Years & Years On The Pressure Of Being The World's Most Hyped Band

Written By Sam Murphy on 02/26/2015

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When you're names being mentioned amongst Adele, Sam Smith and 50 Cent, you know you're doing something right. They are all past winners of the BBC Sound of Award which was awarded this year to British trio Years & Years.

With a sound that borrows elements of RnB, pop and deep-house, Years & Years exemplify the world's current musical palette. Driven by lead-vocalist Olly Alexander's impossibly smooth vocal the band have concocted some of the biggest melodies of the past year. Their latest single King is the band bringing together everything that makes them so great and delivering it in one mighty pop songs, a track that has a good chance at topping the charts in the UK next week. If that happens, you can have no doubt that it will flood Australian radio soon after.

We spoke to bassist Mikey Goldsworthy about the pressures that come with receiving the BBC award, what to expect from their debut album and casually signing autographs in Paris.

the interns: The last few months must have felt pretty crazy for you guys?
Mikey: Yeah, it’s been the most intense year so far and it’s only February.

So the BBC Sound prize was decided in January and since then it’s all been go, go, go I’m guessing?
Yeah, exactly.

Has that award changed your perspective on anything or is it all just business as usual?
It’s very flattering but we try not to let it get to our heads. We’ve got this far doing what we do, making our own decision so we just thought we’re going to keep on doing that.

What about releasing an album. Does it put pressure on you to get that out?
Kind of, yeah. You’ve got to ride the wave a bit. We have finished the album and we’re probably going to release it in June. That will be announced quite soon I think.

It feels like there’s been a trajectory with singles getting better with each release. Did you hold King back for a while on purpose?
Umm, we were actually going to hold it back longer. Like try and put one out, but then we thought we should put our best foot forward. We had written that quite a while ago, there had just been lots of different stages of it. It used to be a bit more mellower but yeah, it’s become that kind of massive song. 

King hits you right away as being a massive song. Did you feel good about it when it came to fruition?
When we recorded that version it felt really good. Hearing it on the producer’s speakers it was like “oh shit.”

What’s the recording process like, does it start with one of you guys on the demo and then the rest join in?
For the majority Olly will write on the piano all these chords and sing it almost like a ballad and Emre does a lot of laptop stuff and beats and he might have something at that tempo so we’ll replace the piano and I’ll come in and put a bass line under it and it kind of just builds from there.

Who is producing the album?
It’s a producer called Mark Ralph. He does Hot Chip and Jagwar Ma. He did a few Clean Bandit songs also. We just work with him. We kind of keep it in house when we write all our songs.

Are there any surprises to look out for on the album?
I did like a theramin solo on one of the songs that made it in there (laughs).

How’d you end up deciding to sign with Polydor? I imagine you would have had a few offers.
It was mostly the personnel. We met Ben Mortimer who takes care of Florence and the Machine and HAIM and Tourist and we got along really well with him and we felt most comfortable with him so that’s why we chose Polydor and they also have an amazing roster. He also works with Shura by the way. 

Do you feel weird looking back on previous winners like Adele and Sam Smith?
It’s really freaky. And 50 Cent don’t forget.

Oh never. I guess the plan for you guys is to follow in 50 Cent’s career?
Eminem’s going to be on the next album. But yeah it’s crazy. If we could even have a little bit of their success then...it’s crazy how well they’ve all done.

How are the live shows going at the moment now you have songs people know?
We played a show in Brooklyn, New York a few weeks ago and they were all singing along. We’ve only released a few singles and it’s just crazy that they know all the words. They even know some of the other songs so they must just be on the internet somewhere.

It must feel like you’re really getting through when people are Youtubing the band to find songs that haven’t even been released yet?
Yeah it’s crazy. We actually just had a really weird experience. We just got to Paris and outside the hotel there were people waiting to take photos of us and get our autograph and stuff. How do they know we’re staying at the hotel.

"We just got to Paris and outside the hotel there were people waiting to take photos of us and get our autograph"

When do you think this all clicked? When did people start remembering your name?
What I’m quite proud of is I think we did it kind of the right way where each single did a little bit better than the last. It’s been building up quite slowly. I can imagine if you had this crazy big number one song you could be thrown into this world. It feels progressively like we’re getting better. It makes more sense that way. The BBC was a huge boost. People did start taking notice of us.

Do you still feel like you’re sitting on some gold after King?
I think so, I don’t want to speak too soon.

The bar's quite high now.
Ah, I think we shot too soon. Damn. Nah, the album sounds great.

Are all the songs written and in their final stages now?
We’ve got maybe one song left to fix up and then it’s done.

What sort of stuff should we expect. The electro-pop style that’s been going on?
Yeah but there will be some slower moments. There’s one with just piano and then there will be some strings on one. There’s a really epic one and there’s a really industrial sounding one so we’ve tried to change it up a bit because we’re quite...I still love albums. I know some people just buy singles these days but I’m still quite a big fan of an album being a body of work.

In that way have you guys really worked on the tracklist and created sonically a story?
Yeah, it’s not a concept album but there’s a carefully selected tracklisting.

Do you guys get to work on the artwork as well?
Yeah we have a big hand in everything like videos, artwork and the photos. We’re kind of doing that process now trying to find the right artwork for the album.

It seems you guys have come from being a blog-buzz band to crossing over to the mainstream. Does that feel good that you’re appealing to two audiences now?
Yeah I think it’s quite important and it’s really good that people like that sort of stuff. I like the DIY aspect of it because all the bands we admire like Little Dragon, even Radiohead, they write their own stuff and do everything that’s the best way to go about it.

Do you feel now with a big label that they’ve seen you can do cool stuff by yourself so there’s a certain amount of creative control they can give you?
Yeah, it feels like that. We did everything up to a point like wrote all these songs and they’re doing really well so they do trust us to write a good song. Like the theremin solo.

How long after you moved to London did it all kick off with Years and Years?
I literally started it the second day I came. I met a guy in a pub and we started making music and then I met Emery through him and we started making music and then I met Olly at, like I used to work in a restaurant, and met him through a friend.

I heard you first heard him singing in the shower. Is that right?
Yeah, true. He was having a house party and I went over and I stayed the night. The next morning he was singing in the shower and I was like oh, he’s pretty good.

"The next morning he was singing in the shower and I was like oh, he’s pretty good."

He’s got quite an RnB vocal. Did that alter your sound at all when he first came on board?
He came in at quite an early stage so he fitted in quite well. We used to play folk music and I was really obsessed with like Beirut and Fleet Foxes and stuff so it sounded nothing like it does now. And then eventually Olly got more into RnB and house and stuff so I got into syunthesizers and Emery got into making beats and after five years it turned out.

What are some of the common influences that you guys agree on?
Talking Heads, Little Dragon, Flying Lotus, Caribou, stuff like that. Kind of like what we’re doing - band-style, electronic music.

Is there anything that somebody in the band really loves and nobody else can get their head around?
I like a lot of metal music like Nine Inch Nails, stuff like that.

Do any of those influences come through at all?
Probably not.

I read that you’re also quite influenced by one of Marilyn Manson’s album as well?
I love Marilyn Manson. That was me. Mechanical Animals is a great pop album. It’s got really good melodies in it. I don’t see it as a crazy anti-christ type album I just see it as a really good pop album. That kind of got me into synths. I think it was Last Day On Earth has a really good synth line and I was like “Ah, what is that instrument?”

For me it feels like sometimes your melodies are so strong that you could place them into any genre.
Yeah, that's what we like to explore. On the album we’re going to put an acoustic version of King on it because it works in many different ways.

Are you guys enjoying the live, acoustic promotional stuff you have to do in the UK?
Yeah, I’m kind of getting into it. When we go to Europe, Europeans seem to love acoustic versions. They love it! I find it less stressful and a little easier to play than those gigs with the big synths because it’s kind of like, what if the computer breaks?

[soundcloud width="750" height="200"]https://soundcloud.com/yearsandyears/breathe[/soundcloud]

What are your plans in the next six months?
We’ve got America in March, I think three weeks, east coast and west coast. April is European shows and then the festival season starts and the album will come out. I’m not sure after that.

Any Aus plans?
Hopefully. That’s my dream to come back and play one of the festivals here. Especially in the summer.