I’m sat upstairs at the Social in London’s Little Portland Street, out in the corridor where the bargirl said it was quieter. Beer, depressingly at this time of day, in one hand and Dictaphone in the other, ears still straining to hear the blatherings of a DJ whose taste in shirts is let down only by the quality of his recent output. Cynicism, depressingly, is setting in, when The Futureheads merrily barge through the door, hauling baggage and amps and accents with their gear.
Drummer Dave Hyde already departed, it's a load they struggle to carry and it turns out they’ll soon be following him on the trek back to more Northern climes, having filmed a couple of songs for the Album Chart Show last night (click for a report). Their new album is This is Not the World and it arrives through The Futureheads' own label, Nul Records, in May. The Futureheads may've been dropped by their old, major label, but as you'll find out later, they're more than willing to pick themselves up and hit back, harder.
Once we’ve shuffled the baggage downstairs, bassist David ‘Jaff’ Craig unzips a holdall and holds a boxfresh T-shirt up to the light, squinting his eyes and smiling as he tells how the band had just come from a Carnaby Street fashion shoot. They’d left with sackfuls of swag.
They're no immodest blaggards, though, The Futureheads – what they are is a band that’ve conducted themselves in a way that makes people want to do things for them, whether that's showering the quartet in free clothes or setting up an interview with adoring fans and fine rabble in their own right The Maccabees. Felix White and Orlando Weeks have arrived now, and they greet each other like the newest old friends.
N.B. We dropped in chapter links to help you navigate around this article. It's pretty long.
i) Pleasantries and identity theft
ii) Secret lives of the Les Savy fans
iii) "And I’d be listening to my Walkman lying in bed, singing me heart out, feeling amazing, y’know, like, god, this is just the best thing ever"
iv) Futureheads: the musical?
v) Dropped but defiant
The Futureheads: BH = Barry Hyde; RM = Ross Millard; J = Jaff
The Maccabees: OW = Orlando Weeks; FW = Felix White
Bold interjections = DrownedinSound
(From left: David 'Jaff' Craig, Ross Millard, Barry Hyde,
Orlando Weeks, Felix White
@ the Social, London; 13/02/08)
- - -
Pleasantries and identity theft
(return to contents)
- - -
OW: So are you going home now?
RM: Yeah, back up home... You live in London now, don’t you?
OW: Yeah, I live just by Elephant and Castle.
BH: Have youse all moved to town like?
OW: No no, they’re all still in Brighton.
BH: It’s like what I was doing I suppose with Glasgow (1).
OW: It’s quite good, ‘cause I like the trains - you don’t have to do anything, you can just sit there and no-one bothers you.
BH: Aye, there’s no political bullshit involved in getting on a train.
J: Our tour manager’s mate fell asleep on a train recently and someone stole two laptops and his passport, wallet and two of the band he was managing’s passports.
RM: Was it Oasis?
BH: It wasn’t Oasis, man.
J: He woke up on a train down to London from Glasgow and realised his bag had been nicked, so he got off the train at Peterborough to see if anyone had done it, and then the train pulled off.
J: So basically he was stranded in Peterborough with no wallet, no passport, no nothing – he had to blag a taxi to London and go into the bank in person to wire some money to the taxi driver ‘cause he had no ID, no credit cards, no cash.
RM: It’s the digital age for you.
J: One snooze and it’s all stolen.
I fell asleep once on the train back from London. Someone took my phone and my iPod out of my pocket while I was asleep…
BH: Scumbags. Scumbags. Infecting people with their own misery.
FW: (returning from the toilets) They’ve got those good hand driers…
(things desolve into enthusiastic chatter for a while)
- - -
Secret lives of the Les Savy fans
(return to contents)
- - -
FW: Did you enjoy Les Savy Fav (2)?
BH: Aye, yeah I did.
FW: It was fucking great. That guitar player (3) is amazing.
BH: Yeah, yeah. His sound… and the frontman (4)…
FW: He’s ridiculous isn’t he…
BH: Yeah… he’s like a slimmer… balder… Brian Blessed.
