Interview: The FutureheadsTweet
The Futureheads are back. Granted, it’s only been two years since the bands fourth album, ‘The Chaos’, but that album never got much promotion. None of its songs got much play on the radio and the tour supporting was limited. They never even made it to Ireland. But, as I said, they are back. They have a new album, ‘Rant’, and are due in Dublin in September for a show in Whelan’s. There is something different about them this time though. On ‘Rant’ they have left their instruments behind and created all of the music using only their four voices. They have gone a cappella.
It might seem like a strange move for the Sunderland band, but it shouldn’t be totally unexpected. “It’s been an idea that has been kicking around for years and years between the four of us,” said Futurehead Ross Millard (the one with the glasses) when he spoke to Goldenplec recently. “We’ve done a couple of b-sides and stuff over the years, but on the Chaos tour we did a radio session where we had to do a cover version and we had this idea of doing Acappella by Kelis and we thought we’d have a go at doing it a cappella.” They enjoyed the experience so much that, just for fun, they decided to put a few more songs together in the same way and “After a few studio sessions it becomes an album, a tour and everything.”
That Kelis cover appears on the album along with a cover of Black Eyed Peas’ Meet Me Halfway, some rearranged songs from the Futureheads back catalogue and a few traditional songs. How did they come up with that strange selection of songs to put on an album? “There’s an old 70s recording of BBC Newcastle from a pub in the North East in the late 60s and we got that off a friend of ours. We went and listened to that and that’s what got us into the idea of doing some traditional songs. We learned a lot more about them in the process (of doing a cappella arrangements).”
“The pop ones were more a nod to the fact that it was a pop song that gave us the whole idea in the first place. It’s quite nice to take these super arranged, super produced songs and strip them right back to the bare essentials. It’s one of those things – you can have this song that’s super produced with all these multi-tracks and loads of production – if you can take that song and strip it back to the bare bones and make it sound good or keep some emotion or resonance then I think you’ve succeeded. That Black Eyed Peas track (Meet Me Halfway) is probably my favourite one on the record. There are things about the original version that I don’t necessarily love, but I think it’s a good song but I think we’ve shown that any song, if it’s rearranged can take on totally different qualities or seem like a totally different song entirely.”
The Futureheads are no strangers to covers. It was a cover, after all, that brought them to the attention of a wider audience. That song, a cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, is acknowledged by Millard as being ‘important’ for the band. “We just got talking about how Kate Bush never plays live and we never get to see these amazing songs performed live and we did a cover version of it.” Ms Bush even called the band to thank them for it. “We had this answering machine message for a while from Kate Bush basically saying ‘Hello Futureheads, Kate Bush here. Just wanted to say love your version. Thanks so much for doing it. Have a nice Christmas’. She probably just saw her PRS (royalties) statement and thought ‘Who are these guys?’”
But that’s the past and Millard is keen to talk about the future. “It’s interesting to see where we go from here,” he said. “For us that is exciting. There was a point in time where we wondered whether there was any point in making a new electric Futureheads record. Those ideas have been given a new lease of life now.”
The near future includes Split Festival, a festival The Futureheads have curated for the last five years – “Sunderland is one of those cities where there is a lot of creative people who can do exciting things, but there’s not much of an outlet for it; there’s not many facilities. We really tried with this festival to bring people out of their houses and hopefully brings people out of the area to Sunderland as well.” – and, of course, the show in Whelan’s.
Of that show Millard said: “Of course, there will be more songs from our back catalogue and a few more traditional songs in there. It’s a month away so we’re still talking about what exactly we’re going to do, but we’ve got a few rehearsals before then so there might be a few newer surprises for people before then. We’re really looking forward to getting back to Ireland because it’s been absolutely ages since we’ve been there properly. I think this set up will be really good for the fans. I think they’ll really get something out of it.”
They are regaining their closeness as a band and, in part down to the dropping of their instruments, upwardly mobile. Some things won’t change though. The trademark Sunderland accents – “Singing in your own voice has been one of the major rules of the band” – and their aim for exciting live shows will remain. “We want to make it a totally unique experience for everyone who comes along.”
The Futureheads play Whelan’s on Friday 7 September. Tickets are on sale. ‘Rant’ is available now.