Following the inordinately massive hit singles ‘Wonderful Life’ and ‘Better Than Love’, British synthetic pop duo Hurts were in Singapore on May 10 and tells us more about their, well, wonderful lives.
Named after a dark period of their lives, this Band of the Day on Guardian.co.uk is made up of vocalist Theo Hutchcraft and synth player Adam Anderson. Until Hurts began to gather momentum, Theo was part of the backstage crew for British Superbikes, and Adam was filming greyhound races at Bellevue dog track.
Having collaborated with big-time artistes such as Kylie Minogue, Hurts has a distinct 80s sound which has earned them comparisons to Tears For Fears. The duo took Europe by storm after releasing their single, ‘Wonderful Life’, topping European charts such as the German Airplay Chart.
While they graciously shook hands at Fuse Bar at Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Both of which remained genteel as they took their places on the swanky couches, ready to roll with the reporters’ questions.
Asking about the weather is typical British conversation, to which 23-year-old Theo sheepishly replied, “It’s very hot! But we are getting used to it now since we went to Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Jakarta, we almost died on stage in Jakarta because it was so hot.”
For a band with a unique sound of quirky pop yet encompassing melancholic dreamy soft rock, one of the popular questions we had for Hurts were the bands that they looked up to musically that helped to shape their sounds in the early years.
To which, Adam pondered for awhile before answering, “I actually think we sound the most like Tears For Fears, but I guess their musical environment is our number one influence.”
However, Theo had nothing in mind as he explained to us, “It’s really funny about influences because we never really talked about them, it’s only in our first interview that they asked us and we couldn’t answer that question, because we’ve never spoken about this before. We had to go home, sit down with a beer and discuss which were our influences.” He added that their music/sound is always different when played at a different setting. “We played them in Bali yesterday on the beach, it was like the strangest thing and all of the sudden the songs get a life of their own, it’s amazing how the meanings of the songs change a little bit as well.”
Adam explained their songwriting process with a warped sense of humour, joking as he watched the reporters’ eyes widen, “It always start with a dark room with no windows, preferably a very small one, with a puddle in the corner.”
“No, we start with very simple guitar or piano or vocal, sitting opposite each other staring at each other for hours until one of us does something good, and most days of the week nothing good happens and we go home angry. Then one day we get a great moment and we put that moment into months of endless production which is the exhausting thing about our music,” the 27-year-old singer explained.
Adam chimed in, “It’s important because we write pop music. A song’s only a great song if you can whistle it, and it’s great. That’s what pop music is, it has to be simple and the emotions have to be there, so we always start like that and build it from there.”
What differentiates Hurts from the other synthpop bands then? Other than their unique back-to-the-80s sound and aloof personalities onscreen, one fun fact about them was their first gig, as most would have heard – in a church.
“It was an old church, it was kind of functioning but not really. It was such a beautiful building in a part of Manchester where we wrote most of the album. We wanted our first one to be very special so we hired the church and we had this big performance. It was great for us because it inspired us to keep doing the different things that we did”, explained Theo. “The funny thing is that even though it was a gig, it was at a church, people abide by the rules, people go in and whisper, they sold alcohol but everyone was sitting down. It’s only when we got to the last song that everybody eventually stood up and started to talk and sing along.”
From Zero to Hurts
4 years of being unemployed and suddenly, the duo were stars in the indie pop scene, Theo talks about not being able to imagine what they would be doing if it wasn’t music, telling the reporters emotionally that they almost gave up just before they started Hurts and even talked about quitting. “It was like, ‘Can we do this anymore? Is it ever going to work?’ and even then we didn’t know what else we could do, because all we’ve ever knew is how to write music and that was our only way out.”
“When I think about it (not making music), my brain just goes completely blank” Adam added with a laugh, “it’s like my imagination stopped working. It’s like a big great wall.”
Signing on to a label and changing the course of their journey from zero to becoming the possible new heroes of pop sensation, Theo explained how their music has evolved, saying that the course of the album had changed, from the song like ‘Unspoken’, which was the first song they wrote, to ‘Sunday’.
“‘Devotion’ and ‘Stay’ were very different, it constantly changes because who we are changes and that’s where the music came from… Playing “live” has also changed our opinions; we were made to see our songs in a different light. We had no experience before, we just stayed at home all day whereas now we get to travel around the world.”
The lead singer also noted, with relief, “We’re very fortunate that our personalities are so compatible musically that there’s never any argument because we both provide something unique to Hurts and it wouldn’t exist without what we both provide, so we know what each other’s strengths are and it works out perfectly, which we’re very lucky to have.”
But neither fame nor money has spoiled them. “Money is interesting because before you get it, you always think it’s going to be a complete life changer, but really, you just buy more expensive versions of the same stuff,” Theo admitted. “We wanted to experience a different life as opposed to money, we made music and we never had money so I supposed it was never an option.”
Theo added that he “bought a necklace because it’s gold and if it all fails and [their] career is over”, he could just take it back to the shop and get their money back.
Other things that didn’t change were their personalities and dress sense.
“It’s funny because we dressed like this before we were in the band, when we were unemployed. It was the only way we could have any dignity, and pride because we had no money and we had a miserable life. Dressing smart when we walked into a shop made us feel like we were doing something important, and when we started the band we wanted everything to be from the same place, so we just put everything together like who we were and we stood by it and it’s all a reflection of our personality,” said Theo who was self-conscious for just a minute.
Adam reflected, “I think it makes us believable. There’s something about pop music that is really transparent and you can see that it’s not very genuine, I think we want it to be.”
It might seem to many that most songs in the record are about love, lost and desperation, so the irony in the band naming their album Happiness was not lost on us.
Theo chuckled at the question. “Most people presume it’s irony, but in reality, it’s about the hurts and happiness of the 2 bookends of our lives actually. We start the album very unhappy, quite depressed and very cold and then the journey of making the album is our pursuit of happiness. By the end of the album we felt much happier so that’s how we ended up with Happiness.”
Devotion to Kylie
Hurts had also been noted to work with Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue on a song in their album, ‘Devotion’. So what’s the story behind their collaboration? Well the duo actually did it the old fashioned way – asking the diva herself.
“Everyone we tell doesn’t believe this is true but we wrote a letter and sent her an e-mail! It was really funny because we were listening to it (the song) and wondering ‘Wouldn’t it sound great if Kylie [Minogue] could sing in it?’ and an hour later we went, ‘What if we could ask her? How do we ask her?’ and we asked around and we got an e-mail address and we sent her an e-mail. We didn’t want to ask anyone else, it was either her or no one,” answered Theo.
But why Kylie?
Adam beamed with pride as he explained, “She’s an institution in our country! And there’s a period in her career that was really fascinating where she sold no records and her songs were darker, more creative and she used her voice in a very different way than how most people knew Kylie. The challenge was to kind of recapture that moment of her career in our song.”
No More Angst?
As Adam once cited Austalian alternative rock band, Silverchair’s Diorama as one of his personal inspirations, we wanted a sneak peek of how their upcoming album would sound like. “I remembered when I first listened to that album, the orchestra arrangements really inspired me,” he recalled.
But for a fact that the first album was inspired from unemployment, would the duo lose their infamous angst in their music?
Theo confidently responded, “I think it’ll be a different kind of emotion, I don’t think we’d be capable of writing something so sad again really. We’ll continue to tour for a few months and see how we feel about the world.”
“I think one thing that is important to us is that we find it very therapeutic to write sad music, it’s part of our personality. Perhaps it comes from being men, men don’t usually express sadness quite easily and to be emotional, we’re very lucky to be able to that with music,” professed Adam.
Photo courtesy of Francesca Tay