J: But slightly more crazy…
RM: There’s definitely a place for that in rock.
BH: Aye, a totally unlikely frontman but he’s got the moves.
He was grinding up against some girl – this sweaty mountain of a man in his pants grinding this four-foot girl up a wall…
J: He kept on, like, going down on his knees and then all fours and sticking his arse in the air, like a porn star…
RM: I heard this one story where he just ran out into the street and was singing to passers by…
FW: What, was that at the Astoria?
RM: No Leeds Cockpit, that was a different tour.
FW: ‘Cause they’ve all got jobs at home or something innit…
RM: Yeah for a long time, I don’t know if they still have now…
BH: Yeah, they’ve done a lot of stuff but, y’know, a lot of American bands have to do that. Work your jobs and… ‘cause that’s how we started, we all had other commitments, but that doesn’t mean the band can’t exist…
BH: It’s difficult to break even on tour, you need a bit of a tour manager wizard to balance the books.
OW: Like your mate…
J: You know American bands when they tour, they tour, like, states, do 15 gigs in the same area… like that Bruce Springsteen documentary (5) where they were like ‘yeah, we just spent four, five years just touring New York and New Jersey, just touring all the bars’ and it’s like ‘really? And youse lot are fucking crazy?!’
RM: I think in America it’s a lot more common in the indie scene for bands to work around their day jobs…
BH: Yeah, 'cause they all have these jobs like working in supermarkets or PC World…
It’s interesting with someone like Tim Harrington – obviously not in his case, but it’s strange that he might go into work one day and the people he works with don’t know about this secret life he has…
OW: Yeah, playing the Astoria man, how mint is that?
And he’s worshipped by hundreds of people, Les Savy Fav are worshipped… secret lives.
Kate Bush - 'Hounds of Love'
- - -
"And I’d be listening to my Walkman lying in bed, singing me heart out, feeling amazing, y’know, like, god, this is just the best thing ever"
(return to contents)
- - -
FW: We saw you at the Astoria with Mystery Jets supporting…
RM: Oh yeah…
FW: For two nights…
RM: That was a while ago…
FW: That was amazing.
RM: For us, when we did that it’s when we first felt like we were really doing it, y’know…
BH: It’s a magical venue, but it’s getting knocked down isn’t it?
OW: Backstage has the worst facilities though…
All: Oh god, yeah…
J: That was one of the first things that people talk about when you’re in a band, you have people saying ‘can I come backstage?’ and you’re like ‘you really don’t wanna come to be honest’. We’ve got a small toilet as a dressing room – four bags of crisps and a six-pack of lager.
Where’s the best backstage?
BH: The Henry Fonda’s got a nice backstage.
RM: All the LA ones, basically.
RM: There’s one in Southampton – the Guild Hall?
BH: It’s like an old-fashioned, town hall kind of thing.
J: There’s another one in Southampton though, remember the Joiners, it’s like a rabbit hutch, the dressing room. Promoter’s like, ‘I wouldn’t park your van outside.’ ‘Why, d’you get a parking ticket?’ ‘Er no, it’ll get broken into.’ ‘…It’s not a particularly new one.’ ‘It’ll get nicked. Shit area this. Park it somewhere else.’ ‘Great, can we come back!?’
BH: But y’know, why do people have to steal? Why doesn’t everyone have some respect for themselves mainly, if you’re gonna go out and break into someone’s property and have absolutely no respect for yourself…
OW: But do you burn DVDs?
RM: Ah, exactly… property dispute going on over there.
OW: You fund terrorism.
RM: He’s gonna go out and buy some pirate DVDs now, isn’t he?
BH: I don’t burn DVDs because I haven’t got the skills.
BH: I can tape things off the telly. If that’s burning I can work it like a dream…
(Felix pulls out a dilapidated Discman)
FW: I can’t get it to stop jumping. It jumps and you have to caress it…
OW: It’s learning the knack of how to walk, it’s got to be a gentle swing.
BH: You need a crutch…
OW: Or even a towel…
J: You need a Walkman man, Walkmans never used to jump did they? Get a tape in there.
