Many bands would not be able to spend seven months living and working together without at least thinking of killing each other, but the members have known one another since they were 13-year-olds at Wilmslow High School in Cheshire, England, so they’re used to it. “There’s such an organic purity,” says Healy. “If you fall out, you will get over it because there’s real love there.” Healy says he doesn't have many friends outside the band and its inner circle. He doesn't like going out much and feels especially awkward in glamorous environments. “Put us at a fashion show and we’re a bunch of gimps,” he says. “It’s hilarious because we do the wrong thing.”
They were bonded by struggle. For years, says Healy, The 1975 “couldn't get arrested.” Then they set up their own label, Dirty Hit, with manager Jamie Oborne and started releasing EPs in 2012. The same voracious eclecticism that confused major labels resonated with the everything-at-once music habits of younger listeners. Even when they were playing small venues, a quarter of the audience would be diehard fans, lining up at the stage door to show Healy their 1975 tattoos.
Their intensity inspired Healy to pay it back. In 2013, he talked about capturing the mood of a John Hughes movie -- “the apocalyptic sense of being a teenager” -- on The 1975’s self-titled debut album. But the band’s young, largely female fan base prompted condescending reviews, a stigma compounded by the suspicion that, as the son of British TV stars Tim Healy and Denise Welch, Healy was a celebrity brat. (In the United States, where his parents are unknown, he carries less baggage.) So much for critics: Soon The 1975 was supporting The Rolling Stones, and Healy was sufficiently gossip-worthy for an extremely brief public encounter with Taylor Swift to set tongues wagging.
With its 17 tracks and improbable title, i like it when you sleep was designed to prove that both the band and its fans had been underrated. “Every time I play a show, there’s a young girl who’s smarter and more well-informed than I am,” says Healy. This time, critics swooned. In the recent single “Give Yourself a Try,” Healy jokingly calls himself “a millennial that baby boomers like.”
Candid though Healy’s lyrics were, they occluded the fact that he had been smoking heroin since late 2014. From childhood, he had felt “a deep, carnal desire to be sedated,” which is why he started smoking weed so early. He wanted to turn off the noise in his brain and, on tour, to cushion the adrenaline comedown. He also wanted to sleep better. He never has good dreams, only nightmares, and they all occur in the same location: a dystopian housing estate surrounded by a white void. “I’ve grown up there,” he says bleakly.
What it wasn't about, he stresses, was the clichéd myth of the countercultural rebel junkie. That doesn't work when you’re “middle-class and confused and a bit sad.” His habit was never performative, it was private, which is why he finds it hard to publicize it now. “I don’t want to fetishize it, because it’s really dull and it’s really dangerous,” he says, reclining on the sofa. “The thought of being to a young person what people like [William S.] Burroughs were to me when I was a teenager makes me feel ill.”
Healy was a functioning addict. In the studio, he managed with weed. In the States, he switched to prescription opioids. He could go weeks without heroin but relapsed when he was alone. Though he felt his hidden habit eating away at his relationships, it didn't derail the band, nor his relationship with his “incredibly wise and incredibly beautiful” girlfriend, Australian actress and model Gabriella Brooks. He knew what he had to lose. “I still risked it,” he says, “but it took me being in one of the most divisive, exciting bands in the world to make me stop doing drugs for a little bit at a time.”