The Futureheads Biography
Four years later, the sets are longer (and the venues more impressive than a cricket club), but the bracing attitude remains. The U.K. foursome -- Millard, 22, guitarist Barry Hyde, 23, drummer Dave Hyde, 19 and one-named bassist Jaff, 22 – blasts through 14 tracks of rollercoaster rock'n'roll on their self-titled debut, making taut, tuneful and uncluttered noise that simply can't be pigeonholed.
Which is not to say that critics haven't tried, especially since Gang Of Four's Andy Gill produced a few songs on the record (Paul Epworth, sometimes soundman for The Liars and The Rapture, handled the rest). But can you really pin down a band of avowed minimalists whose sonic palette still includes head-on-the-ceiling aggression, can't-get-'em-out-of-your-head melodies and spiky art-rock rhythms? How many young combos have the range to cover Kate Bush, remix a single for The Streets, record an acapella ballad and open for Franz Ferdinand across America, all in the same year?
"By and large we're a punk rock band, but with twists and turns all over," says Millard. "The idea is to be hard and aggressive and in-your-face, but also really danceable and celebratory and fun."
The Futureheads planted their first musical seed at the lottery-funded Sunderland City Detached Youth Project, which proffered drums, guitars and pianos as a way to keep kids off the streets. Barry worked there as a tutor, and was in a band with Jaff. Ross was an arty student outcast type, in search of both camraderie and free rehearsal space. The boys stayed true to the project's public service mission by working up such timeless ditties as "Do You Sniff Glue?" and "The Condom Song."
Barry's little brother Dave joined later, just in time for a European "squat tour," during which the band slept on floors, played 14 gigs in 14 nights and honed their sound to strop-and-razor keenness. After a self-released 7-inch debut (which included the songs "Robot" and "Stupid And Shallow"), they put out two EPs on London indie Fantastic Plastic, toured like mad (including a stop at SXSW 2004) and signed with Sire/Startime International (via U.K. imprint 679 Recordings).
Although now-obligatory comparisons to XTC, Devo, Wire and the Slits are not entirely unfounded, as '90s teenagers the Futureheads were bigger fans of U.S. punk and indie -- Pavement, Shellac, Fugazi, Les Savvy Fav – as well as Captain Beefheart and minimalist composers Steve Reich and Terry Riley. "We like stuff that's really disciplined," says Ross. "Confident music that's played well. A lot of bands sacrifice musicianship, saying it's not cool, or it's unnecessary. Knowing which chords to play when you're in harmony with someone is not useless."
They were also influenced by what they *didn't* want to sound like -- the bloated corpse of Britpop. "Where we got our sound was just doing things totally opposite to the bands that were around," says Barry. "No effects pedals, no solos, no talking in between songs, not a lot of repetition of ideas."
Anti-Britpop, however, did not mean anti-English. The band made a conscious decision to sing in their Northern "Mackem" accents, rather than the half-Brit, half-Yank intonation unique to rock'n'roll. "The mid-Atlantic accent," Barry calls it. "But nobody really lives in the middle of the ocean." Adds Ross, "How can anyone believe in what you're trying to say if you're not singing in your own voice?"
With the Futureheads, it's four voices. Though Ross and Barry are ostensibly the leads, all four members sing, in a remarkable volley of chorus, call-and-response and harmony that cinches the band's sound – and also their live dynamic. "We want people's eyes to constantly flicker across the stage," says Ross. And to sing along. "*Everyone* should sing," enthuses Barry. "When you sing really loud, it releases chemicals into your brain that make you feel happy."
That feeling is all over The Futureheads, from the classically catchy anthem "Carnival Kids," (which Ross wrote as a bit of an "up-yours" to the lunch-money stealing grade schoolers who haven't evolved any further as adults) to the cocktail of monolithic riffing, understated drums and vocal deliria that is "Decent Days And Nights." Sharper hooks and more satirical lyrics are on display with "First Day" and "Stupid And Shallow," while the disquieting "Danger In The Water," is the acapella track ("with a bit of Fender Rhodes keyboard in there just to keep the rhythm straight," Ross concedes). Finally, there's the scintillating, unexpected take on "Hounds Of Love." "People like it because they've heard it before, but it's done in a different way," says Barry. "She seems to be the type where people either think, 'Kate Bush, she's horrible,' or 'Kate Bush, she's a genius’ – which is the best way music should be."
In other words, fresh, challenging and impossible to just ignore – much like the Futureheads themselves.