Sunderland four-piece The Futureheads are both an intriguing and powerful mass of contradictions. They are a band who - like all the best bands - look and feel like a gang, but who, in this instance, can rarely agree on anything at all. A band who have deliberately set themselves only short-term, low-key goals, but are, realistically, on the verge of going all the way. A band who recognise and salute the DIY ethic, while simultaneously detesting its implicit under-achievement. A band who can accurately cite Devo, Queen, Fugazi and Kate Bush as influences, but who have carved out their own instantly identifiable sonic niche.
Maybe it's a result of the four of them being a reasonably well-functioning democracy. And maybe that's a result of them each having a microphone and, therefore, four separate voices on stage. And possibly that came about because, having no PA, they had to have first a music and then a vocal rehearsal, and so decided they might as well each have a bash at singing. Some things about The Futureheads, you see, make straightforward sense...
Like, for instance, the fact that Barry's garage (where they used to rehearse), was officially "the coldest place on earth", and the fabled 2-fast, 2-furious Futureheads' sound was built on nothing more conceptual than the basic human drive to
cheat hypothermia. Of course that isn't entirely true, the twin spur was Ross's uncompromising yen to make "nasty and abrasive music".
Back even before then, however, Barry (Hyde, vox/gtrs) and original drummer Pete Brewis were teenager tutors at the Sunderland City Detached Youth Project, a lottery-funded music scheme for getting kids off the street. Barry was in a band with Jaff (just Jaff, vox/bass) and they used the Project as a gratis practise space, swapping personnel with the many other bands moving through a building, once used as venue by The Clash, The Sugarcubes and Butthole Surfers.
Barry's kid brother Dave (Hyde, vox/drums) became a pupil at the Project just ahead of its demise (but didn't yet become a fully fledged 'Head), and bookish don Ross (Millard, vox/gts) turned up in time to provide the human power to heat the garage in between cramming for his ??? degree.
By the time they played their first gig, at Ashbrooke Cricket Club in December 2000, they had performed using a PA just once. Still, at four songs (including their now renowned cover of TV Personalities 'Picture of Dorian Grey') and seven minutes most of the 15 folk present didn't have long enough to tell the difference. A reel-to-reel demo at Pete's followed shortly and the Futureheads started thinking about bigger things, like maybe gigging in... Newcastle.
The demo went out in a limited run of 100 to the local indie stores and quickly sold out. The band's gigs became word-of- mouth local events, with every show subject to a strict theme.
This saw such treats as 'Futureheads Go Karaoke', wherein the band performed acapella to an instrumental backing-track, dressed military gear replete with medals; one where they painted their faces silver, and another semi-acoustic affair. For all, however, there were no gaps between songs and no set over 15 minutes long.
This was the start of the Futureheads own dogme-style manifesto; born of frustration at attending numerous disappointing shows from bands trawling in and around Sunderland. Barry: "We wanted to make startling, surprising, sensational music. Most bands were devoid of sexuality. They didn't even look like they were enjoying it. It [performing] should be a totally reciprocal thing when you play, an interaction between standing bodies."
Maybe The Futureheads were spoiled by playing locally for so long, with the result that they felt they knew personally each member of the audience. But by the time they undertook they first steps beyond their immediate environment, their inclusive attitude towards performing was firmly established. That, and the idea that if they didn't speak with American accents, there was no reason on God's earth why they should sing with them either.
"It's important to us that you don't have to be in London to do this. You can be out of step; eccentric and outside what is perceived as going on."
A move out of the North West to perform was, however, prompted by their associateon with local DIY independent Slampt Records' Pete Dale, who booked his band Milky Wimpshake on a tour of European squats and invited The Futureheads along for the ride. Dave stepped in as stand-in drummer when Peter Brewis got busy as singer with his other band Electronic Eye Machine, and he (Dave) never left the drum stool ever since.
The tour broadened the band's horizons, and slowly, slowly they all started contributing to the song-writing, such that soon there was material flying in from all four corners. "There's not much that we all like, that correlates and crosses over," says Barry. "We all respond to different things in music: Jaff likes good vocals and melody, Dave likes dreamy music like Yo La Tengo, and Ross likes scratchy music."
