The 1975's Matt Healy: how I survived two years on the road
“How can anyone manage to play 300 gigs a year? As the 1975’s Matt Healy explains, all you need is salad, tearful fans – and the potato waffle game
In December 2012, Matt Healy got in a van with his bandmates and started touring bars, clubs and dives – wherever the 1975 could play. Now, more than 18 months on, he’s still touring, capping the summer festival season with yet another UK tour, yet another European tour and yet another US tour, which will take the band through to the end of 2014 with two solid years on the road. The result has been a No 1 album in the UK, a worldwide fanbase and the sense that this band could actually be huge in the US, rather than just pictured on the cover of the NME in front of the Statue of Liberty waving a Union Jack with the claim they will "conquer America”. But how did Healy survive life on the road that long? And what did he learn along the way?
I can’t do planes
All our crew go: “You know what? I can’t wait for a nice seven-hour sitdown, watch a couple of films.” But I have to take as many legal drugs as I can to pass out, because when I get on a plane it’s like how an exam used to be at school. At no point did I think: “I’ve got two hours to do the best I can.” I just used to think: “I’ve got two hours until I’m allowed out of this fucking room.” So I sleep. Because if I’m watching a film, it’s like watching a clock count down.
… but I love tour buses
The tour bus lounge is a beautiful place. If you’ve got a good driver, what you have is a travelling hotel. I’d much rather be on the bus for a month than in a car and a new hotel every day. Glastonbury was incredible: I’d been on that bus for two weeks, sleeping in the same bunk every night. So I basically got to take my bed to Glastonbury. I absolutely loved that.
In the depths of boredom, you’ll do anything
There’s a game we have called Birds Eye Potato Waffles. You sit in a circle and take it in turns to say any kind of food that comes to mind. That’s when you know you’ve reached the depths of boredom – after six hours at Heathrow, say, when you’re meant to be in Florida. But the best way to deal with boredom on the road is to be creative: give us a night off and a laptop and we’ll record a song. .
I read a lot, too, though I can’t figure out if I’m reading all these books because I want to be clever enough to deal with everything, or whether I’m reading them for enjoyment. If I’m really bored, I’ll have a look at the internet, see what people are saying. When you’re in a room on your own in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and @monkfish125 calls you a knob, getting wound up about it can be entertaining.
I’m not as good at keeping in touch as I thought
Gigs in Britain are pretty much the only time I see or talk to my family. Sometimes, I feel guilty when I get a call from someone saying: “I haven’t heard from you in a month.” I think: “Wow, that’s not right.” You have to make an effort. That kind of thing keeps you grounded and sane. I feel that my family are more understanding than my friends, though. They get it.
There’s no such thing as time off
The most continuous time off I’ve had since December 2012 is five days. I consider a night off and a day off to be two days off. The other weekend we played a festival in Plymouth, then drove back through the night towards London for our day off. That starts when we get off the bus at six in the morning. I go back home, settle in, have a shower, cup of tea. Ah, back home! And then the silence is deafening. It’s not like being home where you can go and see your mum for a couple of days, or go and do something. You know you can’t really leave the flat because you need to be leaving the next morning. I can’t have a walk up to Primrose Hill or get the lads round. It doesn’t happen – it’s just a day in between gigs.
I really want to go home and have fuck all to do. I haven’t done that in ages. It’s not that I want to do fuck all; I just want to remember what that feels like. I spent 10 years thinking: “Fucking hell, I’ve got nothing to do.” But you miss that kind of thing. Maybe we don’t have to say yes to everything, but then we wouldn’t be reaching our full potential. So strike while the iron’s hot.
I’m terrified of my metabolism catching up with me
Because right now, I can eat whatever I want. I’ll never not have a burger – but I like good food and I eat quite healthily on tour. You find yourself having to eat fast food for days in America, though, so when we reach a wholefood store, we love green beans and sushi. Our tour manager says: “Eat this salad or you’re going to die.” I don’t have to worry about my weight – and that’s something that worries me in itself. The second I start getting fat, I’m going to be on the treadmill. I don’t go to the gym at the moment, but then I do play 300 shows in a year. I’m very flamboyant and it does take a lot out of you. And I do press-ups and sit-ups on the bus, maybe go for a jog, but I don’t have a fitness regime.
I drink quite a lot of wine now
I never used to really drink, but the bottle of wine on stage quickly became something to calm the nerves, and then part of the show. When you have a drink on stage, it changes things. I’m slightly guilty of becoming a bit of a parody of myself, but truly I don’t really put it on – Iam the shirtless moptop with a bottle of wine now. Put it this way: does anyone want a clean Libertines album? There’s a desire for those kind of cliches and there always will be. What people want to see from our band is the personality they connected with in the first place – the personality who’s slightly confused, who gets overwhelmed and overexcited.
I don’t look too far ahead
If I did, I’d drive myself crazy. Every day is somewhere different and there are moments of true jet-lagged confusion: you wake up in the Swiss hotel in Tokyo and you think you’re in Geneva because it says Swiss on the fittings. There are moments of falling asleep on your feet. You use things to punctuate your day: up at eight, do a radio show – then I know I can smoke a joint at 11. Six months ago I was always worrying about what was coming next, but now I realise worrying about things I don’t have control over is pointless.
I like to have people I know and trust around me
It’s a massive thing. I’m at the helm of this operation that now involves a lot of people and their jobs. I always wanted it to be like that programmeEntourage: I want to take all my mates with me, have us be a crew. And it feels like that sometimes. But I’m also proud that I haven’t compromised myself creatively or professionally – the reason the guys are on the crew is that they’re the best men for the job, and the reason they’re the best men for the job is they’ve been working as hard as I have for the whole time. We have a relationship where we can tell each other openly that we love each other and to fuck off in the same sentence. It needs to be like that. People aren’t going to relate to someone with an inflated ego. One of the reason our fans have invested in the band is that there’s a humility to it and a naivety to it that I haven’t lost. I know who I am. I’m not a cock. I don’t get any enjoyment from being remotely negative to anyone – the only thing you have is your connection with people. If I’m as nice as I am to everybody for the rest of my career, say it lasts 10 years, no one will be calling me a knobhead in 10 years.
The audience are what keeps every show exciting
Because we do a show with triggered lighting and sound, every set is pretty much the same. So if I do five shows on consecutive nights, the fifth night starts to feel like Groundhog Day. I find myself having to think of things to say. But there’s something Nils Lofgren said about playing with Bruce Springsteen. He was asked if he got bored by playing Born to Run 200 nights a year, every year. He said he looks into the audience, because they don’t get to hear Born to Run 200 nights a year, every year. He looks at the faces at the front, and how they’re reacting, and he feeds off that. I get lost in people’s faces, in the kids who are crying. It’s very seldom I don’t jump down after a song to hug a kid who’s crying, because it means so much to me – it’s not about your experience, it’s about their experience. And I understand the sense of connection fans get when I interact with them at a show.
I used to love this little band called the Maple State. I remember seeing them at the Academy 3 in Manchester. There couldn’t have been more than 10 people there, but in my head there were about 35,000. The guitarist did a move where he turned round and pointed at me – it meant so much to me that I’m still talking about it 10 years later. When you become part of the show, when the lead singer or the guitarist invites you in, you never forget it.
A space where you can get away from it all matters
The sea is a beacon for us. Perhaps because it’s the unknown and we could leave for ever. Every time it’s sunny and we’ve got some free time and we’re near the sea, we get a boat, whether it’s Australia, Florida, Newquay. And we go out there and have half an hour with no music. We sit there and smoke fags and we’re away from the world. But I always worry about capsizing.“