The Futureheads are back, armed with their latest album; The Chaos. I spoke to animated front man, Barry Hyde, following their recent gig at The Cockpit. Read on for the beans on the new record, side projects, and deliberately pissing off record company execs over haggis dinners.
Right, so first thing I am going to ask you is about this new album. When is it that you find the album is finished and when do you just put a stop to the album making process?
It's a good question. To be honest it's a very long process. Obviously each song takes a certain amount of time, and really however long it wants to take to finish. Each song has the same overall dynamic as an album so it's not until you've actually finished recording, pressed stop, and decided not to add any more ideas, that's when the song writing process finishes - even though the song might already be written so to speak. The arrangement is the real writing process.
So there's no quota of hits necessary before the album is declared done?
Just as many as possible really! But you know, you don't really hear the album properly until it's been mastered, which is the very last thing that is done before it's made into an album, that's the end of the line. The mastering process is where they basically take this piece of music and add what is called the 'red book standard'. All music has to reach a certain frequency, and that's what mastering is, like this dark art. It's making something sound really rich.
Is it tempting to fiddle about, or do you have a deadline?
No, we're not big fiddlers like. We like to mess about a bit, but we like to get it done. Some people take three years to make an album, which seems like the worst way to spend three years. The rehearsal room's very different to the studio. The rehearsal room is where all the war is, that's where the turbulence really is, 'cause that's where you're trying to get your ideas across. By the time you get to the studio, you've usually already arranged the songs.
I was thinking that The Futureheads have had a fair bit of success, but your sound can be quite brash and uncompromising. And perhaps it's strange that a band such as yourselves have had such popularity. What do you think it is about The Futureheads that makes the average music fan think, 'yeh that's a good tune'?
I dinna to be honest with ye. It is quite edgy, but I guess that's why we're not playing the University, you know? Because what we do, some songs have been accepted globally as accessible music but 95% of what we've recorded is really quite out there. We accidently did a cover version, and then that kind of totally changed our perception of what song writing was, how to write songs and how to arrange songs, which kind of steered us in the direction which is a little bit more commercial because we felt like we were doing a good job at it, and we were getting a lot of credit and success from it. That's like a perversion of creativity, like some external thing is basically moulding you into something else. And it took us a little while to kind of remember, or realise, our original intention with the band which was never to be geet massive. It was just to make some daft music, and with that in mind you have a much better, more enjoyable experience, 'cause you're not thinking 'oh, what will the main stage of Leeds and Reading think of this' or 'will this get played on the radio'. Its more like, fuck it, lets play some riffs and get a bit sweaty, and have a laugh. That's all we are.
Does that ethos sort of cross over into running your own label?
Yeh, it's empowered us beyond belief. It's been the most liberating thing to happen to the band, 'cause we were in serious trouble for a little while, for a period of a few months where it was not known whether or not we were going to make another album with Warner - we really didn't want to. It was really nerve racking, because legally, they could have kept us and made us make more albums, and we were so pleased with the circumstances that we got let free and were given the opportunity to start again in a business sense. Setting up Nul Records for 'This Is Not the World' and releasing 'Beginning of the Twist', which was a big hit for us, was a funny thing. When I was trying to get us dropped, I was starting to be a bit arsey with the record label people, they were always really polite, but I thought fuck it, I really want them to dislike me so they don't want to keep going. So the boss of the label, and his kind of right hand man came to visit me when I was living in Glasgow, and we went out for some haggis. They were basically kind of sniffing around, to see if I had any new songs, in other words was it worth holding onto us, or should they just through us in the bin. I'd already written 'Beginning of the Twist', but I lied and said I had writers block. I knew they were just trying to suss us out, as to whether or not there was any potential. And I had this song, which I had huge aspirations for and I kept shtum, because if they'd got a sniff of that, they would have made us record a demo, get in there and you know, suggest, 'do you wanna try doing this with Rick Rubin?' Well no, no thanks.
So what specifically has doing the DIY label route allowed you to do that otherwise you might not have been able to?
