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Interview: Years & Years

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When Communion dropped three years ago, Years & Years cemented themselves as one of the most essential names in pop music.

It was an album that defied all expectations of the band, the synth-pop trio whisking elements of nineties house, R&B and electronica genres into one tasty batter. Cutting into the trendy rainbow cake that is Communion, we're met with an array of intricate and delicate layers, all of different colouring, brought back together with a thick layer of sugary jam - because what isn't a jam on that record?

Communion was the fastest selling album of 2015 from a signed British band, and with that, Olly, Mikey and Emre covered that cake in icing and popped a cherry on top.

But that was three years ago, and up until recently, we hadn't heard much material from the band since. Back in March this year, the trio announced their return by releasing 'Sanctify', which immediately racked up 1.5 million sales and was nominated for five BRIT Awards, and subsequently announced their second album, Palo Santo, in April. Spanish for 'Holy Wood', Palo Santo is a genderless, android-ruled universe created by the band, and all imagery around the album relates back to this dystopian world - seriously, just watch the music videos for 'Sanctify' and 'If You're Over Me' - its beautiful aesthetic is reminiscent of the Hunger Games' Capitol meets Black Mirror.

"It's hard to describe sounds with words, isn't it?" asks Mikey Goldsworthy (synth, keyboards, bass) in his Australian accent, as he rings The National Student for a chat about the album ahead of its release on July 6th. "It definitely sounds like a Years & Years album, but every song's quite different. It's like a buffet of different songs. I don't like to use the word 'mature', but it sounds like we've grown up a bit."

As a loud, passionate activist for gay rights and mental health issues, frontman Olly Alexander has become an icon both within and outside of the music industry and with it has crowned his band as one of the most essential when it comes to exploring these topics through the medium of song. 

"I never thought being in a band would lead to this, but I’m glad we’re using our powers for good" explains Mikey, as he reflects on the band's political aura. "Whereas Kanye’s like, using his for Trump."

"There’s a natural progression as well, because Olly was writing about his experiences of coming out and what that meant, and then that lead to talking about it topically and getting more confident... it kinda snowballed."

Despite Olly being thrown into the media spotlight solo with his activism, Mikey laughs "I like going to the shop and getting loo roll without getting recognised! It’s kind of like being X-Man in the real world. I’ve got this super power but no one knows." After a few jokes about him taking on the role of a typical superhero (or maybe in this popstar vs regular guy world, Hannah Montana), he crowns himself 'Professor M'.

The band explore the topics of sex, homosexuality, mental health, identity, masculinity, sadness, happiness, romance and, basically everything else, in a way that doesn't sound overly cheesy. Their lyrics aren't stuffy, they're packed with meaningful metaphors and depth that allows so many fans to connect to their music in such a personal way.

Discussing why their music has the power to connect people, Mikey explains "It’s this electronic music that, instead of just singing about being in the club or making out… well there is a bit of making out in it, but [the lyrics] are kind of real lyrics that people can latch onto. 

People just… it’ll never go away, I think people just want good melodies and good pop songs. I don’t think that will ever die. So I don’t think we try and be too clever about it, we’re just kind of writing pop, but I think there’s a layer there that people are latching onto."

Just take their first hit 'King' as an example of this: a belter of a pop song that dominated the charts, clubs and playlists for weeks as a feel-good electro-pop track, but peeling back the lyrical layers is about how it can still feel good to be treated so badly by someone in a relationship.

On the topic of lyrics, Mikey continues "I like the lyrics to ‘Karma’, I’ve always loved that sort of idea of karma anyway, you know that something good’s gonna come to you if you put out good. I can relate to those lyrics a lot. I can’t wait for people to hear that track, I really wanna play it live. We’re like, holding back."

Years & Years will finally get to play it live on recently announced their Palo Santo tour which sees them play around the UK and Europe in a stretch of dates spanning November 2018 to February 2019. There's plenty of chances to see the new material live, but we shouldn't be expecting much more any time soon.

"We’re just gonna live in the moment. We haven’t even said the words ‘album three’… well I just did, but yeah. We’re gonna live in the moment and then see where we’re at, check back in in maybe a year or two years and see what’s going on."

Palo Santo is out July 6 via Polydor Records, pre-order here. Tickets are available for the Palo Santo tour here.

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