With a huge debut album and 12-month tour behind them, you don’t need a crystal ball to tell that further success is in The Futureheads’ sights...
“It’s not really what you expect at a music festival, is it?” muses Barry Hyde of The Futureheads. “I mean, it’s hardly Glastonbury. We were looking out of our dressing room and we had this unbelievable view right out across the fjords – I ended up going for a swim in my boxer shorts. It was like being in Valhalla or something.”
He’s talking about the Quart Festival, one of Norway’s largest live music events, which takes place every year in a spectacular location in Odderøya, surrounded by forests, fields and ice-cold fjords. Despite the idyllic setting, it’s been a long, hard year for The Futureheads. Following the release of their eponymous debut album back in September 2004 to critical acclaim and massive popular success, the band has been on an almost non-stop tour for the last twelve months around the UK, Europe, Australia, Japan and the USA. Not to mention Cornwall’s very own Surfers Against Sewage Ball...
“To be honest, three or four months ago we were all getting pretty fed up with it,” adds Barry, one of the band’s two guitarists (and also one of its four – count ‘em – four singers). “It can be really tough being constantly away from home, travelling to a new place every day, and not really being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What you do when you’re in a band is really pretty simple – you make an album and then you go out and play gigs. It can be the best thing in the world – but it can be bloody hard sometimes, too.”
And there’s no doubt that The Futureheads have worked hard for their success. Though they’ve only been on the radar of the mainstream music press for the last 18 months or so, the band have been plugging away for the last five years, building their reputation as a formidable live act around London and the rest of the UK while defining their unmistakeable sound – a full-throttle, take-no-prisoners barrage of ear-shredding guitar, syncopated rhythms, close vocal harmony and plenty of post-punk, art-rock attitude.
Formed in 2000 in a chilly garage in Sunderland (apparently the band’s frenetic playing style owes much to the sub-zero temperatures in which they rehearsed in the early days), The Futureheads drew musical inspiration from a diverse range of influences – from the experimentation of 1960s artists like The Beatles and Captain Beefheart, to the DIY attitude of the 1970s punk scene and the explosive sound of post-punk bands like Fugazi, Devo and Gang of Four. They’re even happy to admit to some rather less fashionable influences – Queen, the Cocteau Twins, and of course Kate Bush, whose Hounds Of Love memorably gave the band one of their breakthrough hits.
“In our very first rehearsal, we all knew we had something as a band, a sound and an attitude we could really take somewhere,” recalls Barry. “We’ve always had loads of ideas about how to develop musically – right from the outset our approach has always been about avoiding clichés and easy options. We’re from Sunderland – you know; not a very glamourous, rock-star kind of place – and I think people appreciated the fact that we weren’t trying to hide where we come from. It’s always been about the music first; everything else is really just a distraction.”
Thanks to their ferocious live presence (the band have been known to treat their early gigs as a kind of “musical attack”) and their distinctively British sound, The Futureheads have often found themselves lumped in with other emerging UK bands like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and Kaiser Chiefs – a phenomenon labelled (rather unimaginatively) by the mainstream music press as the latest ‘British Invasion’.
“It just goes with the territory, I guess,” Barry reflects. “They’re all good bands, and we’ve played with most of them at some time or other. I see it as a kind of ten-year cycle – for five years it’s bands from the States that get all the attention, and then for the next five years it’ll be new bands from Britain. The next thing’ll probably be a heavy metal comeback or something. And nobody really wants that, do they?”
But despite the best efforts of the British media, The Futureheads are determined to stick to their own game-plan and avoid becoming pigeonholed. “It’s always been about short-term goals with us – finish the next song, record the new album, make the next gig as good as it can possibly be. I don’t think that’s ever going to change,” adds Barry.
Once the last leg of their gruelling year-long tour is done and dusted, the band are planning on returning to the studio to lay down a new album and typically, it’s guaranteed to contain a few surprises – both for the band’s devoted army of fans and the music press. “I think we’re moving in a different direction with our new songs,” Barry explains. “I’d like our music to become a little more joyous, a little more uplifting – something that people could dance to a bit more. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out, to be honest. We just want to continue to develop, experiment and explore what we can do as a band.”