Getting Vocal with The Futureheads

The Futureheads - photo credit Ian West

The Futureheads’ brand of angular new wave and post-punk has was always underpinned by a sense of irreverence and fun, but after four albums of jerky rhythms and close harmonising they’re getting back to basics. Inspired by the surprising success of their a capella cover of the song ‘Acapella’ by Kelis, they’re back with their fifth album ‘Rant’, which is an entirely a capella affair. It doesn’t get more stripped down than that really.

I spoke to Ross Millard (possibly the nicest man I’ve ever interviewed) ahead of their show at Union Chapel on the 4th April to ask about MC throw-downs, folk as the real punk, and why they’re not wearing boating hats or stripey red and white jackets.

Good morning Ross, you’re on the press carousel today?

Aye, a little bit, we’ve got rehearsal later to break it up though. But don’t worry man; it is all part an’ parcel. I’ve got a cuppa!

What have you been up to?

We were in London yesterday for a bizarre gig in St. Pancras

One of those Station Sessions – the audience must be odd?

Yeah, it was rather odd, we played at 6.30, got a good crowd. We’re doing something pretty different, but it was rush hour…

Barry [Hyde] has said “it was the right time to do something different”. I’ve never thought of the Futureheads as too pigeonholed…

Perhaps a little, and having made four records we just fancied doing something different. We all thought that we had to go for something a bit more leftfield. Even if it is a detour ahead of the next ‘record proper’ it is good to step out yourself for a brief moment.

Some back to basics, using those strong harmonies you’ve always had…

Falling back in love with making music, there is no point in us just making a record for the sake of it. We liked the idea of stripping it back to no bus, no crew, no lights – smaller venues, intimate venues totally different to how we’ve done the ‘heads before.

A reminder of what you loved at the start?

A little bit, a sense of fun, but it is still serious; a capella takes real focus and concentration.

Are you touring exclusively as an a capella version?

Not quite. Half the set’ll be a capella, half acoustic, but with more unusual (for us) instruments. We didn’t want to roll out the radio session acoustic set thing – we’ve done that before, so it is all cellos, banjos, mandolins, 12 strings, that kind of thing.

I was kind of hoping you’d be in the full barbershop kit…

Haha! We spoke about that, but some of the arrangements are singing musical parts. Nothing quite fit a barbershop look, so we decided against it. There’ll be no boating jackets and straw hats on this tour.

The spark for this was ‘Acapella’ by Kelis, I bloody love that song! Has she heard? Enjoyed it?

Not the album version, but she’s heard the live lounge – Reggie Yates played her it. She seemed impressed, but I guess it is always flattering to be covered, it always seems interesting to hear other people’s interpretations. We got good feedback from Kate Bush – I think most people like it as long as you don’t make a right hash of it!

Haha, like you ruin the song in all its forms for everyone forever?!

Exactly!

With four ‘vocalists’ was there any competitiveness wanting to take the lead?

Not really. We’ve been doing it for so long that we’ve learnt to play to our strengths. It has kind of evolved towards this; we all inhabit a different bit of the vocal spectrum. We’re so used to all of us singing together all the time.

So, no MC rap battle throw-downs?

Nah, believe me pal, there isn’t’ a single MC amongst us, we’d be fighting to pass the mic. We left all the beatboxing at the door.

You’ve said that you don’t expect the record to get up the charts, but you hope the fans like it. I think as long as they go in to it with open minds…

Basically, we didn’t ever hope it would be anywhere near as successful as any of our other records. We wanted the detour, but it was nice to do stuff without the do-or-die need to shift records, or sell out venues. I’ve been surprised the enormous amount of good will about the record, which is lovely.

‘Rant’ seems like an important and interesting record, keeping folk traditionalism alive…

Yeah, well I totally agree with you there. English heritage and culture is on the rise, and is becoming important to people again. The most interesting thing is it is cyclical though. There’ll be another Arctic Monkeys with the electric guitar soon enough…

Taking the English idiom and re energising it – an end to the mid-Atlantic drawl…

Yeah, we got sick of going to local gigs and hearing people sing like they’re in Soundgarden, so to speak. The mid ’90s was a bad time for interesting guitar music. But regionalism has gone to the other extent, with amazing pockets of very local cultural identity all over.

So is folk the real punk?

The folk songs from the north east, the ones we went with, are a little more tongue in cheek, but yeah it is an interesting time to live in. Plan B’s new ‘iLL Manors’ is supposed to be great, people are gasping for people to speak up. Folk music has always done that.

Consensus is that Plan B is a great protest song-writer, like ‘urban folk’ spoken in the voice of the people who ‘need to hear it.’

When we were growing up, it wasn’t like the1960s and 1970s when the lefty political thing to do was to go and listen to folk. But rave became that, it was a document of the time – people gathering to step outside the defined lines of society. Then it was urban and grime. So he’s more pertinent in a classic ‘folk’ way than a lot of other artists.

So does that make Mumford and Sons the fifth column?

Maybe. Mumford and Sons playing for Obama and Cameron, letting the enemy in…

The Futureheads play the Union Chapel on the 4th of April and are one of the headliners of this year’s Camden Crawl.

This post originally appeared on Spoonfed on 29 March 2012

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