For his part Barry is pegged as the group's sonic explorer/pretentious git, with tastes inclining towards the minimal classical music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Reilly, as well as 1000 Hertz, Carl Orff and Locust.
After the squat tour the band released their first - now hugely collectable - 7-inch single, comprising 'Park Inn', 'Robot', 'My Rules' and 'Stupid And Shallow'. Shortly after this they were spotted supporting the Buff Seeds at a Fierce Panda night by Fantastic Plastic, and signed to the London independent next day. Fantastic Plastic have released two Futureheads' singles, '1,2,3 - Nul' and 'First Day', both of which received rapturous receptions from a media starved of real excitement.
Now freshly signed to 679 Recordings, the Futureheads remain sanguine about their situation. "We're unfazed by how things have turned out because it was never part of a plan anyway. None of us cares about being famous, and you can't worry about whether or not you're going to be played on daytime radio, because a lot of the best music never gets noticed anyway. A lot of people think the whole point is about "going beyond", like The Darkness or something. The general public seem to view success as an explosion, but vital things can exist on other levels."
The band have been recording their first album with former Gang Of Four guitarist Andy Gill in the producer's chair. The 14 songs are drawn from their entire history, including 'Stupid And Shallow' and 'Robot' from that first EP. Recording has been largely live in the studio, which is really the only way to capture The Futureheads; cutting down on compromise and hours on the Playstation and giving the band studio confidence. "Previously 'The Method' didn't help us, now it does."
"This is a body of work, a piece of art. There's a message in the lyrics and a message in the music," says Ross. "We are trying to be as straightforward as possible. We don't want to be a cliche in any way."
|BARRY HYDE / / ROSS MILLARD / / DAVID 'JAFF' CRAIG / / DAVID HYDE|
|/ / BAND \ \|
The Futureheads is a band that began in Barry's freezing garage in November 2000. We were, and still are, four young fella's from Sunderland, who first met at a youth project in the centre of town. The band we have went on to form became known locally as The Futureheads, which we more or less nicked from the Flaming Lips, and we played our first shows a month or two after our first rehearsal. Peter Brewis, our initial drummer, left the band somewhere along the way to commit more readily to his own very good band, The Electronic Eye Machine. Barry's brother, Dave, took his place - primarily so that we would be all nice and well rehearsed for our first trip to Europe, with Newcastle band Milky Wimpshake, in July 2002. We were indeed 'ready', and Dave liked us so much that he decided to stay put. So that's the line-up sorted then: Jaff, Dave, Barry and Myself. Good.
Since then, we have been playing a fair few shows, trying our best to fend off the day jobs, and almost succeeding. Our first record, 'Nul Book Standard', was released in July of this year on Project Cosmonaut Records, by a lovely guy called Matt Wilkinson, who we can now certainly call 'a friend'. This six-minute slice of wax can still be bought from the Rough Trade shop link, and a few other search-hard-enough-and-you'll-find-it type places - like my house. The summer also saw us record something for a proposed split single with some friends of ours, the Sunderland band This Ain't Vegas. We have donated the song 'Le Garage', and the record should be out sooner rather than later. The press run is limited to 400 copies I think, so this release will be for sale at shows and through mail-order only I'm afraid.
In September, we nipped down to London to do a session for John Kennedy's XFM show, which was accompanied, come transmission day, with a live 'phone interview' with Jaff, in which, rather humiliatingly, he admitted to simply liking 'no modern music... just seventies stuff, like Led Zeppelin'. Great... Nowadays, November that is, we are getting down to sorting out a second release 'proper'. Probably a four-track e.p., around February time, and coming out on the Fantastic Plastic label. Y'know, making us labelmates with The Beatings and Ikara Colt and the like. We are off to record this said e.p. next week, with ex-Gang of Four guitar player Andy Gill helping us control things. I am excited at the prospect of working with a guy whose band played such amazing music, but hopefully I'll control that and get on with the job in hand.
The day before we go to record, we play The Camden Barfly, with Brave Captain - more XFM shenanigans. We have a fair bit planned for December and January, especially with regards to shows - we're off on a little 'mini-jaunt' in December with our mates Milky Wimpshake to play gigs in Leeds, London, and Newcastle. If nothing else, these shows will allow us to be old before our time, and reminisce over our summer antics. Anyway, bye for now, more news to follow, I'm sure. / / Ross.