The Futureheads


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
31 Saturday 31st March 2012
You may know The Futureheads best as a wildly energetic Sunderland four-piece, all clipped guitar lines and rip-roaring songs clocking in at about two minutes each. Since their last full-length release in 2010 (The Chaos), the group have taken some time off to pursue a wholly different project though. They've gone a capella.
And not forever or anything, but just for new album Rant, out today on their label Nul Records. Ross Millard, Barry Hyde, David 'Jaff' Craig and Dave Hyde are serving up the vocal harmonies and arrangements alluded to on their much-loved version of 'Hounds of Love' in a full album format that spans everything from their past singles to classic folk covers. We speak to lead singer and guitarist Ross Millard about it all.
First off, I'm really enjoying Rant so far, since putting together great vocal harmonies has always been a strength of yours. So why a capella now?
Thanks very much - it's always nice to be complimented! I suppose we did it because we needed an experience to blow the roof off everything we knew. We'd made four records, had our 10-year anniversary at the end of our tour for The Chaos and I guess when you hit 30 you have this little crisis [he laughs]. 
After a while bands get boxed in and become defined by the records they've already made, so for us I don't think we could've gone into the rehearsal room, picked up the guitar and made another rock record that was relavant or vital or interesting to us. The a capella thing seemed important to us, so we got to work on it.
So where'd it all start?
It's a good example of how things can get quite big quite quickly, this record. We had to do a Live Lounge for Jo Wiley while touring The Chaos and when we got offered the session you have to do that pop song cover, as you probably know.
We very nearly did 'Black & Gold' by Sam Sparro (it was that period of time where that kind of thing was in the charts) and for some reason we ended up going for Kelis', 'A Capella'. We'd done an a capella track on our first record back in 2004, so once Barry suggested that we felt good about doing it on the radio and trying out a few more tracks like that. And suddenly an EP turned into an album, and here we are now.
How did you go about picking the songs you wanted for the album then?
That's all been largely by accident too, really! We didn't sit down and write up a list of songs we wanted to have a go at. We already knew a little bit about a capella music because we'd picked up some folk recordings over the years on tour, and had been fans of it for a while. The first few we had a go at were from an old BBC Newcastle archive recording from the late 60s that a friend had pulled out for us years earlier so we dug them out and had a go. Two of the songs from that, 'The Keeper' and 'The Old Dun Cow', have made it onto the album. 
Richard Thompson's 'Beeswing' was the next we did - it just felt like an obvious choice because he's the patron saint of English folk, isn't he? The rest accidentally happened through suggestions and trial and error, I guess.
Awesome. So what are your thoughts on releasing it into the world this week? 
It's funny because up until a couple of weeks ago, when the tour was announced, I don't think we really had any expectations for it. There was a time last year, around the middle of making this album, when we weren't even sure it would see the light of day, you know? You spend time on something, you're not playing many shows and not really thinking about the future. All of a sudden it's coming out now and so far I'm surprised with the reaction the songs have created.
It's quite a divisive genre and I don't expect all of our fans to just fall in love with a capella music. I think it's more for people to appreciate, and get some enjoyment from it in a live respect. Singing a capella on the tour's going to be so inclusive, and light-hearted - it'll be very different to the Futureheads stuff we've done before. I think we're hoping for a totally new experience and for people to just trust us and go with it.
Cover art
Do you think this kind of record could've happened on 679, if you hadn't started up Nul Records on your own? It's a pretty bold move for a band with your background. Do you think you could've pulled it off if not on your own terms?
It's interesting to imagine what would've happened if we'd gone to Warner Bros and said 'We've got a good idea! We want to make an entirely vocal-only album!' [he laughs]. To be honest, though we were associated with a major label for a comparatively short time, creatively they were always very good to us. 
Knowing the personalties of the people we were involved with there, I think they would've been into it: it's progressive, it's fun and it's different. Real music people, whether involved in independent labels or working for majors, are still passionate about the music and care for it. Maybe they would see it as a risk, but maybe in a good way.
Which are some of the vocal-only records that you like, personally? Or did you come to this with a clean slate?
I think the a capella work we're the most fond of is all the older stuff: chain gang songs, maritime sea shanties and old American recordings. It's real, fundamental folk musuc. I will also say, though, checking out a capella artists on YouTube has been eye-opening and really interesting. There's that guy who's done all of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' with his voice, from the guitar solo to the drums, everything. It's not too serious, and that's the main thing. We've tried to still be artful with it, from a musical perspective of composition and arrangement, but still have fun.
Say 'Number One Song In Heaven': there's nothing more ridiculous in our back catalogue than Jeff and I doing the 'doodly-doo' synth bit at the end of that. It's crazy but it's so much fun so we just thought, why not?
Exactly. Head here to buy the album on vinyl, digital and CD release (with added goodies too).

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