The Futureheads are a four-piece post-punk band from Sunderland, England. The band consists of Barry Hyde (guitar), Ross Millard (guitar), David “Jaff” Craig (bass), and Dave Hyde (drums), and ladies, they can all sing, so there are plenty of front men to go around. Their music is fast-paced with surprising harmonies. I spoke to the guitarist, Ross, whilst he waited for a sound check in the miserable weather of Manchester. At 26, this was my first international call. How much does a forty minute call to England cost?
Kaffeine Buzz: Thanks for doing the interview, I appreciate it. I’ve been listening to the album and it’s pretty damn good.
Ross Millard: (Laughs) Thanks very much. I appreciate that, it took us long enough to get it out.
KB: I was actually going to ask you about that, can you tell me a bit of what you went through to get this out?
RM: Yeah, we recorded all at once with Andy Gill, he was the guitar player with The Gamma Four, round about Oxford. When we got back from tour, we listened to the rough mixes on the album, and well we all thought we could’ve made a much better record. I don’t think a lot of the songs were done their justice, you know? So we went back to the record label and said we want to rerecord some of these tracks because we think we can make them sound a lot better than they do here, and they were cool with that. So we ended up recording about ten songs with a friend of ours, Paul, who we finished the record with.
KB: So, you kind of did it twice then.
RM: More or less. At least three quarters of it has been re-recorded. I quite like that, because at least we know that those versions we’ve got are kinda like the definitive versions, the best we could make those songs sound. It was a difficult decision to make, but I don’t think I could be content, touring on the back of a record I wasn’t really happy with you know? It’s important to have some confidence in your own album isn’t it?
KB: I should certainly think so, but what do I know? Can you give me a brief history of the band for those of us across the pond that perhaps aren’t familiar with you?
RM: Absolutely. I met Jaff, our bass player, in 1998 at college. We started going to a sort of council initiative youth project thing, which was designed to get kids off the street in Sunderland. It interested us in playing guitars and drum-kits and stuff like that. It was a good way for us to meet other people who wanted to form bands, and had ideas of making music together. There we met Barry and Dave who are brothers and had been going to it for a couple of years. We played together for a while at the project, and when we got a bit too old to be bothering to go anymore, we started rehearsing in Barry’s garage as The Futureheads. We put some songs together, and I don’t think we played out of our hometown for about eighteen months. Our first shows outside of our hometown was a tour of European squat clubs, youth centers, and coffee houses. It was all very DIY, a friend of ours booked all of the shows, and it was all very spur of moment. It was exciting because it was our first sort of proper tour. It was so exciting that we decided to go home and quit our jobs, and I had to finish up at university as quickly as possible so we could devote as much time as possible to the band.
KB: Now I know you opened for Franz Ferdinand over here, but is this your first actual tour of the States?
RM: Yeah, we did South by Southwest, and toured some with Franz, but we’re coming back in November to do our own shows. It’s going to be pretty exciting actually, because it’s completely different from doing a tour in England actually. Every state almost has it’s own climate, it’s like a lot of little countries in one. And the drives are different. On this tour were doing in England I think the longest drive is like six hours, but in America you can drive for two and a half days in between shows. It’s quite exciting for us though, you get to see a lot of America that way. Last time we didn’t even want to go to bed because there was that much stuff rolling by, like the desert and then the Rockies. Our eyes were on stalks all the time.
KB: Yeah, well if you drive through Arkansas and Kansas feel free to go to sleep, there’s not a whole lot to see there. Um, let’s see, what else did I have to ask you? Excuse me if I sound somewhat daft, but I went on a bit of a bender last night. Are you a partying band or is it more business like?
RM: Well, I don’t know. We like to go out and have drink after a show, with the bands we tour with and good friends. It’s nice to hang out after a show out especially on tour because it’s the time when everyone can forget about all of the stress and just have a good time. It depends, in England a lot of places are pretty crappy to go to when you’re finished playing so it’s better to go back to the hotel or the bus and just have a few drinks with your mates. By and large a lot of the bars in England are really horrible places, just loads of meatheads hang out and punch people. So it’s better to have a private affair, do you know what I mean?
KB: Yeah, well, we have a lot of bars like that here too.
RM: (Laughs) Yeah, but we found a lot of cool places to go over there, like this great jazz bar in Chicago. A lot of the bars in America stay open later in too, everything shuts up in England at eleven. There’s nightclubs to go to, but that’s a different kind of fish altogether with them. In America you can go and hang out until one or two in the morning.
