Best known as co-founder of the Northern post-punk band The Futureheads, musician and songwriter Ross Millard is not one to let the grass grow under his feet. He is also an artist and printmaker and, in his role as Artistic Director, has helped to curate the Split Festival in Sunderland. Ross continues to write and play new music so it was a real pleasure to catch up with him recently to find out what he has been up to and who he has been working with…
Photo: Ian West
Since you put The Futureheads on a temporary hiatus in 2013, can you tell us a little bit about some of the new projects that you have been working on?
I've been playing guitar with Frankie & The Heartstrings – long-time friends of mine from Sunderland. We put a record out last year and hopefully there'll be another one next year. I started a new band of my own called Drifts – we have one EP out with more to come in the next 6 months or so. I've worked on two theatre projects as well – writing songs/scores and performing on-stage. That has been really satisfying, as it's a very different discipline, and I've enjoyed working amongst actors and directors as the approach to the overall show is quite different from 'doing a band'.
You’re only a young man but if you reflect on your career so far, is there a piece of work that gives you greatest satisfaction?
That's an impossible question to answer because I don't think you really look for gratification in the aftermath of making a record or doing a performance. I prefer to think of everything as existing in that moment, and afterwards you try to turn your attention to something else and stop yourself looking back because I don't really believe there is much gratification in the past, as it were. If we're talking achievements, I suppose releasing the first Futureheads record was a significant landmark because it has changed the pathway of the rest of my life, undoubtedly.
You’ve been doing some great print work lately and had commissions to design artwork for gigs like the BBC 6Music festival. You’ve also been writing new music too so what do you find inspires creativity in you?
Openness, I suppose. A good story. A jumping-off point. A quiet space and an immersive thought. Life can fill up with admin if you allow it to, so making sure you can dedicate time to creating things is vital.
Do you have any personal ambitions as yet unattained or are you just focused on the moment?
I'm a bit of drifter, to be honest. I don't believe in long-term plans, or unfulfilled dreams. I really enjoy working with other creative people and starting bands, hatching plans and just cracking on. There is a great magic in seeing where your work takes you, whether that's in terms of travel, or meeting people or whatever, really.
Who would you say has been the most influential person in your life and why?
That's a difficult question to answer because I try not to look at people that way. The scene that my band came from, and in fact the ethos of Sunderland as a City in general is to level the playing field, not put people on pedestals, and have respect without necessarily having heroes. I have a fairly fatalistic outlook on things like this, I suppose. I think the four of us in The Futureheads have exerted similar influence on one another over the years, and these relationships and this chemistry has been some of the most vital I've ever had/experienced (if you see what I mean). No heroes, man. No way.
The life of the musician or artist often appears to be one of ups and downs so what would you say is the most challenging experience you have had?
I suppose the most challenging experience has been quite a long-term one, being involved in the music industry and having your creativity put up for public consideration. It's essential that you are able to take the rough with the smooth and it's easy to see why some musicians, actors, writers go mad with the process. Your ego can take one hell of a battering at times if you allow it to. It's important to be able to take yourself out of that ego-led space where people are critiquing your work and either telling you that you're great or terrible. I think it's best to learn to not really care either way, as long as you keep the desire to produce work going inside of you.
Which decade in the last 100 years do you think has done the most to shape UK culture and which has had the biggest impact on you?
Well, I think the greed, opportunism and self-centeredness of the 1980's still seems to be prevalent today, so if I had to answer this incredibly difficult question I'd say that. I think most people my age (33) have an ego problem. I know that sounds awful, but we've been brought up to believe that we all excel and have special, natural, talents. I don't think it was like that in the 40s, 50s, 60s, for instance. It's dangerous. And it can leave people feeling seriously blue when their life doesn't pan out the way they planned it.
As for a decade that's had the most impact on me – well, the 1990's without question. My formative years, where I discovered music, football, art and what have you.
Do you feel style is important or is it an unnecessary superficiality?
I think a raw aesthetic is important. Whether that's in your clothes, in your face or in the things you say, I value demeanour.
If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
Meeting my girlfriend for the first time.
What is the funniest thing you have ever witnessed
Futureheads were playing a festival in Belgium somewhere on a big open-air stage. Someone floated a balloon on-stage and I remember Jaff (our bass-player), who'd be the first to admit he's quite style-conscious, taking a huge kick out at this balloon whilst he was playing bass. He missed, slipped and slammed right onto his arse in front of a crowd of tens of thousands. That sticks out...
Where do you call home and how do you feel about it?
I live in Newcastle and have done for 16 years. I spend time in Sunderland probably every day, too, so I guess I call the North-East home. I like it because Newcastle is a bona-fide 'city' without being a huge one. I have a lot of friends here and it's easy to get involved in new projects, plans and it's a good city to be busy in. Sunderland is great because the people and spirit in the city is so strong. There are a lot of exciting things happening in Sunderland right now.
What is your favourite city on the planet and why?
Tough question, but I love Berlin. You feel an accessibility that you can get involved in things, there are exciting, artistic things happening on every corner, there's great architecture, and a lot of history.
What is your favourite place to get away from it all and unwind?
I like going to North Berwick to do that. If you want to be a bit reflective you've got to be by the coast, I think.
What 5 books/films/shows do you recommend every man should experience?
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
My Dark Places – James Ellroy
White Heat (The James Cagney film)
The Americans – Robert Frank
An American Dream – Norman Mailer
We can’t go without asking the obligatory, “what are your 5 desert island discs” question?
Red House Painters (Rollercoaster album)
REM – Life’s Rich Pageant
Chet Baker sings and plays
Nina Simone – Wild is the Wind
Townes van Zandt – Flyin' Shoes