We caught up with Scottish trio Young Fathers before their gig in Berlin to learn more about their beginnings, recent successes and more.
Consisting of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham “G” Hastings, Young Fathers’ musical trajectory has been unorthodox from the start. Growing up in Edinburgh, the trio’s creative output has almost no traces of their hometown Edinburgh – or any town for that matter. While G handles a majority of the production, Alloysious and Kayus trade verses, with all three cutting in and out with growling chants bordering on the religious. In addition to their decidedly unique sound, the group has crafted a unique visual identity for themselves, often re-appropriating found images to complement their sound and message.
While Young Fathers were in Berlin, we met up with them to discuss everything from their beginnings to their upcoming tour in the U.S. alongside electronic musician Baths. Check out our full conversation below.
Going back to the beginning, when did you guys first meet?
G: We met each other when we were 14 at a club in Edinburgh called The Bongo Club; it’s not there anymore but we just went to an underage hip-hop night. We just met while we were dancing and then at the end of the night I asked the boys to come to record at my house, in my bedroom.
Do you remember what kind of hip-hop music was playing there?
G: ’90s stuff, So Solid Crew and they played old-school stuff as well. Also, RnB songs and Ja Rule and all that kind of stuff. Sean Paul “Gimme The Light,” that was the song of the time and then you get the occasional requesting for Roots Manuva – “Witness.”
When you guys played together for the first time, what did the music sound like?
Alloysious: We were young so it was great. You know, going in and recording on a karaoke mic and you just had one recording and everyone doing their own thing. When we first started, we were like “Ah, that’s a hit boy!” and we walked to the bus stop singing it.
As Edinburgh isn’t really known for its music scene, at least compared to Glasgow, where did your initial inspirations and influences come from?
Kayus: From the get go it was just us expressing ourselves. I don’t think there was a direct influence like where we’d be listening to Roots Manuva or Busta Rhymes or something and then go “Yeah, I wanna record because he records.” It’s all a bit about discovering what you actually like and want to see.
Do you feel in someway that the music is a product of its environment?
G: Maybe because there’s fuck else to do! We never intended to make music for our mates, like we always, since we met, wanted to make music on a global scale and make it for everybody. We think that the music you make should be different than the music you’re listening, you know, draw influences from different things and some of the things you don’t even know where it’s coming from and you just try to keep absorbing different things. So really, in the end, we don’t know where it’s coming from – it could be a painting, a picture or anything like that. Even the conversation we’re having right now, you may say some words that trigger something in our heads and then we’ll be like “Wait, that’s a good word“ or we’ll like the way you said it or something like that. It’s everything, everything man.
Have you guys noticed a change in the music scene there, since you guys started up until now?
Kayus: Naw, we don’t really pay attention, so even if there was a massive catastrophic change we wouldn’t notice it – we just do what we do and that’s just about making music that we like.
Alloysious: For me, I have noticed a little thing, in the sense of rap music being really popular, it’s almost like the new pop music, isn’t it? You know like everybody, everybody wants to rap these days, everybody wants to do something. It’s cool now to be into really ignorant rap and it’s accessible, so yeah I can see people, more people doing it younger. When we were growing up it was just a few young guys trying to do something, trying to express themselves in whatever way, but now I can young kids that I know doing all that kind of stuff.
You guys have lazily been labeled as “alternative hip hop.” Is there anything explicit you do to avoid falling into this kind of categorization?
G: It doesn’t really bother us and people are always gonna call it whatever the fuck they wanna call it. It’s not that we ever, ever thought of it and ever want to think of it when we’re recording right through to performing down the line. People are always gonna call it something because you need to for some reason. It’s like the same reason why people need religion: you need something.
Alloysious: I think if you’re to do something different, you know, fresh stuff in that area, no one’s gonna know what to call it. So I think we take a lot of that stuff as compliments, you know, because they all compare us to so many different artists but at the same time can’t put a finger on it. And it’s not a conscious decision like “Yeah, we’re gonna make a genre, define music” or “Let’s mix this with this.” It’s nothing like that, we just go and see what happens – it’s that simple. Doing something that we wanna listen to, that we’ve not heard before, that interests us. Sometimes something sounds too right and it feels a bit – you know, you need to have an awkward feel. Something that, like when we’re all sitting there, going “I’m not sure about this” and then you go “Yeah, that’s good“ or one person is going “I believe in this, this is great.” It feels new to everyone else and and that’s where we’re at. I think that’s the key for us, doing something a lot more interesting.
Your first two works were officially released as mixtapes while Dead is considered your debut studio album. How do you guys distinguish between the two formats?
Kayus: To be honest, I don’t think they were mixtapes. I don’t feel like Tape One or Tape Two were mixtapes at all. They were albums to me, it’s like chapter one and chapter two. It’s just because they were short, it wasn’t us thinking “Let’s make two EPs.” We gave it to people and technically it’s called an EP because it’s short, you can’t call that an album technically. That’s why they were called EPs, but to us they were whole; they were projects, things done in blocks and the album was done in a block – the same kind of process.
Alloysious: We never try and do the same thing twice. You can use the same stuff and be in the same room but we push ourselves and we can never make the same song twice. Because if we even start something similar or like we’ve done before we’re like “Nah!” or we just get too bored. Your mood changes as well, you never feel the same, you never feel the same way you felt yesterday – if that makes sense.
What about the album artwork? Where did that idea come from?
G: Yeah, that’s me and Alloy. There was this photo in Life Magazine that was just a great photo. It was a man holding another man and they just crossed the river to get away from some soldiers and that was strong; it’s a powerful image. Initially we wanted to use it= but the guy, whoever did it, didn’t get back to us, so we felt like we’d try to recreate it. And what we created was better than what we planned out. We all thought it was great and did some editing on it and that’s how it is now.
You guys were part of this really beautiful film, Return to the Love. How did that come about?
G: It was a script that we wrote quite a while back before we actually filmed the clip. We were sitting in the studio one day and Tim [the writer/narrator] just asked us questions about how it was growing up and we just told him and he took everything down, typing on his computer and came up with this amazing script.
Alloysious: It was way longer than intended but the gang still got in touch with us and asked if we were up for doing the Channel 4 thing and then we jumped on the opportunity. We had Return to the Love already prepared and we gave it to them and then they came over to Edinburgh, filmed some stuff and we gave them some extra footage. They filmed some more stuff and sent it all to them and it just came together as a whole piece and everything just made sense.
Is the message of the film something that’s integral to your guys’ music or to you as people?
G: I think in general, the narration of the story was about us. Basically, he sat and talked to us in the studio and recorded it and he wrote it down. So these things are actually integral because it was actually us, saying these things and then he just made a story.
Kayus: Yeah, it’s very integral for us. We can relate to it as well because it’s some of the experiences we’ve had.
- Photography: Ryan Hursh for Highsnobiety.com