On meeting fast-rising Mancunian duo Hurts we are not prepared for a religious experience. Yet the venue seems strangely appropriate, seated as we are in the chapel of St Barnabas House, deep in Soho. Our voices echo slightly, while the clink of a coffee cup turns into a near-deafening crash.
As befits their tradition, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson are immaculately dressed, the former with his hair slicked back in a manner recalling Jude Law, the latter slightly more at ease but still with a sharp waistcoat and jeans combination that cut a dash.
Hurts – or HURTS, depending on your persuasion – are back in town for the first time since an appearance at Lovebox, “when we were almost dying of poisoning,” says Adam. “When I came off stage half of my head had been in the sun the whole gig, and this side of my head was almost black and this side was pale Mancunian,” he recalls.
“Also,” says Theo, “we’d travelled for about 15 hours from Berlin, and we had a really shit old 1970s bus which was so bad all the fumes from the exhaust were coming in the air vents, so we spent 15 hours on a bus inhaling exhaust fumes. We only just got there in time, thought we were going to be sick but then had to go straight on.” “I’m actually worried about that now,” says Adam, “because we thought it was a laugh at the time but I was actually inhaling carbon monoxide for 12 hours, and it’s like ‘what happened to me?!'”
The band played in searing heat to the denizens of Victoria Park, and as Adam says, “playing in the daytime and playing in the sun is always a bit weird, because of how the music is, but it does kind of work”. Is that because their music exists on two levels, with light and shade? Theo nods appreciatively. “That’s the perfect observation! It’s what we’ve said as we’ve gone round playing gigs in different environments at different times of day, different kinds of venue. You do realise that about your own music, that it has different sides to it. We went to Japan last week, and people there do see the light to it. Even though they don’t speak English it’s because the music is often hopeful, whereas the lyrics are often quite sad. They just get the melodies, and the rest of it doesn’t register.”
“That kind of theatre is what we saw in our head when we wrote the songs.” – Hurts find their perfect auditorium in London’s KOKO
So what is the ideal Hurts venue for a live gig? “We played the first gig in a church like this”, says Theo. “For me the best one is KOKO,” says Adam, “as the whole gallery thing is amazing. It’s kind of intimate but a big space too.” “That kind of theatre is what we saw in our head when we wrote the songs,” agrees Theo, “but then playing in a tiny club in Berlin can also be the most intense show in the world, and it kind of works on that scale. Maybe we should play an oil rig, or a cruise ship or something!”
Hurts polled fourth in the BBC Sound Of 2010 poll at the start of the year, a billing that has brought their music to a lot of people, as Theo has found. “One thing we’ve noticed as we’ve been going around is that we get asked about that everywhere. Even in Japan every interviewer asked us about that, so it must carry a lot of weight.” “I think what’s important about that is people getting a chance to hear our music,” says Adam, “because it offers people an alternative to the music that exists in their life, music that we don’t think is available that often.” “That poll was based on one song, Wonderful Life,” says Theo, “and a video, which was great because we already had all the other songs written, so it gave us confidence to finish the record. We didn’t falter but it gave us that extra bit we needed.”
The duo dress to impress, both in their videos and on stage. It’s clear this is important to them, and for Theo the origins run deep. “We want to make it very minimal, but funnily enough the way we dress comes from an odd place, quite different to what people would think. When we were on the dole, which was for about three years, we were working on our music every day and trying to learn what to do. Every Wednesday you’ve got to go to the job centre and go ‘I’m a loser, please give me some money’, which is a fucking horrible experience. If you go in there in a suit or looking smart, you come out with a little bit of pride left, and we’d go back to our flat and go ‘Ah, we’re not losers!’ The more it goes on the more you do it. We’d be meeting record companies and stuff, and we’d have to get a Megabus overnight from Manchester, and feel worthless doing it. So it all comes from there.”
He takes a sip of coffee, retaining his poise while doing so. “It retains some dignity, and that’s really important. But also with the presentation we wanted things to be simple. We didn’t want to clutter the music with it being overly presented, because pop music covers that sort of thing up a lot. We wanted to be bold and say ‘there’s the music’, and just let people judge the music alone. It’s a good stance, because it is brave to do that.”
“We thought if we could just work hard enough, we won’t have to live this life. Now we’re in a perpetual state of ‘keep it going, keep it going'”…– Hurts make the most of every minute away from their previous lives and the dole queue
Much is made of their discovery of slow disco in Italy. Theo laughs. “That’s our boring trip to Verona, which has somehow become the most romantic thing ever! It was cheap – the cheapest place where Ryanair did flights. We had no money, and Verona’s kind of not that brilliant. It’s not like Romeo and Juliet. So we went out and got drunk, and met this guy who asked us what sort of music we made. We were talking about Italian disco and Savage, stuff like that, and he said ‘your music sounds like this!’ And we were like, ‘you haven’t even heard it!’ but he said ‘I can see it happening’. We’d been so interested in how European and Western music is perceived, without any sort of agenda, just pop music for the sake of it. But then it was a bit of ‘what was that guy about’, and we took from that. We’ve taken a lot from Italy, our videos are influenced by Italian films. Those places are a million miles away from where we wrote the music, in the rain in Manchester, and then to go there, and to perform in Greece, it was so weird. Songs about Bristol and suicide, they connect somehow. People say they’re exotic, but not in the way we imagine exotic to be.”
