It’s hard to believe, but we have an undercooked breakfast to thank for the 1975’s most outwardly rock ’n’ roll concert moment to date. Just after starting their most recent Australian tour, the UK quartet announced via Twitter that they’d been forced to pull out of a festival appearance in Brisbane because singer/guitarist Matt Healy had been hospitalized “following a bout of serious sickness.”
Healy’s health had made headlines in the past, having previously overcome a heroin addiction, but lead guitarist Adam Hann is quick to point out to Guitar World that this time his bandmate was leveled by a case of food poisoning.
“Matt had some bad eggs, as he said; he got salmonella. I mean, there’s just no way he was going to be able to [perform that night].”
Paying homage to Kurt Cobain’s iconic wheelchair entrance when Nirvana headlined the Reading Festival in 1992, Healy cheekily made his return to the stage the next night in Sydney, dressed in a see-through hospital smock and dragging a steely IV pole behind him.
Hann’s streetwear-style get-up was modest in comparison, but he complemented the frontman’s vibe by searing into the extremely sick, scum-coated three-note lead lick of People - the first, and certainly loudest single from the 1975’s latest album, Notes on a Conditional Form.
Healy then dropped to his knees during the protest song, calling for thousands of fans to “wake up” while addressing climate change and political apathy with a series of feral howls. Though mixing T. Rex swagger with black-eyeliner screamo is a hard pivot from the rest of the group’s pop world-palatable catalog, Hann reveals that those riot-ready riffs were ultimately too ridiculous to pass up.
“The main riff in the chorus of People, that’s one of those jokey heavy riffs you play for fun, you know?” Hann says of the garage-glam anthem’s origins, adding that its numbskull-simple groove was regularly goofed-on during soundchecks before Healy suggested they maximize its potential for their new LP.
Hann concedes that People may be the group’s “first proper rock song,” but the beneath-the-fingernail grime of its guitar tone first cropped up on the otherwise sugary Give Yourself a Try from 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, which yielded a Grammy nod for Best Rock Song the following year (“We were super-confused as hell”).
In both cases, the guitarist got dirty by cranking the overdrive on an Audio Kitchen Little Chopper head and then distorting the mic channel with a Thermionic Culture: Culture Vulture processor.
“We put this valve distortion unit across the mic channel, and that gives it this super-dry, ear-piercing quality that I’m sure many people are not too fond of,” he says with a laugh. “When [People] came out, going by the comments on our social media, people were like, ‘What the fuck is this?’”
On a surface level, the in-the-red screech of People contrasts most anything in the band’s arsenal, but it’s also fair to say that the 1975 have always been a hard band to peg. Close to a decade after issuing their 2012 self-titled debut, the Manchester-based foursome have embraced a wide swath of styles - acoustic balladry, bouncy Balearic house, Auto-Tune-abusing R&B and the slick, hair gel sheen of '80s pop.
To that end, the 22-song, self-produced Notes on a Conditional Form continues the genre-jumping journey, bringing elements of punk, neo-soul, downtempo electronic music and country into the band’s ever-morphing approach.
The album even begins with The 1975 - their fourth self-titled composition in as many albums - which builds a tableaux of piano and digitalist squelching around an impassioned monolog from climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Me & You Together Song, meanwhile, is the kind of overwhelmingly jubilant, throwback jangle that would have scored a thousand teenage rom-com scenes in the late '90s. Hann and Healy conjured those cheery, paisley swirls by strumming Strats and 335’s through a clutch of Fender Twins and chorus-cranked Roland JC-120s.
Hann also credits his Ernie Ball Music Man JP6, bought with inheritance money when he was a teenager, as the “secret weapon” behind the crispest tones beaming through Me & You Together Song, as well as earlier 1975 hits like Girls and I Like America & America Likes Me.
“In the middle position on that guitar the two humbuckers are coil-split and out-of-phase, so you get this super-clear, crystal, bell-sounding clean tone,” Hann says of his early-aughts John Petrucci signature model.
“What’s funny is because it was literally one of the first models of that guitar, the subsequent ones have different electronics; they don’t quite sound the same. We’ve hunted around on eBay to try and find an original one. I met one of the guys from Music Man at one of our shows, and basically he was like, ‘You just need to give me the guitar and we’ll find out exactly what it is.’”
Though Hann went through a Dream Theater-loving shred phase in his youth, his playing across Notes on a Conditional Form can sometimes take a backseat approach.
Take his subtle and supportive work on the twitchy, Ibiza-primed Frail State of Mind, an electronics-forward composition where he folds the slightest sparkle of six-strings beneath thick blankets of synths and sampled trumpets (“It’s not obtuse, it just fits in as a layer under that,” he says).
With all members - including drummer George Daniel and bassist Ross MacDonald - also having a hand in layering keyboards and digital programming, Hann notes that their Notes was initially conceived as a more “ambient, electronic-influenced album” sister set to A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Considering they first teased the LP with the jagged punk explosion of People, plans clearly changed along the way.
“We thought we were going to make a slightly more left-field, experimental album. Those elements are definitely there, but the majority of the album is straight-up songs. I don’t think we anticipated that when we set out.”
One of the reasons Notes may have veered toward more traditional pop structures instead of an all-ambient affair is because the band were writing material on the road while touring in support of A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships - as in the case of People, they adjusted the sonic parameters of the album during soundchecks.
Adjusting on the fly likewise meant that the band missed their February release date, opting instead to set Notes loose this spring.
“It’s proven to be quite difficult to write, record and finish an album while continuously touring and marketing [A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships].
"We had a [mobile] studio on the bus, which is great and definitely lets you get more work done on the road, but it’s not a replacement for a real studio,” Hann explains, pointing out that electronic production touches were tweaked on the bus, but guitars and vocals were tracked between tour dates, when time and space wasn’t actually at a premium. “We underestimated how difficult it would be to just drop in and out of studios to get it finished.”
Hann used a Master Built Strat for sessions in London, Los Angeles and Brackley, UK, but also employed the JP6 and a pair of custom Fano JM6s, which were thrown through Fender Twins, Vibroluxes and the Audiokitchen (On their latest round of touring, Hann has switched to using Kempers onstage).
The 1975’s gear list was arguably more compact than on previous recordings, but Hann managed to think outside of the box in terms of tone and performance - he temporarily escapes standard tuning to explore the rich chime of just intonation on If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know).
“In this case it sounded cleaner, and the interaction between the notes was nicer, so it worked. But on another track, the crunch of standard tuning sounded nice in the context of the track.”
Though the 1975 were technically one vocal overdub away from completing the record at the time of Hann’s talk with GW, the guitarist breathes a sigh of relief that they’re finally ready to reveal their Notes on a Conditional Form.
“It’s been an interesting year, being on tour and trying to finish this album, but we would never do this again. It’s been super-draining for everyone involved.”
Lucky for the members of the 1975, they’ve still got that IV drip handy in times of exhaustion.
- Fender Master Design 1950s Relic Stratocaster (Moss)
- Fender Jaguar (Olympic White)
- Ernie Ball Music Man JP6 (with custom Pollock paint)
- "My own Kemper profiles of a '68 custom Vibrolux, '68 custom Twin, Audio Kitchen Little Chopper, Marshall JTM45"
- Strymon Mobius, TimeLine and Big Sky
- Keeley Compressor Pro
- Klon Centaur
- Anologman King of Tone
- Z.Vex Super Duper Concert Bass Mod
- Wampler Plextortion
- EHX Micro Synth
- EHX HOG