For some of the distinctive clean tones on the 1975’s new record, Hann used a Music Man John Petrucci his parents gave him when he was a teenager. “It’s got these two humbuckers in it,” he says, “but the out-of-phase position has both coils split, so you get like a single-coil out-of-phase on it.”
The 1975 hit the world stage with a bang. Their self-titled first album debuted in 2013 at No. 1 in the U.K.—and it was near the top of the U.S. charts, too. They toured incessantly, built a huge fan base, and generated considerable buzz. The band’s ’80s-style, synth heavy, danceable grooves proved to be simply irresistible (pun intended) to the masses.
But the 1975 aren’t newbies. They formed in the early 2000s in Manchester, U.K., and the original lineup—guitarist Adam Hann, lead singer/guitarist Matthew Healy, drummer George Daniel, and bassist Ross MacDonald—has remained intact since inception. The quartet is a tight musical unit that’s worked hard to shape a unique brand of funk pop. It seems to be working. Their new album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, is highly anticipated—their U.K. arena tour is already sold out—and they’re headlining arenas in the U.S. this spring. “We were busy on the first album,” Hann says. “We felt that on the second we wouldn’t have this insane amount of stuff to do. But if anything we have more stuff to do.”
At their core, the 1975 are a guitar band (preprogrammed synth patches notwithstanding). Their music is built around tight grooves, intricate interlocking rhythms, perfectly crafted tones, and tasteful solos. And they upped the guitar ante with their new release: From the fantastic comping on songs like “She’s American” to the studio wizardry of “Nana” to the outlandish Belew-era Bowie-esque solo on “Love Me,” I like it when you sleep is pop-guitar heaven.
Hann is the band’s primary guitarist and a serious gear geek. He tours with an array of amps, vintage guitars, and glorious pedals. But better, producer Michael Crossey indulged Hann’s geekiness in the studio. He shared his vintage gear, gave him space to explore, and spent days shaping tones and assembling perfect parts. The result is a stellar performance at a Steely Dan-level of perfection.
Hann spoke with Premier Guitar just before flying to New York for the 1975’s maiden Saturday Night Live appearance. We spoke about crafting amazing, impossible-to-duplicate sounds in the studio, the gear to get the job done, the 1975’s unusual songwriting methods, and how even a Music Man John Petrucci Signature Series guitar has its place in the arsenal of a top-selling pop band.
When did you first start playing guitar?
I was around 15 or 16. My cousin played—he came to visit and brought his guitar and a little practice amp. The next day I went to the local music shop and bought a 10-watt Marshall amp and an Epiphone SG.
Did you study or take lessons?
I had lessons for a bit, but I was obsessed so I’m mainly self-taught. I would do really monotonous things—parts I was trying to learn—to a metronome. I would play it slow and then speed it up and up until I could play it at the correct tempo. I used to spend hours sitting in my room doing things like that.
Did you ever experiment with placing the click on the backbeat or playing along with drum machines?
No. I would get tabs online and I’d just slow it down and play with this really awful sort of MIDI backing track until I could play it at full speed. I used to do really geeky stuff like “Cliffs of Dover” and that kind of thing. It was so many notes and saying so little, in a way—but I used to absolutely love it.
What was your first band?
Believe it or not, it was an early version of the 1975. Originally there were five of us. We’ve been through a few different band names, but today the same lineup minus one guy is the first band that I started with the guys over 10 years ago.
Talk about songwriting and your approach to guitar parts.
It’s evolved a little bit, but traditionally we’ve never had any chords. We sit rhythmic guitar parts on a bed of [synth] pads—the bass and the pads provide the chord movement and me and Matty play a rhythmical guitar part that interlocks with what George is doing. That’s developed as we’ve gotten older and we use more chords now—like in “Girls”—but it’s still very rhythmical. You’re still looking at an INXS 3-note chord, percussive vibe. That’s really what forms the basis of the guitar parts that we write.
Do you and Matt spend a lot of time working out different parts or does that happen organically?
What usually happens is, we have a basis of a song idea that one of the guys has created on a laptop in Logic with maybe a simple idea for a guitar part in there already. I will either take it and elaborate on it or work on a new part by myself. When I’ve done that, I’ll send it to Matty and George and say, “What do you think of this?” I’ll then take it back and go again from that. It’s like you’re working in your own little world a bit—it’s just the way it works for us having been together for so long. We do write the odd song in the traditional way. Like “Love Me,” for example, was written two years ago on tour jamming this idea out in soundcheck—that’s how we got that song. But predominantly George will sit on a laptop and create things that way, then he’ll say, “We need to put some guitars on this.” It’s a bit unconventional, but that’s what works for us.
So when you finally get together for rehearsal, a lot of your parts are already worked out.
What’s funny is, after the first album we said we should’ve gotten together more and played the songs before we recorded them. When we took the first album out on tour, we played the songs night after night and little parts evolved—naturally they get played a certain way that’s more comfortable. When we did the second album, we wanted to get together and play the songs and ideas we had so that process would happen before we started cutting it.
But the studio is an unlimited place of creativity. We weren’t going to get bogged down on the idea of, “Oh, we won’t do this because it’s impossible to do live.” We just do what we want to do—what sounds good and is right—and when it comes to playing the show we’ll work out how we’re going to do it live. We’ve got these creative guitar lines and massive layers of synths and keyboards—we didn’t get bogged down on the idea that it can’t be done. We’ll make it work. There’ll be a live version. We just want the recording of the song to be the best it can be.