Yungblud, one of England’s most promising up-and-coming musicians, talks to us about inspiring people, using his voice to promote unity, how England influenced his music, and his infamous pink socks.
Yungblud, or Dominic Harrison, speaks in a way that dares to defy anyone who wants to discredit young people. Everything, from the theme of his songs to his onstage outfit, seems to be meticulously thought out. At only 19 years old, he’s here to show us the best of what the up and coming, young, and most promising musicians have to offer.
Yungblud just released his first and self-titled EP on January 19th, but contrary to what you might think, he doesn’t pine over a loved one or sing about a broken heart. Instead, he prefers to talk about the big stuff. “Polygraph Eyes” is about sexual assault, while the re-modelling of a street in London inspired “Tin Pan Boy”. With these politically and socially relevant songs – all of which are bangers – under his belt, Yungblud and his infamous pink socks are starting to be clamoured for around the globe. Of course that comes as no surprise, for it is hard to find a young artist who has such a clear vision of what he wants to create and manages to be so attuned to the people he wants to listen to his songs. His goal, at the end of the day, is to inspire young people to use their voice and promote unity, but also to have fun.
Atwood Magazine caught up with him during his European tour, and we talked about his fans, inspiring younger people to use their voice, how the North of England shaped him, and also obsessed over Lorde. Have a read of our conversation below, and be sure to check out Yungblud when he comes over to open for K. Flay on her North American tour.
YUNGBLUD – YUNGBLUD
A CONVERSATION WITH YUNGBLUD
Atwood Magazine: You’re on tour around Europe right now. How’s it been going so far?
YUNGBLUD: Do you know what? Every night is blowing my mind. Since the EP came out it’s just been crazy. I’ve been going to places I’d never been to and there’s been queues outside and the rooms have been rammed with people screaming the song lyrics back at me. This is the first time this has happened to me. It’s pretty mind blowing do you know what I mean?
It sounds like it’s been a good week for you.
YUNGBLUD: It’s just been crazy, since Friday, the reaction has just been like… I’m a bit fried, actually, because it’s been crazy. So much information to process and so many positive things moving forward. It’s been absolutely amazing, I’m on cloud nine right now. Best time of my life.
You just released your first EP and you were on the cover of NME as one of their 100 artists to watch. This is all pretty exciting! What are you most looking forward to this year?
YUNGBLUD: What I’m working on at the minute is a connection with the people that are turning up to my shows. This EP for young people who are my age, relating to my music. When I speak to them after the shows they say, like, “You understand me in a way no one else does”, that blows my mind. I’ve been getting DMs on Instagram and notes from people talking about issues that they’re angry about and they say “I feel like you’re speaking for me”. That’s absolutely driving my head crazy, because that’s exactly what I do this for, do you know what I mean? Because I was like that, Alex Turner and Eminem were the only two people in the world that understood me when I was growing up, and to have people doing that for me it’s just crazy. I don’t want it to stop. We play to crowds, the reaction to the music, I can’t wait to release more music and play more.
So you’ve been forming this connection with your fans, I wanted to know what that’s like, if you have any particular stories that touched you or any milestones? Because fans tend to be the number one thing for the artist.
YUNGBLUD: They 100% are. In the past couple of months, things have been really happening.To have an influence in people’s lives is fucking crazy. I think right now, in my career, with the music I’m writing and the thing I’m fighting for it’s so important to me to have direct contact with the people who are coming to my shows and listening to my music because at the end of the day man I’m telling a story about misunderstood youth and a generation that has been really misunderstood and overlooked, I think I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I were just playing a show then getting in my van and pissing off. For me it’s so important and exciting to speak to everyone and get their perspectives, because initially when I was writing the music it was me who was angry, it was my friends who were angry, but everywhere I go to these different places, whether it be in Belgium, Australia, or Kansas City, everyone is the same, everyone is feeling the same emotions. One story really stuck out to me the other day. I played a show in Holland in this place called Nijmegen and I remember this girl came up to me after the show, and I remember she gave me a note and said “Don’t read it until after the show” and I said “Thank you so much, that’s so cool”. I didn’t know what to expect, I’ve been getting DMs on Instagram but no one really in this day and age gives you a note. So this girl gave me this note, and I literally went up to the dressing room and I read this note and it just told the story of her being like “You inspired me to be a better me, so I’m going to quit my current school and go to art school. That’s what I want to do and that’s how I want to express myself”. That’s just fucking changed my whole outlook on everything right now. It’s just so amazing and humbling to see that, because I was just writing songs and saying what I think. I don’t want to tell anybody what to think because who the fuck am I to tell people what to think? But I just want to encourage people, tell them they’re empowered and they can think and express themselves in a way they think it’s right. All you can ever be is yourself.
It’s great that people are gravitating towards your music like that, but it’s not really surprising. What you talk about in your music is just so current and important, especially for young people nowadays. For so long we’ve had artists who’ve talked about themselves and emotions, and that’s fair, but now we have you - you have an EP that’s about growing up and being misunderstood but on a wider, societal level. How did you decide to write music that wasn’t necessarily about you looking inwards, but about bigger issues?
