It might’ve taken years and years for Years & Years to finally come to town, but the wait’s all worth it when we managed to catch the Brit trio for a quick chat before the showcase for their latest record Palo Santo – the long-awaited follow-up to their 2015 debut album. What have they been up to ever since? We sat down with the band to talk about the making of Palo Santo, discovering themselves and their love for Rihanna.
It took you guys a while to finally get to Singapore! But it’s fine, because you guys were clearly busy with your new record Palo Santo. It’s a great album. What was the mindset of the band heading into this sophomore effort?
Olly: I think we were all kind of like, in a daze. The whole experience of releasing a first album and then touring, is so overwhelming; it’s like a tornado of craziness. And when you come down from that, it’s hard to really know even where to begin. So we kind of struggled [at the start].
Emre: It’s called a difficult second album for a reason – we found out that it’s true. But at the same time, it’s kind of a good problem to have because that means that there’s people waiting [for our music]. Whereas for the first album, we didn’t know if anyone was going to listen to it; let alone like it. So it’s the kind of pressure that you want, but once it’s finished it’s really good to get out there again and perform it for people.
Tell us more about Palo Santo and how this fantasy dystopian world came about.
Olly: I guess it’s something that I’ve been dreaming about for a really long time. With the first album, there was no time to think of a concept that ties everything together because you’re constantly playing catch up. I knew that before we made new music, I wanted to create this kind of fantasy, sci-fi concept that all the music could go alongside, mainly because I thought it’d be fun. The inspiration came from loads of different places, like growing up we all loved sci-fi such as The Fifth Element, Star Wars… I was also inspired by fiction writers like Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Gui. I wanted to tell the story that asks the question of what it means to be human. That kind of all went into [the album].
Palo Santo is all about self-discovery. Having been through the challenges of finding yourselves, what is an advice you can share with young fans who are still coming to terms with their identity?
Olly: For me, it would be the things that I hated about myself when I was growing up – whether it was my body, my sexuality or I thought I was just weird – are now the things that I feel make me special and unique. Take all those things that make you feel bad about yourself and one day, you’re going to love that and that’s going to be what’s special about you.
Emre: Being a human is a weird thing because on one hand you want to be completely unique, but on the other, you also want to be accepted and belong – so it’s this constant balancing act between those two things. But I think if you’re growing up, there’s always people out there who are like you and you’ll find them.
There’s a lot of artificial intelligence and technology elements in this era, especially with the promotional tools for the album. How do you guys see social media in today’s landscape – more hurtful or helpful?
Emre: It’s both. The funny thing about social media is that it’s not all bells and whistles that do it, but the more honest you are with it, it allows us to share stuff with fans without a gatekeeper. They appreciate it and so do we. I think it definitely helps, especially if you’re an emerging artist, to promote yourself. On a personal level, my issue with social media is quite up and down. I delete mine regularly because I know I won’t be able to stop checking it, and it can be quite unhealthy. But for an artiste, it can be a really cool way of speaking to fans directly. Plus it’s fun – everytime there’s a new selfie filter on Snapchat, I’ll think I look great and I’m like “God, I wish I could look like this, but I don’t!” (Laughs)
What’s your favourite filter on Snapchat?
Emre: I like the one that makes your lips go huge and your voice goes high like a frog, like Crazy Frog!
Your current single ‘If You’re Over Me’ sounds so chirpy, but the lyrics say otherwise. What are three essential things Years & Years would recommend to get through a breakup?
Mikey: Lasagna, and Clueless (laughs).
Emre: Maybe have a Mario Kart party!
So Olly, how was it like meeting Rihanna?
Olly: Meeting her was great, it was everything I had hoped it would be. It was very surreal, I don’t really remember what happened because I was so overwhelmed and just trying not to faint. She’s just so cool, you know? I remember seeing her at the MET Gala when she wore the yellow dress and she turned to give the cameras a shot on the steps – I was like, “that’s a star”. Not many people in the world can do that, but Rihanna sure can!
What’s really admirable about Years & Years is that at the end of the day, your music sends an optimistic message not just to fans, but to each other as well. What’s it like having such a great support system?
Olly: I think it’s quite rare in life to spend so much time with other people whom you aren’t in a relationship with right? (Laughs) You go through highs and lows together, see so much of the world together, and ultimately, there’s a base level of being there for each other no matter what. I can’t imagine what would rip us apart.
Emre: I was thinking it’s like Darth Vader [from Star Wars]. There’s hope in him, and at the end he’s a good guy.
Mikey: Who’s the Darth Vader in this situation?
Emre: We’re all Darth Vader!
Thanks to Universal Music Singapore for the interview opportunity with Years & Years!