Splendour Interview: YUNGBLUD (UK) almost missed his festival set & already has another album up his sleeve

One of the most exciting international talents making their Australian festival debut at Splendour in the Grass over the weekend was UK rising star YUNGBLUD. His unique blend of punk, hip-hop, rock and whatever else he fancies, has made his album 21st Century Liability one of the most talked about releases of the year. And he backs this up with a thrilling live show – this guy can perform… not to mention shred. And be it on stage, off or on record, he’s a man who has a lot to say.

While at Splendour, we sat down to talk how he almost didn’t make his set at the festival, we reflect on his debut album, on having something to say in modern music – and he reveals that he’s already ready to release his next record, and that he just might feel more connected to Australia than the UK…

YUNGBLUD, all the way from the UK. Hop, skip, and a jump away. Welcome to Splendour in the Grass.

Hello. How are you man?

I was just told that you almost didn’t make your stage set today?

Man, what a morning. I remember we just touched down and a load of stage equipment and gear, all our electricals got lost by Virgin on the plane. We were just, what are we going to do? But then the plan was to beg, steal, borrow. An hour with a lot of stress. A couple of beers. I went on a bit drunk, so I was better. It calmed my nerves, and it was great man. It was such a great show man. We got it done. It was best one of festival season so far for me. It was crazy.

The victoriousness of actually making the show happen had to add to that too?

To be honest, I was stressing out and Simon was, “We’re fine. We’re fine.” We always have this quote that … The Queens of the Stone Age always had this. Every time they play a terrible gig, they’re get a tattoo on the ribs, because it hurts the most. And we’re just like “…boys no tattoos ribs today! No tattoos today lads!”

Have you had to get any new tattoos on the ribs yet?

No, not yet, not yet. We thought today, but no, not today. Fuck the universe. That’s right.

That’s the next single right there…

….ain’t it man? It’s the next album. Fuck. It kind of feels like that sometimes though, doesn’t it? Fine. If you’re going to fuck us, and our flight got cancelled to Australia… We got stuck in New York. It’s been a crazy … But you know what, man. As soon as I touched down and I reset, I felt energised. We played a show in Adelaide. It was crazy. We played a show in Melbourne last night. It was nuts. Then today, it might be the best show I ever played in my life man. I’ll say that, because I just love it down here man. You get it, and I know you’re nuts, and everyone knows every song and I’m just, this is the first time I played shows out here. I can’t believe it. It’s mental.

And the album’s been out for what, two weeks?

Yeah, two weeks. To the day. Literally. I’m just baffled and quite excited man. I can’t believe it. It’s amazing.

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s been a relatively short time between EP and LP, but the songs you’ve been playing for quite a while, and working on for quite a while. Talk me a little bit through how you ended up with the 12 tracks that are on the album.

It was weird man. This album is like an accumulation of all the frustration, the oppression, the suppression, the excitement, every kind of emotion I felt all my life leading up to this moment. It’s like everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve thought in the 21st century. Do you know what I mean? That’s why it’s called 21st Century Liability. It’s almost like a concept album. I never write about what I don’t know. I always write about what I know because as an artist, I want to be as real. Because I think right now man, a lot of people are just not being straight up enough for me. Everyone’s tiptoeing around a subject.

I’m thinking rock and roll, man. It’s a bit on life support, I mean because it’s like four idiots in leather jackets singing about fuck all on stage. You know what I mean? That’s why it’s on life support at the minute, and I kind of want to spruce it up a bit and just be like just say what I think man, and just say what’s going on. I mean right now, what’s going on in my head.

And I want this album to be an outlet for people who feel like they can’t be themselves, or feel like they can’t say what they think. Because if you feel like your voice isn’t important, you’re wrong. It is. Everyone’s voice is important.

Punk rock was born out of anarchy. What do you think it is that’s keeping others from singing about what you’re singing about?

I just think everyone’s frightened of the repercussions to sing about something straight up. It’s… “oh, they might not play us on the radio,” or, “we might not get to fucking get on morning brunch TV.” But do you know, at the end of the day man in my opinion, if you’re not changing shit or moving the needle, you’re not an artist, you’re a singer. And I don’t want to be a fucking singer. To me, rock and roll, the fundamental core of rock and roll is freedom. It’s that lack of fear to be yourself, no matter what. And I think it’s been clouded right now. Because again, people are scared of the repercussions and I just don’t agree with it.

At the end of the day man, I’m not preaching, you know what I mean? I don’t want to tell people what to think. I’m just saying what I think.

And you don’t come to it with a negative edge as well. It’s not like … There’s some kind of music that gets that way, where it becomes this intellectual divide, where it’s like I’m smart and you’re an idiot –

Totally.

– or this is bad, and there’s no end in sight. But here, there’s a genuine this sucks… But there are things we can do to change it.

The mind is a help man. Young people are so intelligent right now. We have access to so much information. We’re not just 70 year old men in Def Leppard t-shirts singing about Margaret Thatcher down a pub. It’s not all down and “oh, we’re all fucked.” No man, we’re not. There’s a hope and there’s a liberal world that we’re moving towards and we see. It’s held back by a generation that don’t understand us, or aren’t quite ready for the world to go there yet. But do you know what man? It’s coming. You see the power of young people.