YUNGBLUD: I think initially it was about what I was listening to growing up. I was very lucky to be brought up in a musical family, and very young I was exposed to bands like The Clash and Eminem and they wrote songs about real shit, and that inspired me. I was always very opinionated growing up, I was that kind of kid that mums didn’t really like. I was always allowed to express myself, my mum and dad were always very encouraging, my mum especially – a very opinionated northern British woman. She’d just say “Speak your mind until your death”. I fell in love simultaneously with hip hop and rock and roll music because I believe they come from the same soul. They represent something that’s more than the music, there’s an attitude, and they say things. I got very lost between 16 and 18, I moved down to London to try and build this dream, and it was really hard and I was stuck in this situation where I was like “Well, I’m just going to write what’s going to get me on the radio. Justin Bieber is doing this, Shawn Mendes is doing this”. Great artists, alright. I was working with a lot of producers who had their own opinion of what I should be instead of me saying what I should be. After two years of that, all this frustration built up and I was like “This is not me, this isn’t what I am, this doesn’t represent the person I am outside the studio”. And then obviously living in the city on your own you grow up a lot and start seeing the world for what it really is. Then Brexit happened and I was 18, and that was the first opportunity that I could have my say – that I could use my voice – and almost decide and determine what was right for my future. And that was robbed from me by an older generation, and in America it’s exactly the same thing with Trump, an older generation robbing a younger generation. The thing is young people right now, we’re so switched on we see a future that we want, this liberal world we want to live in, but it’s been held back – and I don’t understand this – it’s been held back by a generation that don’t necessarily understand us or aren’t quite ready for the world to go there yet. That’s kind of what’s going on in my head, and I’m just saying what I think and what I’m mad about, what I think is right and what I think is wrong.
“Polygraph Eyes” is obviously a very timely song, with this movement we’re seeing in culture right now where sexual assault and harrassment are at the forefront of our narrative. It’s nice to have a song talk about consent from a male perspective, because this is rare. How did this song come about?
YUNGBLUD: I actually wrote it a year ago when the first songs “King Charles” and “Tin Pan” came out. I’d written these songs that were in the same vein and I thought I needed to do something that I wanted to experiment with super differently, to approach a subject that was resonating and mattered to me. I have two younger sisters, and I grew up around very strong women like my mum who is very opinionated and my Aunty Dina is very opinionated. I grew up around a lot of girls. And where I’m from it’s weird we start going out at 13 and 14 with fake IDs, very young, and I was exposed to it – I was seeing girls stumbling out of nightclubs and jumping into taxis with boys who just weren’t nearly as drunk as them. But it didn’t really resonate with me until I was older and I saw the world for what it really was, I was less sheltered. It is an issue that is fundamentally wrong and I thought “I just need to write a song about this”, it just came to me as an idea. I went to my management company and said “I want to write a song about sexual assault” and they all looked at me like “Fuck, are you joking me? Good luck” because I wanted to write it in a way that wasn’t going to be contrived, I needed to work hard on it. I never wanted it to be seen for less than it is, it’s me speaking about assault and telling a story and speaking about an issue that I believe needed to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Then we were talking about putting the EP together, like what’s the first five songs we want to release, and I said “This song needs to be on it because it means the most to me, it’s the song I’m most proud of”. Right now there’s this extraordinary scene of female empowerment and I don’t want to just stand there, I want to be part of this as well even though I am a man. I was really excited to release it because I believe it’s an issue that needs to remain being spoken about and become totally obsolete because it is fundamentally wrong and I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to get here.
What do you want young people to take from your songs?
YUNGBLUD: I don’t want people to feel like I’m preaching to them, because that’s not what I’m doing. With my music I’m just talking about what I think, and I want to empower people to be fearless in what they think because that’s how we make change, we speak about it. If enough people speak about it we can’t be ignored. The future that we see can be built on what we say and what we do and what we think. That’s what I want people to take away. I’m just saying what I think, and you can say what you think, and you can have a totally opposite view to me. My mum told me about a book – I’m really bad at reading books because I have the attention span of a goldfish, I’ve got ADHD which is why I’m bouncing about all the time – I can’t remember what the book was called but it was talking about America, and how its foundations are built on free speech. Every individual in America can have their opinion and say what it is, and he said that true American ideology would be to allow someone to burn the American flag in front of them because that was their opinion. I thought that was such an interesting quote. As I said, I’m not telling you what to think, think what you want, but the way we’re going to move things forward is if you talk about what you’re thinking about and then that can be brought out into the open and we can move towards a better future. I was actually speaking to my sound man earlier and we were talking about these groups fighting for equality in marriage, in race, in sexuality, and all these different groups fundamentally want the same thing. If we all came together and said it, I think that would be much more powerful.
