When my sister and I spoke with frontman Matthew Healy of The 1975 the day before his birthday, he was in Berlin, readying himself for a show. “Bowie lived here with Iggy Pop,” he mentioned. An amazing city, we agreed, an artful place. But more, it’s an apropos city from which a man such as Healy may speak: a famously creative and evolving city in cross-reference with its darker earlier years, a place steeped in music that straddles aesthetics and histories of pasts and futures both.
The 1975’s newest album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, is both confidently new and knowingly self-referential to past works, both their own and the music that inspired it. “The new album almost makes jokes about the naiveté of the first album; there’s a wisdom or knowing about myself that replaces the naiveté,” he said. “The first album was about, ‘When will I resolve myself?’ or ‘When will I better myself?’… This album is more about self-acceptance.”
The world at large, too, is beginning to accept — and embrace and pine for and adore — what The 1975 brings to the table. From a narrow-minded, categorical PR standpoint, they’re slightly confounding and have been a lightning rod for criticisms and furrowed brows: Are they sincerely emotional, or imitatively? Are they reinvigorating and innovating the past, or thieving from it? Can they really be that talented and indie and famous and beautiful? “It annoys the fucking hell out of me,” Healy said of the somewhat sex-symbol status he and his bandmates have earned in some circles and the suspicions that have ensued. “When I started the band, I didn’t even think about what we looked like. I’m an anti-sex symbol; I’m definitely on the weird end of the spectrum.”
Healy acknowledges the first album encapsulated the band’s most nascent years, with songs written over a 10-year period of time. “You had songs like ‘Menswear’; ‘Sex’ is juvenile in a nice way — I understand where the misconceptions came from,” he said of the early boy-band accusations. It was all about context, he explained. Healy described the new phase as being in conversation with the old, referencing past lyrics and motifs with new sounds and visuals. “It’s very conversational — it’s a cultivation of our little world and who we are, and the essence of that is subtextual things. Self-awareness is so important to us and our music.”
And in some ways, they’re back where they began. “It’s kind of like doing it again from the beginning — and it’s kind of weird. I had the whole two years of touring and came to know the whole experience, and now it’s evolving again,” Healy said. As the band’s fame has expanded, the lead singer has gone further inward, and yet as the inner circle has closed, his musical mission has become more broad-minded and communal. “It’s a really weird phase. I’ve almost become more altruistic as I’ve become more insular.” While the first album was “very wrapped up in my desire for people to know who I was,” he is now more of a craftsman — focused on creating the best work he can.
Healy hopes to connect with the fans on a deep level and speaks of music in a big-picture way as a uniting force. It’s not uncommon for him to ask fans at concerts to turn their cell phones off for a song — not in an aggressively Luddite way but as a reminder of why they’re all there in the first place: to share the presence of music. “It’s about appreciating that we’re all in a room, not pretending that we’re not,” he said.
The 1975 plays with The Japanese House on Thursday, April 21, at 7 p.m. at the S.B. Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.). For tickets and more information, call (805) 962-7411 or see sbbowl.com.