Every few years, a new band or artist arrives that changes the way music is heard and made. Radiohead, Massive Attack, TV on the Radio, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys – all considered among the most influential bands of the last two decades due to their innovative spirit and pioneering ways. Edinburgh, Scotland trio, Young Fathers, are likewise trailblazing new paths with their unique, innoative music, combining the sounds of their heritage and the songs they grew up listening to in their childhood.
Call it fate, chance, or coincidence, an under-16 hip-hop night years in Edinburgh twelve years ago the brought together the Liberian-born Alloysious Massaquoi; Kayus Bankole, whose parents are from Nigeria and who had spent time in Maryland and Nigeria; and north Edinburgh native Graham “G” Hastings, and Young Fathers was born. As Alloysious told Emma Brown of Interview Magazine:
“I knew from Kayus from high school—he came about third year in high school and we quickly became friends—and [some of my] childhood friends knew Graham. We had talked about going to the under 16 hip-hop nights. We met there, I remember there was kind of a wee circle and everyone was dancing and having a good time. Then, at the end, Graham said that he had a £10 music program called Cool-J Mix — and he asked if we’d like to come round to his and write some songs because he ‘makes beats.’ So that’s what we did, we went round to his as much as we could and just recorded off a karaoke machine.”
Now in their mid- to late-20s, the Edinburgh trio have released two EPs and a fantastic debut LP, Dead, which is among the best of 2014 so far. Their music mixes hip hop, R&B, Afro-beat, pop, and rock, creating a sound like no other. And lyrically, they sing about hope, opportunities, and possibilities, a refreshing take on the music that dominates the mainstream radio these days.
In the midst of a cross-continental tour, I sat down with the trio following their show at Ritual Nightclub in Ottawat o talk about the tour, their experimentation, and other random things.
As this is your first extensive tour across North America, what are your first impressions of this vast continent?
Alloysious: We grew up listening to music from America and watching films from America, so to be submerged into the culture was surreal. It was like being in a movie. Like walking around Santa Monica or Muscle Beach, everywhere you turn it was like seeing something out of a movie. It’s like you’re not part of it.
Graham: Or like in Texas and you see signs that say, “No Weapons Allowed”, it makes you realize you’re in a different place. I also noticed in the south that they have so many firework stores, and they are fucking huge. With so much space set aside for fireworks, I was expecting to see them every night, but I didn’t see a single firework the whole time. So who is buying these fireworks and keeping these businesses afloat?
But I really enjoyed Louisiana. It was one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever seen. From the way the houses are to how the people talked and dressed. We were there on a Sunday and people were leaving church. They were dressed immaculately, wearing suits and hats. Just fucking beautiful.
Kayus: For me, because I had lived in the US when I was younger, I wasn’t too shocked by what I saw. But down south, it was different. The gun culture there was noticeable. We spoke with a 19-year old girl after a show, and she told us that she couldn’t imagine her dad not having a gun. That’s a 19-year old girl who supports the right to bear arms, and that’s what really shocked me.
You’ve been characterized as an alternative hip hop band. What are your thoughts on that label?
Graham: That’s the opposite of what we ever wanted to be. It’s just what people call it because they can’t find another way to describe our music. They look at us and hear that we rap, but it’s not straightforward so they call it “alternative”.
Alloysious: The term “alternative” is so broad, but alternative to what? If it means that we’re different, then yeah we’re alternative.
Graham: Alternative isn’t what we’ve aspired to be. It’s not what the music is. We always wanted to create music that people would listen to and not just the elite or a few people.
B: I had written about you guys not long ago and compared you to Massive Attack and TV on the Radio because like these bands you’re willing to push the boundaries on music and innovate. How did come to develop your current sound?
Kayus: There’s nothing really happening in Edinburgh, and when you’re in that kind of environment you’re almost forced to innovate and create. Even how we met, we came together because we were getting bored of everything around us, and it made us really push ourselves and find ways to do things differently.
Graham: And it took the right circumstances. We’ve been making music since we were 14, and we’ve been through a lot of stages. We’re now grown up, but we’ve experienced so much together. With music, we’ve done everything. So for us to keep doing this, it’s important for us to be excited about it. When we go into the studio, for example, we cannot record a song that we’ve already made. That’s how we recorded the last album. I can’t say that this is how we’ll continue to make records, but we do want to push ourselves and experiment. That said, who knows, we might go through a stage where we want to write just pop songs, which is hard because pop music is the hardest music to write.
Alloysious: Yeah, pop songs are the hardest ones to make. To do it requires re-educating ourselves to learn new arrangements and melodies. That is exciting to us – to learn something new. That’s testing us to be better. But it’s also hard to gauge, you know, to be innovative and to be forward looking. You don’t sit around and say let’s innovate.
Graham: We always want to test ourselves. For us, we’ve made our pop songs. They are what we imagine pop songs would sound like. We want our music to be heard by everyone, not just by that guy over there but by all. And when we write the next album, we’ll continue to push ourselves, and we might go out and try to write a different kind of pop album. But whatever we do, it won’t be contrived because we can’t do that.
