Sometimes a band hits a green patch where each release gets better and better; be it The Beatles in the mid-sixties, Stevie Wonder at the start of the seventies, Prince throughout the eighties, and many would argue that right now Young Fathers are enjoying a similar run of success. From their self produced ‘Tape One’ in 2012, to its current Scottish Album of the Year follow up ‘Tape Two’, and then the 2014 Mercury Music Prize winner ‘Dead’ was the darling of the music press last year. Hot on its heels is ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’, which is a change in direction, with elements of rock, pop, soul, rap, 80s electro and gospel. Simply put, this is your new favourite band bringing you the sound of now. We* caught up with them just before the album release, and as you’ll see, they didn’t disappoint.
It’s interesting that you’ve followed up your biggest success so far, and the expectation that comes with that, with something less obvious and different.
One of the good things about being this kind of group is we can do whatever the f*ck we want, as long as we make it fit with the aesthetic. In fact, that almost is the aesthetic. There are invisible lines that we don’t step over, that change all the time but are relative to our journey but to even define them means examining the process too closely. It’s like trying to catch a dust mote in your eye.
Is a ‘pure’ hip-hop record ever a possibility?
There’s a chance we could still make a clearly defined hip-hop record at some point – it’s in the DNA after all, but it would probably only work if the bigger hip-hop world moves forward a bit, especially when it comes to words. There’s a lot of dumb-ass shit rapped, full of cliche and ugly, bully words. There’s meant to be a swing, a beauty to the lyrics. Even when Wu Tang riffed on torturing people there was a self awareness there, an irony. That seems to have departed.
Stating upfront that you are addressing issues of race is a bold move. Do you hope it’ll provoke open discussions about these issues, or do you worry that liberal white arts/music writers will be too scared to approach the topic for fear of offending someone?
The title is a way for everyone in the media to be able to talk about skin colour and all the things that come from that, because it’s really all about privilege and class and skin colour is just a distraction invented by psychotic idiots who seek to control others and even if there’s a kind of unspoken, wider understanding that this is the case, because we all have different experiences of it there’s no unity in response. Scotland has hardly any black people but, for instance, if the SNP had won last September, then they proposed much more immigration. Then the idea that Scotland is somehow a more tolerant place than the rest of the UK would really have been put to the test.
Do you feel that your non-traditional UK heritage helps with the usual false modesty, and enables you to aim for worldwide success?
That’s about right. We’re proud of what we are and don’t need to be part of a local scene in that way – it doesn’t define us. It’s a small step away from that kind of pride to being proud of your country, whatever it does and being proud of being white, whatever that means and being proud when your country wins at sport and just a short step from there, at war. We have family, friends, our own country we create, that shifts around. It’s not just musical freedom – it’s the whole thing, of being in a group.
Have you considered working with anyone from beyond these shores? Someone like Nigerian afrobeat legend Tony Allen would seem like a perfect collaborator, or at the other end of the spectrum maybe an album with Rick Rubin. Do such opportunities seem like a reality for you these days?
Both those ideas would be fun. We were talking about Rick Rubin the other day, wondering if he still makes his own beats. In fact, we have been collaborating more this year, for the first time. In S Africa with several SA artists and by coincidence, with some singers and a rapper from Durban, also from SA when they visited Edinburgh earlier this year. Both tracks are waiting for a mix. We’ve also kind of collaborated with Tricky, by accident and recorded with Massive in Bristol in January. We’re getting a little more open minded about that kind of thing!
You could’ve had your pick of any choir (arguably in the world), but you’ve gone for our very own local Leith Congregational Choir, is it these little things that’ll keep you grounded?
The Leith Congregational Choir themselves help keep us grounded! Or at least, the female members who don’t take no shit from no one. We’re proud of the choir and it’s great that the world knows they exist as they were pretty hidden before.
-The album ‘White Men are Black Men Too’ is out now on Big Dada.
-Interview: Dave McGuire
*This feature was written for Leither Magazine prior to album release, hopefully to be published in next issue.