Looking Into The Futureheads

"That's all we wanted to do with this record, really," says Jaff, "to push ourselves, not just do the same again. Become better singers, become better songwriters, become better arrangers, better players. And personally, I think we've done that; I think we've pushed ourselves in a way that's a bit of a risk."

 

 

There are a handful of ways to bomb a sophomore release. You can overhype it, thereby ensuring it doesn't live up to expectations. You can do exactly what you did on your first album, causing everyone to wonder if you're a one-trick pony. You can switch directions entirely, leading to speculation that your band is without direction or definition.

Or you can avoid the slump entirely, and create a follow-up album that demonstrates your musical and songwriting growth. One that takes the high points from your debut offering-fresh vocal arrangements and harmonies, tight and tricky arrangements, an upbeat, up-on-your-feet delivery-and expands on them, adding depth and maturity.

The Futureheads are back, and they're all grown up. Or, in the words of vocalist/guitarist Barry Hyde, "Our first album was made by giddy teenage boys but this one has been made by big strong men."

The band played its first gig in 2000, its members meeting at a lottery-funded youth project designed to get kids off the streets and into music. Joining Hyde on guitar and lead vocal duties was Ross Millard, with Jaff providing bass and backing vocals and Hyde's younger brother, Dave, on drums and backing vocals. The band quickly made a name for itself, touring England and delivering high-energy live performances with all four members contributing to the vocal delivery.

Where their self-titled 2004 debut was full of manic, three-minute songs, instantly hooking the listener with its frenetic pace and smart four-part harmonies (to say nothing of a positively shimmering remake of Kate Bush's song "The Hounds of Love"), News and Tributes is the sound of a more assured band stepping back, slowing down, assessing its strengths and career objectives. It's one of those albums that's instantly accessible, yet deepens with repeated listens. These 12 songs slow the pace a bit, taking time to reflect and remember before grandly forging ahead.

"That's all we wanted to do with this record, really," says Jaff, "to push ourselves, not just do the same again. Become better singers, become better songwriters, become better arrangers, better players. And personally, I think we've done that; I think we've pushed ourselves in a way that's a bit of a risk."

If early reviews are any sign, the risk has paid off. The band has raised the bar on itself.

"I don't want to think it was a lot more complex," says Jaff of News and Tributes. "I think it was more concise and directional, more like a body of work rather than just a collection of songs. The first record was very much about us growing up, where we lived-kind of straightforward. For the second album, obviously, we didn't live there anymore; we lived on a tour bus. You can't just write about that; that'd be really boring for 99.9% of the people. You've got to imagine scenarios, have fictional examples of things you think are interesting to write songs about."

Or maybe not so fictional, as in the album's title track, its most somber and touching. "News and Tributes" retells the tale, in tightly controlled bursts and crescendoing harmonies, of the top-ranked 1958 Manchester United soccer team, one third of which tragically perished mid-season in a snowy plane crash. "Cut down in their prime in silence/on that day, in February '58," sings Millard soberly. Lest you get too weepy, the band follows that track with "Return of the Beserker" which is manic, intense, time shifting-everything its name implies. Disc opener "Yes/No" is fast-paced with frenetic drumming, a pointed guitar line, and a swelling, shouted, simple chorus. "Cope" is similarly structured, a veritable toe-tapper-in short, much of what you've come to expect from the Futureheads. Still, the band insists on mixing it up. "Thursday" is more of a ballad, while "Face" closes the disc with a stripped-down feel, proving emphatically there's more to the Futureheads than three-minute torrents of post-punk madness.

News and Tributes also marks the band's U.S. departure from behemoth Warner Bros. to indie label Vagrant Records. "They're just great guys, you know," says Jaff of the band's new label. "And they're really into the band. Warner Bros. really weren't. We put our heart and souls into our music, and as soon as Vagrant sent their request in, it was a load off for us. They're definitely like-minded people."

A Village Voice review of the band's debut album claimed, "There's that Ramones sense that songs should be short like life, and that XTC sense that songs should be complicated like life." Do the longer songs on News and Tributes signify the band's perspectives on life have broadened?

"Not really, to be honest," laughs Jaff. "But I think we obviously have grown up a little bit. It's not fashionable music that was made, but I think we're hoping to make the fashion like we did in the first record. And we're really proud of the album."

And then there's the paradox of a band known for its arresting live performances being so capable of making such satisfying studio albums. In early interviews, the band professed a desire to make music "as precise as robots." How, then, does one go from such precision to a self-contained upheaval of a live show, full of manic energy and audience participation?

"It's a confidence that you can only get by being precise in your arrangements," explains Jaff. "When we first started, we used to practice-and still do when we're at home-everyday. We'd just practice those same songs again to find that robotic precision. Because that allows you to concentrate on stage, to know that, if you want to, you can change them. I mean, you know the songs backwards. Like, Barry and Ross can snap a string and arrange the guitar part a different way because they know the songs so well.

"I think that, when you're making music, you feel a little insignificant in comparison to the people who are changing the world," he continues. "All you can really do is really accept yourself. You know, some people like our [music]; other people like other albums more. But you could [still] enjoy our live gig, because we're really comfortable. We're really good live. We put so much effort and work into it, we've just become professionals almost."

Although they've been together six years, the band's ascent seems both sudden and well deserved. Says Jaff, "We worked our asses off to get here, driving ourselves and the band to get a little bit of recognition without having to change anything, without having to compromise. We're really proud because we've never had to change our songs." He sees their formula for success as having been relatively straightforward. "I don't know what some bands have had to do, but all we did was just use all the gigs, release the albums, release the singles, and use all the press, and people bought into the band. It's really kind of nice, you know.

It's hard to imagine the Futureheads having a better year than last year, with two headlining U.S. tours, a top-10 U.K. single ("Hounds of Love"), and appearances at the Coachella, Glastonbury, and Fuji Rock festivals, to name a few. With the release of the shimmering News and Tributes, the band is poised to do just that.

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