It's just more efficient basically. It's more efficient to have a smaller amount of more enthusiastic people than a larger amount of people that don't care. And that's what a major label is essentially, to most of the bands the label has. There's a priority band, you're either at the top of the pile or the bottom of the pile. If you're having hits, you can get what you want, and when it starts to decline they don't know what to do, they don't know how to turn it around so you're basically kind of shelved. Because our second album didn't sell as many copies as the first album it was like, for them, that's the end of it; 'this band are screwed now'. It's like that can be your attitude but don't try and make me believe that, I'll decide what I do. We decide what we do; we go on as long as we want. We're not asking for anyone's approval, we don't give a shit. Lets sing...loud, and that's it.
So maybe do think, you're a little bit more 'punk' than perhaps most people who've seen you on the TV would take you for?
Yes, I think we've got quite a punkier attitude than a lot of people. But the thing is with us, we always mess about. Like when we play a gig, we're not on stage to be like, 'yeh look at me, I'm fucking great', we speak to the crowd and we love to have actually conversations with the crowd. You know, this is an essential thing for us, so I think sometimes we are seen as almost being a bit of a joker band, you know like we make daft videos that always kind of have a comedic element and in interviews we're just stupid, especially when we do radio sessions. We just basically take the piss, and it makes some people think that we're not taking it seriously, but we do take the band seriously, we just don't take ourselves all that seriously and there's a big difference. Because we take making albums very seriously, we work like bloody slaves, you know! (Laughing). But that's what you've got to do, to spit it out.
So when you were writing this new album, 'The Chaos', are you writing songs for The Futureheads or is it more writing songs for yourselves, and then they get put into The Futureheads pot, how does it develop?
It's very much just guitars. I write a lot of my songs on acoustic guitar, because it's just a blank canvas really. An acoustic guitar is a great thing for just getting some chords together and then it's all in the rehearsal room: we jam. You know that term, 'jamming', it's a good way of tricking your creativity into action, because you kind of just wander off when you're playing something over and over again, and then suddenly you'll hear a possibility, a potential direction. Sometimes you can write an entire song, all the parts, all the harmonies, take that in and then just a case of learning it. We do a lot of writing again. Originally, I used to write everything, the drum beats, the harmony arrangements but I realised this wasn't really fair and that's why we're a band. If I'd carried on doing that I think the band would have a very different dynamic. Our Dave hasn't written songs for the band, but he has made a solo album called 'Hyde and Beast', which is a really good psychedelic album, really mint like. So aye, everyone can chip in you know, we just want it to feel like a real gang. We've always split everything completely equally, which is more common than you'd think. I mean in some bands, the main songwriter just takes all the cash, all the publishing money. It's like: 'I wrote the song, so I get all the money'. Legally you can do that, but I would never do that. Our Dave gets 25% of the songs I write, and that's great, it makes us a good band. U2 do the same, so do Blur. That's the way to run a band, is to make it equal.
When you're writing, is always for the next record then, or more for yourselves?
Nah, not really. I mean I write songs on me phone! There's a great app called 'thumb jam' and you can write amazing music on it. I'll show ya. (Barry draws out his iphone before enthusiastically showing me this app which requires you to rub your thumbs on the screen, creating a screeching guitar solo sound). I really like making bits of electronic music on me computer. Me and me wife have got a side project band called 'Bastard', and we haven't done anything yet but I want us to be really fast electronic music. You know like maybes play half naked or something, covered in peanut butter, something kinky like a real release.
Lastly, I know you've had 7" vinyl singles, cds and downloads released, but how do you prefer your music? Does it need to be functional or are you a collector?
I'm not fussy to be honest. The format is just the middle man you know, it's just the mode that allows it to be heard. But for me, I'm not a great record collector, Ross is a huge collector. He's got an immense collection, like sickeningly so. I don't have many of our records. I don't collect them, or hold onto them in that way because I think if you do that, if you're constantly harking back and thinking of things in reverse, you're creativity just turns into really contrived worry. I'm chuffed to bits with everything we've ever done but I don't need to listen to it. For me music's invisible, you know, it exists in the air and it goes into your brain and effects your body chemistry, it changes you, it can lift your mood and make you feel ecstatic, and that's what its all about me. And that will always happen, no matter how it's being put across, whether its mp3, blah-de-blah, its always going to be that experience and that's what it's all about.