Young Fathers: 'It’s chasing the magic dragon of trying to surprise ourselves'

Young Fathers’ new record Heavy Heavy is a rarity for a contemporary hip-hop album. Clocking in at little more than half an hour long, it’s a powerful yet succinct statement from a band now in its 15th year.
Young Fathers. Picture: Stephen RoeYoung Fathers. Picture: Stephen Roe
Young Fathers. Picture: Stephen Roe

Four albums and two mixtapes in, the Edinburgh-based trio of Graham ‘G’ Hastings, Alloysius Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole, who won the Mercury Music Prize in 2014, have become adept at distilling their messages into three-minute songs.

For Hastings, however, what matters is the three of them trying to confound themselves with each release. “It’s trying to do something that’s we have not done or that’s not been done generally all the time,” he says. “It’s chasing the magic dragon of trying to surprise ourselves.

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“It helps that we’re three different people, and when we come in everybody has got their different ideas about what the songs should sound like, what the lyrics should be and all that. Sometimes we disagree and sometimes we agree and that’s what makes it what it is.

“I think with this album, what we realised is if anything we’re honing in on our strongest suit which is the spontaneity side of things, trying to capture moments as they happen, rather than rehearsing them and writing them down and doing them in a proper studio later. It’s kind of like the opposite.”

Heavy Heavy is a record “steeped in humanity and the complexities in that”, Massaquoi believes. “We hashed out conversations that we’ve had, personal experiences, conversations with friends and family members etcetera. It all seeps into this record. And then there’s times where you’ve got a bunch of words together that rhyme and they sound good, and that’s also a thing in itself that people can project their ideas onto as well. I think we’ve made something that’s undeniable, to us anyway.”

“For us, making up the story of the song or the album before you’ve done it doesn’t make sense,” says Hastings. “Like Ally said, sometimes it’s just the sound of the words together and you don’t know the meaning of it until it appears to you when it’s fully formed. It’s much more exciting, again, the surprises that happen that way. It allows space, it kind of liberates you when you’re not bogged into trying to stick to a lyrical theme. Even when you are sticking to a lyrical theme, you need to contrast the chrous being disparate from the verse.”

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He talks of a “weird togetherness” that the three of them have when making a song “and we feel it needs something else or be pushed in some direction”.

Young FathersYoung Fathers
Young Fathers

“We try to capitalise on that,” agrees Massaquoi. “We all sense that something’s missing, something’s not hitting right. We’re very particular. We like to formulate words that you might not necessarily hear in a sentence. On one of the tracks, Holy Moly, there’s procrastination...we were like ‘let’s try to get this into a song’. That’s the sort of ideas that we love to generate, how can we get to the source, the root of what we’re trying to do and say. That elicits the sponteneity and the simplicity of the songs.”

Bankole adds: “There was a high level of exposing feelings; feelings that are not completely worked out or discussed amongst ourselves. For this record, for me personally, I think it’s the first time that the only thing I wanted to genuinely satisfy was my habit for excitement, and something that’s extremely human, and that was it. It was the only basis or blueprint that I was working on. When you’re making something you want that excitement, you want to feel something in the midst of that. It allows you to disregard the bull, to cut straight into the core.”

The album makes its political points subtly. “I think we’ve always been trying to say things in an interesting way,” Hastings says. “Or at least you just make that call when you’re making a song. Sometimes you have to say something as plain as day and sometimes it’s better to have a bit of humour to it or a bit of anger, without trying to spoonfeed whatever it is that we’re talking about. We all work on that kind of level.

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“If there’s something affecting us, affecting our families or people around us, or whatever’s happening in the world, it all bleeds in. It’s kind of mashed up with trying to write an interesting pop song. For us, it’s a way of combating it or it’s our preferred way of talking about things. With the music there’s a licence to be free and make it interesting – an example of that would be I Saw where all those thoughts and feelings and conversations came to a perfect moment.”

Heavy Heavy is out now. Young Fathers play at O2 Academy Leeds on February 28.

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