When British foursome the Futureheads came onto the music scene a few years ago, there was nothing grey about them except for their attire and album color art. The group’s manic energy, rampant riffs, and note-perfect harmonies made their self-titled debut one of the pleasant surprises of recent memory. Whether it was “Decent Days and Nights”, “A to B”, or the fantastic “First Day”, the Futureheads turned heads. Now, with the release of the all-important sophomore album News and Tributes, the group has toned things down slightly, making the ensuing live shows coming up just a tad less frantic and feverish.
“We always knew that was what we wanted to do for the first album,” bassist Jaff says from across the pond in his hotel room. “That’s why we started writing songs. We had this intense outburst of energy. That was one of the things we wanted to do for the live show and for the album. The second record we decided we’d like to calm it down a little bit. That’s why it’s a little bit different.”
The group opted to get away from label executives and others for the new album, recording it at a farm in Yorkshire over the course of five weeks, leaving the group alone with their creative ideas. It seemed like a breeze compared to the 18 months it took to create album number one, a disc that was recorded twice.
“We just wanted to start writing songs like we used to when we first started the band,” Jaff says. “Just the four of us in a room with a producer and see what we came up with. And if it didn’t work out then we were going to worry about it later.”
The Futureheads - Skip to the End
The group also had some help from producer Ben Hiller (Doves, Blur) for News and Tributes, someone Jaff said really brought out the best in the group.
“He’s a very calm man and very hard working,” he says. “His ears are just brilliant. He’d show me bass sounds and I’d be standing in the room next to the bass amp going, ‘I’m not sure about this.’ Then you’d get upstairs and hear it in the context of the song and it would really just add everything you would want the bass to.”
“And he would do that with everything—guitar sounds, drum sounds, vocal sounds,” he adds. “He was really easy to work with and you just trust him. He’s a fine blend of musicality and technical wizardry.”
As for the new record, Jaff says that while the first single “Skip to the End” basically came together in one afternoon and was finished in a day and a half, “Thursday” was another story altogether.
“Barry [Hyde] had a very strong vision of how he wanted that song to sound and we got there eventually but it was a tough one,” he says. “The harmonies had to be just so and there’s a little bit of piano on that song I think that isn’t on other songs. It’s a lot slower than anything we’ve done before. It was a hard one for us.
“When a song is very strong and very single-y like ‘Skip to the End’ is for us, you can tell straightaway as soon as you get the lead vocal on it’s going to be alright.”
Another difference with this album is that the group now has a new US label behind them in Vagrant. The relationship with Warner Brothers isn’t something Jaff recalls too fondly.
“Well, to be honest we felt that Warner Brothers had balls-ed up the last release,” he says. “I’m not sure if I should be saying that to be honest, but we felt like they didn’t particularly work hard for us. They very much had the mentality of ‘We’re a major record company so you impress us with what you do.’ With the Vagrant guys they’re very much, ‘I love what you do, let’s work together and we’ll get this released and we’ll do some great things.’ We just like that kind of keenness of attitude.”
The Futureheads - Decent Days and Nights
During the making of the album, the Futureheads kept a low profile, the lone exception being an opening slot for the Foo Fighters during their British tour. The tour, which came days after wrapping up News and Tributes, was a “strange one” for the group as many Foo Fighters fans knew little about the Futureheads.
Earlier this year though the group conjured up the idea of a string of fan club “Tribute” shows throughout Britain. The shows featured the band dedicating a show each night to a different artist while playing the new album in its entirety.
“We didn’t want to be one of those bands where they’d just give them flyers about the album release date,” Jaff says. “One night it was Chet Baker. Between bands we’d just play Chet Baker music. We gave away a postcard with a photo of Chet Baker on it and a little kind of synopsis of why Ross had picked him to pay tribute to. So it was pretty good fun.”
The Futureheads are aware that the industry spits out and chews up more bands than one can possibly fathom. And Jaff knows that the business is more about the bottom line.
“I don’t think bands are given the same chances they were 15 years ago,” he says. “Born to Run was Bruce Springsteen’s third album. If he released Greetings from Asbury Park or The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle now, he wouldn’t have got to make Born To Run. He would have been dropped before it happened because he didn’t sell enough copies.”
The Futureheads started a British tour in late May before doing two mini-treks of North America in June and July. British festival dates are lined up for August and plans for Australia, Japan and other regions are also in the cards. And if Jaff doesn’t get to read all of the band’s press, he doesn’t have far to go to see the reviews and interviews.
“My mom and dad keep a scrapbook, so I like to keep that up to date and send them things,” Jaff says with a laugh. “I buy music press to see what other bands are doing, who is going on tour, and who I might go out and see. I do read them. I get really angry when people slag us. It hasn’t happened much yet but the second record is just coming out, so we’ll see.”
The Futureheads - First Day