Interview: Young Fathers
The Listen Out-bound hip hop trio talk 'Dead' and genre loyalty.
Young Fathers are the fast-rising UK hip hop trio gaining swift attention for their no-holds-barred approach to making music. Their diverse backgrounds (Liberia, Nigeria, and Scotland) and musical tastes fuel the trio’s uncompromising formula that ensues their hard-hitting music is at the fore, and not overshadowed by any desire for mere aesthetics or to be “arty”. Listen closely and you’ll note the pop, psych, rap, hip hop, the hook, rhythm and bass, all clashing into one raucous melange. It’s at once familiar but equally as hard to place.
Off the back of the success of their early mixtapes TAPE ONE and TAPE TWO, the trio released their debut full-length Dead earlier this year. Early fans include David Byrne, Diplo and Alt-J, among a swag of chief UK press including The Sunday Times, giving the group a strong sense of credence that bucking trends is the way forward. With a live presence that’s touted as “a version of a boy band through the bottom of a glass of crystal meth” they’re sure to be one act you can’t miss when they roll down under in a few months for Listen Out.
I caught up with “G” Hastings, and quizzed him ahead of their debut Australian tour.
Listen Out 2014 sees you coming to Australia. Did you ever think you’d make it over here?
When we started we always wanted to be everywhere. It’s always been part of the plan, to do big things. We wanted to get out to the world and leave no place unturned. So it’ll be good to get out there, we haven’t really been to that side of the world.
Live on stage what can we expect from the three of you?
There’s three of us and a drummer: he’s a skinny drummer, and he’s got some good footwork if you watch his feet when he’s drumming. We have a couple of synthesisers that I’ll touch throughout the show, and that’s pretty much what it looks like. I’d hope to think that it looks different every time. We never like playing the same show twice so we kind of leave it up to fate to see what happens on the day.
Hip hop is just one of the many genres thrown at you, but your music seems much more complex than that. How would you place what the three of you do with Young Fathers musically?
I’m never really thinking about placing it anywhere. It’s not something that we want to think about, you only have to think about it when you realise you have to do interviews and shit like that. We don’t see ourselves as hip hop. We have no loyalty to a genre or any place in the world, we try and keep it completely open. If we needed to push ourselves in a direction that was completely different from what we’ve done before we’d do it happily; there’d be no qualms about leaving certain sounds behind.
We never like to sit in the studio and talk genres or what kind of song we’re making today. We never have conversations like that, we just go in the studio and it’s all pretty ritualistic; just happens on the fly. You get your gut instincts. You leave a microphone running so everybody’s recording all the time and you try and capture something in the moment. I think that’s kind of an honest representation of how you feel at that time exactly. Even if it’s not how you feel, if you fake it - if you fake it good - it’ll sound good. There’s no rules or anything. It’s good to keep it that way.
Just picking up on what you said about leaving a microphone running, and capturing the moment, do you think that’s what makes you guys so compelling - the sense of honesty with your music and that it’s not necessarily too contrived?
I would hope so. It’s a funny kind of honesty because it’s something that you want to get even if it’s not made honestly, even if we kind of faked it to get there. It’s the same attitude we have with videos: we’ll shoot a bunch of people and it’s always the bits when they don’t know the camera's rolling, they’re always the most honest parts that we use. It’s something that appeals to us. We find a lot of stuff corny when it’s too much of one thing, whether it be really hardcore stuff or underground hip hop, it always comes across as really corny when it’s really hard or really angry, because it doesn’t seem honest. It seems faked, but not in a good way. Honesty is the main thing that we go for, because if you try and achieve that honesty in the sound, in the videos, or artwork, you get an honest reaction from people.
In terms of the production that goes into your tracks, it’s all very sonically rich and varied, lots of layers. Is there a conscious effort to really perfect the “noise”, and strike a balance between the power of the lyrics and music?
It’s very conscious, but it’s not anal, because of the way we work. We like to finish a song a day so it’s captured in a moment and you don’t dwell on it. Sometimes we’ll do some production afterwards to tweak it, but you try and capture it within the day and get it finished by 10pm. I’ll do a lot of the music with Tim London - who co-writes with us - he’s kind of an overseer and then we’ll all start writing to it. Sometimes if I’m making music he’ll tell me to stop because I’ve got it. He’ll say "You’ve got it now G, you don’t need to do it anymore".
The other way we do it is like Alloysious will be singing something, then we’ll put the music around that or Kayus will come in and he’s wailing something and we’ll do the same. It’s always different. I like to think that I know what I’m doing.
I want to ask you about Edinburgh, and Scotland more generally. You can really feel the Scottish influence on tracks with the drums and the synthetic almost bagpipe kind of noises. How does your environment influence you?
[Laughs] Ah we try and get away from it as much as possible. Bagpipes?! [Laughs] It’s a synth. It’s an EMS that I use live, it creates drones. I wonder if we were from India if people would say the same thing.
We don’t belong anywhere. We don’t like to think of ourselves as being from anywhere, we just happen to be in Edinburgh. It’s a place where not much actually happens so there was nothing else really for us to do. It kind of pushed us to be a bit more extreme because you want to get out. We’ve never really made music for our friends or a local group. We’ve never been in a gang or a crew. We’ve never wanted to be a part of anything: we dip into things and then we leave and take what we want from it. The place where we come from, there’s nothing, so it influences us to push ourselves when making something. None of us have any attachment or loyalty to anywhere in the world really. We’re three different people from three different parts of the world, our heritages are vast so we don’t really associate ourselves with anybody or anything.
I want to talk about the ability of the platform to reach a mass audience. I saw on your Facebook a letter from Doctor Mads Gilbert (a doctor working in Gaza). You’ve got an ability on Facebook to reach an audience of almost 20,000 and many more with your music. Is there any restraint when considering throwing your voice behind issues like that?
Not if it’s fucking clear as day. With things like that, it’s the reason why I personally like to make music; the things you can say or bring light to. Usually we like to do it in the music or in the writing. By no means do we want to be a political band, but we’re a human band and as you touched on earlier with the honesty it’s all about the humanity and stuff like that. We’re a family as a band, so whenever you can bring light to things like that or spread awareness you do your bit; you can only do as much as you can do. It’s just who we are as people, so that’s why we will say things like that and hopefully it gets across. It’s not really for us, it’s so people can read things they might not have known about.
Music has a long linage of protest, championing causes etc. do you think your role as a musician is to bring awareness to some of the things - political or social - happening in the world?
It’s not exactly a case of that being it. I think if you could do that with a pop song I think that’s fantastic. As I said before we have all kinds of ideas. I don’t see us as a protest or a political band, we’re just a human band. If you can do it though it’s brilliant. We would love to do that with a kind of pop mentality. It’s the trick of making people listen because once you have a political song the radio’s not going to play it because they’re not going to want to touch it. So it’s how do you subvert a pop song and a political song that people might not even trigger. So if you can subvert things and then almost trick the people that run the fucking radio or run the TV and stuff like that, and they’re playing songs that have a message inside it, then I think that’s the ultimate goal. It’s nice as well as having a pop hit. It’s just who we are as people, so we’ll always kind of touch on that.
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