BH: Ah, but they slow down. You’re laying in bed and then suddenly you’re like ‘la la, la la laaaaa…’ (mimics tape slowing and slurring as batteries run out) and you’re like ‘Ah, I’m dying!’
RM: ‘What’s happening here?’
(left: Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds; right: Public Enemy)
- - -
BH: I used to love that though – I got my first Walkman and me dad, rather than buying us loads of albums he’d copy us loads of albums, when I was 13, rather than buying us two albums that cost a lot of money. There was like, Public Enemy, The La’s, Tyrannosaurus Rex and various other people would be in there somewhere, and I’d be listening to my Walkman lying in bed, singing me heart out, feeling amazing, y’know, like, God, this is just the best thing ever, y’know…
(enthusiastic laughter rises)
RM: Feeling amazing…
(Rises more, into two or three seconds of empathetic appreciation for the wonder the humble Walkman could bring to an adolescent bedroom)
The best thing is when you wake up in the middle of the night and the music’s still playing and it sounds even better, somehow…
J: I remember getting me first proper walkman and they had like that AVLS, and me mam would explain it to us, like ‘Automatic Volume Limiting System’…
BH: ‘You’ve got to get the AVLS, like David’…
J: Well that was the thing ‘cause I was like ‘that can really damage your ears’ so I was like, ‘get the AVLS on’. But it just makes it quieter so you can’t really hear it. ‘What’s the point in this? What is the point in this?’ if you’re wandering around in the street and the cars are louder than it…
RM: I used to love listening to War of the Worlds, Jeff Wayne’s musical version in me bed, with all the lights off just scaring meself.
BH: Aye, that’s the best time to listen to a Walkman that.
Futureheads: the musical?
(return to contents)
- - -
Why don’t you do a Futureheads musical?
RM: Could do. Ben-Hur (6), Jaff’s been working on that for quite a long time.
J: Aye, a musical version of Ben-Hur was a little joke of mine for a while. ‘Let Me Carry Your Cross’; the lead track from it.
J: Release a double mini-album… ambient piano and ridiculous lyrics.
BH: Some of it’s quite muscular…
J: Oh yeah, the Roman galleys, like “Row! – duh duh duh duh doo do – Row! – duh duh duh duh doo do – Row! Row!”
(laughter eventually subsides)
FW: My mate wanted to make a one-man musical adaptation of Saving Private Ryan.
RM: That’s a bit ambitious.
That’s a ridiculous idea.
FW: He was bang on it as well.
So what, he’d have to run all the way down from the sniper tower to the tank… to blow himself up?
RM: That’s pretty ambitious right there.
FW: All through the form of music he wanted to do it, too.
RM: I like that shit. Why not? That’s a challenge.
The Futureheads - 'The Beginning of the Twist'
@ Carnaby Street, London
(in association with La Blogotheque)
- - -
Dropped but defiant
(return to contents)
- - -
[Talk turns from musicals to taste, and on to DJ sets and soon everyone's comparing lists. Felix asks those sat round the table if they like Rage Against the Machine, waxing lyrical on guitarist Tom Morello's playing. His question is met slightly hesitantly, until Orlando chimes in.]
OW: See, I don’t really like Rage Against the Machine, but I really like watching Felix listen to Rage Against the Machine.
OW: It’s great. I don’t have a football team and it’s like watching someone who really loves a football team watch football.
BH: Sit with Rossy when Man United are on!
FW:That’s the thing with important bands, it is like supporting a football team and that’s genuinely the way I felt about you guys, y’know you’re just like fucking [slaps hand for emphasis] you’re there and you’re involved and you believe in them and you get so much out of that just from having that, that’s the beauty of it…
You get out what you put in…
OW: And when you guys went down it was just…
BH: We’ve still got to fight, y’know fight the big four.
Do you mind if I ask a question?
BH: No, go on.
