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Years & Years

In 2013, the trio of Years & Years set themselves an ultimatum: it was all or nothing. With a song called 'Real' written and ready to go, they intended to throw everything and more at this release to determine their creative destiny. "We were running out of money," explains lead singer Olly, "and we needed to see if this could ever work. We had one more EP with Kitsuné and we wanted to try and blow everyone's minds. We spoke to different producers, pulled in favours, worked hard and just went for it." 'Real' deservedly exploded, receiving over 1 million plays on Youtube and Soundcloud, earning them shows in Japan and drawing the attention of Polydor. Years & Years were on a totally new path.

Olly (vocals), Emre (synth and beats) and Mikey (synth and bass) made their way into music in different ways. For Olly, his great grandmother leaving her piano to him ignited a childhood songwriting spark within, and set him off exercising an extraordinary self-styled vocal range. "I ended up writing a song for my school assembly. It was about heartbreak, which I suppose really set the tone," he laughs, "then I got into songwriters like Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan." Mikey met Olly at a mutual friend's dinner party, but when Olly asked to be in the band Mikey respectfully declined, only to u-turn when he heard Olly singing in the shower. "I wasn't there when they met, but I was already in the band" admits Emre, "and I remember thinking 'oh god, who is this guy?' But then he started singing and I realised he had quite a voice."

Thanks to its bizarre, Lynchesque narrative and a starring role from Ben Whishaw, the video for 'Real' drew the attention of Dazed Digital and Interview magazine, gathering even more attention for the track. Olly admits he had to lean on his acting career a little to pull in the names: "We decided to come up with an idea for the video ourselves. It's about being judged, so I liked the idea of us being judges of other people. I wanted to have dancing in it, and I'd just finished working with Ben Whishaw. He's an incredible dancer, but in a very weird and unique way.”

Most Years & Years tracks begin with Olly at the piano, before being forged into their final woozy, electronic indie form. The latter quality of Years & Years can be traced partly through Emre, who is primarily known as the band's beatmaker. "When we first got together, I was a guitarist, but it was getting to a point when I picked up a guitar and felt like I'd already done all the patterns that were coming out of me. I started getting into synthesisers, beats and making music in a very different way. Our tastes as a trio were collectively moving in an electronic direction, and I took up the production side." The beats are born from house music and a touch of glitchy electronica - offsetting Olly’s impassioned vocals with hard and hypnotic rhythm. Think Antony Hegarty guesting for TEED, or a Flume with a broken heart.

The sound that embodies a trio who feel most inspired within the confines of electronic music, but retain these more traditional backgrounds. Mikey, for instance, grew up almost entirely on diet of what he called “classical and Dr Dre” and even played in his father’s Argentine tango orchestra. As a result, their conventional hook heavy and emotive songs are expressed through pulsating house and r&b structures, resulting in a fluorescent and addictive pop compound. That said, much of their traditional past has lived on through their performance ethics: "It's important that our music is made mostly on instruments and not laptops. It's the way we write, and we always want to keep that band aspect" says Mikey.

Their next release looks to harness the impact of the last, and lead track 'Take Shelter' is engineered to incite and excite. The track is built around an infectious dancehall beat that combines synths, a pitched down vocal riff and a marching snare sound to vibrant effect. Emre explains it’s conception: “I found this new software that looped my voice and pitched it up and down. It spat out this weird vocal loop that sounded really odd and eerie. I sent it to Olly and he wrote a song to that riff. The best ones always happen quickly.”

The release of ‘Take Shelter’ is complemented by two other tracks. One, a stripped back version of the lead single, offering an insight into how Olly forms the songs at his piano. The second, an unexpected cover. “We wanted tracks that show our different sides, so we chose ‘Breathe’ by Blu Cantrell. Covers are always tricky, but I thought it would be cool to do a song that people remember, but wasn't a massive hit. You don't want to cover a track that's similar to you, and that song was anything but.”

Ask Years & Years for their influences, and one is volleyed with a all sorts of things: Flying Lotus, Gus Van Sant, Anne Carson, Edward Hopper and Phillip Lorca diCorcia. It becomes clear that they have a shared obsession for duality in their art, and capturing those moments - like on ‘Real’ - that are both joyful and sad. When lead singer Olly reveals the lyrics behind ‘Take Shelter’, it further emphasises the point. "I was in a relationship that ended badly," he explains, "the song is written about that thing you do when you go back to someone and you know it's wrong and you shouldn't, and it's going to end badly, yet somehow you get solace even from knowing it's going to fuck you up." It's what band member Mikey describes as music to make you "cry and dance."

Signing to Polydor has finally meant that all three members can quit their jobs and focus entirely on music. They have already toured with pop gem Mø, sold out their own London shows, and garnered some fanatics on the way. “We have one super fan called Olivia…” starts Olly, “she either comes to the gigs, or sends someone on her behalf. At the end of a show someone will appear with M&Ms, stamps or gifts with our faces on,” he laughs, “all they say is: ‘Olivia sent me’.”

With a summer of even more shows ahead, their schedule casts a long, but exciting shadow of producing and performing. “The plan is to release an album early 2015,” concludes Olly, “songs are forming, but we want to get it right. We want it perfect.”

My Bands Sessions

Wednesday, March 18


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