Interview: Young Fathers
We speak to Alloysious Massaquoi from one of Britain’s most critically acclaimed bands.
Since forming in Edinburgh in 2008, Young Fathers have gone on to become one of Scotland’s most critically acclaimed bands. Their darkly atmospheric fusion of experimental hip-hop, R&B and art-pop is practically unclassifiable; they sail their ship alone. In this exclusive interview, founding band-member Alloysious Massaquoi opens up about their unique approach to music-making.
You recently became the first band to win a Scottish Album of the Year Award for the second time. You also won the Mercury Prize in 2014. Do these awards mean much to you?
They mean everything and nothing all at the same time. I don’t think any artist who takes their music seriously is doing it for awards, but you do need these signifiers along the way. They open doors and allow people to hear more of your stuff, it becomes more tangible. Awards matter, performing on TV matters, getting played on radio matters, doing interviews matters, it all serves its purpose.
When you first met your bandmates, Kayus Bankole and Graham Hastings, at a hip-hop club in Edinburgh, was there an immediate sense of kindred spirits?
On a base level we just wanted to be creative. We just wanted to write songs and record, we wanted to express ourselves.
“We’re not trying to be anybody else and there’s no blueprint for what we do”
Do you feel in a sense that you were deliberately reacting against that scene?
Folk would be doing rap battles and stuff, but we’d be going on with three minute pop songs. Automatically we knew we weren’t part of a scene. We just did what felt natural to us.
You don’t really sound like anyone else…
There’s no loyalty to any genre, it’s a kind of free for all. We like different things, but there’s a commonality in that. We all like certain parts of songs, the sweet spot, the magic, the little sprinkle. Everybody tries to get their tuppence-worth in for a song, to find those magic bits, and over a period of time you finesse that and get better at being more direct.
We want to create something that moves you or makes you think. If you think it’s crap then that’s cool, that’s a strong emotion. I think the great acts do that all the time, and we want to emulate that. We want to be up there with those people, there’s no fear of any artist present or past.
Admiring other artists is one thing, but being in thrall to them is quite another. It stunts creativity?
Yeah, it places you in this psychological battle where you think, “If we don’t sound like any of these people then what he have has no currency.” You have to destroy the obvious reference points. We’re not trying to be anybody else and there’s no blueprint for what we do. We want to be one of those bands that comes along every 15 or 20 years.
When you’re the first of your kind, so to speak, sometimes you don’t know how to gauge certain things. Is this song good? I don’t know, but I like it! That’s all you can go on. Being derivative is boring, so we want to create something that excites us.
The current album Cocoa Sugar has been described as your most accessible album to date. It’s almost, dare I say it, normal!
The music doesn’t always have to be weird and wonderful, because sometimes I don’t like weird and wonderful sounds. We’ve always loved rock and pop music, ultimately we love melodies. When we met, none of us said, “We’re gonna rap, we’re gonna do this and that.” It was always about writing songs through trial and error.
We can make an album in a week, it’s that instinctive. Usually the first thing that comes to mind is the best. We’ve put in our 10,000 hours since we were 18, which is why we’re now comfortable with trusting instant gratification. It’s about working quickly to capture that moment, because these moments are fleeting.
Keep up to date with Young Fathers via the website. This interview was published in Mill issue 2 November/December 2018.