When it emerged, some 18 months ago, that The Futureheads had been dumped by their record label, the news was met with disappointment by fans, but also by a wider realisation that this is the new reality for an increasingly cash-starved record industry. If your first album hits number 11, you’d better make damned sure the second makes the top ten.
Unfortunately, The Futureheads’ second LP, News and Tributes, peaked at 12. Guitarist Ross Millard recalls how it felt to be seen as expendable failures: “It definitely does bruise your ego, I can’t deny that. We were mortified at certain points, but then, what do you do? It’s more embarrassing to quit.”
It may sound perverse, but Millard is still proud of News and Tributes, even proud of the effect it had on their career: “We certainly don’t have any regrets, because it led to us getting dropped, which led to us being here. I think if we have success on this third album then the second album might come to be seen in a better light because I think it’s some of our best work. We literally did everything on the second that we didn’t on the first and in hindsight maybe that was just too severe, maybe too harsh a change for people to handle at the time.”
Although the thought of quitting did – fleetingly – cross their minds, it was never really an option for the tight-knit Sunderland group. It only took the goodwill of their fans to convince them to carry on. “We did a small tour of the UK in December 2006 without any tour support or finance and that was sold out and it gave us the true incentive to make another record, because you’re still playing to all these kids who know all the words, love the band and we thought, OK, we need to do something, quickly.”
But The Futureheads didn’t take the obvious path and go looking for another record label to fund their creative endeavours; they formed their own, Nul Records, designed purely for their own material. “I think we were relieved because we realised that the climate would allow bands to do their own thing a bit more,” Millard says.
This DIY philosophy harks back to the band’s post-punk forebears of the late ’70s and early ’80s, when labels like Stiff, Postcard and Fast Product either reacted against the bloated majors with a consciously home-made aesthetic, or subverted the industry from within by emulating its New Wave sheen. Does Millard think it is time that the DIY model was given another shot?
“I’d like to think that it’s a model or an example to other bands. We got a MySpace message from The Von Bondies a couple of weeks ago saying that they’d read the NME feature [about The Futureheads’ self-releasing strategy] and they’d managed to get out of their deal with Sire in America. It’s amazing that people read that and try to change their own situation because there are thousands of bands just sitting on record company rosters without any finance, without being able to go on tour anywhere, just rotting. The onus is on them now, if they’ve got the hunger for it, to go out and do something themselves.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Futureheads write songs with unashamedly ‘pop’ choruses, and the new album This Is Not The World is perhaps their most accessible yet. Surely it’s impossible to operate completely independently of ‘the business’? “Inevitably we have one foot in it and one foot out. It would be impossible for us to make a living out of music if we refused to make videos or refused to work with TV pluggers or press officers. If we were to go back to operating on an underground level then it would have to become a part time concern. I don’t think that’s what any of us want, and not just because we want to do this in our day-to-day jobs but because we feel that our music is more deserving than that.”
Despite The Futureheads’ new-found outsider status, it hasn’t taken much persuasion for the mainstream media to embrace the band all over again. Lead single The Beginning of the Twist was picked up by Radio 1’s all-powerful drive-time playlist, while the video currently plays on rotation on the indie music channels. The band have emerged from an unpleasant situation with renewed liberty, creativity and success.
The only problem that remains is one of logistics: singer Barry is getting married the same weekend as T in the Park.
Millard: “They’re getting married in Sunderland so I guess we could do T, do a whistle-stop tour, fly down to Sunderland or something. I dunno, it’s a bit like something Status Quo would do! But he really wants to do it, and we’d all love to do it as well.”
Since the time of writing, The Futureheads have confirmed that they will indeed play T, on Friday 11 July.
This Is Not The World is out now
(Feature for The Skinny)