On June 1st last year, the 1975 played a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. It was a huge moment for the English pop provocateurs, who had recently broken through in the U.S. with their second full-length LP, 2016’s chart-topping I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. “There’s a picture of Michael Jackson playing the Garden right before you go on,” says singer-guitarist Matty Healy, 29. “I remember staring at that, thinking, ‘This is fucking crazy.’ ”
Truthfully, though, Healy doesn’t remember all that much about that night. “It was a strange time,” he adds. “I mean, I was still doing quite a lot of drugs.”
Healy founded the 1975 in the early 2000s with drummer George Daniel, bassist Ross MacDonald and lead guitarist Adam Hann, friends from secondary school near Manchester. They spent years alternately mocking the idea of rock stardom and embodying it to the fullest; with its nonstop lyrical wit and its shamelessly catchy melodies, I Like It When You Sleep was a breakthrough. “We’d been the best emo band out of Manchester in 2009, and then the worst pop band of 2015,” says Healy, whose parents are famous TV actors in Britain. “We didn’t give a fuck.”
But even as the band’s profile rose, Healy was sinking deeper into abusing opiates and anxiety meds. By the summer of 2017, he was regularly smoking heroin. “It wasn’t partying too hard,” he says. “It was the polarity between connecting with 10,000 people and then going to a hotel room by myself. Mass acceptance and genuine loneliness. It was easier to mediate that with drugs.”
He sighs. “I don’t know. Maybe I just have a fast-moving mind. Not a particularly good or bad one, just a fast one.”
In order to make the 1975’s new album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, Healy realized he had to kick those habits before it was too late. Shortly after beginning work on the LP, he checked himself into a rehab facility in Barbados for six weeks of intensive cognitive-behavioral therapy.
He says his time there, which also included work with a trained therapy horse, gave him a much-needed opportunity to reflect on his life: “I was there by myself — I mean, I had my doctors and nurses, but for the majority of the time I was in my palatial bedroom. I read a lot and thought a lot.”
Still, he’s careful not to underplay the reality of getting clean. “Physically, it was grim, especially coming off [benzodiazepines],” he continues. “That shit’s hard. A week in, I was like, ‘I’m swimming home. Fuck this.’ But I got through it. I said, ‘I’ve got more important things in my life.’ There’s not many junkies that are lucky enough to say that.”
Adds Healy, “A lot of people, when they get to the point of rehab, have lost everything. Their relationships are beyond mendable. I was someone who’d scared the people that loved him, which was bad enough for me. I just needed to stop fucking around.”
Two days after returning home to London last December, Healy went to Abbey Road to produce an EP by his protégé No Rome: “I didn’t want to sit around in my old house where I used to get high, do you know what I mean? I wanted to be doing something positive.” In January, he and the 1975 decamped to a studio outside Oxford, where they spent the next seven months recording A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
With its frantic zigzags between sounds, from bombastic rock to dance pop to acoustic whispering, the new album makes I Like It When You Sleep sound tame. The same is true of Healy’s lyrics, which mix frank confessions of addiction with more topical material. “The more honest I am, the more it seems to resonate with people,” he shrugs.
Take the single “Love It If We Made It,” where he riffs on the misogynist-in-chief (“ ’I moved on her like a bitch’/Excited to be indicted”), celebrity deaths (“Rest in peace, Lil Peep/The poetry is in the streets”), structural racism (“Selling melanin and then suffocate the black men”) and more in a desperate, pleading tone. “I was a bit angry and a bit confused, and I wanted to channel that,” Healy says. “The song has to be edited on the radio because of the lyrics, and one of those lyrics is a quote from the sitting president of the United States.”
Elsewhere, on “Give Yourself a Try,” Healy sings about getting older and perhaps wiser, only to realize he’s “a millennial that baby boomers like.” In fact, he’s struck up a friendship with boomer icon Mick Jagger over the years (in 2013, the 1975 opened for the Stones at Hyde Park). “He’s still so youth-culture-minded,” Healy says. “He knows his shit. Obviously it’s amazing for me whenever I have a chance to have a chat with him or text him, ’cause I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. It’s fucking Mick Jagger!”
Healy is calling from a Los Angeles house-slash-studio when we speak, looking out over a “really beautiful” view of Sunset Boulevard. “It’s in proper Hollywood — like, what I would imagine Hollywood to look like,” he says. “We live here, the lot of us.”
That’s because, even as they prepare to tour A Brief Inquiry, the 1975 are hard at work on their next album, Notes on a Conditional Form, which they hope to release in June. “Notes is a U.K. nighttime record,” he says, citing the Streets and Burial as touchstones. “I’ve spent so much of my life in vans and cars, stopping off at a McDonald’s when you don’t want McDonald’s. I wanted to make a record that reminds me of that.”
In the meantime, he’s cautiously proud of making it a full year without using anything harder than marijuana. “It’s not easy, mate,” says Healy. “I do not judge anybody who can’t hold it together. But you’ve got to fucking try. The alternative is so bleak.”