dave: “The one with the big ball in it!”
Dave: That’s the one.
ILM: What about now, what have you been listening to recently?
Barry: Dutch Uncles. No-one’s heard of them, but they should be massive! They’ve got a great album. There’s a song called Face In you should check out. It’s amazing. Wild Beasts as well. They’re just bizarre.
Ross: Two Dancers is a great record. I keep telling people about this all-girl band from Los Angeles called Warpaint who’ve got a very gentle record. They’ve only put one EP out at the moment, but that’s amazing. That last Vampire Weekend album is absolutely class.
Jaff: I was gonna say that one as well! I love the fact that they’re so massive, cos they’re pretty weird. They’re pretty muso.
Ross: The first Big Country album as well. I bought that off eBay recently. There are guitar solos that sound like bagpipes! It sounds tremendous!