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Ross Millard - The Futureheads PDF Print E-mail
Written by Martyn McFadden   
17 12 2010
ImageIt's been a busy year for The Futureheads. In April they released The Chaos, their fourth, second on their own label Nul Records, album and consequently spent the rest of the year touring all over the world. In September they headlined Sunderland's own Split Festival, a festival which The Futureheads own Barry Hyde had a hand in organising. Next week sees them return to the North East for Futurefest, a special Christmas gig showcasing some of the most exciting new bands from the North East. Martyn McFadden caught up with guitarist Ross Millard to talk touring America, the future of the music industry and Manchester United.

M:  How are you? How was America?

R: Yeah, it feels like a lifetime ago now to be honest. I know we went off to do that right after Split Festival but because we've done quite a lot of European shows in the meantime and then those Biffy (Clyro) shows, it seems like ages ago, but aye it was good. It'd been a long time since we'd been out there properly. We did an East Coast tour earlier in the year and then we went back over for that West Coast one after Split, it was magic like. There's nowhere to go on tour quite like the States, y'know.

How are you going down there at the minute?
I think there's a good amount of kids going out to the shows. There seems to be, I don't want to be too down on Britain because I think that's almost turned a corner itself, but in the states there seems to be a bit more optimism in the whole culture of still buying records and still seeing what's coming through town. It's mad because you play somewhere like say Los Angeles or New York or Chicago and there's quite a few shows happening in the same city on the same night. There aren't that many bigger cities for bands to be going and playing, so that excitement level is there you know, certainly at some of the shows we played. I think I preferred the East Coast in general, for the attitude of the people but in general the shows were buzzing because of that. There's a lot of optimism in the air.

Cool. Do you ever get to the point where you think "actually, I can't be arsed to be on the road for three months I wouldn't mind just stopping at home with my girlfriend"?
(Laughs) I think it's got to be a bit harder for a couple of us this time round, mainly I suppose Dave because he's got his son Louis. I think that's a big thing for him, y'know, he doesn't want to miss all the formative years of his kid growing up, he wants to be there and I think every time he comes home he realises he's grown up a little bit, or he's changing all the time. I don't know, it's always a bit hard leaving him when we go on tour somewhere but I think he knows as much as anyone that it's something we need to do as much as we want to do it. Bands don't get to exist as just studio bands anymore, you've got to be out there on the road, and you've got to be out there all the time. That's what we've always been like anyway, the spirit of the band lives in gigs. I think for him though, it's a little bit like he's tearing himself away from home at times. I think there was a bit of tiredness creeping in from Barry at the end of the year as well. That's natural you know, we played over 100 shows this year, so it's been a busy one. I don't know, now, especially after Christmas, is a good time for us to have a chuck of time off and a rest, and then maybe start working on some stuff in the North East. It'd be nice and easy for us really.


I saw The Futureheads at Split Festival earlier this year, and it was the first time I saw you in about 18 months before that, but you seem to have enough of a back catalogue to reel off an hour long show, where almost every song seems like a single or a really strong album track. Have you got a loved set list where it's pretty much as it is, or does it change round much?
Yeah, it's a funny one that. When you start, you're almost asked to do too much sometimes, it's almost like you've really got to scrap the barrel to fill an hour and that can be really challenging for bands, especially us. I mean we used to have songs that were ninety seconds long, so it could be quite hard to make that last out. I think they key though is to take your best set, whether that's half an hour or an hour at that stage. For us now, a festival set is a bit more obvious than a set would be at our own show. I think when you do something like we did at Split Festival or Evolution, you write a set list that is basically going to accommodate the most people, you want it to be the best experience as a whole for everyone. If the crowd are buzzing off it, then the band are as well. For us we can do a set full of singles or our bigger tunes, but when we come to do our own shows, we normally play quite a lot of the songs still, there's only a handful of that we don't play, mostly off the second album, and mostly because they're slow, or detuned or acoustic, so we can change it about every night sort of thing.

Have you ever not played Hounds Of Love at a gig or do you feel like you have to play it because it's kind of your signature to a certain extent?
It's song that people identify with us the most for sure. But I really don't think we've done a show where we haven't played it. The only time we may not have played it was at one or two of the Linkin Park shows we played earlier this year in Europe, just because we really adapted our set list to be a sort of "extreme Futureheads" (laughs.) Sometimes, I think with songs like that, I mean I don't know if Franz Ferdinand would really do a tour of their own and not play Take Me Out. It's one of those things where the song embodies the band, and to not play it is sometimes a little bit obtuse, people can get a bit upset about that sort of thing.

