Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

The Business Of Forever: Theo Hutchcraft Of Hurts’ Favourite Albums

The lead singer of classy, continent-conquering synth duo Hurts, about to release their third album, Surrender, goes from Phil Spector to Nine Inch Nails via UK hip-hop and Bulgarian folk songs as he picks his top 13

Photograph courtesy of Neil Krug

Hurts are many things, but they’re never knowingly understated. The duo of Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson, who rose from the ashes of Manchester band Daggers, first broke through in 2010 with the top ten hits ‘Wonderful Life’ and ‘Stay’, and went on to top the charts in 2013 with the Calvin Harris collaboration ‘Under Control’.

Those singles were widescreen synthpop epics, unashamedly dramatic and vast in scope. It’s an approach which has won Hutchcraft and Anderson a devoted following, particularly in central Europe, where their two albums to date, Happiness and Exile, have sold in gold and platinum quantities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Their imminent third, Surrender, literally opens its arms even wider, having been recorded across the globe. As Hutchcraft, the handsome devil who fronts the band, explains: "We started this one in Montreux, then Los Angeles, went to Ibiza for a little bit but didn’t do much work, we did a bit in New York and a lot in London, and some in Sweden. Which is a lot of places, but we made two albums in the dark, in Manchester, in a basement. So it was indicative of our ethos for this record, to free ourselves up, and go to places with big blue skies and enjoy ourselves, and try to capture a mood we haven’t captured before. The last album was very concept-heavy, and by the end the walls had closed in around us. The blueprint for a song was quite narrow. So we had to throw all of that out the window, and give ourselves the luxury of having no parameters. It was quite exciting. We did stuff with Stuart Price, which we’d wanted to do for some time. We worked with Ariel Rechtshaid in LA, who was a real creative mind. And we did some stuff with Jonas Quant who did the first two records. Because we’d pushed ourselves to make a different record, it was great to have these guys as pillars to help us realise the vision."

Happiness was a great life-affirming adult pop record. Exile tilted in a darker direction, musically and thematically. It’s as if each Hurts album so far has been a reaction to the one before it.

"Perhaps, in a subconscious way," says Hutchcraft. "But we also set out to make them a contained idea. We made the first one with the belief that there would never be another. We set our parameters wide, we didn’t make it just one type of music. We kept it broad, to give ourselves scope. And we bookended that album, to make it its own thing. And that happened with Exile: it was its own contained idea. We take a seed of an idea, and run with it and capture that moment. This one does work as an antidote to the last, for us, because it was so intense. Making a record with that feeling and that dark content is draining. It was useful for us, and cathartic, but by the end of it we’d exorcised those demons. And it was a troubled time for us as people. We went through a lot of difficult things. And what we’ve always tried to do is be emotionally honest, with what we do. When I listen to Happiness, I’m reminded of the person that I was when I made it. Exile, the same. This time, to make a record like either of those two would be false. Feigned emotion, which is not what we set out to do. It has to be emotionally honest. That is what makes it Hurts."

In terms of overall genre, however, Hurts could be accused of staying within their comfort zone, but Hutchcraft doesn’t see it that way.

"Genre-wise we’ve always tried to spread our wings and make things that aren’t what people would expect of us. And with the last album we pushed ourselves quite far, with songs like ‘The Road’ and ‘The Crow’, which, coming after the first album, people would never have expected. But for us it was about giving yourself room to expand, and with this one we’ve done the same, opened it out. And the next record now is even more exciting, because we’ve set ourselves an open playing field. It could be an industrial record, it could be a funk record! We don’t even know."

And the significance of the title Surrender?

"I guess the good and bad side of that word. There’s an element of not resisting and letting go. There’s a great freedom in that. But there’s a darker side to it, which is an undertone that’s still present on some of the songs, even though they are lighter in mood than the last album. There’s a few, like ‘Rolling Stone’ and ‘Weight Of The World’ and ‘Slow’, that have more of a masochistic element to them, I think."

Hurts was Hutchcraft and Anderson’s third attempt to get a band off the ground. After two misfires – prior to Daggers they were in quintet Bureau – one would imagine they must have sat down and meticulously premeditated the whole Hurts project to eliminate any room for error.

Says Hutchcraft: "We’ve known each other ten years now, and all that time we’ve been making music. The other bands, I guess, were just vehicles for the music. That was us learning and finding our feet. When we formed Hurts, it was a distilled essence of who we were. We’d stopped pretending. That period when Daggers had finished was a weird one in our life, and we considered stopping making music and writing stuff for other people instead. But there was this strange moment of genesis where we realised, ‘Ah, writing this type of song comes easy’, and yeah, it was a refined version of ourselves."

Everything about Hurts, from the music through the videos, the logo, the photography, the tailoring, even the hair, seems calculated to remain classic and timeless rather than hip and of-the-moment. "We’re in the business of forever," says Hutchcraft. "Great pop music, by its very nature, sounds great ten years ago and ten years in the future. We wanted to make something that was not only unique once, but would always be unique. With the visuals, everything was very minimal. We wanted a strong, simple identity. And to play the visuals and the music off against each other. That’s very useful."

The duo first bonded, as so many songwriting teams do, over a shared love of old records. "When we first met, it was bands like Killing Joke, The Cure, Depeche, and all these sort of bands that were, I guess, darker," Hutchcraft explains. "It came from that place. But the pop side of it is something we always had a passion for. And it’s hard to define what it is. It’s a bit of a weird thing to talk about, I find. Because it’s not a genre, is it, pop? It’s an idea. And it’s an idea of being bold, and being ambitious, and being brave.

"I have a bit of a problem with it when people deride pop. Because what are they deriding? Are they deriding The Rolling Stones? Or Prince? Or Rihanna? Or The Beatles? Or Led Zeppelin? They all make pop songs. For us, it’s the magnificence of pop, and the idea of pop, that’s so exciting to us. And it’s a weird pedestal to be on, when you put yourself forward like that, because a lot of people are ready to pull you down. But I like that what we bring is a sense of wonder, and an over-the-top nature to things. That’s what pop music is: to give people something to marvel at. It’s a risky business, pop music. It’s high stakes, and that’s why I love it."

And, accordingly, here are the 13 pop records Theo loves the most.

Surrender is out on Friday, October 9, on Columbia. They begin a European tour on February 11, 2016, at the O2 Academy in Glasgow; for full details and tickets, head here. Click on the image below to begin scrolling through Theo’s choices, which run in no particular order

First Record

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