Years & Years Talk ‘Communion’ Debut LP, The UK Takeover & Their Love For Forgotten ’00s Artists: Idolator Interview
We have been major fans of Years & Years ever since we predicted their “Desire” tune as a future hit back in November. Fast forward to four months later, and the London-based electro-pop trio are gearing up for the release of their debut LP — titled Communion.
The group (comprised of synth player Emre Turkmen, lead singer and keyboardist Olly Alexander and bassist Mikey Goldsworthy) are a part of the current wave of dance music that has taken over everywhere — from here in America to Australia. But what sets Years & Years apart is their saccharine vocal tone and sultry ’90s R&B and Dancehall influences, which they spin into their own feel-good flair. We caught up with the boys during this year’s SXSW music festival, where we chatted about the new album, breaking into the industry and their favorite forgotten gems of the early ’00s!
So how did you all first meet?
EMRE TURKMEN: It’s been about five years ago now. Me and Mikey met on a musicians’ website where we were both looking to start a band. Pretty soon after, Mikey met Olly at his house party because they had a mutual friend. Olly was new to London and wanted to join a band, and he asked Mikey but he was a little reluctant. He stayed the night because he got drunk and crashed on the sofa. In the morning he heard Olly singing in the shower and his voice just blew Mikey away!
MIKEY GOLDSWORTHY: I was a changed human after that, I saw the light!
You all won the BBC Music Sound Of 2015 Poll recently, what was your reaction?
OLLY ALEXANDER: We were in LA at the time, and I was quite weepy. I also felt a bit like I might pass out — but that may have just been jet-lag. I was shocked, I didn’t think we’d win at all.
Let’s talk about the new album, which I’m so excited about! We’re now used to the ’90s-influence dance style from the EP. So with this project, will you be introducing new sounds?
ET: It’s all ’90s electronica! [laughs]. Well the reason why we like albums is there is enough room to do different things, so there’s moments that are quite sparse and slow. “Memo” might be a good indicator, or “Eyes Shut.”
OA: I think we get bored quite easily, so we try to do something a bit different in each song. “Worship,” which we just put up for people to download, is more R&B. And then we’ve got a song called “Tides” that is more of an angst-y electronic song, and also “Border” that is a more indie. It’s all a part of the Years & Years universe. Hopefully it will be a few more flavors that people will enjoy.
Being in Austin for SXSW, are there any artists you want to try and see?
OA: I would love to see Shamir and Jack Garratt, they’re both great. There are so many bands playing, it blows my mind! I also want to see Marina And The Diamonds, she’s cute!
You have been on the music industry’s radar for the past year. Since you are now breaking out into the industry, what some artists that you have on your radar?
OA: I really love Tei Shi, Shira and Jack Garratt, I think they’re going to be big.
ET: Royal Blood are cool, but they’re much bigger than us! They’re newer to Americans but they’re huge in the UK.
Currently there are a lot of UK artists like yourselves who are breaking into the U.S. market. Do you think because of this new dance era in music that it’s easier to transition from across the pond?
ET: The thing is that Britain and the U.S. has always been that way, you know? Ever since from the original British Invasion with the Beatles, the ’80s with Elton John and now Sam Smith. It’s kind of like a dialogue. Like when blues came to England and then it went back to the U.S. with the Rolling Stones, and then back again with Jimi Hendrix.
OA: I guess the UK has been at the forefront of the dance music resurgence across the world, so that may be part of it. And we all like each other as artists.
You cite TLC, Timbaland and Sean Paul as influences. Who else do you look up to musically?
ET: We all love Little Dragon and loads of ’90s artists like you said.
OA: My biggest influences were always singers, like Stevie Wonder. Even when I first heard Alicia Keys I thought she had the most incredible voice. I really love Whitney [Houston], Jeff Buckley and Joni Mitchell for her lyrics.
Speaking of throwback singers, your Blu Cantrell cover of “Breathe” is awesome. It’s unexpected because people don’t think about her anymore!
OA: I know right! She’s the shit.
Are thee any other underrated early 00’s artists that you would cover?
OA: There are so many! Like 3LW [sings a snippet of “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right)”]. There were loads of cool girl groups that went a bit missing, like 702 and t.A.T.u. This is a bit different, but I also love JoJo.
ET: There were so many good singles in the ’90s and ’00s, like Montell Jordan‘s “This Is How We Do It.” Or Donell Jones. But you don’t really remember albums, but I do have the Blackstreet album! There’s so many hidden treasures if you want to dig in there.
Well if you guys did another cover, I would actually dig 3LW!
OA: Yes, how good would that be? Or even Stacie Orrico’s “Stuck.”
ET: What about Khia‘s song, “My Neck, My Back?” [laughs]
Or maybe Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My)”? That would be a fun one!
ET: But you don’t wear dresses, Olly. You’d have to be like “There goes my tank top!”
OA: Like, [sings] “There goes my vest up over my head! Oh my!” That’s such a great song!
So back to modern times, “King” is the current track that everyone is talking about. The lyrics to it are a bit mysterious. Some people think it’s about drugs or relationships. How would you explain the song?
ET: Well love is a drug! [laughs]
OA: That is a bit of a cliched point but it’s true. Where you’re feeling rejected but addicted to a slightly toxic relationship, that’s what it’s about. It feels kind of good, but you know it should end.
The video is really cool as well, how did you come up with the concept?
OA: We always wanted to have choreographed dancers in our video.
MG: We first tried it out for “Real,” but that was more of a free for all in a cool way.
OA: So Ryan Huffington, who choreographed “King,” got in touch with me on Instagram. He teaches a dance class in LA and one of the songs included “Real.” I’ve seen art performances that were similar, like manipulating large bodies of people and it seemed to connect with the meaning of the song. So we all expanded on the idea and that’s how it happened!
You have been touring all over since your big break, has there been any wild moments either on or off stage that you can remember?
MG: Some fans in Holland bought my cat some cat food, which I thought was really nice!
OA: Yea that was crazy! And when we recently went to Paris, there were fans outside our hotel. That was nuts. Some of them weren’t really there for us! They just saw other people there and they all waited a long time for someone actually famous to come out.
Well it won’t be long until everyone knows who Years & Years are! Look out for their debut album, Communion, when it drops on June 22 via Interscope Records. It will be available in standard and deluxe editions, and you can click here to pre-order the LP on iTunes.
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