Braden Fletcher 07858941572 firstname.lastname@example.org
“What are you made of?” roars Brandon Flowers as the Killers open their fourth studio record with ‘Flesh and Bone’ in powerful unison. The guitar line bigger than a Las Vegas casino, the ambition flowing out like the hopeful punters hitting for the big time. It’s always been this way though for Flowers. The show that The Killers create isn’t so much second nature to him as pulsing through his blood; you almost expect him to bellow out ‘Born to Run’ instead of Battle Born. Whilst theatre is entertaining though, the band have plenty of making up to do. Since the turn of the decade and Day & Age; the least well received Killers record to date, an increasing amount of skeptics had begun to wonder if the days of noughties standout ‘Mr. Brightside’ would ever come back around. The band seemingly vanished and lead singer Brandon Flowers created a lackluster record of nearly-good tracks and the issue here is rooted therein. Bands change as their influences do, as the people they’re surrounded by bring different sounds to their musical palettes, as they grow up and adapt. In the Killers’ case, whilst their propensity for the stadium sound and their belief in a certain form of breed of American music all remains, Battle Born lacks the edge that made them an enjoyable listen. Everything that put them on the iPods of the masses has been lost to an ambition to be almost as dull as the Nevada desert whilst waving surrender flags at the American dream. Whilst it opens with fire, you can listen to the rest of the album in one continuous stream of average monotony. The likes of ‘A Matter of Time’ have the kind of haunting power behind them that makes the Killers still feel like they could be an epic band, but from there, tracks such as ‘Deadlines and Commitments’ are borderline embarrassing in their blandness and even ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’, which would have had a huge pulsing line going through it, comes off as wet and deeply uninteresting. ‘Battle Born’ then, is Flamingo (Flowers’ solo record) meets Day and Age with none of the naive schadenfreude you gained from Hot Fuss’ pop anthems and even less of the romantic yet powerful narrative of Sam’s Town. What are The Killers made of then? Two hugely successful and acclaimed records and at least two deeply average ones that, had it not been for their predecessors, almost no one would buy. A shame really; the theatre of Flowers had always been a good one. 3/10
“I just want to make a record that makes people feel the way I did about certain records, like Original Pirate Material or Bad in a way.” Matt Healy is on the phone in between takes in the studio where The 1975 are putting final touch after final touch onto their debut record. The Manchester band’s debut EP Facedown gained them plays on the likes of Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe’s Radio1 playlists, as well as seeing them temporarily rocket up the iTunes charts. With the coming of their second EP, Sex, you can tell that The 1975 are out to prove a point. “With [the] Facedown EP, The City was the big standout track. We’ve got songs like that by the bucketload, but with these EPs, we want to put across what we’re really about. We don’t want to be one of those bands that puts out an EP that’s just a single with a few remixes. If you’re a band that wants to connect with their fans, you need to give them a wealth of material.” Of course they’ve had plenty of time to build up this wealth of material; the trio have been a band for around 5 years now and having gone through a multitude of names such as The Slowdown, Drive Like I Do and Talkhouse, it seems now they’ve finally settled on The 1975. Being a band for this long though and not having released more than the occasional track to the internet has led to a huge amount of change in the band; and with that change has come a certain confidence. Matt explains, “Our natural progression as people reflects the progression of us as a band. Some of these songs have been around since we were 19 years old, and we’ve saved them until we knew we were ready. We find it hard to be content with what we’ve done. The first time we really were happy to put something out was Facedown, so we did!” Matt seems to get excited when talking about the overall sound of the band, citing inspirations from the likes of Michael Jackson through to Peter Gabriel in terms of influence for the; “big, ambitious sound that we think albums should be all about”, yet you can almost hear parts of his brain tick as he attempts to describe the more intricate parts of the lyricism in the band. “Our personal affinity with the music is very important to the band because The 1975 is a very personal thing to me. I feel like I can only speak from personal experience, and tracks like ‘Woman’ are very personal to me as are all the songs; they’re
