Last weekend The Futureheads made a triumphant return to the Reading and Leeds Festival, having released their acapella album Rant earlier this year. A band famed for their high octane, ferocious live sets, this year saw Barry, Jaff, Ross and Dave turn it down a notch and go acoustic. A brave decision and thankfully one that paid off.
We caught up with Ross before they went on stage at Leeds to find out which one of them is heading off to university, talk about the stresses of festival organisation and answer that all important question: will they be returning to electric?
So Ross, you’re no strangers to the Reading and Leeds Festival are you? How many times have you played now?
It’s got to be about eight times now, we’ve got to be up there as one of the bands that have played it the most times.
You're essentially Leeds veterans then?
Yeah I guess we are! It’s a heavy tag, but we’ll wear it.
This year it’s a bit different as you‘re playing an acapella/acoustic set, is that a bit of a daunting prospect at a festival?
Well it’s very different for us and the one thing about the acapella tour was that it was pretty much all seated venues. They were all nice and calm atmospheres and this one is obviously the opposite, but I think this could work because the crowd are very important to the set, they’ve got to sing along and get involved. I guess it could go either way but I think that’s the reason we decided to come and do it, even a regular electric set isn’t something we’re in the habit of doing at the minute so we thought we’d come and do this because it’s a challenge really.
Were you surprised by the positive reaction you got for ‘Rant’ and the subsequent tour?
I think people got behind it and really saw what we were trying to do. We felt like we were a new band almost because the shows were so different from normal. We’re now just looking forward to writing some new material.
Will it be an all out electric affair once again?
Sort of, yes and no. We’ve still got the cello in there and a few other acoustic things. I think we’ve got to balance it now and we’ve got to try and work out a way of playing the back catalogue with the new stuff. To have a set where it all worked would be great really.
You‘ve got a date coming up in Belfast and then one in Dublin, are you looking forward to getting across the water?
We haven’t been to Ireland in a few years; I think it was about three years since we were last there. In theory the Irish crowd should really love the acapella thing, it’s the sort of gig that’s all inclusive and you need that rapport with the audience - and I think the Irish will really go for it because in a lot of ways the set is like playing a session in the back room of a pub. That’s what we were going for and it gave us a lot of confidence; that relationship with the audience. A lot of bands go on stage, plough through the songs and don’t have much interaction with the crowd as it’s not always possible due to the intensity of the situation. But with this set it’s so relaxed and loose you can really enjoy yourself
You’ve also got a date coming up at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on September 19th, is that one of your biggest London dates?
In while yeah, I suppose it is. The Union Chapel show was such a great experience and seemed to go down so well that we thought we’d try and get back to London this year because I guess we won’t be playing many more shows before Christmas. Shepherd’s Bush is going to be set out as an all seater too, it’s a pretty magic venue.
Have you played many festivals this summer, or is Reading and Leeds a bit of a one-off?
Well we’ve been in the studio quite a lot, writing some new songs and we’ve done a couple of electric sets here and there at other festivals. We did 2000 Trees with an acoustic set which was a great one, but this is the main one.
Now you’ve done these bigger festivals many a time across the years, has the novelty worn off a little?
Doing shows like this is always one of the pinnacles of the year, regardless of what kind of set you’re doing or where you’re playing because you have a purpose and there’s a challenge there. The audience doesn’t necessarily know who you are, know your songs, or have seen you before, you’ve really got to own that 35 minutes and put your mark on it. We love that.
Do you get much chance to catch up with people and enjoy the festival yourselves or is it all work and no play?
Sometimes, today we went straight to catering and we’ve already run in to a few people, Pulled Apart By Horses who we know a little bit, we’ve seen them, we also saw Dave Grohl who we know from having toured with them, it‘s not every day you see him! It’s nice to catch up with people who you literally see once a year or even less. But for us, it’s all about playing and then when you’re done you can catch some more music and have a good time.
Split Festival, the festival you collectively organise is back again this year. It’s really gone from strength to strength hasn’t it?
Well we’ve got Public Image Ltd. this year, and that’s about as good as it gets for us, it’s a bit of a dream. It all started off with us and Maximo Park and when you’ve got local bands that can help you kick start something, it really gives you a chance. Last year we had The Drums, Mystery Jets and The Charlatans. It’s going to be great, we’re really looking forward to it.
How have you found being on the other side of the festival experience? Not just performing but organising it all?
It’s the most stressful thing I’ve ever been involved in. We all have an individual role within the festival; Jaff’s Production Manager, Barry’s artist liaison; we all take it very seriously. I’ve been booking the music for the last few years and it’s just been so stressful. I now have a lot of sympathy for promoters, which perhaps I once never had. I’m happy to say it’s all come together in the end though!
You mentioned the new material you’ve been working on earlier, when can we expect to hear it?
We’ve only done a couple of songs, but it will probably be early in the New Year. It’s been a couple of years since we released some new material as Rant was re arrangements and covers so we’re looking forward to getting it out there. We’re dying to do it.
Have you found it hard finding time to go into the studio with all your other commitments?
Yeah we’ve got a lot going on with doing Split Festival, and then Jaff’s going back to university, doing that alongside the band, and Dave’s got a little boy but studio time is our priority in a lot of ways.
Does now being able to concentrate on other projects outside of the band make being in the band more enjoyable?
I think you have to do other things otherwise you’d go a bit mad. So many people view music as a competition or a race, so sometimes your focus is taken away from the fact it’s actually about writing songs and playing them to an audience. Sometimes you have experiences, like you come somewhere like this and they’ll be a great crowd and it will go really well and they’re a reminder of why you do it. When there are all kinds of mad stuff going on you’ve really got to concentrate on that.
Finally as one Manchester United fan to another, are you hopeful for the season ahead? And how does being a United fan in the North East work out?
I’m very hopeful for this season. I’ve got a season ticket and I used to go with me Dad when I was a kid, he’s stopped going but I now go with a couple of pals. I love it. My dad’s from Leigh so was brought up a Red and he brought me up the same, it is pretty rare coming from the North East and supporting them as there’s such a partisan with football, but I just drive down and back up again. It’s a long journey when you lose but thankfully it’s not too often!
Interview: Michelle Lloyd