'All we wanted to be was the best band in Sunderland' - The Futureheads on reforming with new album Powers
After almost a decade, arguably Sunderland’s most successful band, The Futureheads, are back with a new album and a renewed passion for their craft.
With much anticipation from fans, Powers will be released on August 30, the first guitar album from the four-piece in nine years since 2010’s The Chaos.
A cappella album Rant followed in 2012 but after that the band followed their own paths in life: Barry became a chef before going into teaching and releasing solo material; Ross focused on being an arts professional and graphic designer, as well as performing with Frankie & the Heartstrings and helping to bring events such as Summer Streets to his home city: Jaff became a teacher at Howletch Lane Primary in Peterlee and Dave had success with Hyde & Beast before becoming a painter and decorator and landscape gardener.
The Futureheads never left their lives, however, and Barry says the timing was right for their comeback.
“It was just the right amount of time to take off, but our most influential time was in the last decade so we had no idea what to expect,” explained the 38-year-old from Thornhill. “After the band went on a break I became a cook and then a teacher, I’d become disillusioned with music. I started doing more and more teaching jobs and pretty soon I was doing 30 hours a week teaching music and it made me have a new appreciation for it: the skill and art of it all.”
Speaking about how they came to reform, he said: “I’ve always been playing guitar still, mostly acoustic gypsy jazz and I got offered a nostalgia night in London a couple of years ago. I’d been doing my own stuff, which is all melancholy and not a money spinner, it’s very niche and not right for a nightclub. So I went and did a set of Futureheads songs, everyone was singing along and I thought ‘this is cool’.
“I believe you get a lot of tests in life and schlepping across London on your own in the height of summer with two guitars to play a nightclub at 1am in an area where people get stabbed was one of them. I passed the test and spoke to my agent about doing more gigs. I spoke to Ross, Jaff and Dave and Jaff was adamant that if we do something again it should involve a new album, rather than a greatest hits.”
Any hesitations the band may have had about returning were soon dashed. Since they announced their return, first single Jekyll had its first radio play from 6Music’s Steve Lamacq; they’ve had sold out UK shows; bookings have been rolling in for festivals including Electric Fields, Tramlines Festival, Latitude and Neverworld and, although Powers is self-recorded and produced, it will be released through Sony-owned The Orchard.
At the height of the band’s success in the mid 2000’s, the band had a top 10 single with their infectiously sing-a-long cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, for which they earned an NME Single of the Year accolade, and they toured across the world, as well as supporting the likes of Foo Fighters and Snow Patrol. On home turf, they’ll be forever linked to SAFC thanks to The Beginning of the Twist, which the lads used to run out to, and the band are still one of the only Sunderland acts to have ever performed on the hallowed pitch.
But Barry says it’s a relief to be free of the pressures of touring schedules, headlines and chart positions this time around.
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“We don’t feel the pressure of breaking into the market, we have enough of a legacy and a fan base to exist,” he explained over a drink at Holmeside Coffee. “The response we’ve had to coming back has been amazing. You’re really vulnerable going out there and playing your own music. People can just leave at a festival and walk away and we’ve certainly had anxiety dreams about that, but fortunately it’s never happened.
“We’ve always tried to leave a good impression with people and be on time and I think that down to earthness comes from our roots in Sunderland.”
Gone are the days of hiring a farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales or in the mountains of Sierra Nevada for a month to record an album. For sixth studio album Powers they’ve had to juggle family life, school holidays and day jobs with recording sessions at Newcastle's First Avenue Studio.
Barry, who lives with partner Cindy and kids Milenna, six, Nico, almost two, and Solomon, seven months, said: “Back then we were doing it full time and signed to a major record label so you could wake up in the mountains, surrounded by valleys of oranges, and spend 14 hours a day recording. Now you have to record on a Sunday, because it’s the only day you can all do, make sure the kids are sorted, head to the studio and try and be creative. The process has been like our first album though because we don’t feel jaded with the music industry, we’re not reliant on it anymore so we can really enjoy it. If it charts fantastic, but if it doesn’t ‘who cares’.”
He said: “Recording was a longer process but we know we’ve got an album that’s full of ideas and creativity that’s very lyrical too. It’s called Powers because we’ve used every bit of skill that we have. Part of our uniqueness is how we work together. We’re known for our nice, intricate four-part harmonies and scratchy guitar stuff, that’s our unique power.”
Powers will be released on five formats: cassette (with a download code), three editions of vinyl including black, magenta and a Wearside vinyl of translucent white and red marble, as well as CD.
And it will be celebrated with a much-anticipated sold-out home town gig at Bonded Warehouse, beside the Fish Quay, on September 4 in which they’ll play the album in its entirety.
Their older tracks will be shown some love with a December UK tour, including a local date at Northumbria University on December 13 which will celebrate 15 years since the release of their debut self-titled album.
Barry said: “When we went on hiatus I’d been struggling with mental health (which he chronicled years later in candid solo album Malody) and we kind of ended very unceremoniously, there was no farewell tour. When we started as a band all we ever wanted to be was the best band in Sunderland, but you soon get sucked into the music industry and PR, the industry seduces you.
“It’s different now, we don’t need all that, and this is a chance for us to celebrate an album that means a lot to us, and other people too.”