"My generation feels so misunderstood right now"
Political motor-mouth Yungblud has been pretty hard to ignore in 2018. The 20-year-old Doncaster native, who released his debut album ’21st Century Liability’ in July, writes music that deftly fuses together just about every genre imaginable. Alt-rock, hip-hop, grime, ska, pop, reggae – you name it, he’s dabbled in it. Add to that a woke worldview, a young and loyal fanbase, as well as undeniable talent, and you’ve got a truly modern pop star in the making.
We caught up with the multi-instrumentalist, whose real name is Dominic Harrison, as he was heading to an LA studio to work on new music for early 2019. Next year looks to be as busy as ever for Yungblud, with a UK/European tour, a second record, and another appearance at Reading and Leeds festival.
Tell us about your visit to the studio today – is this for the follow-up to ’21st Century Liability?’
“Yep, 100 percent. I’m nearly done with the new record. I just know exactly what I want to say, especially with being on tour, on the road so much, meeting and connecting to my actual fan base. I’ve met fans and heard their stories and I just think it’s so important to connect to them. It’s made me inspired as fuck.”
How long have you had these songs written?
“There’s been a couple bubbling and there’s a couple I’ve been playing live that everyone loves. I’ve been writing so much on the road. We knocked out six fucking tracks in a fucking week last week. Something’s just clicked where I just can’t wait for the second album. I think it’s a step up from the last one, you know.”
Is there a genre on this new record that you hadn’t previously explored?
“Yeah man, I’ve done a screamo record… I dunno man. I just done it in the studio. I love what Drake does. Drake does everyone’s fucking genre but trumps them at it. I wanna do that with rock ‘n’ roll music. And for me, when I walk into a studio, a song’s gotta come to me. There’s a lot of shit music out there at the moment because people walk into sessions and go, ‘Right, let’s write a song.’ That’s why a lot of shit sounds so formulaic. To me, like with rock ‘n’ roll music, it sounds like they literally got in a studio at 10am and left at 5pm. It’s not nine to five music.”
What’s the aim with this album?
“My biggest goal is that I want to play a stadium, but I want to build a community of people who feel like it’s alright to be themselves inside this community. It’s less of, you know, ‘How many streams? What playlists am I in? Did that get played on the radio?’ I’m not bothered about that. I just want to increase the venue sizes and the meeting of the kids as much as I can. All my life I feel like I haven’t been heard. This is the first time I feel like I haven’t been shouting into a dark room. I’m having a conversation with a community that’s building so quickly. It’s crazy.”
How are you feeling about having such a successful year?
“I can’t believe it. But it just fuels me to do more and meet more people. It’s just a fucking community that I feel part of. Put it this way, Yungblud ain’t just me. I’m 50 percent of it. Yungblud is every kid that’s got a black heart tattoo, every kid that’s worn a pink sock, every kid that’s outside the venue at fucking six in the morning. That’s what Yungblud is, man.”
Where do you think that ‘community’ approach comes from?
You mention the late XXXTentacion. Do you have any reservations about him in light of his violent past?
“I think there’s a lot of controversy around because, yeah, what he did was totally wrong and totally inexcusable, but for me he was brought up in a society where that was seen to be right. If your mum and dad tell you the sky is green, the sky’s going to be fucking green until you figure out it’s fucking blue. It’s the same thing with Dr. Dre but he got a second chance and turned his life around. I look at someone like XXXTentacion who met every fan and I see things that way similarly. The way now is not to be on your high horse, because that’s an old way of thinking. I really want to connect the people.”
So you’re saying it’s like, ‘Well what do people expect when artists like XXXTentacion had such troubled upbringings?’
“The thing about my music is people say, ‘How can you say that when you write songs about female empowerment?’ I say, well, to be honest, my thing in the world isn’t to slag people off. I’m just saying what I think, and what I think is that everyone deserves a fucking second chance. I want to spread a message of positivity, not hatred. I know [XXXTentacion’s] producer really well and I genuinely believe that things were going to change. What he was doing with his fan base was really admirable and I think we’re doing that as well.”
