Hurts are back, and playing a free gig for ShortList readers. Louise Donovan meets them
“ShortList is part of the reason I haven’t touched alcohol in 18 months,” the instrument-playing half of the notoriously stylish Hurts, Adam Anderson, tells me as I arrive at London’s Spring Studios for today’s shoot. We haven’t ‘officially’ started our interview yet, but it’s clear he wants to get something off his chest: “You try explaining something like that to your mum and dad. I was banned from my house for a year.” He’s joking about his parents outlawing him from Sunday roasts (we think), but not the sobriety. The incident in question? That’ll be his eightsome. While promoting their second album, 2013’s Exile, Anderson gave us an insight into the more, let’s say, extreme end of Hurts’ touring tales, and one particularly memorable night in Kiev. It’s been two years, but he hasn’t forgotten: “I’m still harbouring guilt about that interview.”
“It’s like a reflection in the mirror…” the equally chiselled frontman Theo Hutchcraft laughs, when I bring up the subject later. “Sometimes you just go, ‘Wow.’”
Do we feel guilty for inducing alcohol-free living on a plucky young lad? Not really. Thing is, we don’t think Anderson feels that bad. Actually, we get the funny feeling he’s more concerned with the specifics of our reporting.
“Some of it isn’t true,” explains Hutchcraft, “which I still tease Adam about.”
Anderson agrees: “There were some numerical errors.”
Ah. So it wasn’t an eightsome?
“Well, yeah, that was a slight error. However, I’m not going to say it was a drastic error.”
CHANGE OF HEART
After five years, and an endless supply of tales about Polish gangsters, Miss Germanys and Estonian hunchbacks (Google it), are Manchester’s pop-taking-it-to-the-realm-of-rock stars finally calming down? Have they had enough of the all-night benders? The near-hysterical females chasing them down the street? Sort of. These days, it seems, they have simply got a bit fussier.
“When you first start in a band, you assume that one day the parties will be over and that there will be no more,” says Hutchcraft, as we nestle into a fine, leather-furnished room I can’t help but think feels purpose-built for the immaculately attired pair. “But when you get five or six years into it, you realise: there will always be a party to go to. So you pick your battles. When we made the last album we were like a coiled spring. Once we finished it was like: ‘Arghhhhh.’ And when you spend most of your days in Eastern Europe, strange things happen…”
Their adoring fan base isn’t showing any signs of wavering, either. If Exile’s darker, heavy Nine Inch Nails-y guitars divided people – they either appreciated the overblown Eighties pomp or, well, hated it – it hasn’t done them any harm. They’ve had gold records in Austria, platinum in countries as far flung as Russia and performed to one in 60 of the population of Iceland. Their latest single, Some Kind Of Heaven, rocketed to No1 in Kyrgyzstan which is, according to Hutchcraft, great news: “I don’t even know where Kyrgyzstan is.”
All of which brings us careering onto the subject of Hurts’ excellent third album, Surrender, from which Some Kind Of Heaven is taken. Out next week, they’ve done a “total 180” and reverted back to doing what they do best: explosive synth-pop, soaring choruses and a bucket-load of melodrama. Fancy being one of the first people to hear said new tracks live? You can, of course, as Hurts are the next band to take the stage in our series of free gigs with Lynx Anti-Perspirant. Three weeks ago, Rudimental blew the roof off London’s Hackney Empire, this time we’ve heading to Birmingham for Hurts’ first UK gig in two years. You know the drill by now: it’s free, simply sign up here and get yourself down to the venue soon as.
So, after all the doom and gloom of yesteryear, are they simply a little bit happier now?
“At the time, we wanted to explore what it was like to make a darker record. But it was draining. And you don’t want to repeat yourself, really. So when we set out to do this one, we thought: ‘Right, let’s make a big pop record.’ But as far as our personalities go… the weirdest thing about us is that we’re not weird at all. I often think people think we’re some sort of mystical characters. Or gloomy. But we’re not, we’re just normal. It’s nice to be able to show the other side.”
Fans need not fret, you’ve still got Hutchcraft pouring his heart out over any number of dramatic girl-related qualms (“She said her daddy was an alcoholic/And her mother was an animal,” he sings on Rolling Stone). And there’s still lots of ballads. But what’s interesting are the tracks that sound different to anything they’ve done before: Lights is so light it’s verging on funky (you can thank mega-producer Ariel Rechtshaid for that), while the synth-filled Why makes you want to shimmy in the direction of the nearest dancefloor.