“Young Fathers at SXSW” – Photograph by Theonepointeight
B: Even your songwriting is different. It’s not about the typical things you hear on the radio.
Kayus: Absolutely. Words should carry weight. As Fela Kuti said, music is a weapon, so use it to your best ability. He doesn’t have the most beautiful voice, but you can feel the soul. And us, we have soul, which allows us to do what we do and to write things that are meaningful.
B: What was the story behind naming your LP, “Dead”?
Kayus: Whether it’s a sweet part of the album, a melody, or even a groan or cry in a song, there was this sense that something new was happening. Dead doesn’t have to be a negative word; it signals the start of something coming to end and something new about to begin.
Alloysious: The lyrics, the sound, the music, the album, to me, is really hopeful. Yes the album is grim and dark at points, but there’s a melancholic feel to the album, and one of hope that resonates throughout.
B: I thought the album title was appropriate because their are common things, such as redemption, perseverance, and empowerment.
Kayus: Absolutely. It’s all those things plus rejoicing and celebrating life and fighting for what you believe in.
Feedback – A Series of Random Questions as “Selected” by the Band
Did you consider any other names before Young Fathers?
Alloysious: We had a lot, but Young Fathers was like a blank slate. For me, it felt like it wasn’t anything direct, yet it was something that we could grow into it. It’s like when your mother buys you a pair of trousers or a shirt that is too big, but eventually you get grow up and it fits.
Graham: We also all have our dad’s name – we’re all juniors. It wasn’t something that we realized for awhile, so the name just seemed apt.
Kayus: The more you settle with words and names, it ends up taking on its own meaning and it sometimes changes over time. I think I’m a father within myself. I always try to keep learning, growing, and getting better, like a young father.
Alloysious: And when we get into our late 40s, we’ll just call ourselves Fathers.
B: And in your 60s, you’ll be the Grandfathers (laughter).
Who would you want to play you in a film about your life?
Kayus: Jesus. I want Jesus to play me.
Graham: But he’s dead.
Kayus: Well, they say Jesus will resurrect, and when he does I would like him to play me.
Alloysious: I would like some unknown actor to play me, someone who did small roles. This would be that actor’s first shot at a lead role. If it’s an unknown actor, there would be no preconceptions on how the type of actor that person is.
Graham: I would do it. I would act as myself.
Do you have any favourite animals?
Kayus: I like dogs, but I’m allergic to anything furry. That doesn’t stop me from cuddling with them, but I suffer afterwards. I really like dogs and koalas. I’ve never seen a koala before, but I think I’m like one. I might be cute and cuddly, but underneath I can be vicious if necessary.
Alloysious: And he can be vicious. But for me, I like the white liger. They are very rare animals. They are crossbred between a male lion and a female tiger, and they are beautiful.
Graham: For me, I’ll take goldfish. (laughter)
Graham: Yeah, because goldfish always party at night. When you go to sleep, you never see them, but they have parties when the lights go off. At least that’s what my father told me. (laughter)
What’s on your rider?
Kayus: Since being in America, we haven’t been provided with anything. No rider, nothing at all.
Graham: But every time we get to, there’s always Doritos, and none of us like Doritos. It has to be Tim (the band’s manager).
Alloysious: Nobody touches the Doritos even when we were extremely hungry. There would always be a huge, fucking bag of Doritos, and we would be like, “Who put Doritos on the rider?” I agree, it has to be Tim. But if I had a choice, dark rum has to be on it, and some soft and hard candies.
What unchartered territory would you like to visit, such as space, under the sea, or John Malkovich’s head?
Kayus: I know what Ali’s answer would be. He always talks about sasquatches and bigfoot, and he wants to find one.
Alloysious: I’m going to be the first person to track down a sasquatch! (laughter) I’m being serious, I’m going to find one. Every time we’re near a woodland area, I’m always thinking, “Sasquatch”. (laughter) Besides chasing sasquatch, I want to travel back in time and see how everything was created before the Big Bang – basically when the universe was created. Oh, and I would love to be able to regenerate, so that I can see how everything evolves and changes in the future.
B: So you want to go back in time and see how everything started, then chase down a sasquatch, and then be able to regenerate so you can live for centuries.
Alloysious Yeah, I want to see and do it all.
Graham: That’s kind of cheating because you could go back in time and dress like a sasquatch and claim you found it. (laughter)
Alloysious: It’s like the panda. It took years before the West discovered the panda. There were stories about a bamboo-eating bear in China, but no one could every find one, and then one day a panda was found. I’m just saying I’m going to be that guy that finds the sasquatch, and goes back into time to see the beginning of the universe and then travels to the future. Thank you. (laughter)
Kayus: Mine is a lot less complicated – I would like to see what it’s like inside my brain. I want to see how my ideas are developed, how I think, and to visit my sub-conscience.
Graham: I would like to visit like an alternate universe. There are people who believe that there is another life or world out there, where the opposite decision you’ve made actually occurs. I want to see that. You know, if I decided not to go to the party 12 years ago, would I have still met Ali and Kayus? I think it would be extremely interesting to see what other outcomes would have happened if the a different decision was made.
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