Tall Poppy Interview: The Futureheads
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Tall Poppy Interview: The Futureheads

Barry Hyde of The FutureheadsAnyone who accuses indie rock darlings The Futureheads of somehow becoming boring after the release of their second album, News & Tributes, need only see them live. At a sweat-filled Phoenix on Wednesday night, the boys from Sunderland, England pulled off a terrific show and proved that ‘energetic’ is still the best word to describe them.
As if scoring the set list that night wasn’t a great enough feeling, Torontoist got to catch up with lead singer and guitarist Barry Hyde for an interview the day after, and talk about the band’s recording process, the fans, “Hounds of Love,” and lots more. Our show review and the chat are after the fold.

Torontonians don’t handle humidity well. We’re used to long winters and quick, merciful summers. That’s why it was so impressive that, on what felt like the muggiest day of the year, inside an unbearably hot venue (Phoenix was never a more appropriate name), The Futureheads somehow managed to extract enormous amounts of audience participation from a capacity crowd. Splitting the room in two to share backing vocal duties on Kate Bush cover “Hounds of Love?” Easy. Encouraging clapping/singing/dancing/some kind of sweat-inducing movement along to pretty much every song? No problem. After the show, when you could actually see the hot and dirty air that had been filling the room, you knew that The Futureheads must’ve done something right.
The band rolled through their set with ease, playing a diverse collection of tracks from the two albums and innumerable EPs worth of material. They bonded with the audience magnificently (even if deciphering their accents in a crowd of screaming fans was a tiny bit tricky at times), and didn’t disappoint anyone. Even the girl three rows back screaming for “Man Ray” for most of the second half of the show got her wish: right after they made fun of her (Barry flailed his arms and yelped “Man Ray” while the rest of the guys chuckled), they played the track. Whether in their music or with their fans, The Futureheads can pull off cheeky very, very well.
Openers Tapes ‘n Tapes have gotten most of the hype lately and played a good, fun, and relatively quick set to start the night, but despite all of the press it became pretty clear that the audience had come for The Futureheads. When the band packed up after their set, a few fans yelled for an encore. Tapes bassist Erik Appelwick answered them (earnestly and so quietly that few past the first row could hear): “it’s not our show.” By all accounts, this was The Futureheads’ night. When they let the crowd go into the relief of the rain just before midnight, after they squeezed in the encore that Tapes ‘n Tapes didn’t get, there were no frowns anywhere.
We spoke to lead singer and guitarist Barry Hyde the day after the show, over the phone before a Detroit concert:
Torontoist: I caught the show last night, it was great!
Barry Hyde: Oh, it was an incredible show. We really, really enjoyed it [laughs].
Torontoist: What do you guys think of Toronto?
BH: I love it. I’ve been there quite a few times now, I think I’ve played there four or five times…it’s a great city, you know, lots of food, lots of beautiful women. We’ve always had a good time in Toronto. Last night was the biggest gig we’ve done on our own; we played Lee’s Palace quite a few times [before], and the crowds got bigger. It was a really good night all-around.
Torontoist: Why did you choose to cover “Hounds of Love,” anyway?
BH: We started doing it years and years ago, well before we had a record deal. Covers are a good way for a young band to learn how to play with each other, out of the pressure of trying to create a new piece of music. So we used to do “Picture of Dorian Gray” by The Television Personalities, a version of the Neil Young song “Piece of Crap,” and [Kate Bush’s] “Hounds of Love.” I like the idea of covering a Kate Bush song, because she’s quite an odd character and you wouldn’t expect it.
Torontoist: And it ended up doing really well…were you surprised by the success of it, or did you anticipate that when you were recording?
BH: Well we’d played it for years before we actually recorded anything, and we knew that it was gonna be a single….We knew that it was gonna do well, because it’s simple, a lot more simple than a lot of our songs. I think we just kind of captured something when we recorded it and did a good version of it. And yeah, it did really well, it gets played a lot, but so does “Decent Days and Nights,” “Skip To The End,” “Meantime,” you know all those [songs]. Commercially, radio-play wise, “Hounds” did the best.
Torontoist: Well, it’s doesn’t seem to overshadow your other songs. It did really well, but at the same time, as you said, you’ve had a lot of hit singles by themselves.
BH: There are people who only know us from that piece of music and that’s fair enough, but the way I see it, if you’re into this band you like more than that, and if you only like that song then you don’t really like us. There’s a lot more to us than that song, is what I’m saying: a fan of that song is a fan of that song, not a fan of The Futureheads. That happens quite a lot: a lot of people who don’t really like music just like one song of a band, but they’re not fans of the band, they’re just fans of that three minutes of music.
