#InstaxInterviews: Years & Years

We spoke to Years & Years about their sophomore album, Palo Santo.
Years & Years Singapore
Photo: Jayne Lam/ZYRUP

British synth-pop band Years & Years have had a pretty big year. Earlier this year, they released their sophomore album Palo Santo, and are about to embark on a world tour to support the album.

The trio, made up of Olly Alexander, Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Türkmen, is in town to promote Palo Santo. They’ve been doing promotional interviews all day, and it’s no surprise that every media outlet is clawing for some time with the trio; their sophomore effort has garnered universal acclaim.

Furthermore, since exploding on the scene with their solid debut effort Communion (which featured the massive hit ‘King’), the band has been regarded amongst pop music’s most promising acts.

As the ZYRUP crew enters the room for our scheduled interview slot (ours was towards the end of the day), we see them huddled near the window, and we overhear their, um, interesting conversation.

“I wonder if we’ll die if we fall from this height.”

“Yeah, probably.”

I interrupt to introduce ourselves and, as if a switch had been flipped, all three immediately greet us with wide, cheeky smiles, entirely aware that we were eavesdropping but clearly relishing every minute of it.

Olly takes the lead and we make small talk as we prepare for the interview. He has an uncanny ability to carry a conversation, even with a complete stranger – within minutes I almost feel as if we are old mates catching up. Charmer, I scribbled in my notebook.

During our interview, which was possibly the most light-hearted and laughter-filled one we’ve ever conducted, we discuss the motivations behind the new album, the noteworthy individuals they worked with for this era, and Olly’s love for Britney Spears.

Years & Years Singapore
Photo: Jayne Lam/ZYRUP

What are your thoughts and emotions seeing that the album has been this well-received?
Olly: I’ve never been part of something so critically well-reviewed, so that was nice. It’s that thing, you know, when you get bad reviews, you’re like, “Well, reviews don’t mean anything!”, but when you get good reviews, you’re like, “Oh, they finally recognize my brilliance!”. You have to kind of ignore them all, but it’s obviously very nice when people like the album. I’m just flattered.

For this album, you guys worked with Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. What was it like working with such massive hitmakers?
O: I was kind of nervous –to be honest– when I first met them because they are legends in the songwriting world, but they put me at ease. Justin, especially, is such a positive force in the music world –and Julia, of course– but it’s very rare to have a queer person behind the scenes having such success as he is. I really respect them both as artists, so it was a real pleasure.

Another big name that you guys worked with was Judi Dench for the Palo Santo short film. How did that happen and what was it like working with her?
Emre: Olly worked with Judi Dench back in the way when he was a bad actor himself.
O: How dare you! I won an independent film award once. How many productions have you been in?
E: None. So [anyway] we had that connection. She’s just a wonderful woman. Olly went round to her house and recorded all the Palo Santo narration, had some champagne.
Mikey: We use her in our live shows now, so she introduces us on stage.

That’s cool! Not everyone can get introduced by Judi Dench!
E: No they don’t.
Mikey: Kanye introduces himself.
O: Kanye has Kanye, but we have Judi Dench.
E: We win, hands down.

Speaking of the Palo Santo short film, what were the inspirations and motivations behind the construction of the fantasy world?
O: I’m just living out my fantasy. I’ve always loved sci-fi and tales of dystopian futures. I think all of us share a love of that. I’ve always wanted to make a short film for it to be a new way to experience the music, so that the music can soundtrack the film. [It’s a way for us to] tell this mad story of this android fairytale. I thought it would be fun – and it was!

Olly, I want to ask you about your admiration for Britney Spears – you’ve been very open about for love for her. What is about her that inspires you?
O: Well, obviously her songs are amazing. You can’t deny it – she’s had so many hits. Also, her Instagram alone is enough to stan [her].

What lyrics in the album make the best Instagram captions?
M: ‘You don’t have to be straight with me’ – that’d be the one.
E: That’d be a great one!
O: What I’ve seen people use is ‘Sanctify my body with pain’, which I like, and ‘You look like you’re so damn scared/I don’t really think you care/You know, you know that our time is through’.

What is one that hasn’t been used yet and needs to be?
O: ‘Do I look good in this position, just like him?’ Why has no one used that one yet? That’s like crying out to be used by some thirsty Insta-person.
M: I was going to say ‘Father, forgive me for finding the truth’.
O: And it’d be him in a jock-strap! (laughs)

What’s it like seeing your music being appreciated equally as passionately in Asia?
O: It’s amazing! I don’t know, it’s not like this in Europe. I feel like we’re way better coming to Asia
M: Our label literally said something like, “You should crack Asia, not America”. (laughs)

You should! On that note, last question – what would you like to say to your Singapore fans?
E: We hope to see you soon with a full tour.
O: Yeah! We were so overwhelmed that we have fans here.

Years & Years Singapore
Photo: Jayne Lam/ZYRUP

Portions of this interview were edited for clarity.

Listen to ‘All for You’, the latest single from Palo Santo here: