March 17, 2015

Interview with Years & Years

Years & Years - Mike Massaro (3 of 5)

Interview by Cheryl Dunn

Years & Years are having an incredible year. The band consisting of Olly, Mikey and Emre have been touring non-stop, opening for Sam Smith during his sold-out UK tour, headlining dates and playing the US all while releasing EPs and writing a new record. The band is heading to SXSW this week and I caught up with lead singer Olly Alexander to ask him about getting discovered while singing in the shower, their East Coast apocalyptic winter, and creating their upcoming debut album.

“I had a party at my house,” Olly stated, about to tell me the story of joining Years and Years. He continued, “The girl I was living with was friends with Mikey so she invited him. I met Mikey and Mikey told me he had a band called Years & Years and I was like ‘Oh! I want to be in a band again. Please let me join Years & Years!'” He explained, “I had been in bands before, and I remember he was like ‘Yeah, yeah, maybe. I don’t know…we’ll talk about it later.'” It did not seem like Olly’s request was going to be taken seriously, until the hangover set in and magic happened. “Then everyone was a bit drunk and a few people stayed over including Mikey. In the morning I took a shower and I was singing. Later, Mikey said, ‘I heard you singing in the shower, you have a good voice’ and I was like ‘Yeah! What do you think about me joining the band? I wasn’t messing around.’”

He finally agreed. Later, Olly joined some jam sessions and the rest was history. But what we really need to know is, what was that winning song he was singing in the shower? “Um, I think it was ‘Killing Me Softly” Lauryn Hill and the Fugees. That’s my shower song.”

As a band, their mounting success has been growing fast over the past year. I wondered, as a musician, when you realize making music with your friends is no longer just a hobby. Olly explained, “When it started we didn’t have the ambition [to turn the band into a job]. We were ambitious,” he clarified before continuing, “But it’s difficult because you don’t imagine, or start off thinking, ‘okay we’re gonna make it, and we’re going to do this this and this.’ We were just a bunch a mates, friends trying to write music and play music,” he said. Then, things started to change. He continued, “That changed very incrementally over the year. We would start playing shows, then we put our single out. Then we got management a couple years later and then we signed to Kitsune. Once we signed to Kitsune, we put more songs out and it gradually increased until suddenly it was like ‘Oh shit! We might be able to do this as actual jobs.'” Oh shit, indeed.

The band has been seemingly touring non-stop, releasing EPs and even won BBC Sound of 2015 this year. Olly reflected, “It has been a mental process because we have been doing everything at once: recording, touring, rehearsing and promo. The hardest part has been trying to get the album finished because we have to take a period of time, like four weeks or however long to make the album. Quite fortunately, we were writing at the time and had a lot of material from years ago that we put on the album, and new material just written recently.” With everything going on, Olly tells me, they thankfully did find time to finish. “We just have to do it when we can, but we finished now and we are very, very happy with it,” he exclaimed before continuing. “It’s going to be released in June in the UK. I’m not totally sure when it will be released in the US but I’m thinking it will probably be released around the same time.” Excited for the release, I asked if they have a title for the debut album yet. “We have a tentative title, but I don’t want to say because it jinxes it and I embarrass myself,” he laughs.

We spoke about Years & Years’ first show in the US at Rough Trade. Their first show due to be at Le Poisson Rouge the night before was cancelled due to weather. Originally Rough Trade cancelled their second show Tuesday as well, but retracted once they realized the weather wasn’t as bad as the media made it out to be. So those who had tickets and braved the cold saw an incredible show by the band.

“I felt so bad because we had to cancel the night before,” Olly reflected. “The news coverage was insane. Watching the news in New York was like an Oscar speech, ‘stay in your homes, be safe,’ and I thought, it’s going to be a proper apocalyptic snow storm! I was getting kind of excited to watch the snow storm unfold.” But then it didn’t. Seeing the weather was not as the media set it out to be, the band knew the show must go on. “It’s no apocalypse I guess we can do the show in Brooklyn, yay!” he said cheerfully. “It was one of our best shows. It was intense. It was so cool. It was our only show in the states so I guess I have nothing to compare it to, but it was just majestic and supportive. We had a great time it was so cool,” he remembered.

The guys are heading back to the US this week to play SXSW in Austin Texas. I asked how many shows they have lined up. “It’s going to be crazy, they were like ‘Maybe you could do three shows this day’ and we were like ‘Okay!!” he said enthusiastically but apprehensively. “I just can’t believe it! I’m excited to discover new music.” He continued, “I hope we have time to discover new music. I think that part is going to be cool. Literally every window and door you walk past is going to be a venue. I have been to SXSW before, but I was only there for one day. But the vibe was great. It was like a playground! I can’t wait,” he said excitedly.

After the festival, Years & Years are continuing their tour through the US. “We are playing some shows on the East Coast and West Coast. Hopefully San Francisco, L.A., New York, and maybe even Philadelphia and Washington D.C.” Unfortunately Philadelphia didn’t make the cut this time, but it looks like the Years & Years tour isn’t stopping any time soon. With the release of their album coming up in June, it is safe to assume we can expect the band back for a more extensive tour of the US.

When Olly Alexander performs, his energy on stage is radiant. You can tell that he is putting everything into each song. I wanted to know about the first time he really felt inspired by music. “The person I first felt like my life was changed by their music was Jeff Buckley. His voice was so incredible. He could do things with his voice that I never heard people do before. He could sing rock, classical and pop.” He continued, “I wanted to be able to sing with that kind of skill, but also that emotion. He had that emotion where it was like it was coming from inside of his guts, it was so raw. I remember hearing that and going ‘Oh, wow,’ I wanted to be able to sound like that,” he said before continuing.

“The music he wrote was so personal but poetic. I really felt like I could relate to it in my life. I realized how music could be a very transformative experience. You can hear it makes sense for your life and you feel better about your life, and live more of your life. That is so inspiring to me. I am just so inspired by what he did and if I could use some of that experience [in our music] I’d be happy,” he reflects.

*Catch Years & Years at SXSW this week and check out their East and West Coast dates below.

3/23/2015 AVALON HOLLYWOOD Los Angeles, CA
3/25/2015 Troubadour Los Angeles, CA
3/26/2015 Rickshaw Stop San Francisco, CA
3/29/2015 U Street Music Hall Washington, DC
3/30/2015 Royale Boston, MA
3/31/2015 Le Poisson Rouge New York, NY
4/17/2015 Trinity Ball Dublin, Ireland
4/20/2015 Le Trabendo Paris, France
4/21/2015 Ancienne Belgique Brussels, Belgium
4/22/2015 Gebäude 9 Cologne, Germany
4/23/2015 Bi Nuu Berlin, Germany
4/25/2015 Sala Wielka Poznan, Poland
4/27/2015 Pumpehuset Copenhagen, Denmark
4/29/2015 Paradiso Grote Zaal Amsterdam, Netherlands
5/1/2015 SOS 4.8 Festival Murcia, Spain
5/19/2015 Fibbers York, Uk
5/20/2015 Liquid Room Edinburgh, United Kingdom
5/23/2015 Southampton Common Southampton, United Kingdom
5/24/2015 Southampton Common Southampton, United Kingdom
5/30/2015 Bath University Claverton Down, United Kingdom
6/1/2015 O2 Academy2 Oxford Oxford, United Kingdom
6/2/2015 Junction Cambridge, United Kingdom
6/3/2015 The Lemon Grove Exeter, United Kingdom
6/7/2015 Wild Life Festival 2015 Brighton, United Kingdom
6/12/2015 O2 Shepherds Bush Empire London, United Kingdom
6/13/2015 O2 Shepherds Bush Empire London, United Kingdom
6/14/2015 Northside Festival Åbyhøj, Denmark
6/17/2015 Ibiza Rocks Ibiza, Spain
6/25/2015 Rock Werchter Rotselaar, Belgium
7/4/2015 Open’er Gdynia, Poland
7/8/2015 Rock in Rome Rome, Italy
7/10/2015 T in the Park 2015 Perthshire, United Kingdom
7/12/2015 T In The Park Scotland, United Kingdom
7/17/2015 Marlay Park Dublin, Ireland
7/19/2015 Latitude Henham Park, United Kingdom
7/22/2015 Croatia Rocks Pag, Croatia
8/12/2015 Tøyenparken Oslo, Norway
8/14/2015 Way Out West Festival Gothenburg, Sweden
8/15/2015 Flow Festival Helsinki, Finland
8/21/2015 Lowlands Festival Biddinghuizen, Netherlands
8/28/2015 Leeds Festival – NME/Radio 1 Stage Leeds, United Kingdom
8/30/2015 Reading Festival – NME/Radio 1 Stage Reading, United Kingdom

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