Battling his way through the hoards of jealous fans queued outside, Riley meets with Years & Years before one of their two Olympia Theatre dates.
This has undeniably been the year of Years & Years. 2015 saw the group win the prestigious BBC Sound of 2015 award, as well as securing their first number one album and their first number one single with ‘King.’ With a turbulent beginning and several label changes, the group has now found itself on the cusp of global stardom. Given the recent success and attention they have been receiving, one could easily expect the usual “rockstar” arrogance but alas, the three boys don’t seem phased by it all and remain the sweet little angels we believed them to be.
Sitting in their dressing room, I found the friendly Olly Alexander, Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen. We started off, naturally, by discussing live performances. Whenever a big act comes to Ireland the first thing we always want to know is how Irish audiences compare to their European counterparts.
“Well, we played Longitude and The Trinity Ball and both times, especially Longitude, was like an amazing crowd reaction and I had high hopes for last night but it kind of exceeded it because it’s probably the best crowd we’ve had all tour. I don’t know why, but the Irish have really embraced us.”
The group have played for massive crowds all around the world but chose a smaller venue for the Irish stop of 2015’s tour; the Olympia Theatre holds just around 2000 people at maximum capacity. Pondering on if the group prefer big stadiums or smaller intimate venues, Emre claims:
“You know it depends. It’s not really an either or thing for us. Big festivals can be really fun but your own shows can be just as good. It really depends on the crowd on the night.”
Whereas Olly says he’d rather perform for a smaller crowd:“It’s like everyone is sharing the same experience but if its gets too big there’s like corners of people are asleep, wasted, or like not interested, you know?”
The biggest news at the moment for Years & Years is a recent announcement that they will be joining Ellie Goulding on her American tour next year.
“It’s a massive opportunity for us and she’s always been so nice and supportive of us from like day one and it’s quite a surprise when someone of that calibre reaches out to you. We have the same label and she’s doing this massive tour in the US and I think our American label want us to get some of her success [laughs]”.
Touring America can be a time of uncertainty for an artist who has yet to breakthrough transatlantic, so I posed the dilemma to the boys regarding what happens if their career follows the path of stars who have failed to make the transition, such as happened with Cheryl Cole. As a result, the three corrected me on using the X-Factor starlet’s previous surname, before spending several minutes trying to pronounce Cheryl “Fernandez-Versini.” This ended with Emre announcing “no one had a fucking clue what she was saying, that’s why,” closing the debate on why Cheryl didn’t make it in the USA.
One notable attribute of the young synth-pop trio is the over the top and aesthetically pleasing music videos, including fan favourite smash sing, ‘King.’ The videos can be intense at times and even quite bizarre. Speaking on just how involved they were in the creative process Olly told us:
“We are super involved because when we started out we basically did everything ourselves, we didn’t have any money so we had friends doing things for us. After we got signed we just kind of wanted to keep the same process as much as possible. So we’ve worked with the same directors several times and it’s important to be involved in music videos because most people listen to music through YouTube.”
When listening to Years & Years it can be hard to pin down a certain genre for their sound so they explained how they would describe their music to someone who has never heard it before. Mikey started offering up some different ideas such as “Electric, analogue, dance…party?” Whereas Emre shut it down saying “There’s too many fucking genres in the world today, it gets on my tits.”
Olly himself writes most of the material, which gets very personal and intimate. Talking about how much of themselves the boys put in the record, they all looked at Olly and laughed.
“I mean I write all the lyrics and they’re basically about men that have dumped me or men that I was in love with, so it is very about my life but I try not to close off doors to people listening to it, so hopefully it’s relatable.”
To this I posed a theory for the crux of the album being that all men are dicks, to which Olly replied “men are dicks, aren’t they?”
Going number one for any artist is a huge accomplishment in such a competitive industry but the boys’ will always be something special to them. They recalled hearing the news for the first time explaining they were overcome with a feeling of shock as the analytics team had previously told them to expect the single to go number three at most. Mikey remembers how frontman Olly reacted to the news.
“Oh yeah, you were ill and we were in Glasgow touring and you were quite fragile and we got a phonecall from our manager saying it was going number one. and you cried.” Olly then laughingly retaliated, claiming: “It was amazing. For like two weeks i didn’t care what happened to me because like we had a number one!”
While the album was nominated for several awards and did very well commercially not all critics praised the group, namely The Guardian, who slated the record as unoriginal. On the questioning of their originality as artists Emre says: “I was upset at first but I mean it’s just a review and it doesn’t really matter. I think when we won the BBC Sound Poll it automatically puts a bit of a target on you. Nevertheless, it’s okay that some people don’t like the music if people don’t have strong emotions about what you’re doing you’re probably not doing very good.”
Chat toppers and an upcoming US tour in the bag, the group have also adopted an icon status in LGBTQ* circles, as leading singer Olly is currently in a long term relationship with with Clean Bandit’s Neil Milan. On this status Olly says: “I’m so proud to have music that hasn’t really been talked about all that well, for example BBC Radio One playing a song about gay sex which I thought was hilarious, you know?” Emre adds: “There was a reach-around in one of them too.”
Only a few weeks ago I sat down with Aussie breakthrough act Troye Sivan, who admitted that he would love to collaborate with Years & Years. I decided to play matchmaker for the sake of fans everywhere. On working with Troye Sivan the boys were definitely down for a collaboration as they are huge fans of his music and said he was so nice when they met. Olly talking about Sivan’s new record said: “The production on WILD was insane. I think it was quite unexpected what he did, well done Troye. He’s a sweet person as well but they don’t know who he is [pointing at Emre and Mike].” Other people the trio said they would like to work with included Dan Caribou, Tove Lo and even Bjork. They all agreed that every artist they find inspiring almost subconsciously seeps into their music and throughout their records.
The boys were about to head to sound-check so as we started to tie things up,we chatted about the getting ready to play the Capital FM ball which will see Years & Years sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in music at the moment, including Ariana Grande. Emre has made it no secret about his intense/bordering restraining order crush on the Focus singer, informing Motley “I’m going to start my grooming process two days before.” This led to Olly bursting in saying: “Oh my god she should all wear clothes with Ariana Grande on it!”
With huge things on the horizon for Years & Years including a trip to Japan and the US next year, the trio tell us that it will be a while before they start recording for a new record but they’ll continue to write on their travels.