Originally published in The Irish Times, May 14th, 2010
POSEUR. IT’S a word that goes hand in hand with ‘chancer’, and is defined by the OED as “a person who behaves affectedly in order to impress”. It’s also a term that has been used by several to refer to Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson, the duo also known as synth-pop aficionados Hurts. It’s true, admittedly, to a certain extent; many punters will take one glance at Hurts, at their slick haircuts, sharp suits, moody photoshoots and stylised videos, and write them off without a second thought. Then again, many will be drawn to a band whose visual aesthetic is arguably the most striking of a British band’s in years. Hutchcraft, however, is well aware of the twofold nature of the business, as he sits on a park bench in Bristol the afternoon before he and Anderson play the city’s famous floating Thekla venue.
“We’ve always been of the opinion that half of the people are gonna hate us, and half of the people might like us,” the singer says in his affable Mancunian accent. “That’s just the nature of it, and I think we accepted that from a very early stage, so we never really worry about that too much. And it’s more that it’s an extension of the music for us, really. Because it’s pop music, it’d be easy to just shine things up and make things all colourful – but that’s not really who we are, so we’ve got to present it in the best way possible, the way that’s most true to ourselves.
“We’ve had people call us ‘art school projects’ and things like that, but I think our aesthetic will naturally bring that sort of reaction. I can understand why, because there’s an artistic element to it – but I think it’s more about creating something that’s not just five lads next door playing guitars. That’s just boring. If you create something with a bit more depth to it, people cherish it more.”
If ‘aesthetic’ is a term that constantly crops up in interviews, it’s second only to ‘the eighties’. It’d be futile to deny that Hurts are heavily influenced by bands from that particular era; Depeche Mode, New Order, The Human League, Erasure, Tears for Fears – they’re all in there, but given a sleek, modern twist by the pair. The parallels are something they’ve already come to accept, Hutchcraft admits.
“For us, the eighties was a time when people made pop music on their own terms, and were celebrated for it. I think that’s something that’s always appealed to me. It doesn’t have to be on a massive, over-Americanised scale, it can be homegrown but extend globally, too. The comparisons can be hard, but you’ve just gotta learn to accept them because it tends to be the truth – there’s nobody that has really come along and done anything to change things as much as bands did in the eighties.
“For me, there’s two different types of pop music, really. There’s American pop music, and there’s British pop music, and I think Britain’s always done it better. America’s very much a consumerist, very commercially-orientated place, and that leads to stuff being watered down quite a lot. I think in America, people find it quite hard to do pop music on their own terms – apart from perhaps someone like Lady Gaga – but I think there’s a lot of British acts around, people like Marina and the Diamonds, who do do it. But people have embraced alternative music now, in the mainstream, and embraced an alternative outlook on things, to a degree. So I think the next logical step is for them to embrace alternative pop music. I think it’s got a lot more depth, it’s real. That Justin Bieber-type world doesn’t seem real. I find it difficult to relate to American pop music, because it’s not a world that I understand, or really even want to understand. I’d rather find out about stuff that’s going to be more relevant to my life.”
Hutchcraft and Anderson originally met in 2005, when they were members of bands Bureau and Daggers, during which time they recorded with pop production svengali Richard X. Although not particularly commercially fruitful, that period provided them with the knowledge base to write songs like the superb ‘Better Than Love’, a tense, synth-addled delight that ushers in the most glorious, floorfilling chorus you’ll hear all summer, the quietly, moodily euphoric ‘Wonderful Life’ (which was also remixed by Arthur Baker), or soaring ballad ‘Stay‘.
“We were in bands that were chasing the same dream, but it was a case of serving a great apprenticeship, really,” he says. “We learnt a lot about what we really wanted – so it meant that when we started Hurts, we could go into it very focused, and very comfortable and confident. If we made music separately, it would be very different. I think we need our differences to make it what it is, and that’s exciting. I always think duos are better than single artists. With two people, you’ve got the purest form of music because you can see both sides of the coin, clear as day.”
The weight of expectation may not perch heavily on the pair’s shoulders – but surely the legacy of one of Britain’s most musical cities does. Although Hutchcraft and Anderson are too young (they’re 23 and 25, respectively) to have experienced the glory days of the eighties and nineties first-hand, they’re still aware of being a Mancunian band. With similar new-wave revivalists Delphic and Everything Everything also on the rise, there’s a definite resurgence of interest in that era in the city.
“I’m very aware that writing music in different places makes for a different outcome, and we could only have really made the album we’ve made in Manchester,” he agrees. “It’s very representative of the place, and it celebrates the place for what it is now, as opposed to what it was. I think that’s important for any new band, especially with a city that’s got a lot of heritage. You’ve got to try to look past that. It’s great to come from somewhere that’s got a history, it’s inspiring – but at the same time, the outcome for us was that it made us write big, bold songs because we figured that people look at Manchester and they see one thing. We thought ‘How can we make them see us, not the city we’re from?’. So we decided to write these huge, kind of skyscraping songs that people didn’t have an option to ignore. But yeah, I think if we wrote the album in Tenerife, it’d sound very different.”
Having only started playing live at the start of this year, their live show is also in the process of being honed – but again, the singer is unfazed by performing to crowds big or small, even before their eponymous album comes out in August. Like their records, their videos and their image, every minor detail counts in the Hurts camp.
“We’re very conscious of making our show special, making it stand out from the record, and making it something that people will treasure,” he says. “It can be done on any scale – it can be done with the two of us on piano, or with a 50-piece orchestra – but we have an opera singer with us who does all the backing vocals, we’ve got a drummer, another keyboard player…. But I think it’s more about the performance. These songs deserve to be performed, as opposed to just played, so we’ve gotta do them justice. It’s trying to cram something on a grand scale into a small place, and that’s what we try and do everywhere we go. Try and bring a huge concert hall into any venue that’ll have us.”