Yeah because the world is so divided now. I feel like it’s gotten to a point where, if you’re on opposing ends, you don’t even try to have a conversation.
YUNGBLUD: Totally. That’s why with my music I don’t want to hold back. Right now politics is so relevant, I can’t believe people aren’t talking about it directly in music, in pop music. I just needed to not beat around the bush or walk on eggshells. I think that’s really important.
Your songs are influenced by various genres, mostly rock and hip hop. Do you think genre is not as important as it once was?
YUNGBLUD: I think we’re so lucky right now, we can listen to an eclectic bunch of music – in my playlist I can listen to The Clash, Post Malone, Justin Bieber, and Selena Gomez. What I see at my shows are kids who are hip hop fans because of the way they dress and kids who are in Nirvana t-shirts and they both have their phones out and are screaming. This mixing together is really exciting for me, because as I was saying it’s a form of unity. I don’t want my last record to sound like my next record, I just go into the studio and do what is right with my produced.
So, about that. I know you just released an EP, but I’m sure you have more songs lined up. What direction do you think your songs are going towards?
YUNGBLUD: When I go into the studio, whatever I’m inspired by on that day. It’s just an eclectic bunch of emotion and what I’m feeling on the day. I never want to pinpoint it. I want people to be like “Oh, YUNGBLUD just dropped an R&B track – what the hell?” “Oh, shit he just dropped a piano ballad”. I work hard enough to make sure that it works. Like Lorde’s new album, it’s amazing. I just think “Why stay in the same place? You’re going to become obsolete”. I want people to love me or hate me. I’m so inspired by artists like Lady Gaga and David Bowie who go out of their way to go out of their way to push boundaries and change things in music. Even Lil Peep, that’s it was such a sad thing, he was really about to change something in music. He inspired me and inspired a lot of young people, he talked about issues that a lot of young people are feeling right now. That’s what inspires me, it’s the artist I want to be.
You recently covered Camilla Cabello’s “Havana” and Dua Lipa’s “New Rules”, a mashup of two of the biggest pop songs today, and I love it. Why did you decide to cover these?
YUNGBLUD: I think those girls right now, along with Lorde, are representing change in youth culture. Those girls are really flying the flag for female empowerment and I think that’s really fucking cool. Camila Cabello is so politically driven online and in music, Dua Lipa just released a song called “I Don’t Give a Fuck”, and I fuck with that. I just wanted to cover that stuff because I always want to shock people, I never want to be put in a box, and those are two songs that I actually really like and two girls who I think are really cool and I really respect as artists.
Speaking of artists who you respect and love - do you have any dream collaborations?
YUNGBLUD: Yeah. I think so. I’d love to work with Lorde, I think that’d be amazing. I think she’s got an outlook that I relate to on life and on the world, everything she’s saying is so beautiful and poetic. I’d love to work with Kanye West just to see how his brain works because I think that’d just be crazy. I’d love to work with Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, he’s such a big inspiration to me, Jessie Reyez, I love her – she’s so amazing.
This is such a great list. I’m so glad you love Lorde as much as I do. To have that amount of talent is just unbelievable.
YUNGBLUD: I love her, she’s insane. I’d love to meet her. I’m going to keep writing songs just to meet Lorde.
I feel like your music just sounds like England, a country that has been the birthplace of so many bands that changed the history of music. How do you think your country, London, or the north where you’re from, shaped your music?
YUNGBLUD: Yeah, to be honest I started to write because I was bloody miserable (laughs) I’m joking. The Artic Monkeys and I, we’re all really miserable aren’t we? There’s something special in the North, there’s such a community up there, it has this attitude to it. We know what we want, we’re very opinionated, and we can almost talk to anybody. It’s got this tongue-in-cheek attitude that I want to bring to my music. I’m just having fun with it as well, I’m talking about issues but I want it to be fun, I don’t want it to be too down in the dumps. Music is very supported there. It is quite grey and it is quite rainy but we have to turn to us to find inspiration. I’m so proud to be from the North, I love it.
I’ve noticed that you wear pink socks a lot, and I love them. Could you please tell me the story behind them?
YUNGBLUD: Pink is just the best colour. There was a movement between the 60s and 80s, the Northern Soul Movement, and it was a movement where just after the Second World War, American G.I. would come over and be stationed all around England and they’d bring all these American records over. All these American songs were coming to the North of England and this scene started, and it was kind of a scene where they’d play soul records but they were b-sides. Kung fu was really big at the time too. It was kind of the first time in England where boys would dance on their own, it was the first moment where boys would be dancing all night and doing crazy spinning kicks from kung fu. That’s where a lot of my dance moves onstage come from, I’m so excited by the Northern Soul Movement. And boys would wear high-waisted trousers and show their socks off, that’s why I show my ankles and my socks off. That’s why I wear high-waisted trousers and a t-shirt and pink socks and my creepers, because it represents where I’m from, what I’m bringing around with me.
— — — —
photo © Andrew Whitton