Ahead of their support slot in Cardiff’s Great Hall, Rachel Cunliffe and Louis Browne caught up with Olly and Emre from Years & Years to discuss synthesizers, celebrity fans and singing in the shower.
Your sound seems to span numerous eras and styles; Olly’s vocals are warm and soulful and have an almost nostalgic 90s feel to them, but then the production is modern and complex – do you think it’s important to have this balance between the new and old, and would you say that it defines Years & Years as a band?
OA: Yeah, definitely. I think the way the music gets played, it’s a combination of everyone’s talents in a way. We try to take what everyone’s best at and use it together. I’ve always been inspired by 90s and R+B, but also a lot of singer-songwriters, because I play piano so I write a lot of stuff on there. Then Emre has recently, in the last few years, got really into software and making sounds and beats on the laptop and programming everything. He’s got this totally different approach to making music; he doesn’t need an instrument or a scale or a notation, he’ll just come up with it and it’s a very new way of thinking.
You have an iPad on stage – do you use it is a trigger pad or does it actually have sounds on it?
ET: Yeah it has sounds in it; I used to use it for both but this tour it’s just for sounds. Mikey is obsessed with analogue stuff and hardware but I actually kind of like free apps, and making stuff on the train. Like that’s how I did the ‘Real‘ beats. It’s just more interesting for me. You get weird little things coming out of them as well, rather than buying loads of stuff. Like Mikey’s trying to buy his third Moog – in the van on the way up here he was showing me this new synth Moog have brought out and was like, “It’s only £1300,” and I’m like, “I just downloaded something for £7.99.”
Nowadays, anyone with a laptop can produce sounds that 10 years ago you could only find within a vintage synthesizer or instruments you had paid a lot for. Do you think that this immediate access to sounds is a blessing for music on the whole, or do you see it as removing the boundaries between professional studio musicians and then your average bedroom producer?
ET: I think it’s a great thing; it makes for a very different type of music. You don’t have to be signed or save up thousands of pounds for a day in the studio, but you can get something sounding really great just at home. But there is that danger that you can get everything sounding the same, but there’s always that danger. You know… have you ever watched Top of The Pops 2?
When you’re writing what do you start with? Is it a melody or lyrics or does it vary?
OA: It depends really: sometimes it will start and I’ll have written a melody and a lyric on the piano, and then I’ll take it to Emre who might have a piece of music he’s already made and we’ll put the two together; or Emre will play a piece of music he had first and I’ll put a melody over the top of that; it happens both ways.
ET: The cool things happen pretty quickly, or at least they seem to. You might have been doing something behind the scenes for a while but all of a sudden it just clicks. It’s a make or break moment when the others hear it.
You seem to listen to a lot of mellow, brooding artists like Banks and Jai Paul. Would you like to make music that is similar or do you like the disconnection between what you create and what you consume?
OA: Yeah, well we’ve been making a lot of dancey stuff recently because it feels like we have to, in a way. Not to say that we don’t love dance music, but I think when you’re listening to something on your headphones, you always want to listen to something that’s more emotional and moving. But we definitely want to have more stuff like that; on the album we’ll have more slower stuff.
ET: Because we’ve just got a half-hour set supporting a big band, nobody’s really there to see us. We’ve got ‘Eyes Shut’, which is our slower one, but we kinda want to go in there and create a scene. You have to get in and get out and people aren’t necessarily there for you.
OA: We try and balance it, but yeah I hope the album will be more balanced with different moods.
So an album… Is that on the horizon? Have you got the material ready?
OA: Yeah, sort of – it’s not finished, I’d say half of it is finished. Most of it’s been written, there might be a couple of others that’ll slip in there. I don’t know when it’ll be released but it’ll definitely be in the first half of next year. It’s exciting – I can’t believe we’ll actually have an album!
Is it true that you guys found Olly when you heard him singing in the shower after a dinner party and then asked him to be in the band?
ET: We were all in the shower…
OA: Yeah we were in the bath together…
Do you remember what you were singing?
OA: Probably Lauryn Hill, that’s my go-to shower song. It is true though – me and Mikey stayed over that night and he heard me singing in the shower. I knew he could hear me and that’s why I did it, I was auditioning!
With your profile getting bigger and the help of ‘Take Shelter’ being on the Radio 1 playlist, did you find at festivals over the summer you were playing to bigger crowds?
OA: The first couple of festivals we played there was hardly anyone at the shows but then the last one we played was Bestival and we had a really bad slot, midday on the Sunday when everyone is wasted. The act before us had hardly anyone there – it was like a trio and we were thought there would be more people on stage than in the crowd! But by the end it had really filled up, it felt like maybe people are starting to know who we are.
We’ve heard Ellie Goulding is a super-fan of yours?
OA: Yeah she came to a gig! Well, she sent me an email not that long ago saying like, “Hi I really like your stuff – keep doing what you’re doing.” It was really weird; I thought I was dreaming when I read the email! And then I sent an email back, saying like, “Thanks so much, that really means a lot. I really respect you and what you’re doing and hopefully we can hang out some time!” Then we had another show in London and our manager invited her and she just came along. It was really nuts – like she posted a picture of me on her Instagram to her like, 3.5 million followers and my Instagram broke… I was like, wow, that is the power of Ellie Goulding.