back to the futureheads

We spoke to Futureheads guitarist Ross Millard about the music scene, a new tour and being northern

29th August 2019

One day 15 years ago, on a grey and otherwise dull evening, I locked myself in my room and put on two of my latest musical purchases. 

The first was The Killers’ Hot Fuss. It was, and still is, a fun but hollow album of Vegas showmanship that people still get wrong (Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll is immensely overrated fluff that distracts from the much better Jenny and Natalie — @ me all you want, you’re wrong). It was entertaining but artificial and distant, like a sales pitch. Indie alt-rock by committee for people who thought Keane were good.

The second album I had purchased, thanks to the Zane Lowe endorsed ads that ran on MTV2 and a late-night stumble across the “First Day” video, was The Futureheads’ self-titled debut album.

With 15 tracks barely making it past 30 minutes listening time, it was over before I knew it. So I put it on again. Then again. Then again. What the hell was this? Lightening fast indie pop-rock that seemed to be about utter nonsense in Mackem accents, compelling me to fidget and drum my desk. And is that a Kate Bush cover? 

It felt exciting and new but had a familiar tone, honesty and, for want of a much better phrase, an Englishness. Specifically, a northern Englishness. That album was a ball of energy that came on the crest of a wave of new music in the UK. The Kate Bush cover, Hounds of Love, got to number 8 in the UK singles chart and resulted in more than a few shoes being thrown, not into lakes, but across many an indie-club dancefloor. 

I’ve proselytised to anyone who’ll listen about that album being an absolute hit factory, and certainly, their follow up material contains some real gems. The Area EP is a treat, the cameo on Print is Dead by Yourcodenameis:milo is excellent and I’ve just got to link to the amazing acapella cover of Black-Eyed Peas’ Meet Me Halfway.

But that DIY guitar-driven scene was flooded, eventually drowning out The Futureheads and leading them to split in 2013. 

Why the comparison to The Killers? Well, aside from it being a true story, life is cruel and Brandon Flowers is still selling his anthemic pop nonsense to the masses behind those dead eyes, only now to a Glasto-sized audience. The Futureheads, however, are starting from scratch; reformed and with a new album released at the end of the month ahead of the 15th-anniversary tour of that first album.

The Overtake caught up with guitarist and vocalist Ross Millard about how things have changed since that first album.

The Futureheads came along at an exciting time for independent, guitar-driven music. How has the landscape changed in your eyes?

Well I think bands have always needed to occupy a niche to appear relevant, so that certainly hasn’t changed, but I think, societally, we’ve tuned in a lot more to personal politics and welfare over the last few years, so we’re seeing more and more artists discuss issues like this in their music. 

London has a huge ego, and people still think of the north like it’s backwards in time or something. I think some southerners are afraid of the north

Not just “guitar bands”, mind you. I think a lot of traditions, and the status quo of “blokes in bands” is being challenged more and more, and that allows for more diverse, interesting music to have a platform. In my opinion, there have been some really exciting guitar-oriented bands come through in the last few years, so the instrument is still inspiring people to make interesting music, clearly.

As you’re celebrating the 15th anniversary of your debut album, what do you know now that you wish you had known 15 years ago? 

Nothing, really. I have great memories of releasing that debut record, and I suppose to be any smarter or wiser at the time would mean to change the experience. I used to get very uptight and anxious about being on top of things, and being kept informed of every little thing that was happening, and around 2008 that just became too exhausting so I’m much more laid back about things now.

But to change that back then would mean taking some of the intensity away, and that would’ve been detrimental to the experience at that time, I think.

Were you aware of how northern you sounded on that first album? Did you find that being from the North East made it easier or harder for you? 

We started the band at a time where most British guitar music was incredibly bland and mid-tempo. The accents of lead singers were indiscernible. The singers we looked up to never shied away from singing in their own voice — it’s a fundamental stylistic decision that you take at the very start of forming a band. I mean, surely it’s more of an effort to NOT sing in your own voice?

 I don’t really care too much about singles, to be honest, which these days is just as well, because they have less relevance than ever for a band like ours

I think being from the North East is a huge part of the identity of the band. It depends what you mean by “harder” but in terms of industry attention/focus/respect, then yeah, definitely. London has a huge ego, and people still think of the north like it’s backwards in time or something.

I think some southerners are afraid of the north. But we see ourselves as ambassadors for the place and quite like the challenge of confounding expectations.

Were you prepared for how big Hounds of Love would be? Obviously, it’ll be on the new tour but was there ever a point where you didn’t want to play it?  

I don’t think we had any idea that we’d even get the chance to release an album at all when we first started playing Hounds of Love, so the idea of it being a Top 10 hit was absolutely inconceivable. We’ve always enjoyed playing it live, though.

On the first album, every song (with the exception of Danger of the Water and Manray) feel like they could have been singles. Was it hard to select tracks that best represented you and your voice in the wake of Hounds?

Picking singles used to be extremely difficult – mainly because we all had very different ideas about the function of a single, and the intention of one.

I think we did alright on that first record – I mean, listening back now, the singles were all probably the right choices. I don’t really care too much about singles, to be honest, which these days is just as well, because they have less relevance than ever for a band like ours.

I mentioned Danger and Man Ray separately because they seem so different from each other and the rest of the album. The first is very gentle and the latter is quite destructive and heavy.

We put Danger of the Water together in the studio at more or less the last minute because we felt like it might be a nice idea to lay off the guitars on a piece of music and focus on the harmony arrangements.

I think it breaks the record up nicely, but looking back now, the arrangements are quite basic and it serves more as a little snapshot of where we were at when we made that first record.  It’s quite understated, which I like. And sad. 

Man Ray is a really popular song in the live set, and we knew that was going to be the last song on the album, which meant we could really go to town on the ending in the studio.

Are you working on a new album? What influences do you think your work outside the band will bring into it?

We’re just about to release a new record, Powers, on 30 August. I think it’s interesting for us because we’re all involved in very different things outside the band now. Every album we’ve ever made has been about seeing how much we can prod and poke that Futureheads identity. 

What can we get away with? Both in terms of being super-conventional, and also quite weird. I like treading the line between convention and the unorthodox — I think we do it well.

What are you looking forward to on the new tour? 

Being able to focus on playing a show at the end of the night.  Reconnecting with Barry, Dave (Hyde – vocals, guitar, drums and brothers) and Jaff (bass) in the way we’re most comfortable – playing music in front of an audience.  Hoping we get to stop at Tebay Services in the van.

29th August 2019