Tell us about growing up in Doncaster and your interest in music?
“There was always a lot of music around me. My grandad used to play all the time; he played piano and bass. My dad was fucking massively into music. There’s a photo of me outside the hospital just hours after being born with a fucking Beatles ukulele across me. I was brought up with music. And I love football, too. I’m a massive Donny Rovers fan.”
What was the music scene like there? Were there some decent venues?
“Yeah man, there were small ones. It was that typically fucking thing that… everyone wanted to drink at 14, didn’t they? Where I’m from you’d get a fake ID and try and get into Vodka Revs on a Saturday night. The music venues were where everyone could drink, where you could sneak a bottle of voddy in your pocket.
“I remember there was a thing where they’d be like five bands in the circuit and we’d all alternate playing the same two shitty bars every Saturday night and they’d be rammed full of our mates and that was kinda it. I fucking loved it.”
Do you think of music almost as a lifeline for you?
“It’s something I latched onto because I’ve got ADHD, I’ve got a lot energy, and a lot of people misunderstood me because I behaved in a different way. I think there’s still a bit of a stigma for young people in school now that if you’re a bit boisterous, or a bit gobby, and a bit energetic and out of control, slightly, then people just don’t know how to deal with you. They cast you to the side. They made me feel like it wasn’t alright to be myself, you know, like I needed to change myself to fit in with society, get a fucking proper job. Which is still so Northern, right?
“I’d turn on Cypress Hill, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Marilyn Manson and they were just saying what they fucking think. Cypress Hill were singing about smoking weed all day. They’d just sing about it, that’s just who they are. I’d hear Eminem’s lyrics and I’d be like, ‘Oh my god, I totally relate to that, he’s totally himself, no matter what.’ So when I saw that I thought, ‘Why can’t I be?’”
There’s more conversation in music now about mental health. What do you think about this?
“I love people discussing it but it’s not in any music, not in any songs. For me to sit on TV and talk about mental health, I don’t think that would do anything. It doesn’t have a patch on me writing about it. Music makes you genuinely feel something and it takes you to another place. That’s why we all fucking love it, right? I just feel that with my music, this is what was going on in my head. It was a really dark time.
“Mental health is finally being taken seriously. My generation is different, where the older generation just wants to say, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine’ because that’s how they were brought up. A fucking stiff upper-lip generation, the one before us. ‘I’m feeling depressed’, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine just have a cup of tea.’ That’s why my generation feels so misunderstood right now. All I want to do is encourage people to talk about it ‘cause it gets the fucking weight out.”
There’s a theatricality in your performance. Does that come naturally?
“I love acting so much. I was always in plays, I just fucking loved it. I wanna be in films later when it’s the right time. I want to pursue an acting career. I fell in love with the way Eminem played characters of society. He said the most outrageous shit and for anyone to say he’s a, ‘Homophobic, fucking racist wanker’…if you actually look at it, he’s playing the character he’s fighting against. I’ve always loved movies and, as I say I, want to bring that theatre side.
Are you politically minded? Do you think politics should be addressed by musicians where possible?
“The root of me, the core of me is political. I moved out to London at 16 myself and worked out what was fucking what. I always like to know what’s going on in the world because if we remain uneducated then we have to remain silent and if we have to remain silent then we’re just fucked.”
What do you think about Brexit?
“It’s fucking ridiculous, man. It’s just so fucking confusing. It was built on a foundation of lies. An older generation that was like, ‘We’ve done this before so we should try it again’ when it didn’t fucking work the first time! That’s why we entered the European Union.”
Do you have some advice for young musicians who are trying to make it?
“I just think that the great thing about the industry at the minute, with Spotify and Apple Music, is that anybody can be heard. You don’t have to have a fat record deal or for the press to love you or the fucking radio to love you to get somewhere. All you need to do is work your fucking arse off and do something that’s real.”