You know, as a generation man, we’re not just young people from England. We’re not just young people from Australia. We’re not just young people from the U.S. We’re not young people from Holland, Germany, fucking Japan. We’re a collective now, because I can get in touch with someone worldwide in two minutes by an iPhone. We’re a generation of a world, not just a divide across countries, you know what I mean?

It’s sick, man. There’s hope man. And that’s what I want in this album, it’s the fundamental of this album. It’s not all down in the dumps. It’s fucking great. Because the world is going to a better place man. I feel it. Everyone feels it. I mean it’s like the ’60s again, man. There’s a revolution coming. I can feel it.

And a lot of the music that it feels like you’ve been brought up on is from that era. What did your parents play when you were growing up?

It’s weird man. I was brought up on rock music, but I fucking discovered hip hop music myself. My granddad always used to play The Clash, he always used to play The Beatles, he used to play The Stones. And that’s where I learned that kind of fucking sense of freedom. Or when he played The Sex Pistols, where they talked to you about politics in a way that made me want to jump about. But then I discovered artists myself, like Eminem, Busta Rhymes, and I thought well that’s exactly the same. And I discovered that rock and roll and hip hop aren’t a division of genres. They mean the same thing. It’s the same core, and it inspired the shit out of me.

Were you like me when you were 15, and you were trying to keep up with Busta Rhymes?

Oh, shit, well I was like… what the fuck’s he saying? But I mean I feel it in my bones, you know what I mean? I feel the fire and the anger in my stomach, and it made me just feel something you know?

And now you’re getting to express that with your own album, and your own acclaim. You got to work some great producers on the record as well. A great, great team around you for it. Was there ever a moment you felt restricted by that though?

No man, that’s it man, my team is so amazing. As I said when I signed to my record label, they just said, “Look, we just want to amplify your vision”, because it’s quite scary isn’t it, when you sign to someone? You just think, fuck, they’re going to put me in a snap back and a fucking pair of high tops because Justin Bieber wears that. But they said we just want to amplify your vision. And as I say, it’s amazing to see the amount of people that want to work together, but you know what? I just love my team.

I’m going to keep it small, because it’s working. I don’t want to be diluted because, even like to any artist out there that’s trying to be an artist, people are going to try and make you their opinion of what you should be. Whereas, the producer I’m working at with at the minute just want to amplify what I’m saying, and that’s why it works.

And the same thing happens on stage. It’s like you really get to show yourself off as a musician, as a songwriter, as an artist, in a way that I don’t really feel like I’ve seen kind of an artist come out here at your level, and really just bring it like that.

It’s just that fucking … everyone’s so fucking frightened. Everything’s got so corporate. I was saying the other day, everything’s got so diluted and sensitised. It’s like … I was thinking I was listening to metal music. I was, everyone’s trying to be Slayer, when Slayer were original, because they just were themselves.

At the end of the day, go out on stage and do what you want. Don’t let anybody restrict you. If you want to fucking smash your guitar, if you want to take a shit onstage, take a shit onstage, you know what I mean? If that’s expressing yourself, and that’s the artist you are, people will like it, or people don’t. But as long as people get me, that’s all I care about.

Summon The Dwarves, and Iggy, and all those legends.

Exactly man. Mick Jagger didn’t go on stage going I can’t do this… he just did it. Just don’t limit yourself. It’s amazing the support I’ve got to not be able to limit myself, it’s sick you know.

And not something that everyone gets the opportunity to do either.

And I’m so lucky to do that man, and I’m so thankful to everybody who turns out to the shows, because at the end of the day man, they’re the reason I can do this.

And the rest of the year? What’s it holding for you? More shows, more recording?

Sydney tomorrow, and over to the U.S. touring for the next year and then…

Are you doing some festivals over there?

Yeah, I’m playing Reading and Leeds in the UK, Lollapalooza in the U.S. I’m doing Austin City Limits later in the year too.

They’re two of my favourite festivals right there.

I can’t wait. I’ve never been and I had a fear when I dropped my music man. I’m not interested in just waiting six months to drop my music. Fuck it, I’m ready now. I’ve gone another album ready to go. Are you ready? Are you fucking ready?

Imaging dropping that two weeks from now, how amazing would that be?

Let’s go! I’ll leak it. They’ll be like, “what the fuck did you do Dom!?” Oh, whatever man.

Pull a Beyonce.

Isn’t it? *he whispers “Beyonce” with a grin*

Well, congratulations on the record. I’ve been jamming it for the last couple of weeks and it was great to see it today. I think it was at the right place to see you. You seem born for the festival stage.

Mate, it’s insane man. It’s crazy. We went on at 1 o’clock and it was the earliest time we’ve been on this kind of “festival season”, so I was a bit nervous, but to see there was easily eight thousand there when I went on. I couldn’t believe it. It’s just the best thing. I love Australia. I want to keep coming back because, I don’t know, I just feel connected to the place. Even more so than the UK. I don’t know why you just get it in a way that … I just can’t explain it. I’m hyped. I love it here. I want to keep coming back.

Well, we’ll have you anytime mate. Dom, thanks so much for your time.

Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

To keep tabs on YUNGBLUD, check out his official website. 21st Century Liability is in stores and streaming now. Photo by John Goodridge.