Mercurial, Rewarded: Young Fathers’ 2014 So Far

Scottish trio continues to rise…

It’s been an incredible year for Young Fathers. First, in February, the Edinburgh-formed rap(-ish) trio of Graham Hastings, Kayus Bankole and Alloysious Massaquoi released ‘Dead’, their debut album proper for Big Dada. It went about attracting acclaim like a Dyson sucks up fluff from under the sofa. It sounds like nothing else, unafraid of crossing genre boundaries and embracing global sounds. Here it is getting a 9/10 review from us.

Then came the amazing shows, incendiary television performances in the States – immediately alerting that side of the Atlantic to the band’s incredible live presence (for those who didn’t already know – Anticon had an idea, at least) – and the 2014 Scottish Album Of The Year (SAY) Award for, slightly confusingly, their ‘Tape Two’ EP of 2013.

This week has seen Young Fathers achieve perhaps their highest accolade yet, as ‘Dead’ finds itself amongst the albums shortlisted for the 2014 Mercury Prize. Naturally, Clash called it, putting the record in our own predictions for this year’s nominations. We got on the phone to Hastings – aka simply ‘G’ – to see what the Mercury recognition means to them, and what their next steps might be.

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‘Get Up’, from ‘Dead’

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You’re in London, recording I believe, but also for OnBlackheath this weekend. Which will be your first performance since the Mercury nomination. There’s going to be a greater interest in you from attendees, isn’t there…

Yeah, it’s the first show. And with things like this, I guess that maybe more people will want to see us. But what we’ll take from it is that these added eyes and ears, focused on Young Fathers, that’s a good thing, because we always wanted to make music for as many people as possible. We want people to hear the music we’ve done. This isn’t a completely selfish act – but at the same time, we don’t mind if people love it or hate it. That doesn’t matter to us.

When you do perform live, you seem in this zone, in a trance sometimes – the three of you, playing off each other without wholly acknowledging the audience. Is that a fair assessment? Do you slip inside some other place, while on stage?

Well, in order for us to go up there, and go on a tour or whatever, you have to have confidence in yourself, and almost play for yourselves – because you never know who is going to be out there in the crowd, if there even is one. So, you can’t be dependant on other people, again, whether they’re loving you or hating you. And we’ve definitely had shows where people haven’t really cared that we’re there. So you make the most of it for yourself – if you do that, then nothing else matters.

Does it feel like your Mercury shortlisting is the culmination, of sorts, of this great year so far? That everything has been building up to something like this, a whole new level of public recognition?

For us, this has always been the plan. Not necessarily to get the good reviews, or awards and stuff, but the plan has been to reach out to more people. If you just focused on making music for awards, that’d get you nowhere. For us, we want a lot of people to know who we are, and again, whether they f*cking love us or hate us, we want them to know we exist. The shows and the reviews, they happen, and if they’re good, that’s nice. But I care as much about a good review as I do a bad one. It doesn’t affect us – those are not the important things to us. All we can do is go into the studio and be natural, and try to get out what we want to do. Again, it sounds selfish, but while we want to be known, we are making music for us, too. It’s a bit complicated to explain.

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Mercurial, Rewarded: Young Fathers’ 2014 So Far

We’ll never make another ‘Dead’. The idea of that feels horrible…

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What’s exciting about the band, about your music, to me is that it doesn’t feel ‘set’. I don’t think there’s anything I’ve heard by you yet that I’ve considered a ‘definitive’ Young Fathers moment – and, from that, I sense that you could go anywhere, musically. Which few artists realistically can after gaining this kind of recognition.

That’s exactly how we feel – we never know what we’re going to do next. Before we made ‘Dead’, we had no idea what it would be like, or what it would be about. That’s the way we create stuff – it’s rarely ever planned. And that keeps things exciting for us. We get together, in a room, and we get so bored of what we’ve already done that we can’t not make something different to it. We’ll never make the same song twice. We’ll never make another ‘Dead’, and we’d never allow ourselves to be made to. The idea of that feels horrible. What we enjoy the most is surprising ourselves. The last thing we’ll ever be is a one-trick pony, we’re confident of that.

Now, it’s not like we do an album and we immediately f*cking hate it, obviously. We’re very proud of ‘Dead’ and the Tapes before it. It was with those Tapes that we finally felt happy with the material we were doing, because we’ve been together since we were 14, recording constantly. We were always working towards that point where it ‘happens’, and it’s happened to us. We’re still very proud of the ‘Dead’ songs, and we’ll be playing them live for a while – we get to do them differently on stage. We’re still in love with the album.

And is the promotional cycle for ‘Dead’ continuing? Will we see another video for a track from it?

Well, we’re already recording new material. So I’m not sure that there will be anything more to come from the album – I’m happy for people just to discover it new, for themselves, now, and the Tapes before it. There’s no time limit on this – people can listen to this forever. And if you’re just getting into it because of the Mercury, that’s good, that’s why these awards are good. It turns new people on, and they will get to hear ‘Dead’ for the first time. It’s all good.

I saw you in a previous interview talking about how Young Fathers never felt part of a particular scene. But what about you influencing younger artists to come together, to strive to create music, or art, that isn’t like what everyone else is doing?

I think that would be great, but it’s a hard thing to think about. It’s like Johnny Rotten said, he was having a great time until people started turning up to gig who looked like him. You cannae just want to look like someone else, and sing like someone else – you’ve got to make a difference, on top of channelling those influences from the people you like. If you don’t make that difference, you’re a copy, or a close second.

I’d love for Young Fathers to inspire people – but I’d almost prefer it if that wasn’t just in music. It’d be great to inspire someone to create something outside of music. That’d mean more to me, as it means they’ve taken elements from us that aren’t so direct – they’ve taken what the motivation is, the actual thinking.

So, something like ‘Dead: The Ballet’, that’d go down well with you?

Haha, I don’t know about that. Maybe.

Back to the Mercury, quickly. Serious, congratulations, because it’s great to see the album on there. But if you don’t, who would you like to see win?

I don’t think I can actually say, because I haven’t listened to every one of them. So it’d be a bit unfair of me. I like Damon Albarn, because I was into Blur, as a group. We were out with Kate Tempest last night, after the Mercury announcement, and that was nice. It’s good for Big Dada, to have two albums on there, us and Kate. Labels like that should be recognised, because they take risks that bigger labels wouldn’t, and put a lot of trust in their artists, and understand that not all music has to fit into these tidy boxes. It was a good night for Big Dada, definitely.

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Words: Mike Diver

Young Fathers play OnBlackheath this weekend, September 13th-14th, alongside Grace Jones and Massive Attack – more details here. Find the band online here

Related: read an interview with Young Fathers from earlier this year

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