Torontoist: At the show last night it was great, because everyone pretty much knew every single song and the entire audience was singing along to everything…
BH: Yeah, it was superb, I mean, we were just over the moon with that gig, you know. Loads of people were there, and we were all still a bit jet-lagged, and I felt a bit ill, but when you play a gig like that, it’s a total breeze to get through. You get a lot of energy from the crowd …. Every band needs just a bit of encouragement and then they’ll perform at their full potential. As soon as people start putting their thumbs up to you, you just grab the ball and you run with it, and you exist on that energy.
Torontoist: News & Tributes still sounds like The Futureheads, but it’s definitely a bit different from your first album. When you were originally writing and recording it, did you set out to do something different, or did it just fall into place that way?
BH: Yeah…I think all of the decisions that we made for the second album were to create [something different]. Basically, we just wanted it to be a different experience. I believe that if you’re having a different experience and you’re in a different place with a different attitude, you’ve gonna make a new album. We didn’t fully prepare this album until we actually went in [to record it], which is another difference: with our first album, we didn’t know that songs that we wrote five or six years ago were ever going to be on an album, we didn’t think, “I’m writing an album,” whereas on this one we knew. We made it a lot more varied in its dynamic, which is what an album should be. We cut our first album as being a collection of songs, and the second album is like a bona fide album: there are some really hard-rocking songs on there, and there are some really mellow songs on there
Torontoist: It definitely feels like a different collection of songs – “Skip to the End” sounds like it could’ve come off of the first album.
BH: Yeah, it’s those kind of songs, the transitional songs, that came around first…[while] “News & Tributes” was one of last ones that we did arrangements on….We realized pretty much straight away that we could pretty much do anything on the album. There’s two sides to releasing stuff, there’s the album and there’s the single. If the singles serve their purpose [and sell], then the rest of the album can be anything, you can do whatever you want. You want to challenge the people who buy your album, you don’t want them to hear it once and go, “Oh, that’s a great album,” and never listen to it again. You want to play them an album, and they go, “Right, ok, I can kind of see what’s going on here. I like it, but I don’t really know what it is,” and then they listen to it again and get into it. And those are the albums that stick with you if you’re a music fan. You listen to albums as a whole thing, and if you challenge the listener then they’re going to be able to get more plays out of it before they just end up just listening to the singles over and over again.
Torontoist: It lends itself well to repeated listens – songs like “Back To The Sea,” for example, that sound much more personal and different. Was that track written based on real life?
BH: It’s one of [singer and guitarist] Ross [Millard]’s songs and it’s about an imaginary man, an old man, who had this certain job for life, and then he comes to retirement and doesn’t know what to do with himself. And that could be referring to us, we’ve been doing this for quite a while. If we stopped doing this, then we’d have a similar type of feeling, you know it’d be like “What time’s sound check?”, and it’d be like “Well, you don’t do that anymore.”
Torontoist: Having a line like “it’s the job or me” [in “Back To The Sea”] sounds like it could apply to you guys. [Music] is your life now.
BH: It has been for quite a long time. I suppose that every musician has that, the decision [between] I’ve been doing this and having to work a hell of a lot harder to keep personal relationships going, or not doing this and being able to concentrate fully on that. It’s this compromise you have to make, and it’s very difficult for anyone to keep a relationship going, not just people on tour, you know? [laughs] It’s not just musicians who have to deal with that, it’s anyone with a career that is moving forward, if you have a dedication to things. If you’re going to do this, you want to be as successful as possible within the realm that you can be. That just takes dedication and confidence, and sometimes personal relationships can suffer, but there’s also times when joys within personal relationships can make the band suffer. Because you really don’t want to be leaving, so for the first few days on the road, you’re a miserable bitch. And then you get back into it. It’s not easy, but there are much harder ways to do it, much harder occupations to have. It’s odd to even think of this as an occupation, because it does occupy our time, but…
Torontoist: Well, you guys are having a lot of fun.
BH: Yeah, totally, you can’t… I don’t view it as being like [an occupation], there’s far too much to gain from it on a – dare I say – spiritual level, a creative level. Playing music, feeling like you’re on some kind of journey, a progression that you continuously follow and try and nurture, and we keep the band tied together on a friendship level. And releasing this album’s been quite a challenge. Making the album was a lot of fun and we did it quite quickly and it wasn’t that difficult second-album syndrome, but the release of the album and stuff like that in various parts of the world, you know, it’s nerve-wracking. In many ways, we’re not really a commercial band.
Torontoist: But you definitely have a following who was waiting for the album…
BH: Oh, totally, we’ve got a definite fan base, but the industry constantly tries to push every band up to this kind of new level, and their idea of progression is album sales. Our idea of progression is…
Torontoist: Actual progression?
