He once proclaimed that rock'n'roll was on "life support", but now Doncaster's punk chieftain Yungblud thinks otherwise. Excited about where rock is and the state of youth culture as a whole, he says he's heavily invested in staying informed and sharing the message with his fans. Speaking to Will Lavin at this year's Isle of Wight Festival, Yungblud discusses his latest collaboration with Machine Gun Kelly, the place of politics in music, wanting to work with Slowthai, and he updates fans on his upcoming new music.
Your collaboration with Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker, ‘I Think I’m OKAY’, was released last week. How did it come about?
“It was kinda weird, man. [MGK] just DM’d me his number and then rung me. He was like, ‘‘Yo dude. I love that you’re doing rock in a way that’s kind of reinvigorating young people in America. I was so humbled by it. Kelz said he wanted to do a rock song and all his mates, like Banks and a few other people, were apparently like, ‘This kid’s the one to do it with.’ So we went to his house, lit up a joint and then we fucking wrote it. We did the song in like 15 minutes.”
Are there plans for you guys to tour?
“We’ve spoken about it. We love working together so much that we’ve said if the music video gets 100 million views and the song goes platinum then me, Travis and Machine Gun Kelly will do an EP together and potentially a tour.”
In a previous NME interview, you said that that rock’n’roll was on life support. Do you still feel the same way?
“No, I think there’s been a re-awakening. I think bands like Bring Me [the Horizon] and artists like Billie Eilish, or artists like Juice WRLD are bringing it back to youth culture. And playing live instruments on stage, I genuinely believe that it’s cool to play the guitar again. Twenty One Pilots, and artists like that, are bringing the energy back.
“I do think that in America rock is becoming obsolete. I just think that because of the energy that hip-hop has right now it’s almost overtaken it. Because at the end of the day hip-hop is the new rock. It provides that sense of liberation, energy, and just outright freedom that rock used to. My goal and my ambition is to make good old traditional rock’n’roll have a sense of energy and opinion again. Because there’s no fucking opinions, it’s just kinda guacamole rubbish.”
We hear you did a pop-up appearance in London on Friday.
“Yeah, we did it last minute because I’m stuck in the UK – I had my passport nicked.”
How did your passport get nicked?
“My jacket got nicked in Soho and it was in there. It’s so funny because the night before I was at a party in Laylow with some other artists, and they were like, ‘Why don’t you take your raincoat off?’ I’m saying, ‘I’m not taking my fucking raincoat off. Some tinker’s gonna fucking nick it.’ And then the next night I take my coat off and my jacket gets nicked. So I did a call out on my social media and we shut down two streets in Soho. I couldn’t fucking believe it. And it’s incidents like that that show you youth culture is coming back to rock and roll again.”
You’re lucky the pop-up wasn’t shut down by police like Tyler, the Creator’s a few weeks ago.
“Yeah, I know. The chief of police turned up. I just played it a bit naive. I was like, ‘I didn’t know this many people were gonna turn up.’ 700 people turned up and I said that I only thought 50 people were gonna turn up. He said, ‘Listen, my daughter’s a fan. I know you knew that 700 people were gonna turn up.’ But they were really good, man, because we were really cooperative with ‘em and the kids were being respectful.”
So you spoke with the police personally?
“We went up to the police afterwards and I said, ‘Thank you so fucking much for not shutting us down.’ Because for me as a young person, this is fucking youth culture, this is what we do. Right now, mental health is such an issue and we feel like we can speak about being lonely and not being invested or a part of something – I said that to the police. I said, ‘Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this meant to me and how much it meant to the people who turned up.’ We’re all a part of this. We haven’t got it figured out but because the person next to me doesn’t have it figured out it makes me feel better about it.”
Is there any update on your next project?
“So there’s a comic book coming out – which is fucking mental. And to be honest I’m just gonna drop music until the time’s right. I’m feeling like a bundle of music either end of the year or start of next year, but to me, man, that’s just when the time’s right. An album nowadays, what does that mean? There’s so much music coming. There’s a song probably coming every six weeks if you keep your eyes peeled.”
As a fan of Eminem yourself, when you worked with MGK did you speak to him about their beef?
“Of course! At the end of the day, I thought that both arguments were sick and I loved it. And they fucking loved it, both of them did. It’s what music needs, man. It’s fucking Liam and Damon. It’s exactly what music needs.”
So you enjoyed it?
“Of course I did. And [MGK] loved it. I asked him if he was shitting himself and he said, ‘We were both shitting ourselves.’ I don’t think they knew how big it was gonna be. It was just like, whoa! And it was awesome. They both needed it.”
Aside from being influenced by Eminem, another rapper you’ve mentioned previously is Busta Rhymes. How did you discover his music?
“It was something I figured out myself. The attitude from it was just so mental and so fucking maaaaaahhhhhh! I don’t know, the sound of his voice just made me wanna fucking rage. It made me go, ‘Oh my god, it ain’t just for the cool people.’ Because I wasn’t that cool. It had this – and it’s the same thing with the Beastie Boys – it was this madness. Do you know what I’m saying? And I was just into it. It’s the same way I look at people like Slowthai in the UK right now.”
So Slowthai is on your radar?
“Absolutely. I wanna do a record with him. He shares the same messages as me. But I see him as a Busta Rhymes type figure – he’s out of the box. If you look at him, he’s the fucking kid who is speaking his mind. And his album cover is sick.”
Have you reached out to him to collaborate?
“Not yet. I’m just kinda doing my thing at the minute but if we cross paths I’d love for it to happen. I think he’s wicked.”
His music can be very politically-focused, as can yours. What’s your take on people who think musicians should stay away from politics?
“I think that’s a load of fucking bollocks, man. I think music should reference and change, and be a part of the culture that’s happening around them. People who think that are naive about what young people are thinking – or they’re singing songs that mean fuck all. People are scared of it. People are scared of confrontation. At the end of the day, if you were to ask a young person five years ago: ‘Are you into politics?’ Fuck no they weren’t, it wasn’t cool enough. It’s cool to be informed now. It’s okay to give a fuck. Right now young people have to remain informed because that’s how we fucking don’t drown.”
So you’re going to keep making political music?
“All my music’s political. It all stems from something. I ain’t writing about mental health or politics because it’s fucking trendy, I write about it because it’s what goes through mine and my fanbase’s heads. My fanbase is a community. That’s what I always wanted to build. I wanted to build a community of people who feel like they can say, think, wear, and look however they fucking want. Because I felt so oppressed growing up, I felt like I couldn’t be myself. And they’re the people I’m talking to, they’re the people I’m answering to. And I’m gonna talk to them everyday. Everyone is so informed.”