Hutchcraft agrees: “Ballads come easy to us. [That’s why] our albums are always filled with them. [A song like] Lights takes work. It’s got a positive mood, which sounds simple, but for us is quite difficult to achieve.”
Three albums in, they’ve defied the naysayers who sneered at their overblown production. In fact, it’s something they thrive on: “We are often described as being theatrical, but that’s what we love. That’s what we think music should be. People go, ‘Oh it’s big, it’s over the top,’ and I think, ‘Well, of course it is – that’s why we did it.’”
DRESSED TO THE NINES
“I have no idea. Have a look down my trousers,” Anderson instructs me, before I put my hand down the back of his high-waisted trousers. It’s really dark in this studio, and I can’t see a thing. Things haven’t got weird, I promise – I just really like Anderson’s trousers and have asked him where they’re from. He hasn’t a clue, hence the label check. But since the duo rolled on to the scene in top-notch, super-sharp tailoring, this sartorial line of questioning has become du jour: Rolling Stone once went as far to call them “the most stylish band in the world right now”.
If you’re a fan, you’ll know the suits have always been a package deal with Hurts. Yet much is also made of their ‘working class done good’ roots, and it’s well-trodden news that the duo used to collect their dole money dressed to the nines. Still, after the leaps they’ve made, does it annoy them to see well-to-do musicians in waistcoats and tweed coats?
“People make too much of it,” says Hutchcraft, a little narked. “We’re obsessed with class in this country. We have a big chip on our shoulder about it. And reverse classism is just as bad as snobbery. As long as you’re being honest, that’s fine. If you’re not, then that’s your own problem. We don’t walk around shouting about where we come from, we’re not flying a flag for anywhere. We just get on with it.”
Is it true they chucked out their casual clothes? “I have trainers that look like shoes,” says Hutchcraft.
So that’s a yes, then…
“For ages I used to go to the gym on tour in my shoes because I didn’t have any trainers,” he says, pausing before declaring: “Maybe there’ll be a Hurts trackie phase!”
“You know what? I’m not against it,” chimes in Anderson.
Hutchcraft continues: “’The Trackie Years.’ It’ll be like Bowie’s Berlin years, but everyone will say, ‘Remember the fucking Trackie Years? They were shit!’”
The other big agenda on Hurts’ calendar this year? Performing on Ukrainian X Factor. If you fancy a few lols, YouTube ‘Hurts X Factor’ and watch the stream of wannabe popstars singing their hearts out to pop mega-ballad Stay. Listening to a rip-roaring “We say goodbye in the pouring rain” in a thick Eastern European accent is an oddly peculiar phenomenon, but one that is unsurprising. This is the band who, an Icelandic newspaper reported, are so popular in their country that a ‘Hurts’ is the most requested men’s haircut.
“The whole thing is so surreal,” says Hutchcraft, with that endearing quality of someone who can’t quite believe their luck. “Even three albums in, I still find it so funny, and strange and exciting. You just don’t know what’s going to happen next. You’ll get sent a video like those X Factor ones, and you’ll just go: ‘What the fuck?’”
MORALS OF MAYHEM
So, what’s next for Hurts? After the ShortList gig, it’s back to doing what they love best: sleeping on a tour bus. In February they kick off a 24-date tour, starting in the UK before heading to Luxembourg and finishing in their beloved Germany (their first album sold three times as many copies over there than it did in the UK).
After all this talk of taking it easy, we take it they won’t be destroying hotel rooms in the not-so-distant-future? “I think the most diplomatic answer is that we feel very grateful we’re in a band,” says Hutchcraft. “We’re constantly on an adventure, which is why we’ll be taking lots of opportunities to enjoy ourselves.”
Anderson continues: “There is a slight disconnect between what you’re doing day to day on tour and most people’s perception of reality. So, for instance, when that ShortList feature came out it was after some of the mayhem had died down and suddenly it was contextualised in a very bad way for me, personally,” he laughs. “But when I was on tour, if you’d handed me that sheet I would have gone, ‘Yep, perfectly acceptable.’ So the key is to never come off tour.”
“Get no perspective, is the moral of life,” agrees Hutchcraft.
One thing’s for sure, you’ll never need to worry about Hurts on that score.
Surrender is out now
(Images: David Venni)