Ross Millard (left) and Barry Hyde (right) of The FutureheadsBH: Creative progression, you know; our second album has more detail and is better-executed than our first. We know that, because you hear it and you know that there’s a band there who’s in control and they’re getting a lot out of things. Our first album was a difficult one: we were kids – we still are very young but we were total kids then – and we didn’t know what we were doing, and that’s the real progression for us, it’s to have made this album confidently – just not be as nervous about it. We went and isolated ourselves from everything and came out with the goods, you know? We really did, and regardless of how many people hear it now, that type of achievement lasts forever.
Torontoist: It’s nice to be proud of something you’ve done, too. It’s a great album.
BH: Indeed, but we’re so particular about what we do, we couldn’t have – we wouldn’t have – let anyone hear it if we thought it was rubbish. It’s never happened to us, but I feel like if we were making an album and then halfway through we listened and thought, “This is not going anywhere,” we wouldn’t continue, we’d just stop the session and go and have a rethink. There’s no point in putting all that effort into something that you know you’re not going to be happy with in the end.
Torontoist: What is it like touring with Tapes ‘n Tapes? They’ve gotten a lot of press lately…and even with all that, last night, it seemed like the crowd was really there for you.
BH: Yeah…I think they’re a great band and they’re really nice guys, but certain types of press don’t really sell concert tickets. In England, we’ve always had excellent press, but still, it takes certain fundamental things: you need to go around the block a few times before you get lots of people coming to your shows. They are the band of the moment, definitely, and they seem to be really pleased about that, as any band would be.
Torontoist: You want to see that success continue, though – you wouldn’t want them to kind of fade out or anything.
BH: I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, no, [laughs]. I wish them a world of luck and they seem like the type of guys who’ll take advantage of that and not get caught up in any of the bullshit. They’re probably not considering [the press] when they’re playing shows…they seem to be quite honest and humble.
Torontoist: Are you guys gonna have a chance to relax soon? ‘Cause I know Pitchfork’s coming up…
BH: It’s not our time to relax yet. The album was only released at the beginning of the year. The thing about this band is that we really have to work our asses off on the road to make our music work in any commercial sense, because we don’t get a great amount of radio play, so we have to go to places and convince people that way. Tonight, in Detroit – we’ve only played here once before – and there’s going to be nowhere near as many people there as last night, but the first time or the second time we played in Toronto there was hardly anyone there. All you have to do is play a good show in a town, and the next time you come back, as long as you get the timing right and it’s not too soon, you’re gonna have more people there, because people have talked about it and they’ll want to come and see you again. We understand that. That’s pretty much the only thing that we do understand, that we feel like we have any control of – the live thing.
Torontoist: Do you ever feel any pressure performing, then? Because, for example, if you’re playing in Toronto, you won’t only get fans from Toronto coming out, you’ll get people from all the towns surrounding Toronto coming into the city to see you play, in some cases taking a three or four hour drive just to get down and watch you…
BH: I know, I know…that can’t really happen in the U.K. [laughs], it’s too small. You do feel pressure to do your best. One thing that a lot of bands, us included, struggle with, is…when you’re playing a show and there’s loads of people who are into it, and there might be some people who are at the back talking to each other, and they’re the people that I concentrate on [laughs]. I’m kinda like “Ey, turn ‘round, pay attention to this” and the other people don’t get as good a show. When we talk about the great performers of all time, their shows are massive, their shows are sold out, everyone is there to see them. Anyone can perform well in that circumstance. It’s a challenge to convince a half-full room of people who feel a bit uncomfortable by the fact that there’s not that many people there…to relax and to enjoy themselves, and to get the energy going. It’s hard. We do so many gigs – we did 250 gigs last year – and all of them were fun, some of them were better than others. You don’t know what it’s going to be like. There might be one person when you walk out who looks at you in a way that says: “I’m really excited about this,” and then you just get filled with all this confidence, and then one person in the band gets the confidence, and then it travels member-to-member and then you’ve got a confident band, and that’s the contagious thing that happens, and then…you play a song the audience appreciated, and it goes on and on and on, and then eventually ends in a great feeling at the end of a show when everyone is like, “Yeah, that was a good show.” But at the beginning of the set, not all of them might have been thinking that. If you have conviction, it’s very easy to make people believe you. But it is very difficult to be very convincing every single night, because some nights you just don’t feel like it.
Torontoist: Is it pretty much all for the fans, then? Or is it split between your enjoyment and the fans’? You definitely seem to thrive off of fans having a good time.
The FutureheadsBH: Without a doubt, you know, it’s the stuff that you dream of, gigs like last night. With album releases, if we can satisfy ourselves when we’re recording, if we’re confident, then that satisfaction, that happiness, that confidence will allow our fans to enjoy us more. When you’re in the studio arranging a song, it’s very hard to concentrate on anything other than the actual arrangement. You don’t even think about yourself, you’re trying to find this present but invisible chord change that you know is in the air somewhere and you just have to fumble around and find it, and then you decide whether or not you like it…”That’s a nice chord change, yeah, we like this, we’re getting excited by this, let’s develop this further.” And then you get really proud of the ideas that you put into a song. Just before we start “Return of the Berserker,” I’m just the most excited I’ve ever been. I don’t know how it’s going to be; it’s this spontaneous song that doesn’t have a set structure or a set amount of bars or anything – you leave it up to the night. Sometimes we let it go on for ages. You know, at that moment, I’m just thinking these people might not have heard this song or seen it live, and you just get so excited by it: you get the big guitar solo, and you’re looking ‘round at people to see how they’re reacting, and it’s a really really enjoyable thing to be really excited by a song.