Does that mean their music has its roots in club music? Anderson shakes his head. “Not particularly.” “The funny thing with that,” says Theo, “is that when we started we did listen to a lot ofDepeche Mode and Tears For Fears, and then we moved away to people like Coldplay and even Nine Inch Nails, for the production. The constant challenge with our music I think was to make it modern, which is very difficult. To position an idea in the modern environment was a big thing, so we were even listening to people like Take That.”
The band have their own operatic singer, who performs with them live. “Hopefully it separates things from the album, pushes it on a bit,” says Adam. “It’s something nobody else is doing. He always gets his own round of applause though, and gets a bigger round than we do, which is kind of annoying!”
Was being on the dole has been their primary inspiration for writing music thus far? “The inspiration is not to go back there!” is Adam’s take. Theo expands further. “I think a lot of our music is about escape, which is why there are the dramatic and cinematic elements to it. We’ve sat there in the bedsit, we put all of our desperation into the songs in a way of never going back there again. We thought if we could just work hard enough, we won’t have to live this life. Now we’re in a perpetual state of ‘keep it going, keep it going’, and now we’ve been given the opportunities our brains are just wide open. It’s a big thing, that, escape, and the way it’s presented and the live shows. Unknown to ourselves we created a world around us and what we wanted to do, as a means of escape.”
Will that continue to be their influence? Adam thinks a while before responding. “It’ll be interesting when we start writing music again, because when we started writing this album our world was so tiny. My world was a bedsit in Gorton in Manchester. Your comfort zone expands so much with travelling around, I can feel it already, which way we could go. In the beginning it was simple and small ideas.”
Does that mean what they’ve heard on their travels will inform their musical choices? “For the 18 months or so that it took to write the record we weren’t listening to anyone, which is mad! We were so desperate to not make it sound like anyone, we were only listening to our own songs, which drives you mental. There were weeks where we would think, ‘are we doing the right thing, shall we get some perspective’, and it was like ‘NO!’ But it’s good, because now we’ve started to see it again, we’ve got a lot out of us.”
“You need to show your personality, every part of your personality, and everything – the videos, the production – needs to come from the same place.” – Hurts’ Theo Hutchcraft
“It’s really nice to do that again,” continues Adam, “because we’re rediscovering music having been locked away, and collecting influences again. So it’s very inspirational, and makes you think what could come. Going to Europe makes things bigger, and makes you realise what parts of your songs connect with people, and what things you do make sense to people, how you can get things across. Because we put a lot of layers in the songs it’s great when people say ‘I see what you’re doing now’.
Those are the musical layers that come across either on headphones or in a club, presumably. “Exactly, that’s the point. If you put all that effort in to it, which we’ve done, whether it’s being perfectionist or being neurotic or whatever, it’s offering people an alternative. Pop music doesn’t have to all be one dimensional, on the surface. If you ask people who their favourites are, people like Michael Jackson, Prince and even Madonna, there’s not one layer to it, there never was. There’s a responsibility for people to put that effort in, and not just make it a simple thing. Some people can just take a melody, which is enough, but we want people to go further.”
“People say pop music is disposable,” he continues, “but it’s not that really, it’s the type of music that makes it disposable. It’s why someone like Lady Gaga sits astride the world, because her songs work in a car on the way home from college, in a nightclub, but also on a level where you can sit at home and just watch.”
A lot has been made of how Hurts might be perceived as something of a boy band, but Adam professes himself more than happy with their record label RCA’s vision. “It’s been easy from the beginning with them. Before we were signed we spoke to them about every part of who we are, and they completely supported the vision and have never really challenged us.” His band mate is in full agreement. “It’s amazing in this day and age to find a record label who will just let you be yourselves. I personally know people who get pulled around and personalities get lost, so they’ve allowed us to retain that. We put in a lot of work before to make it a fully formed idea, and it gives you faith in the music business when someone says ‘OK’. You need to show your personality, every part of your personality, and everything – the videos, the production – needs to come from the same place. We know how much we need them as much as they need us. It’s a give and take situation – a no brainer really.”
So the fact the album is called Happiness – given the conversations we’ve just had – isn’t more than a slight irony? “Not at all,” says Theo, “there’s a contrast in everything we do, with light and shade. All the songs are about the pursuit of happiness, which is often quite sad – everybody’s journey towards that can often be quite tragic, but also very hopeful. For us it’s very telling of our situation. A year ago today we were on the dole, very, very unhappy and very insecure about what we were going to do. Then we finished the album and all of a sudden we feel more secure, confident in ourselves and happy.”
The strong sense of inner conviction is clear to see. “It’s blind, yeah!” says Theo. “You can’t falter from it for one moment. That’s why you can be on the dole for three years and lose all your friends, because they tell you you’re chasing a dream. When it’s pop music the ceiling is so far away you’ve got to aim right up with it. Once it gets in your blood it carries on, so if we enjoy and value every day, we will be OK – but we can’t have a day off.”
Hurts’s debut album Happiness is out on 6 September 2010 through RCA and the title track is available to download free until then here. They play Bestival on 11 September and tour the UK in October, including a stop at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 9th October.