The Big Issue : Edition 500
THE BIG ISSUE 11 – 25 DEC 2015 43 THEY SAY YOU should dress for the job you want rather than the job you have. Young Fathers call themselves a pop group, and even when the Scottish- African trio were just rappers who released free EPs and gigged around clubs, they seemed to be dressing for the part. But when their 2014 debut album, Dead, won Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize, it started to feel like they were on their way to landing that job in pop. Their 2015 follow-up, White Men Are Black Men Too, confirmed it. They nailed the interview, and here they are ready for their first day. The music they make started as hip-hop and still has elements of that, including electronic beats and samples. But they sing a lot more than they rap these days, and the production is often closer to Phil Spector’s trademark “Wall of Sound”. In the past they’ve recorded parts of their albums in a basement studio they used to have in Edinburgh, and other parts as far afield as Berlin and Melbourne (they were in Australia for the Listen Out festival in 2014). Graham Hastings – aka G, who’s responsible for the band’s beats as well as a third of the vocals – confirms that they’ve just bought their own studio. “We’ve always had a studio in Edinburgh but we can record anywhere really,” Hastings says. “There’s nae preference really, because sometimes you want to record but you’re on the road, so you have to make do with what you’ve got. It’s more important to catch yourself when you feel inspired or you’ve got something that you want to do. It’s more important to capture the moment than wait till you get back, ’cause you might lose it.” Hastings and his bandmates Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole were all named after their dads, hence the name Young Fathers. The trio have been performing together since they met at a hip-hop night for under-16s. What they’ve learned in that time, he says, is that people enjoy an honest performance, rather than showy, fake emotions. “If you feel grumpy or you’re feeling annoyed or if you’re feeling happy and you want to dance, then let any of those things take you where you want to go rather than thinking about what people want. If you start thinking about what people want, you can isolate yourself into doing the same thing every night.” Their emotional honesty has got them into trouble at times, with the UK press having a field day with photos of the band collecting their Mercury Prize with blank expressions. Whether they’re facing down photographers shouting “Give us a smile!” or letting themselves go on stage, they put a high value on being straight with people: “Everything’s magnified when you’re on stage, people look at everything that you’re doing. Even between the songs in the darkness they’re watching you; they watch your face. If you fake anything, people will always figure that out. You have to be as honest as you can.” They’re also honest about how they make their music, which combines lo-fi found-sound recordings and busted instruments with modern computer wizardry. “The last album we made, all the string parts were made with a one-string broken violin,” Hastings explains, “but just stacked up on top of each other. I remember we had a guy from the NME [magazine] and he wanted a trip round the studio we were using at the time – I was showing him, ‘See, all the strings on the album, this is what we did it on.’ I think he actually got annoyed because he thought we were taking the piss. I was saying to him, ‘This is what that’s done on,’ and he’s like ‘You could nae have done that on that.’ Honestly, that’s what we used, with the miracle of computer recording.” Among other unusual sounds, they’ve used vocal recordings captured on their phones, the sound of Hastings kicking a bus shelter (“Probably the best bass drum you’ll ever hear”), rubbish bins for percussion (which they sometimes bring along for their live show) and plenty of damaged and imperfect instruments. “Sometimes wi’ broken things you can capture something that’s better than if it was perfect. I’ll always prefer an out-of-tune piano to a perfectly tuned piano. I think they always sound better – that’s for me anyway.” He continues: “When you tune a piano it makes them sound like all other pianos, but if it’s an out-of-tune piano on certain keys – or an out-of-tune violin or guitar or whatever – it’s only out of tune in that one way. It’s one of those things that makes it special and like nothing else.” by Jody Macgregor » Young Fathers are playing the Falls and Southbound festivals in late December.