Matt Healy isn't a rock star, he just plays one onstage.
Frequently clad in leather pants, Healy's delicate facial features, bare chest and mop of curly dark hair paint the singer-guitarist for the 1975 as a clichéd teen heartthrob, something the sticky hooks and romantic swoon of his band's music would seem to confirm.
Yet, for a musician of his stature — in the UK, the band's self-titled debut topped the album charts the week of its release — Healy is uncharacteristically self-aware.
"There's a misconception that we're a rock band," he tells Exclaim!, "that there's this desire that we want to be a rock band and that we're telling people that we rock. We're not. We play with the ideas of rock'n'roll, whether it be seriously or ironically. But we're a post-modern pop band that references a million things. I don't even know what my band is half the time."
That identity crisis came to the fore when it came time to write their second record, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, out now on Polydor/Universal.
"What I wanted to do was make a really true record," he says. "We wanted to create something that was really representative of who we were personally and musically."
The 1975 and the EPs that preceded it sliced the band's disparate influences into bite-sized nuggets: "Sex" suggests indie rock; "Robbers" is a lost '80s power ballad; the slinky guitars of "Chocolate" recall '70s funk. But which path would they follow?
After much deliberation Healy and his bandmates — guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald and drummer George Daniel — decided to distil those influences into a single sound while continuing to push the sonic envelope.
"[The record] takes everything that makes our band what it is and exaggerates it," he says citing D'Angelo, Roberta Flack, Loveless, Boards of Canada and Sigur Rós as inspirations for the sonically dense compositions that flesh out the album's 17 tracks. "The poppy bits are poppier, the emo references are more emo, it's more romantic."
Truth in art is something that Healy talks about often. If the music is true to the people creating it, then the need to slot a band into any one musical box becomes irrelevant.
"I'm really obsessed with belief," he says. "Do you believe them or not? That's when you really related to an artist. If it's a true form of expression, it transcends all cultural boundaries."
Yet to hear him tell it, Healy's preening stage moves — the leather pants, the bare chest, the mop of hair — are more of a self-aware construct than a truthful expression. He might be saying "love me," — sometimes literally — to his fans, but it's with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
"I enjoy having a more postmodern, self-referential, self-aware idea of what I'm doing," he says. "I'm not Mick Jagger, and there's not going to be a Mick Jagger and I'll make a joke of that in our performance."
This contradiction between truth and construct is central to the 1975's appeal. "You have to have a very stoic adherence to this band from the beginning to get every bit of subtext," he admits.
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It makes no effort to resolve that contradiction. Rather, its stubborn refusal to stand still perpetuates it; elements of indie rock, R&B, and even ambient music abound, while Healy tries on a variety of incongruent guises.
"We create music in the same way that we consume it," he says. "We don't find any point in sticking to one thing."
Check out the 1975's new video for "The Sound" below.