You can say what you like about the NME (and most people do) but it does have a knack of putting some cracking tours together. This year’s edition of the NME Tour features hot prospects the Kaiser Chiefs, Play Music favourites Bloc Party, and the latest candidates for indie superstardom, the Killers.
And then there’s the Futureheads, the band that looks set to scream into the Top Ten at the end of February with their long-awaited cover version of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”. Imminent chart success is a far cry from the band’s early days, playing anywhere that would have them around their native North East. So as we sit down with guitarists Barry Hyde and bespectacled Ross Millard at the Cambridge Corn Exchange there’s only one question on our lips; out of all four bands on this tour, who would win a game of football?
“I think we would,” decides Barry after a moment’s consideration.
“The Kaisers aren’t bad,” concedes Ross. “We had a bit of a kick around with them in Norwich.”
“Our secret weapon is our Dave,” reveals Barry, clearly proud of his drummer and brother’s athletic prowess. “He never does sport. He doesn’t ever run, but when he does he’s the fastest runner on earth. And he’s really strong. He runs for 20 minutes and then he’s done for the year. I remember once we were playing football and Dave just appeared with his velvet trousers rolled up. And he was absolutely amazing!”
When I last checked on the Futureheads, their debut album had arrived to critical acclaim and solid, if hardly spectacular, sales. However, with “Hounds of Love” currently filling up most of the TV and radio airtime that isn’t already taken up by the Killers, all that is about to change.
“Warners have deleted the album and are re-releasing it in March with a bonus DVD and a couple of extra mixes,” explains Ross. “I think they’re giving it the push it perhaps didn’t initially get.”
One thing that’s definitely made the band and label optimistic is getting on a tour like as good as this. Second on the bill, but first when it comes to well-drilled stagecraft, it’s been a fun time for a band that have long since lost count of the number of gigs they’ve played.
“It’s been an odd one in the fact that the Killers could sell out these venues in their own right,” reckons Ross. “We’ve discovered we’ve been playing to a lot people who have never heard us before. I don’t think that was the intention of the tour but at the same time it’s really good for us. We’re playing to new people and winning over new fans.”
“We’ve been basically gigging non-stop since September,” adds Barry. “We toured America twice at the back end of last year supporting Franz Ferdinand, then came back and toured with the Zutons. We got into the support band mentality where you don’t have high expectations of how you’re going to be received, but you also have a lot of excitement and the possibility that people might be blown away by you. And that’s something that we love; the Trojan horse style surprise attack!”
“The Zutons’ crowd aren’t the typical sort of people who would come and see us play ordinarily,” admits Ross. “So it was good for us in terms of picking up a few extra fans here and there. Some nights can be tough but you’re not really losing anything when you’re the support band. It’s the ultimate safety, so long as you’re not the support band forever. It’s basically just picking up fans and if people don’t like it, they don’t like it. It’s not like people are coming to your headline show and being indifferent about it.”
These guys should know a thing or two about doing gigs. 2004 saw the band play over one hundred and eighty shows all over the world, and that total looks to rise by at least seventy this year. For four of the most down to earth blokes you’re ever likely to meet, it’s been, if not a meteoric journey, then at least one that’s covered a lot of miles.
“I feel like we have come a long way,” agrees Barry. “At the same time, things happen so gradually and with so much anticipation that it’s difficult to measure. It’s difficult to remember what it was like to throw everything in the back of Jaff’s mother’s car. We had shitty gear but it didn’t matter at the time. We were just really excited about everything.”
“It was weird because things were hinted at a long time before they were actually achieved,” explains Ross. “So by the time you achieve them, it’s not underwhelming, but it’s just an ordinary thing. Like putting out the record. We knew we were going to do that for months before it came out. So it was like, that’s done—let’s move on to the next thing. It’s not being ungrateful but it’s difficult to get excited about those things. The excitement comes from different areas now—playing shows and meeting people who love the band.”
If the Futureheads are losing any love for the road they’re not showing it. Despite living in a slightly cramped bus (three out of four Futureheads are well over six feet tall) they’re totally comfortable with each other and their lives as growing rock ‘n’ roll celebrities. It may be four in the afternoon in Cambridge but it still takes us five minutes to walk the ten yards from the venue to the bus parked outside. An army of indie kids pounce on the band as we leave through a side door, scrabbling for autographs, photos, and guest-list spots.