I’m not looking for an easy headline but when I first heard the new tracks it sounded really, like, fucking defiant… y’know considering the problems you had with the second record would you say that was definitely part of the recording sessions with Youth or…
BH: I think everything that has happened to the band has directly influenced what happens next, and it’s the same with every band – y’know when things go well, actually, you don’t really learn anything from that – you enjoy it and you forget about it and it’s the problems that actually teach you things – not just bands, people in life. Everyone, when something bad happens, in order to deal with it you’ve got to think about it, to suss it out to put it to bed. With good stuff, it’s just ‘this is great’.
OW: Sometimes I just want to write a song about feeling really happy.
BH: Yeah, definitely, ‘cause you don’t have to think about it.
RM: I think this whole thing is an ongoing process of defiance for us now – it started with writing the songs for it and putting the label together and it will not end until the whole thing’s a total success on our terms – whatever that is, y’know a top ten or a sold-out tour, whatever – if we can do better on this record, in our eyes, than on any of the other two that’ll be a total success and that’ll be when we all celebrate it a bit more.
BH: Defiance is a very powerful motivator, it’s a different mentality, it’s semi-… not malicious, but it’s positive and negative energy together rather than just wanting to do it for fun. If you’ve got something to prove…
FW: It’ll be a struggle as well, innit…
BH: Yeah, that has fuelled many albums – even A Night at the Opera by Queen, y’know that album was a defiant album – they had a massive hit with ‘Killer Queen’, they made no money, they got ripped off by their management, they were in debt still and then because of these negative things, these disappointments, they went off and they made an album containing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which is obviously maybe the…
RM: Probably the most recognised song of all time…
"If we didn’t get dropped, I thought let’s give them
a bit of white noise, shoot this up their arse. It’s
a waste of time, y’know… Bugs Bunny’s in charge"
- - -
BH: You know that was borne of defiance and disappointment and these are part of the experience that a creative person needs, in order to reground yourself – it takes away your confidence and then the challenge is to take your confidence back and you do that by proving yourself to each other, to ourselves, we proved that by staying together and not splitting up and the fact we made another album is as defiant as you can be.
RM: All the great musicians, they always say you need to be allowed to fail in order to succeed – you’re gonna have patchy records, or records that cause a bit of a fuss with your fanbase, but Metal Machine Music didn’t cost Lou Reed the rest of his career did it?
BH: But that’s audacity isn’t it – if we didn’t get dropped, I thought let’s give them a bit of white noise, shoot this up their arse. It’s a waste of time, y’know… Bugs Bunny’s in charge.
It’s great as well… like these guys said it’s like a football team and when you see yourselves… obviously everybody, all these writers, other bands all love your band, and it’s great for us to see that defiance coming through and it’s not just ignoring the problem, it’s just ‘you will be a band’.
RM: You just hope that people, y’know, [see that] getting dropped isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s not the end.
BH: If Hendrix hadn’t died at a tragically young age he would’ve had a life in music, he’d probably be dead now, but he probably would’ve made about ten albums and at various points in his career he would’ve been dropped. He would’ve got his shit together, signed to a different label, made new albums, some of them would’ve been successful, some of them would’ve failed, but it’s not… anyone who has a long career goes through different record labels, Tom Waits…
OW: Tom Waits…
BH: …is someone who has been very prolific and had various successes and failures, but these things shouldn’t affect a band because it’s irrelevant how many people buy your record. If you make an album and you’re really excited about it, and then no-one buys it, it doesn’t change how it sounds, and it doesn’t mean that certain qualities are taken away…
RM: It’s just where you were when you made that record…
BH: It is and will always be that and how it does commercially is actually completely irrelevant to the artistic integrity and the artistic intention of the band. I’ve been listening to loads of classical music, they didn’t give a fuck, there was no music industry then, 300 years ago. Do you think in 300 years time people are going to be listening to this industry-obsessive, shite indie music? No chance.
(1): Barry has recently moved to Glasgow from his native Sunderland
(2): the band attended Les Savy Fav’s London Astoria show on 10/02/08
(3): Seth Jabour
(4): Tim Harrington
(5): Blood Brothers; 1996
(6): William Wyler's epic 1959 adaptation of the 1880 Lew Wallace novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
PART TWO: NEXT WEEK