The Futureheads - Interview - Summer 2008
13 Aug 2008
"we realized we were in a position where we could afford to be optimistic, and when you're being optimistic what's happened to you in the past is irrelevant because you have hope..."
A while ago, something remarkable happened. One of the UK's leading guitar bands, The Futureheads, (albeit involuntarily) turned their backs on label 679/Warners and took funding from a group called Big Life to make their third album. The resulting record, This Is Not The World, was one we loved. Early single 'Beginning of the Twist' was mainstream radio play-listed and the commercial value aside, fans were elated to find its parent record was a massive triumph in sound. So overwhelmed were we that we joined the bands ringleaders Barry and Ross for a chat in London's Shoreditch to discuss exactly what had happened.
Rockfeedback: Congratulations on the new record.
Ross:"Some said it would never come."
RFB: Is it fair to say this record is closer to your first LP in that it's a collection of almost garage pop guitar songs? Depending who you ask, of course, News and Tributes was an almost sideways step in your musical evolution that you could argue didn't pay off and wasn't as, shall we say, accepted as (debut LP) The Futureheads.
Barry:"It didn't do as well as the first album, but did better than several bands who consider themselves to be successful. But it's irrelevant now, that aspect, that's not why we got dropped by our label. We got dropped because our label didn't have any money and that would have been regardless of whether we'd sold another 40 or 50,000 records."
RFB: Were you aware of the potential commercial value of your music when you made these songs?
Ross:"I think we had the instantaneous in mind when we made the album but that was as much for ourselves as much for radio or singles or commercial success. We had the glorious benefit of hindsight after our second album and a decent amount of time to get our heads together and realize what went wrong and where we wanted to take this band."
RFB: There seemed a fairly swift turnaround on the new album from the last.
Ross:"Yeah, we cut the News and Tributes touring short because we didn't want to be traipsing around the world off the back of a record that firstly we found difficult to play songs live off and second we didn't have the label support to do that really."
RFB: At what point did the relationship with your label end?
Ross:"After we stopped gigging in November 2006."
RFB: And so did that push you to writing the follow up faster than you might have otherwise?
Ross:"No, because there was still a bit of time there. We were dropped in the November and didn't start recording until the July, so not exactly getting straight on it."
Barry:"I guess we could have, but didn't feel the need to."
Ross:"So much had happened in that short space of time though that it felt like a few years since News and Tributes rather than just over a year."
RFB: Did you find a sense of anti-climax with the last record when you were dropped?
Barry:"The thing about the first record is it was quite a rocky experience. We tried to record with Andy Gill from Gang of Four and that went wrong and we ended up wasting six months. Then it came out and did okay, was reissued and was successful on that reissue. We didn't expect it to be easy [making the second record] based on our experiences from the first, but it was a disappointment. Then again, we understand why it wasn't a commercial success."
RFB: Did the experience make you more nervous writing the follow up?
Ross:"No not at all. By time we came to make this album we'd put everything we'd done out of our minds. Nothing we'd done before affected us. We realized we were in a position where we could afford to be optimistic, and when you're being optimistic what's happened to you in the past is irrelevant because you have hope."
RFB: The record is out on your own Nul Records through Big Life. Was that a decision you came to quickly or did you approach other labels first?
Barry:"We got offered several record deals straight away but they all wanted to hear the new material first."
Ross: "It was all very one foot in and one foot out and very none committal, "we're interested, but...""
Barry: "We knew we would deliver something that would get us signed but thought what's the point in getting out of bed with one record label and into bed with another? We'd still be in the same position, maybe better, maybe worse. Something that we couldn't risk was being worse."
RFB: Did the element of control over your music factor into your decision?
Ross: "The aspect of retaining the copyrights and being solely responsible for a lot more did, of course. The marketing and representation of the album was the thing that sold it to us. We had infinite control under 679 really though, they didn't interfere with the second record at all and helped re-record the first one, so if anything they facilitated us with the creativity. However they also spent a lot of money that wasn't worth spending and when it came to it couldn't offer us the money we were due contractually, y'know, for our wages and stuff. So, it was basically the fact we knew we had a small team of individuals who were independently contracted who could do radio and press, and if we worked closer with them could make more of a success of our own label than we'd seen the people make of 679, really."
