Photo: Chris McKeen/Newspix/REX USA.
Matt Healy, lead singer and guitarist of The 1975, puts on a very convincing Boston accent. When I caught up with him at Boston Calling, the British artist was quite candid about his love for both the city of Boston and its natives. He likes the European feel, how down-to-earth Bostonians are, and how choice the selection of weed is. "If I had a day off, I'd be over there on a boat," he said, pointing to the Charles River.
It was surprising to hear such a blunt response, but that's Healy's style: honest. One gets that feeling in his joking instruction for me to "pahk my cah in the yahd." It's in his songs, deeply personal and enchanting.
"Sometimes it's easier to be really literal and honest. It's easier creatively, and it makes people think you're an honest artist," he told me on a Sunday afternoon during the city's three-day music fest in early September. "If you see vulnerability in something, it's a very relatable thing. I think vulnerability within art is the most important thing, because that's where art comes from."
Yet, he dismisses the stigma that sensitive lyrics make him less masculine. "I'm not trying to be manly. I'm going to get all the lads on my side. I'm a very effeminate person, a very sensitive person. Wearing your heart on your sleeve can be easier sometimes," he says.
Despite the personal lyrics, Healy doesn't get caught up in the sentimentality on stage. "The narrative and content of the song and the musicality and the performance of it are two mutually exclusive things. When I'm on stage, I'm thinking of performing and delivering a good vocal," he told me, inching a bit closer to my recorder to show how important this notion was. "I'm not thinking, 'Oh, fuck, this line is a bit depressing.' There are moments where it happens — sometimes during 'Me' or 'Falling For You' I can get a little choked up. But, that's not what I'm there for, then. The audience is there for that. I'm not there to lose it."
Photo: Richard Isaac/REX USA.
For all his disclaimers on not getting too emotionally involved on stage, Healy certainly plays the part of one drowning his sorrows — albeit unintentionally. You'd be hard-pressed to see him perform without a bottle of wine in hand during his act. What began as backstage imbibing became a near trademark for Healy.
"It very quickly became almost like a prop for me," he says. "I like having it with me because it gives me something to do if there are songs where I'm not playing guitar. I can always go and have a little drink. Little things like that — trademarks — evolve because they keep you the same person on the road."
Maintaining who he is is something that's important to Healy. He doesn't dabble much in negative press the band receives, as it causes him to lose sight of what matters. "There are obvious things people aren't gonna like about us. The fact that we're very laden with pop sensibilities, the idea of commerciality or mainstream — those are all entangled in people's minds," says Healy, speaking to the notion that the 1975 is an alternative band that sold out to the demands of mass appeal. "If you're not sure about something, it's so easy to dislike it. Everybody's concerned with being perceived as so alternative, and we're not from that world. We're not trying to make a Godspeed record or a My Bloody Valentine record," he says, citing his goals as more in line with Peter Gabriel or Michael Jackson. "We're more alternative than any alternative band out there at the moment, because everything else kind of sounds the same."
Beyond the way people interpret and label The 1975's sound, Healy says the larger misconception is that they're new to the music scene. They've been together about 10 years now. "It was a lot of small steps, but a shit load of them over maybe 18 months," says Healy, speaking to when the band really took off.
As we wrapped our conversation, the guys took the stage at Boston Calling. The 1975 may not be an overnight success, but the band won over its Boston crowd of thousands in a matter of moments.