I read an interview with Peter Hook from New Order yesterday, where he said they basically stopped playing Blue Monday for five years in the nineties because they were sick of doing it, as if it were really hard work to do it. Bin men going to work every day don't say "I can't be arsed to empty this bin." It's like you've got this amazing song that everyone knows you for and then you're going to turn round and be a bit conceited about it.
(Laughs) Yeah. You can lose all perspective of a certain point I think though and start to feel like, I mean, songs are just songs, they're just three minutes of someone's life usually, even though they come to mean a lot more, they are still songs, no more no less. Saying something like that almost gives too much gravitas to these songs, at the end of the day, they're just something someone has paid 12.50 to come and hear, you know.

ImageYour new single, Christmas Was Better In The 80s, was it just better in the 80s because you got lots of presents and didn't have to buy any to give back?
Haha! Yeah, I was speaking to Baz (Barry Hyde) about that, cos it's his song that one, and I was saying like well aye fair enough, for us it certainly was, on a personal point of view. I think what he's getting at on the song it's about the youthfulness of it, whatever era you're from, it was better when you were young enough to see the full magic in something. Maybe, we'll get that back in the near future, having kids of our own, the magic coming back in a different form. But for now, for us anyway, Christmas was certainly better in the 80s.

Song writing wise, do you have one lyricist or do you contribute? How do you construct the songs, is it someone's initial idea, or do you just sort of "jam" riffs?
We've done it a lot of different ways over the years. We've tried to keep the way that we write changing in a way, to make the music do something different. Generally, me and Barry will write the full lyrics for a song, we've written together on a few songs in the past, but we're nearly always apart. Same with the riffs, either he'll come into practice with a riff or a chord structure or I will and after that we'll just work round it until there's a full song sort of thing. Quite a lot of his songs we work out completely musically first, so they're instrumentals that he'll put a melody to afterwards. Whereas mine, I've normally got full lyrics and maybe the melodies for a verse and then we'll make it work for the rest of the song. I think the two of us are pretty different song writers but I think that's where Dave and Jaff come in, with good ideas for arrangements, Dave's drumming, and I think his style of drumming is a massive part of the band's identity because he's quite an unusual drummer, he almost plays like it's his second instrument! He's not a typical drummer.

I don't know how you'd describe him, but when I first saw him I thought it was bizarre, but it doesn't take anything away from the body of the music.
No, in fact I think it makes us what we are. Once he starts playing, the songs began to feel like Futureheads songs. They're certain parts of a bands DNA that you can never really mess with, and maybe if we go off and make a record completely different to what we're known for, if he's playing on it, as much as the harmonies, it's going to sound like us. It's an important part of us.

Didn't you have a different drummer initially?
Aye, Pete Brewis of Field Music used to play for us. Again he's the same sort of player, a multi-instrumentalist, so when he gets behind the kit he doesn't play like a rock drummer would; it's almost how like a percussion player would, sort of semi handed, looking at the drums. For example, Field Music have got a lot of marimba parts now in the more recent tracks and I think it's a similar approach to what he had with the drums, kinda like melodies on the drums rather than just beats. It's a different approach, but I think it really adds something.


The song News & Tributes is dedicated to the victims of the Munich air disaster, and you're a big Manchester United fan. I'm guessing you wrote that song. How come you ended up supporting up Manchester United? Do you get to many games?
Basically I support United because my Dad's from Manchester and I've been brought up that way.  Ever since I was a kid watching them, we were season ticket holders there, so we go when I'm around there, which is most of the time. I have quite a hard time getting rid of my seats when I cannot make it mind, I don't know anyone else in the North East who properly supports them enough to go down to see them. With that record we wanted to write songs about... the first album was very much about growing up in Sunderland, and little social moments that you'd have or just little experiments with songs we had in our small practise room in Sunderland and it was written with no great intention to make an album or tour or anything. With the second one we thought what do we write about now and it was basically the idea of pulling stories from newspapers or going back in time and writing songs about moments in history, and to me it was a good thing to write a song about because it's got a lot of body to the story, there's a lot of emotion to that story that doesn't really get covered much, so I thought it would be a good story to write a song about.

