Theo Hutchcraft, singer with rising stars Hurts, talks about success in Europe, suits and their live show's secret weapon
'GROWING up in the tiny town of Richmond in North Yorkshire meant I had two choices," says Theo Hutchcraft, singer with the Manchester-based synthpop duo Hurts, "have a very narrow mind or a very wide-open one.
"I used to use music as a way of escape," he explains, "and the more dramatic and cinematic the music the better. I think that has really come through in our music, since it's always been the music I love.
"Also it inspires ambition, I wanted to escape and see the world, so we've made our music bold and grand. It's all been very important."
Hutchcraft has certainly found escape. Since making the BBC's influential top tips for 2010 list and signing to an offshoot of Sony, he and songwriting partner Adam Anderson have hardly had chance to catch breath during an endless whirl of recording, gigs, festivals, TV appearance and interviews.
It's not altogether surprising that in a world of bums hanging out of jeans, baggy plaid shirts, scruffy beards, and greasy fringes, two impeccably well-groomed young men in suits stand out.
With the sort of brooding male glamour not seen outside of an expensive cologne advert, Hurts could be accused of some canny self-promotion, but the smart threads actually stem back to when the duo were still struggling to realise their musical ambitions. The suit was a way of maintaining some dignity when it came time to sign on.
This must, I suggest to Hutchcraft, have attracted some choice comments at the dole office.
"Believe me, I couldn't repeat some of the things," he says, "but half the people think you either work there or that you're a copper."
With just an enigmatic image and a spare handful of releases – Better Than Love, Wonderful Life – that bounded between the hedonistic glee of the dancefloor and the sort of emotionally overwrought synthpop that we haven't heard since Midge Ure was dancing with tears in his eyes, Hurts have hit on a formula that is winning fans worldwide.
Recognition hasn't arrived overnight for the pair, though, with the duo having had a number of stabs at success with other bands, most notably with the outfit Daggers. Theo's philosophical about why it's taken a while to get noticed.
"We had to learn so much," he explains. "We only started making music when we met, so the other bands were an important learning curve. Looking back, they were like an apprenticeship."
So how have their previous experiences shaped what they do?
"It's important to learn what not to do, mainly," says Theo. "Don't give too much of yourself away, don't do 100s of pointless gigs in toilets to five people, make sure you're comfortable in what you do and be confident."
That it's finally happening for them – and not just here, but right across Europe – has still come as something of a surprise.
"When you write the songs in the rain, on the dole in Manchester, you dream of them being heard around the world, but you never expect it because the situation you've written them in is so far away from that. It was amazing for us that people connected with it, it really opens your mind."
The band's international exploits over the summer have left them with a wealth of glorious and occasionally surreal memories, but Hutchcraft's clear which country provided the best ones.
"Japan," he asserts, before expanding, "Meeting Jackie Chan and talking about Joy Division, playing to 3,000 people at 11am, eating live animals, drinking sake until you're blue in the face. Just amazing."
As the bands frequent Facebook updates hint, Hutchcraft has also clearly enjoyed singing for the ladies of the world, but he's not sure where his favourites are.
"I'm still working that one out. At the moment Greece and Scandinavia are where the angels are. But Romania is a close third. Then there's Germany and Spain... and Japan. And France. Like I said..." he tails off.
So, we cheekily enquire, with all this interest from Europe, would Hurts be up for penning our next Eurovision entry?
"Eurovision is better than the Olympics," enthuses Hutchcraft. "We don't take it seriously enough though, so maybe it would be better to write a song for a country who savour every second of it. Then they'd do the amazing thing of choosing a person who best represents their country. That's what's fascinating. Also that leads to a whole circus of bizarre characters who take part most of the time too.
"But it's a grand old thing, something we should treasure more. Don't let Andrew Lloyd Webber do it, for God's sake. It's a POP contest."
Music fans in Leeds had a taste of just what, given half a chance, Hurts could unleash at the Eurovision Song Contest when the band played in the Holy Trinity Church on Boar Lane as part of the Live At Leeds all-dayer back in May and actually had audience members dancing on the pews. When did Hutchcraft first get a clue that his music had the potential to create euphoria in an audience? "We've always written the songs with big stages in mind," he explains. "We had to dream like that when we were on the dole, or we wouldn't have carried on. So it's amazing when the songs finally get the chance to shine in a place like that. But also they're very emotional, or at least we've tried to make them that way. I guess that's something which connects. It doesn't harm being in an amazing place like a church either. People act differently!"
Sadly, it will be the less ornate Cockpit playing host to the band when they return to play the city in October, but they will still be pulling out all the stops to give the grandiose synthpop ballads from their debut album Happiness the treatment they deserve.
"We've put a lot of work into making it exciting for people," insists Hutchcraft. "The songs are very emotional so that makes the show very dramatic. Hopefully it will be something different."
There's also one special element in their live show – a certain burly backing vocalist. Hutchcraft explains: "Richard is a giant opera singer. He's a man I found singing in The Pirates of Penzance when I went to see it with my nan. He's our secret weapon."
And is Hutchcraft expecting to have set a trend and see lots of suits, slicked back hair and white silk scarves in the audience?
"Wouldn't that be a dream!", he says.
Oct 3, The Cockpit, Swinegate, Leeds, 7pm, 9. Tel: 0113 244 1573.www.thecockpit.co.uk