Barry: "Being in a band on your own label now is a very safe position to be in because there are of casualties and a lot of bands going down because of what's happening in the music business."
RFB: You only need to take a five second glance at the state of British music right now to see that.
Barry: "Exactly, a lot of bands are going to disappear and be murdered by the problems, these big political problems, record labels are having... and we're not part of that."
Ross: "You've got these big venture capitalists that are trying to steer the ship of the music industry and they don't know where they're going. Pretty soon that's going to infiltrate the music industry even more and I almost feel you're going to have corporate sponsors helping young musicians."
RFB: Dare we mention McFly who are in talks with a McDonalds sponsorship...
Ross: "Really?! And that stuff is going to happen more and more. We're pretty savvy individuals and we didn't want to put the fate of our band into the hands of someone who didn't know what they were doing with it."
RFB: Did you have any thoughts on putting the album out through Longest Mile?
Ross: "The thing about Longest Mile was that I started that with some friends when I had some time before making the third record. The idea of that label is very different from Nul Records in that it's meant to be a little stepping stone, boutique label just for 7 inches. I certainly wouldn't want to be responsible, single handedly, for being the label for this band. I think we're all very capable and all wanted to have a part of what we did."
RFB: Did you find any skepticism from the audience, as though this was a final chance for a commercially failing band?
Barry: "I think until 'Broke Up The Time' and 'Beginning Of The Twist' there might have been a little bit of cluelessness from the fans. People would ask if we'd got a label yet and I'd say we were going to put it out ourselves... and I think for a while when we weren't in the magazines and on the radio they might have thought this was the last chance saloon. Now it's all in the public consciousness."
RFB: I think there was a massive sigh of relief, as a fan, when '...The Twist' was being played and we knew you were back on form, fighting stronger, arguably, than ever before. It must be satisfying to know you're doing better than ever before, and on your own terms, though I image the learning curve you've been up against must have been extreme?
Barry: "Yeah, since 2000 we've been on that curve and there are always things to learn. It's a bit of a steep one recently but it's levelling off again. It's still a curve, it's just easier to run up."
RFB: Is there a sense of relief now the record is out there and you can get back to being a live band?
Barry: "We've done a lot of gigs and prepared ourselves and now we're ready to deliver. It's great for our confidence to know we're playing festivals and going back to America. As a band the only indicator to know how well you're doing is by how many festivals you're playing. If you get booked onto a festival it shows you have relevance and that's all you want."
Ross: "It's going to be magic now the record is out and people will know the songs."
RFB: Have you found that the old fan base have been loyal over the last two records? How vital do you think it is to keep the old fans on board while trying to make new ones?
Barry: "I do think so, then also we've got new fans off the back of '...The Twist'. You look out at a crowd and there's kids who would have been too young to know 'Hound of Love' or 'Decent Days and Nights'."
Ross: "You see young faces in the crowd and you realize you do have relevance and are doing something that excites people."
RFB: Will this be the album to bring in new fans and usher a new line of success?
Barry: "We hope this album will increase our fan base but we're realistic about it. The benefit of doing it on your own label is that you can be realistic... and modest. We worked out that we were going to have to sell six or seven million albums on our third record to go back to zero with Warners and that was completely unrealistic. We're not the kind of band who will do that, we're not Snow patrol or whoever. We're not that type of band, but if we sell, say, a hundred thousand albums we could make more money than a band on a major selling millions because we're not getting ripped off. We're getting paid fairly for what we do, so there's no need to take over the world and we can gradually build it up so we can finance our fast cars we like to buy and keep the gold houses nice and shiny, and also y'know, maybe have enough money to make another album."
Ross: "Yeah, it's about feeling like you've made a contribution. We formed the band because we love the idea of writing music and making music and a lot of bands form with the same idea, but slowly and surely, especially for bands on majors, the motivations slip and they want to maintain success to avoid being dropped and have to go back to doing something crap."
Barry: "Literally doing anything they can to sell the millions of albums because if you don't sell millions you get nothing in return. Our first two albums weren't million selling, we know that, but that's not because they failed... they've just never meant to be that big."
Ross: "This is maybe our most punk rock statement to date, which is kind of ironic since our first two records were made in squats... but it's all some full circle and I think we're really glad that these principals still apply to this band, only now they're on a much bigger scale than ever before."