experiences through my eyes, but I try not to be too…” He struggles on his words and moves to my next question which takes from our Quickfire-Questions interview with him last month in which he touched upon the influence that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road gave him and the band as a whole. “I guess we were like a lot of impressionable 19 year-olds who read On the Road, in that we were whisked away in the decadence and blazing about of the whole affair. The very unabashed and un-afraidness of youth has become a very important feature of The 1975”. At first, I struggle to understand, given the variety of quieter tracks on both Facedown and the forthcoming Sex EP, but he continues: “Songs like Sex came about from that, as more of a reaction to the lack of identity rather than anything economical.” It wouldn’t be surprising if the resurgence of the likes of Kerouac’s work assists The 1975 in gaining an audience, especially considering how many acts take from romanticised American history. Mumford and Sons relied heavily on John Steinbeck circa 1935-1940 to fill out the tales in their debut record, and Bombay Bicycle Club were inspired by Joseph Sterling’s Age of Adolescence series in the 1960s in the creation of I Had the Blues But Shook Them Loose (the cover art is one of Sterling’s photos from the series). Of course, the band’s influences are broad, but you can’t help but feel that a part of Kerouac’s decadence has remained romanticised in Healy. “I grew up in a boring middle class town near Macclesfield, so I think reading American literature was important to us as a band; the whole counter culture, but I’ve found myself focussing more on my own thoughts than that kind of world these days.” So what’s next for the group as they launch the second of three planned EPs and for the first time going ‘On the Road’ on their own headline tour? “I just want to make an album that people can connect to, and I know that sounds like a cliché but we do just want to make an album we love. I don’t want to sell a million copies; I don’t expect to sell 40,000. We played the Barfly like 6 months ago and five people watched us and now we’ve sold it out and that humbles me.” He laughs; there’s a quiet confidence behind the band. They write and produce the music themselves; getting a little help on the way from the likes of label and tour buddies Little Comets so at the end of the day, his own confidence is all he has, especially as he claims to not pay attention to much of their press. You can’t help but feel that he’s not quite telling the truth, but there’s a judged honesty behind him. I ask what happens if people don’t like the album and it doesn’t “work out”. He pauses and simply responds, “I guess we’ll just make another record. I try not to think about expectation because the phrase ‘working out’ is abstract. The moment we start worrying about acceptance is the moment we lose conviction.” And with that, I let him get back to the studio. It seems that whether we like it or not, The 1975 are here to stay, but given their latest material and the idea that they’re holding back on a few things suggests that whilst they’re building a buzz now, they think they’re capable of so much more. I’m inclined to agree.
Gallery spaces in East London are weird at the best of times, but when you’re attempting to find an elusive singer-songwriter in an alley on a Shoreditch evening where upon entry you’re given a numbered red card and ushered down to the basement, you can be forgiven for questioning the direction in which your life is going. Luckily for the hundred acquaintances, tonight’s man of the hour is in the building. TGTF is assured so. This said, not once is he actually seen in the flesh in tonight’s main room. The drink is flowing and the conversation is bubbly, we’re even sitting alongside toy versions of the artist, but it’s not until you go upstairs that you notice the truly original concept of the evening. In a white room upstairs sits an intricate bird’s house, wired from the base all the way round to the back door. It hardly exudes showbiz, but simultaneously builds intrigue and as TGTF sits and peers into the hole in the intricate box, a small projected image appears. Alas, it’s Keaton Henson. One of England’s finest on offer today, he chooses to keep himself to himself and doesn’t like to perform to crowds, so tonight’s act comes in the form of this rather novel gimmick. He plays one track to my friends and I and then moving on to the next ticketed guest, before assembling everyone together to play a wall-projected show. With the approval of Rough Trade, his debut album and accompanying artwork has seen his slim yet concise repertoire become recognised from outside his niche for the first time of late and it’s certain the buzz around him will continue to grow. Standout tracks tonight include You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, which has a real acoustic Manchester Orchestra feel to it and Sarah Minor, which similarly to many of his tracks have a kind of fragility about them that you’d see in the likes of Jack Steadman whilst lyrically resembling heartbroken poetry. Keaton Henson is definitely a man to watch over the next few months, even if it is from a perceived projection. We’re assured he’s somewhere in the building.