After a decade in the music industry, you've had your highs and lows and probably enough promises and bull shit from people in the music industry. Does it make you cynical about the industry or do you just feel like you have to separate the weak from the chaff, like in any other industry?
Yeah I think that's it. You get passionate people working in it as much as you get morons working in it, looking to just have a bit of a doss about you know. Everyone makes mistakes, and a lot of the music business is about predicting trends, predicting what's going to work in the future and what's not. I think we felt... basically, after our second record came out, we felt like the label had not really done it justice in terms of pushing the record and A&R as well, if we needed to do more in the studio we would have been fine with that, barring in mind that we were still 18/19 when we were making that record or whatever, there wasn't really any support from them in that sense.  They were more than happy with the record when it was finished but by the time it came to release it they had almost consigned it not having done as well as the last one. I think that was disappointing for us, so when the opportunity came for us to make records in a different way, we took it. It was a mutual thing really, they basically said if we sign you for another record, for the rest of the contract, you need to drop the advance to make it work, and we said no thanks, you're alright and we'll just go on our own. At the time it was a bit scary because that means you're out there on your own with our management trying to do it. Now that we've made two records in that style, I feel like we know what's going on. Basically the whole bottom of the industry is sell out anyway and it's very very hard for anyone to sell records at the moment. The way that we're doing it we can still turn a profit; it's gone back to being like a cottage industry with the effort, but behind the scenes it's fine. We can still play festival shows, we can still do tours and this that and the other. For us it hasn't really affected the gigs that we do, or the profile we've got or the fans that we have, we're just a lot more clued up on how much money we spend and where we spend it basically.

In the past were you relying on other people to do things for you, whereas now is it more like you're more in control of your own destiny?
I think so. That whole thing of if you have an idea to do something, you don't have to run it by so many people before you can start to make it happen. Whereas then it was almost expected that it would be other people who had the ideas about marketing the record, or where to tour or what to do and the band would just, if they felt like it was alright, sign on the dotted line and go do it. The music industry has changed unrecognisably since we released records on major label; it's probably changed more in the last 5 years than it had in the fifty years before it. I think there's still people out there who love music, that hasn't changed. The whole business needs to get on top of the lend that it's taking out of people for a while. Maybe if you didn't have to pay 8.99 on iTunes for a digital album, if you paid 4.99 people maybe more likely to go online and buy it, rather than nick it for free. You have to think of what you're asking of people for what you're giving them, I think that we're very conscience of that but sometimes, because of what it costs to make records and stuff, it's quite hard to get it right. You've got to try and test the waters to see what people are prepared to do for you sort of thing. We've had a good year of it this year.

I suppose at the same time, albums were like 12 ten years ago, even though stuff like alcohol has gone up, music is actually cheaper, but now it's just as easy to download music for nothing online.
Looking at it from a completely commercial point of view, is the money completely in touring and festivals, like you're just producing records so you've got new songs and you can therefore play them live? You work toward making a new record but then, financially, you have to tour it to get anything back.

Oh yeah, definitely. Commercially speaking, I think albums are now looked upon as just being calling cards, or an excuse for a band to get on the road. Basically you earn money off singles, download singles, and from playing live shows and touring. Quite a lot of bands don't even make money from that, they have to do corporate shows or work with brands, or this that and the other, because those bands that are still tied into major label deals, those 360 deals where a portion of their mech gets eaten up by the major label. The trade off there is that some of these bands travel in one or two tour buses and sometimes take catering, there's always a trade off, it's not just black and white. There are always pros and cons to both. I do admit that if Universal stepped in tomorrow and said we want to release The Futureheads fifth album, major label style, then I don't think it would as easy as going "you're alright mate, ta", I think it would have to be a sit down chat because it might still better way for all we known. As far as our head space is concerned, it's been really good for us to do it on our own, to set up our own label and know that we own the copyright to our music and just how that sort of... it's almost like a full circle of being back at the DIY way of doing things. You cannot put a price on that really.

It's good to be able to do things at your own speed. Finally, people read a lot of band biographies describing what they're like and what they like to do. If you had to write a biography on the other three members of the band, how would you briefly describe them?

Right well, Baz would be comically balanced, wannabe chef. Dave Hyde would be sculptor turned painter turned accidental drummer. Jaff would be bridge playing, golf playing, save nothing for retirement, slightly conservative (with a small c) and best friend of Ross Millard (guitars.) 

Futurefest will take place at the 02 Academy, Newcastle on the 23rd December and will feature sets from Frankie & The Heartstrings, Little Comets, Coal Train and The Generals. You can buy tickets from here if you like. I would if I were you.

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