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What's Your First Line Going To Be? The Futureheads Discuss Their Long-Awaited Return With 'Powers'

Tuesday, 27 August 2019 Written by Huw Baines

The stars of mid-2000s indie discos are frozen in time in the memories of a lot of people—their music might as well be an advert for sticky floors and test tube shots. And that’s where the Futureheads, who had a couple of songs that were students’ union staples, might still reside in the eyes of some.

But ‘Powers’, the band’s first new album in seven years and their first full band work since 2010, has a good time upending that particular apple cart. Stacked with slabs of jagged, hook-heavy post-punk, it’s a release that shoves the Sunderland group—frontman Barry Hyde and his drummer brother David, guitarist Ross Millard and bassist David “Jaff” Craig—into fresh creative waters after a rough and tumble period in their history. 

Emerging a couple of years after Barry’s stately solo bow ‘Malody’, a frank discussion of his life with bipolar, it is a little like pressing reset in a musical sense. Where that project was a mannered exploration of the piano as a tool of expression, ‘Powers’ is loud. It’s a guitar record. “It was more like an experience of remembering than discovering,” he says.

“If you put us all together, we've got more dynamic range than a piano. But there's also the camaraderie and teamwork and mutual love. I was nervous for our first rehearsal after, what, six and a half years? We didn't know what we were going to do. My brother just clicked into Decent Days and Nights—we played that riff and it came back straight away.”

But assembling the album would not be the cakewalk that first hit out suggested it might be. “It was kind of like, ‘OK, this isn't gonna be as difficult as we thought’. But oh, how we were wrong,” Barry laughs. “It was so hard.” Chiefly, it was hard because they couldn’t find much in the way of spare time. Barry, for example, now has a family and is a lecturer. 

“We're used to hiring a studio, going in for a couple of weeks, doing 14 hour days, writing intensely, sweating and coming out with some kind of end artefact, album or whatever,” he adds. “But in this case, especially early on, we were rehearsing once a week and chipping away at new stuff and then we realised 'We should be doing this in a studio', so at least by the end of it we might have a drum track down or a demo to work from. We jumped the gun and went in, I suppose, before we'd really formulated the songs in full.”

Sticking at it, Barry assembled songs while his family slept. He snatched minutes here and there, reinvigorated by falling back in love with his guitar. “You sit downstairs and it becomes like this ritualistic, private, creative experience that is magical,” he says. “There's a certain amount of alchemy involved in having nothing and then two minutes later you've got the beginnings of a song. We're making electric guitar music—it's about riffs and motifs. It's a little bit like being a novelist, you know? What's your first line going to be?”

Two of Barry’s finest pieces on ‘Powers’ address his mental health. Headcase, built around a paranoiac circular riff that feels like it’s closing in before exploding into the chorus, is the manic side of the coin: “Can you please just sit down? Why can’t you take a pause?” Animus represents depression, and asks different questions: “Tell me, can you get things done? Tell me, can you be productive?”

“I'm really proud of Animus,” he says. “It took me ages to write that because it's in, I think, five different keys. It's a generally simplistic chord structure for the verses and choruses, but shifting around. I'm trying to make an elegant punk song that doesn't really ever repeat itself. And that's a metaphor for how to get out of depression. You have to reinvent yourself and redefine yourself and fight against that until you can't even remember the person that was stuck in that hole. It is gradual. 

“And, you know, you might get sucked back into it and it's always looming as well. It's like trying to embrace the clear fact that the mind has to be maintained. It's mysterious and it defines your life, yet we can't point at it. And we don't have a great infrastructure to understand it in our society. Headcase was my way of creating a manic, unpredictable piece of music that represents the upsides of the mind when anything's possible, but everything's falling apart.”

There is another undercurrent to the record, though. ‘Powers’ is very aware of what’s going on outside its window. Millard’s Across The Border, for example, is a furious polemic that has venom to burn—the north east’s spot as Brexit’s poster region is a huge irritant, and its ‘tick tick tick…’ hook is a metaphorical Molotov cocktail lobbed in the direction of Westminster. “What would it take to change your mind?” they spit, adding with a sneer: “It’s never easy leaving.” 

If anything, a song like this drives home how long it’s been since the Futureheads broke through with their self-titled debut. Those test tube shots don’t seem like so much fun with a chaser of burst blood vessels and xenophobia. But, equally, Hyde believes that those fans who came up with the band will see positives in the grey at their temples.

“I mean, I think there’s definitely clear signs of the maturation and development going on in that period of time when we weren't writing together,” he says. “Ultimately that's why it’s called ‘Powers’. It's because we've gained skills and depth in that period as individuals completely independent from each other.”

After ‘Powers’ thunders into the world the Futureheads will head out for a handful of festival shows and headline dates, with a short UK tour celebrating 15 years of their debut also in the diary for December. After his piano detour, Barry is looking forward to it: “I always continued to play the guitar and then really started to miss this kind of noisy racket, you know?”

‘Powers’ is out on August 30 through The Orchard.

The Futureheads Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed September 04 2019 - SUNDERLAND Bonded Warehouse
Fri December 06 2019 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Sat December 07 2019 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Sun December 08 2019 - LEEDS Leeds Beckett Students Union
Fri December 13 2019 - NEWCASTLE Northumbria Institute
Sat December 14 2019 - GLASGOW QMU
Sun December 15 2019 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz

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