In Sunderland, in the autumn of 2000, I formed a band with three of my closest friends. We were in our late teens, and in the very midst of that formative transition from thinking we knew everything to realising that we actually knew nothing.
Now, in a band, understanding who you are becomes the very bedrock from which your best material can be excavated. After all, “the unexamined life is not worth living” (or at least so said Socrates). At the same time, when you’re 18 or 19, it’s far more common to be exploring the back catalogue of Nick Drake and discovering the existential effects of one-too-many pints of Diesel than it is to be gaining an understanding of the Johari Window. And even now I’m of an age where it’d be difficult not to muster a snigger at what it might mean to “know thyself”.
Looking back on it now, we were four young, white, Mackem lads with foppish haircuts and a love of guitars (reductive but certainly true) who felt duty bound to have a go at doing something together, solely because we were such good mates. Starting a band was realistically the only option. One obvious problem did loom, however. What would we do when we got into the rehearsal room (Barry and Dave’s garage)? The first notes of the first idea in a brand-new band would be extremely decisive, undoubtedly. Who would introduce that initial idea? Who would dare set the template? Heavy lies the head that wears the crown and all that…
Except it didn’t happen in quite this way. We were teenagers, and we were probably a bit cocky, and certainly pretentious. We had all been in bands before, so the idea of ‘doing that again’ seemed passé and dreary (I was 18-what a twerp). This time there’d be a concept, a purpose, a design, a – dare I say it – manifesto. Parameters would need to be set, we decided, so that this band wouldn’t wade into murky waters, where semi-tanned blokes with muscle t-shirts and five-minute songs about love and America would jam all night. We set some procedural rules that, surprisingly, would stick and come to define us. It was possibly the best decision we ever made as a band. Somehow, we did it before barely playing a note.
We swiftly drafted up our six-point plan for The Futureheads, that went something like this:
1. SING IN OUR OWN ACCENTS
2. NO TALKING IN BETWEEN SONGS
3. SAY SOMETHING ONCE, WHY SAY IT AGAIN? DON’T REPEAT ANY SECTIONS
4. IF LOVE MUST COME INTO IT, THEN IT MUST BE UNCONVENTIONAL - OTHERWISE BORING
5. WE MUST ALL SING, ALL OF THE TIME (NO UNISON ALLOWED)
6. THE MUSIC MUST BE PLAYED FAST AND HARD
This brief play-book of things that we were and were not allowed to do was revelatory. Quite suddenly, there was identity. There were ideas. There were solutions to tricky problems with things like song structures, dynamics, tempo, purpose, intention. The constraints were actually helpful. We could be as ludicrous as we liked, but as long as we adhered to the tenets of the band, then it was permissible. I must say, it felt gloriously creative.