Former Futureheads frontman Hyde talks about the mental health issues and musical reinvention that inspired debut album ‘Malody’. By James Sweeney.
“A very extreme existence” is how one time Futureheads frontman Barry Hyde describes his lifestyle during his time with Sunderland’s finest exports of hyperactive, harmony soaked indie pop. “I’d have periods of creativity where I would sit up writing and not sleep until 9 the next morning, but then have times where I couldn’t get out of bed for what felt like months on end.”
These extremes were something that Hyde had gotten used to since before the bands inception but had just accepted as part of being a creative person- something that although highly unpleasant at times, could fuel prolific periods of songwriting and energise him on stage. By the end of the noughties however, the signs that these dramatic mood alterations were more than a mere product of an artistic mind were becoming all too vivid.
In spring 2011 Hyde, who had become heavily interested in George Gurdijeff’s philosophy on enlightenment ‘The Fourth Way’, found himself in the Arizonan desert doing yoga and meditation. Unfortunately, rather than having the desired grounding affect, the week spent in Arizona was followed by an unfathomably chaotic period in which Hyde’s marriage ended and his mental state fluctuated several times with bouts mania being followed by debilitating anxiety resulting in him moving back in with his parents and seeking help from the NHS crisis team. It was around this time that Hyde was diagnosed with Bi Polar disorder and in 2012 he spent a period of time in Sunderland’s Psychiatric Hospital Cherry Knowle (the inspiration for the album of the same name by Sunderland punk band Leatherface). This would be the first of two times that he would end up there in 2012 with the frontman managing to temporarily regroup and record The Futureheads’ acapella album ‘Rant’ with the rest of the band in between (The bands 5th and final album to date.) Looking back on this time, Hyde can clearly see ways in which his career trajectory with The Futureheads played a part in his eventual breakdown. The rapid success of the bands self-titled debut (2004) led to the band “living the so called dream of becoming successful musicians, travelling the world and selling records” but he was ill equipped mentally for the stall in success that occurred over the next few years :
“The problem with performers is that we all want a round of applause.’ Hyde said. ‘We want to feel like the time we put in has paid off. So when you achieve that and hundreds of people come to see you and they’re going crazy, it’s kind of addictive. When you get addicted to the validation you can stop practicing the very essential life skills that give you self-confidence from within yourself. Your confidence is coming to you from the outside world and your ability to create esteem from within begins to suffer. Then, if you lose this ability and the applauds stop, you’re left with nothing. You’ve lost all your armour and all your coping mechanisms and have to start from scratch. This is what a nervous breakdown is and it leaves you having to rebuild your perception of the world around you and your place within it.”
Thankfully, Hyde has managed to get his life back on track over the last couple of years and is now working as a music teacher as well as a recording artist. This healing process has resulted in ‘Malody’, an album which clearly demonstrates that while Hyde was rebuilding his personal foundations from scratch, he was clearly doing the same with his musical ones:
“It was finding a new instrument that really changed things.” Hyde explained. “Learning the piano was almost like going back to school in terms of what you can arrange in comparison to the guitar. I can’t name any specific records that have inspired the album but it’s more the development with that instrument that’s had the biggest effect.”
The effect is quite startling when comparing ‘Malody’ to anything Hyde has done previously. Gone is the high tempo, hooky guitar pop that became the signature of his former band and in its place, is a melancholic, drama laden set of songs that sit far better as a haunting backdrop to a reflective Sunday evening than they do on a beer drenched dancefloor of a leery Indie disco. In one of the more comical stories from a worrying few years, the title ‘Malody’ was originally suggested by Hyde to his Futureheads band mates for a vampire themed musical that he had in mind for the bands 6th album. Much to the gratitude of music fans worldwide, the idea was rejected by the rest of the group, but the title, combining the words melody and malady, is a fitting name for this record.
Speaking about the album, Hyde said: “All I want to do is create an environment where people can sit and just listen. It’s a not an album to put on before you go out clubbing, but will work well on any of the sleepy nights.’ He continued. ‘There is light and dark on this record, I’ve designed it to feel like rapid cycling, which is a phase of bi-polar where you go from one extreme to the other. Over the course of the 11 tracks there are 5 manic experiences and 6 self-reflective ones.”
Hyde is under no illusions that fans may be shocked with the change in direction, acknowledging that his two sold out shows at Sunderland’s Royalty Theatre may contain more than a few shocked faces expecting to hear the likes ‘Decent Days and Nights’ and ‘Beginning of the Twist’, but he’s more confident than ever as a solo musician away from the commercial pressures of his former band:
“When you get involved in the music industry in the way we did, you find yourself sprinting for your life to stay on the festival circuit and on the radio playlists. It really does interfere with some of your creative decisions as you become more commercially minded and less artistically minded and that’s heart breaking. You could be writing a great piece of music that you care about, but you know that it’s not going to get played on the radio and it’s sad that it comes to that but these days I’m much more relaxed and confident about what I’m doing.”
Hyde knows all too well that the that the wild, hedonistic lifestyle of a touring band can take its toll on anyone’s headspace, let alone someone with mental illness, but these days he lives a far more balanced lifestyle:
“On tour every night is Saturday night’ Hyde says. ‘When you get home, you’ve been fighting off all these infections and you feel a bit out of it, especially with jet lag if you’ve been on a flight back from Japan. If you’re prone to mental health issues when you’re in that situation, it’s easy to get a bit wobbly. You’ve got to look after yourself and do what you can to stay healthy, I’m nearly 35 and its taken me a long time to even begin to understand how to live a balanced lifestyle.”
After a nightmare few years, Barry Hyde finally has reason to be excited for the future and he presents a defiant optimism when it comes to living with mental illness:
“I’ve got a lot going on in my life.’ Hyde states. ‘I like to be busy but not too busy. I teach which is pretty intense, but I only do 25 hours which gives me plenty of time to play piano. I’ve got a 3 year old step daughter who I look after, an amazing girlfriend who helps me a lot just by being herself. All these things plus a very loving family makes me realise how lucky I am. And yeah, some days I feel like shit, but that’s ok. When you’re diagnosed with something it can feel like you’ve lost your ability to grow and change, but that’s not the case. It’s not a terminal illness.”
Barry Hyde’s debut album Malody is out now.
This Barry Hyde article was written by James Sweeney, a GIGsoup contributor