“Around shows there are always kids hanging out looking for the bands,” smiles Barry once we’re safely inside. “I enjoy it, as long as they’re not too cocky. It’s like, ‘You’re a bit wide sunshine!’”
“For the most part it’s a great thrill to have kids outside who want to meet you because you’ve made a record that they enjoy,” beams Ross. “That’s pretty special.”
Despite being one of the most region-specific bands on the planet—their distinctive “Eh-uh-oh” harmonies reeking of their native North East—the Futureheads have been taking plenty of notes from their time in America. And not all of them were about making major label videos.
“That was brilliant,” smiles Barry, recalling the “Hounds of Love” shoot. “We did it in the woods near Los Angeles at like, five in the morning with loads of cameramen and smoke machines and cranes with Super Trouper lights on them. It was like being in a film.”
“It felt a bit weird to have all that crew there just to make our video,” agrees Ross. “There are moments like that every now and again when you realise people are putting a lot into this aside from the four of us.”
“They do it differently in America,” continues Barry. “They’ve got it down a bit better over there. If you notice when American bands come over here, the big ones—whether you like them or not is irrelevant—they’re always in their thirties. It’s so much more competitive over there. Even to get a manager you’ve got to be really, really lucky.”
“Another thing about American groups is they don’t seem to make apologies for themselves,” insists Ross. “We started out doing the DIY circuit, which is a different realm to what a lot of bands on Warners come from. Along the way you meet a lot of American indie bands touring in Transits, and they’d ask if you were doing Glastonbury that year. You’d say yes and they’d say, ‘Aw, we wish we were doing Glastonbury.’ They don’t look down their noses at you. The line between indie and mainstream or independent and major label is far more blurred in America than it is over here.”
Despite the Futureheads’ DIY roots, then, there wasn’t a moral dilemma when it came to signing with Warners.
“It’s enabled us to tour where we want to tour,” explains Ross. “We can play shows anywhere and they allow us to do that without having to worry about covering our costs. They’re going to market the record and they’ve done it with integrity. I don’t think we’ve had to compromise much. They allowed us to re-record our record when we weren’t happy with it.”
“There are pros and cons to everything,” clarifies Barry. “Even at a decent indie the funding is going to run out. There’s no tour support left and you can’t do anything. You can’t promote the album and you can’t go out and have fun any more.”
We suspect Barry’s speaking with his tongue lodged firmly into his cheek. Because despite these multi-band tours traditionally being hotbeds of rock ‘n’ roll excess, something about this particular line up suggests nights on the bus sipping fine single malt scotches and playing Madden 2004.
“This is the most conservative line-up they’ve had in terms of that debauched shit,” admits Ross. “We’re all fairly regimented people who don’t really spend too much time on that sort of, er, tip.”
If there is a newfound maturity to this generation of rock musicians, it’s not just reflected in how they spend their time off stage. Sure the days of nu-metal bands in baseball caps and baggy shorts are over, but following tours featuring Lostprophets and Funeral for a Friend, the musical output of these four acts just seems more, well, cerebral.
“It’s just a cycle,” sighs Barry. “There are still loads of emo kids but there are other kids who maybe weren’t interested in that who have now got something to listen to. They’re thinking, ‘this is more my thing’ with this influx of smart-arse bands like us.”
“The new Bloc Party single is number four in the midweeks,” echoes Ross. “That proves there’s a shift happening with British guitar music. People are starting to look for something that’s a little less obvious. People are looking for something that’s a bit less typical in their pop music. The singles market has been so saturated with ‘pop’ music for such a long time that now people are going to shows. It’s becoming a little bit more creative again.”
“It seems that a lot of people are getting into gig culture,” reckons Barry. “Maybe because of the Internet. Going to a gig’s the only thing you can’t get. You could meet a girl. You might have your first tipple. You might fall in love at a gig! You’re not going to fall in love listening to free music off the Internet at home.”
“You get bands a lot better after seeing them live too,” agrees Ross “You get what they’re about a little bit more. The energy’s different. You see how they play together and what their personalities are. This tour’s like an event. It’s a good document of what’s going down in this country right now. All the bands on the bill have either put out their first record or are about to. Hopefully it’s captured something just before it becomes more culturally important.”
No one sounds like them and no one thinks like them, but the Futureheads are weeks away from exploding onto the mainstream. It’s about time too. The world’s a better place with these guys around.
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The original version of this story can be found in the March 2005 edition of UK publication Play Music magazine.