Making music about climate change

British band The 1975's upcoming album has Swedish teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg doing a monologue

Matty Healy, singer of popular British band The 1975, performing at The Star Theatre last week.
Matty Healy, singer of popular British band The 1975, performing at The Star Theatre last week. PHOTO: MARCUS LIN

Artists need to stand up and take a stand, says Matty Healy, singer of popular British band The 1975.

Speaking to The Straits Times in an interview before the band's performance at The Star Theatre last Monday, the 30-year-old was discussing the role musicians can play in pushing for positive change.

"I'm surprised I don't see more of it," he says. "A lot of big artists that are expected to do it made their audience on (the back of) apathetic escapism. Maybe they don't feel like it's their job or that they would do it very well."

The 1975 have used their music as a platform for climate issues. A song from their upcoming fourth album, Notes On A Conditional Form, features Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg doing a monologue on the ecological crisis.

The band also recently started selling "upcycled" T-shirts as merchandise, printing new designs on unsold stocks of their old T-shirts.

Healy says he grew up listening to hardcore bands who sang passionately about the causes they believed in.

The 1975's newest single People, released last month, is a fast-paced and aurally aggressive song that harks back to the hardcore/punk sound of his youth. It is a striking contrast to the more melodic and pop-rock oriented hits that the band is known for, such as Girls (2013) and The Sound (2015).

Healy says the new single is not representative of the rest of the songs on the upcoming album, due to be released in February.

Like previous The 1975 albums, Notes On A Conditional Form will not be tied down to a single style of sound.

"The reason I don't have a genre is that when I hear music I like, music I love, I tend to feel like 'Oh, I understand why it's like that'.

"I understand hardcore and post-hardcore, I understand soul music. I'm just talking about emotionally, like I understand why I'm getting that feeling, so it's trying to figure out how they do that."

He adds that despite the prominence of pop, hip-hop and electronic music acts on the commercial charts, guitar-led bands such as The 1975 will always have their place in contemporary music.

"There's always going to be alternative culture, so if guitars are alternative to the culture, then yeah, they will survive."

The band's last album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018), did well among fans and critics. It topped the British charts and led to two prizes at this year's Brit Awards, for British Album of the Year and British Group. It also earned them Ivor Novello Awards for songwriters, as well as a nomination for the Mercury Prize, one of United Kingdom's top music honours.

The reception to A Brief Inquiry has not shaped how its successor is turning out, Healy says.

"It really hasn't and that kind of scares me. Getting used to the idea of any reception, good or bad, having an effect on my output always really scares me, but never really happened."

Healy has gotten used to fans scrutinising the band's lyrics, songs and artwork to look for hidden meanings and references.

"That's part of my creative process. It comes from video games I think. Like when I used to find actual Easter eggs in the video games, I felt like the interface between me and the game disappeared for a minute. I felt like I was having a face-to-face, like I was personally addressed."

And while the recent concert was The 1975's third gig in Singapore - they also performed here in 2014 and 2016 - Healy recounts an unforgettable incident during a visit here with his mother, British actress/presenter Denise Welch, when he was a child.

"I got abducted for half an hour," he recalls.

They were in a shop where his mother put him down and a woman picked him up.

"I must have wandered over. Someone was like 'Oh cute baby', or whatever, and picked me up and said: 'Oh, I'm going to show my friends the cute baby'.

"She went like several stalls down. My mum freaked out and thought I had been kidnapped.

"Maybe I would have had a different life if I was brought up here."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2019, with the headline Making music about climate change. Subscribe