Lead singer and guitarist Andy Hull and lead guitarist Robert McDowell of American band Manchester Orchestra chat with Braden to talk about Simple Math being complicated, being out of tune at Leeds and Stone Cold Steve Austin in lyric videos. “I’ve been playing it to literally anyone who’s taken an interest,” begins Andy Hull; “like, if someone in the pharmacy said they liked my music, I’d want to take them out to my car and get them to listen as some sort of validation.” The Manchester Orchestra frontman is quite excited, and with good reason. The band’s third record is imminent, and after the first two gaining critical approval as well as a dedicated fan base across the world, Hull and guitarist Robert McDowell are feeling impatient. “We’ve had this record finished since November so we’ve had like 6 months to wait for the schedule to play out. We almost wanted it to leak but we’d be so screwed if it actually did.” Robert explains. Released on Monday (9 May) in the UK, Simple Math is the most anticipated album from the band to date and the band are clearly more than ready. “On one hand, I’m the most proud I’ve ever been of a record so far. And on the other hand, I’m wondering if it’s the worst mistake of our lives! That’s what the 6 months’ waiting does to you.” So with the album finally so close to arrival, the band have come for a week over to the UK to preview and warm up what’s sure to be a hugely busy year for them. Shows in the previous two nights in London including what was almost a “greatest hits up to now” show at Proud Camden and a huge show at XOYO, the band are taking a day off before driving up to Manchester in the morning. “This trip’s a good thing for us to do. Just to be able to come over here and play these few shows has been really positive. Manchester’s always a really great crowd…obviously, and London as well is fun.” One of the trademark sounds of MO is their transitions between soft, lyrical sections of music and huge guitar riffs. This doesn’t change in ‘Simple Math’, and talking to Andy and Robert, you can see where these come from. Andy talks in spurts of activity as all his words come to him at once, and listening to
him recite some of the lyrics from Simple Math is like listening to a poem in hyperspeed. Other times both Robert and Andy sit back and relax, taking every moment with their words. This realism from their personas transfers across in the record in both melody and lyrics. “Thematically, it’s Andy and the Andy in an alternate universe. I write from both perspectives,” Hull contemplates. “Like, with both I can get so descriptive, taking from almost real events or imagining situations and their most dire consequences. The track Simple Math is about an affair and its consequences,” he delves. “Hunter’s eyes, I’m lost and hardly noticed.” This track of course closes with a huge finish with complete beauty displayed both in the official video, directed and created by Daniels (the duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, based in America) and the lyric video that appeared online from the band a few weeks prior. “We made that because of other lyric videos that just sprout up online that have some of the wrong lyrics, out of time and with random pictures of like, Stone Cold Steve Austin, or something placed in,” Hull jokes. “The idea was to just put the track up so people could hear it, not to give an indication of the album.” They claim that the album itself is 10 stand alone tracks that only really make complete sense when you listen to the album in full. “If you put it in your player and listen to it through, there is no song that sounds like another.” Robert attempts to clarify. “I wouldn’t say it’s got a set sound. Simple Math is really quite complicated,” they both say. Outside of the record, it’s a hectic few months for the band. With a co-headline tour with Cage the Elephant coming up and a whole series of festivals, the band contemplate the coming few months. “We’re pretty selective about who we’ll play with as support bands. We prefer to headline of course.” They’re hitting the festivals too, where they’ll look to build on their live reputation. “We love Bonaroo and Lollapalooza in the US! A few years ago we played a really great set in Reading followed by the worst show in Leeds, but we’d like to make it known now that that’s because we were out of tune. Our tech didn’t bring a tuner and mine was broken so we never really stood a chance. We’d like to redeem ourselves though!” Glad that’s cleared up then. So with the record set straight on a Leeds set that I was actually present at and still didn’t dislike one bit, and the third album, that’s Manchester Orchestra’s “complicated” Simple Math until they next blast out on a British stage near you. Be prepared.