KB: In some places four, but you gotta be careful or you’ll wake up in a bush. Speaking of the differences between our two nations, your album is very, well… British. Do you think it will translate to an American audience or do you even care?
RM: I think it is something we’re bothered about. Although, when we went over and did the Franz tour, something that really surprised us, was that despite not anyone in the crowd having a clue who we were, it was nice how the people in the crowd warmed to us. After a couple of songs you’d see people down in front moving around and getting into it and enjoying themselves. We were much better received on that tour that we had ever imagined possible. I think there’s something different about American audiences to British, people seem to appreciate musicianship a little more in America. In my experience they seem to be there more to have a good time rather than to be cool. That’s why I’m interested in the small club tour we’re going to be doing, because touring in England is completely different in the north where we’re from, and then going to London, where people are mostly interested in what the fashion magazines have written about you. People are there to be seen and not listen to the music. It gets a little depressing, so it’s nice to play in places where people are there to hear the band.
KB: I wanted to ask you about your songwriting. Most of your stuff seems to be about everyday life. What drives the band’s songwriting process?
RM: A couple of the songs on this record were written a couple of years ago like “Decent Days” and “Nights and Meantime,” so it’s difficult to get a lyrical theme going through the album. I think a lot of the topics are all over the place. The song, “The City Is Here For You To Use,” is all about our experiences with having to visit London a lot and liaise with record labels and all of that industry stuff. It was all kind of alien to us at the time because where we’re from there’s no record labels and hardly any venues for bands to play. So that song was us getting used to getting out of our hometown and getting used to a sprawling metropolis. I think the majority of the album is about us wanting to get out of where we’re from and experience places across the world and play to as many people as possible, and get out of the boring traditionally British lifestyle that we could have quite easily fallen into.
KB: “Danger of the Water” is almost an a cappella song, and I noticed that a lot of the songs on the album have four part harmonies, making it seem as if the band has four front men as opposed to the traditional one. How did that come about?
RM: When we rehearsed together in Barry’s garage, we didn’t have a vocal PA or microphones, so the only way we could communicate was by shouting as loud as we could over the top of the instruments. By the time we got the stage where we had equipment, we would all automatically shout at the same time, and we would all use our voices. When it came to the point where we could arrange vocal melodies, we thought that there was no point in holding back on three of us. We thought we could use that power, because four voices creates more of a wall of sound. We don’t use any effects pedals on the guitars and the guitars are played quite cleanly and hard. When you have that brute impact it’s good to have four people singing. When we play live it’s a lot of people to look at and take in. It took a lot of practice in the beginning, let me tell you. It can still get horribly Spinal Tap at some moments.
KB: Well besides Spinal Tap, who would you list as some of your major influences?
RM: Between the four of us, I think we are all into pretty different stuff. I think that helps us in the band. I’ve always been into American hardcore sort of indie-rock like the Minutemen, Black Flag, and Fugazi, all that sort of stuff really. Barry’s more into minimalism like Terry Reilly and that help with the arrangements. So in a way we have the brutality of those hardcore bands, but we also have the dynamics and the melodies of the minimalist classical music I suppose. The other two guys, Jeff and Dave, are both big harmony fans. Even things as obvious as the Beach Boys help in the layering of the vocals. I think there’s something in there for all four of us to be excited about when we play live.
KB: When you come here are you touring with anyone in particular?
Ross: I think we’re using local support bands. We were trying to get something together with The Roger Sisters, but we couldn’t get anything in place. I think the plan is to come back in February, so hopefully by then we’ll have sorted out some good support for people.
KB: So what should we expect from your show when you come to Denver?
RM: Something that’s probably quite aggressive and also quite poppy at the same time. We are quite confident, but I think it is also important for us to have a good time. I think it’s difficult for an audience to get into a show when they look up and see four miserable bastards on the stage. So it’s really important that we are all enjoying ourselves. Actually, it will probably be more exciting for us than the fans because we are playing smaller clubs, and it’s going to be more like what we were used to when we started out. Our first tour was all about making a first impression, and it will be like that in Denver, because we didn’t make it out there last time. So we are going there with something to prove.
KB: Thanks for doing the interview, I look forward to your show.
Ross: No worries, come say hello. Cheers mate.
The Futureheads will be bringing their concise, high-energy brand of rock to the Larimer Lounge on November 13th. Fans of post-punk should enjoy this band that brings a new take on the genre.