The Wylde Interview: Years and Years

by David Newton
Portraits by Fiona Garden


“I dreamt there was a seal in the toilet once!”

Years & Years, one of the UK’s most exciting new bands, have popped into Wylde HQ and are regaling us with their favourite, strangest dreams. Bassist Mikey’s seal-related reverie is soon trumped by sound-maestro Emre’s recent corker: “I had a really strange one last week: I was being held hostage by a Mad Max-style gang, headed by a young Christopher Walken, in an apocalyptic desert. They were going around murdering people and I had to go along with it and pretend that I was OK with it and at some point join the gang. I was constantly trying to escape but Christopher Walken kept catching me! But then he was rehabilitated and had his own sitcom!”

General hilarity all round, but one can’t help but feel that Years & Years’ lives are going to be getting somewhat more surreal and dreamlike pretty soon.

They haven’t even been together that long in their current incarnation: at the time of our interview, just under a year. Mikey Goldsworthy left his native Melbourne five years ago and hooked up with Emre Turkmen shortly after arriving in the UK. They shared a mutual love of Radiohead and Flying Lotus and decided to make music together, experimenting as they went along. At one point there were five members of the band, “including a trumpeter!” adds the final piece of the jigsaw, singer Olly Alexander. Olly is quietly charismatic and has the kind of white soul voice that makes you prick up your ears when it comes on the radio. But in a market crowded with Sam Smiths and John Newmans, Olly’s higher register delivers a non-gender-specific frisson all his own.

And frisson, to put it mildly, is what Wylde experienced when we caught the trio playing a low-key gig for fans in London’s East End a couple of days before the interview. Call us old fashioned, but we can’t remember the last time boys screamed at an all- male band. Girls, sure... but boys? And after only two singles?

Wylde: How does it feel to have both girls and guys screaming at you?

Emre: I think you’re exaggerating it… maybe you were in the die-hard section!

Do you like playing live?

Emre: Yes, that’s why we’ve got a drummer now, Dylan, who plays gigs with us. We always decided that, even though the music we make is very electronic and kinda dancey, when we play a live show we want to make sure it's as "human" as possible. There’s limits but we never want to be pressing “Play”. When I go to a gig I want to see people doing things live.

Is there an act who you think do it really well?

Mikey: Little Dragon are really good, with a similar set up: a bass guy, rhythm section and singer etc. We’ve seen them a lot of times, and it’s so cool: they can translate from somewhere like the Village Underground space, which is just a few hundred people, to the Secret Garden Party festival, which is several thousand.

Judging by the hysteria I witnessed, you'll be at the "several thousand" mark fairly soon!

Emre: A lot of people get angry at me for not being more enthusiastic about what’s happening to us. Like when I tell people what's going on, they’ll be like “Why aren’t you jumping up and down?” and I’m like ”I don’t know!” It’s weird ‘cos we’re just the same three guys, just the three of us.

You do seem very normal!

Emre: Normcore!

Have you got groupies yet? [looks of horror all round]Where there’s screaming, there’s groupies I’d say!

Olly: What’s a groupie? Someone who screams at your gig?

[Wylde falls in love with Olly at this point!]

Er, there’s a bit more to it than that!

Emre: Someone who wants to sleep with you…

Olly: Oh, OK!

Emre: Two girls tried to come home and stay at Mikey’s after that gig. We went to our studio to get plastered and these girls were quite friendly! They’d come from quite far away, from Brighton, and they needed a place to stay. Mikey was quite hammered!

Mikey: I don’t remember anything!

That’s groupies! Any other (clean) fan stories?

Mikey: They love us in Poland! They tell us that they don’t get many bands going out there before they make it big, so it’s nice to see us before anywhere else (like Germany) does. The reaction we got there was incredible. Some Polish fans made us some T- shirts, saying [Y&Y single] Take Shelter on them.

Emre: Polish fans are pretty die-hard-y and enthusiastic... really obsessive. We’ve played France the most though, and that was really cool, where we thought for the first time: ‘Hey, we’re doing alright!” Oh, and some Russians gave us a set of Russian dolls, painted to look like us. Me and Mikey inside Olly!

How do you write your tracks?

Emre: Olly always writes the lyrics.

Olly: I write a lot of stuff on piano first, to have a song I can play on the piano and then I’ll bring it to the guys. I taught myself to play. For a while I wanted to be a concert pianist but I don’t think I was ever good enough!

You’re an actor as well, aren’t you? I assume being in a band and writing songs is very different to acting, as then you’re just interpreting other people’s words aren’t you?

Olly: I’ve stopped acting! I was finding it really frustrating. Sometimes you can have a really creatively rewarding experience as an actor but I find it much more rewarding making the music.

You seem to be quite a “fashion-y” band [Saint Laurent have been giving them clothes, they're on the fashion-forward Kitsuné label, and the band did a shoot for ItalianVogue just before this interview]…are you comfortable with that?

Mikey: I love it!

Olly: Mikey looks good in shirts and smart clothes! He’s the dandy of the band!

Emre: I’m probably the least convincing... but it’s OK!

[to Olly]: You seem to like the skate-y type look: do you skateboard?

Olly: I wish I could! At school I always wanted to be in the cool skate-y group. I used to rollerblade, though.

Emre: I ice-skated once. I ran over my cousin’s fingers with the blade. Didn’t slice them off, but…!

Nice! Things are happening very fast for you now, it seems. What advice would you give to your two-years-ago selves?

Emre: I would say to myself: “Don’t worry too much, just enjoy it as much as you can. And be more open, musically." Cos I used to make music on my own in my room and you can be very into your own head, whereas it’s really great to interact with other people. It’s much more fun.

Olly: I’ve learnt that people at gigs really respect honesty. I sometimes get very paranoid that I’m not a good enough showman or a good enough singer, or I don’t have enough artifice on stage, but I think if I could just tell myself “believe that what you’re saying and what you’re doing is good… it’s your story”. That’s what I’ve learnt, I guess.

Do you not feel that confident about what you do?

Olly: It’s definitely taken me a long time.

Oh, you never told us about your strangest dreams, Olly…

Olly: Not very exciting... but I keep having a recurring dream that the world’s ending!

Not very exciting?! Well maybe when you're 2015's hottest new band the Apocalypse might seem a bit of an anticlimax!