Torontoist: What other bands do you like that are making music right now?
BH: I like Tapes ‘n Tapes. I like a band from Sunderland called Field Music, they’re friends of ours: they record all their own stuff in the rehearsal room that we share with them in Sunderland, and they’ve got a very masterful approach to arrangement. There are two brothers and a great keyboard player in the band, a great live band, we toured with them. There’s a band called Mystery Jets from London who is very eccentric…I think they’ve got six members, five of them are teen-aged boys, and one of them is this 55-year old man, and they make this like unashamed prog-rock…imagine Yes mixed with The Cure. They’ve got these ridiculous little drum rhythms and mad guitar solos, but with a great vocalist who has total pop sensibility. They’ve made a great album, called Making Dens, and it’s really good. I like Deerhoof. They remind us a bit of Blonde Redhead or this kind of very indie experimental pop music. But, you know, I like things to be experimental. Captain Beefheart summed it up perfectly: he said that these standard chord progressions and the standard drum beats that you hear on commercial radio are hypnotic. They hypnotize people, and you want to do something different from that to break up that state. Wake people up and go, “There’s more to life than this.”
Torontoist: When I first heard it the new album, I wasn’t really sure what to think, because it definitely sounded different. And I kept listening to it over and over again, and by the time I got to the show I really liked it. It seems like a lot of other people have felt that way: first reactions are a bit hesistant, since people didn’t really see this coming. [Your 2005 EP] Area came out, and those songs sounded like they would’ve fit in on the first album, it had sort of the same formula. And then News & Tributes comes out and there’s a lot of songs that just sound – they’re still the Futureheads – but they’re these great, more complex songs…
BH: Yeah! And the production was more experimental. It is definitely a grower. But it is interesting; it’s a very human thing to immediately try and have an opinion on something. Everyone does it, myself included. You hear something, and you immediately have to tell yourself whether or not you like it, as opposed to not asking that of it….Some people just automatically cannot go past the first listen with music. My thoughts on that is that if you don’t challenge your ear then you’re an infant. I’d rather be an adult.
Torontoist: A record has to hook you in some way to get you to listen to it a second time, but once it hooks you once, and you keep listening to it, and it keeps rewarding you each time you listen, that’s always the best kind of album…
BH: It’s the best way to go. We live in this day and age where the music industry doesn’t see albums as being a body of work….Record labels want singles. The rest of the album they couldn’t care less about, really. Our record label is a little bit different, but I’m talking about the general music industry – the real machine that decides what everybody listens to – doesn’t care about albums anymore. And it used to, it used to really care, and people used to buy a lot more albums than they do now because of that. [But now] it’s all about the radio, it’s all about three minutes of music, and for that music to be as inoffensive and unchallenging as possible. The bands who make the really good music aren’t the types of personalities who are going to bend over backwards for the music industry. [Instead,] we get these lame musicians who are flaccid who don’t have that much opinion or ambition, and then just say, “There you go, you get A-listing now. Enjoy your life.”
Torontoist: I remember reading about Wilco, when they released Summerteeth. One of the songs, “Can’t Stand It,” was completely designed for radio, and nothing else on the album was like that song. Wilco’s fans got pissed off at them, but they got more people interested in them…but the people who were interested in them weren’t the kind of people who’d enjoy their whole album, and just this whole mess.
BH: You’ve got to be careful. The best way to be, or, at least, the way we do things, is we make small steps, but we do them with strength. If you continue to be consistent in that way, and stay on top of things, you might end up doing something, later in your albums, that is commercially huge, but it’s not important, you’re not rushing to do that. If we ever do become a massive band, then there’ll be no one that’ll be able to say: “They’re just a bunch of fucking chancers who just happened upon a lucky thing by being a little bit sly, copying other bands, or watering down what the good bands do.” If we get there, then we’ll do it properly, and we’ll be U2, not just a bunch of fucking idiots who made two albums and disappear.
Torontoist: So you’re staying around, then?
BH: Yeah, definitely. We’ll keep it together, and we’ll go from strength to strength, and make more albums on various record labels, and work our asses off, and enjoy it.
The Futureheads continue their world tour over the summer, including a stint at The Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this weekend. Photos throughout this article are from Torontoist staffers Carrie Musgrave and David Topping.


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