Rock

20 Questions With Yungblud: Candles, Machine Gun Kelly & The Most Important Songs on ‘Weird!’

YUNGBLUD
Tom Pallant

YUNGBLUD

On Friday (Dec. 4), Yungblud returned in impressive fashion with Weird!, an expansive sophomore album that unveils further complexities in his sound and persona. The 23-year-old U.K. singer-songwriter has never been one to color inside the lines, and on Weird!, he re-imagines rock production as a more genre-mixing, all-inclusive experience, all while continuing to shed light on his journey toward self-acceptance and what he demands of the world.

Since his 2018 debut album, 21st Century Liability, the artist born Dominic Harrison has stayed busy with collaborations across popular music, including with Halsey, Bring Me The Horizon, Denzel Curry and his good pal Machine Gun Kelly (Yungblud appears on “Body Bag” from MGK’s recent No. 1 album Tickets To My Downfall). With Weird!, Yungblud offers a largely solo statement -- while also welcoming Machine Gun Kelly as a guest on “Acting Like That” -- and recently has been promoting that statement with the Weird Time of Life tour, a “digital world tour” that began in London last month.

To commemorate the release of Weird!, Yungblud answered Billboard’s 20 questions about a song with special significance on the album, Machine Gun Kelly’s concurrent rise, the movies that make him cry and the musicians that inspired his own artistry.

1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

First piece of music I bought for myself was [Oasis’] What’s The Story, Morning Glory? From an HMV in Doncaster. I worked in my dad’s shop, earned 20 quid, went and bought the CD, bought some fish and chips, got a bit of weed, and got lost in it.

2. What was the first concert you saw?

I remember my mum and grandmother took me to Bryan Adams at Sheffield Arena. I was like five.

3. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?

Lady Gaga, Marilyn Manson, David Bowie. They built worlds for themselves that couldn’t exist in the real world. And I thought, if they can do it, why can’t I?

That’s in terms of artists -- in terms of [people in my life], it was probably Matt Schwartz, my producer. I remember, I’d come down to London, and every type of music executive that was interested in me was telling me to write pop songs, and that songs with a message and a meaning would never get played on the radio. I remember I was writing these shite love songs that meant nothing, and I went down to Matty to see if he’d be my producer. He looked at me, and he literally kicked me out of his studio. He said to me, "Why are you writing songs like this when other artists are writing songs like this but doing it so much better than you?" And that gave me a fire up my ass to prove him wrong, and he’s my producer still to this day, because I went back six months later and was like, "This is who I am." He was like, "Good. Let’s go."

4. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?

To headline Glastonbury.

5. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?

In two ways. In a positive way, it gave me a sense of community, and a sense of, kids from [Doncaster] and Yorkshire, you can kind of have a conversation with anybody, no matter where you are in the world. We’re like the Irish. But it was also a not very progressive place, so the way I looked and dressed and acted made people look at me like I was an alien, and it led me to question myself. And by questioning myself, I had something to kick against, and a society that would cause me pain. And that pain kind of made this angry, energy-loving community that we have.

6. What’s the last song you listened to?

“Pure Morning,” Placebo.

7. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?

David Bowie.

8. What’s your karaoke go-to?

“Girls and Boys” by Blur.

9. How has the pandemic affected the way you’ve created music in 2020?

It’s given me a second to think. Before this, you would ask for a second to think and people would look at you like you were crazy. This has given me a second to think and a second to breathe, and made me think about every single person from every single continent, with every single size, shape, color, sexuality and point of view, and allowed me to write an album about them, and how they changed my life and my perception. This album is about the weirdest years of our lives.

10. What would you say is the single biggest difference between 21st Century Liability and your new album, Weird!?

The first album was so angry, and it was almost beautifully naive. It was like I was throwing every idea at the wall, and every point of view that I had, because no one had allowed me to before. Everyone had kicked me to the curb, or silenced me before. So it was an explosion, and almost a callout, going "Is there anyone out there who’s like me?" And f--k me, man, it turned out there were a lot of f--king people like me. And by meeting those people, I felt like I belonged somewhere, and when you belong somewhere it’s like you figure out you got lungs for the first time. And I can f--king breathe. And this album’s allowed me to put down the f--king shield of angry insecurity, and allowed me to exist, and to belong somewhere, in a place without judgment or segregation or pain.

11. Your recently released track “Mars” is very moving. How did that song come together?

This is probably the most important song off my album, and probably the one I want to be the flagpole of Weird!, if you like, the billboard, the person on the front line. This song is so important because it really signifies the sense of community and I think where my generation’s at.

It’s about a young trans girl I met in Maryland, and her parents simply couldn’t fathom that she was and always had been their baby daughter, and they believed it was some weird mental phase she was going through, and it wasn’t. And it made me so sad to look in someone’s eyes and see them going through pain from people who are supposed to love them, just for being who they are. And she said she wanted to get her parents to a Yungblud show, to show them the community and the energy, and that there were other kids like her. And they came -- she said she saved up, and she got good grades, so they’d have no excuse. And they saw other kids like her, they saw the energy and the passion and the reluctance to be anything other than who we are. They accepted her as their baby girl. And that just really blew me away, because Yungblud ain’t me, Yungblud is us. And I’m just so proud to belong somewhere that can have an affect on someone’s life like that. I had to write about it.

12. What’s one song on Weird! that holds a special importance to you that listeners might not pick up on a first listen?

“Love Song.” I had a bit of violence in my house growing up, and a lot of my mates did as well. A lot of my friends growing up had a lot of hard parental battles, if you like. And it makes you question your idea of love. I felt love, they always felt love, but we would talk about it a lot, go "F--k love, man, it’s that love I don’t want no part of it." And then I fell in love, and I met someone who changed every kind of feeling I think I’d ever felt. I wanted to write a pure love song, a real love song, a Yungblud love song. I wanted this to strike a nerve and be real. I wanted this to be a friend to someone who has fallen in love and have that excitement and have that uplifting nature. Or I wanted it to be a shoulder to someone who is going through heartbreak. I wanted it to be so real and so raw. It’s not a song I would have expected myself to write, but this album I just want to tell the f--king truth, and this is very much the truth.

13. After working extensively with Machine Gun Kelly, what has it been like watching him score a No. 1 album and reach a new level of rock success in 2020?

It’s f--king brilliant! To see my mate -- we feel like we’re part of a scene again. Rock and roll is coming back very quickly, because it’s a scene. It’s not just one twat with a God complex and a leather jacket eating too much guacamole going “I saved rock music.” Rock and roll is about freedom and expression and defiance to conform. And you can only do that in a group. Seeing my best bud and my best mate score a No. 1 album in his country was just magic. I couldn’t be more proud to know him and I couldn’t be more proud to kind of be with him on that journey.

Ever since we wrote “I Think I’m Okay,” we saw this place to go, and we saw this community. No one’s looking over their shoulder going “Oh, they beat me!” That’s what was wrong with rock and roll -- everybody was f--king thinking that they had to be the messiah, whereas now it’s just like, celebrate your mates, uplift them and be a part of something that’s gonna help a load of f--king people, and help you at the same time.

14. Can you describe the experience of your in-progress “digital world tour,” The Weird Time of Life tour?

I just wanted to create a tour that would physically go across the world, but digitally. My favorite thing about coming to different cities is the different cultures. I just wanted to provide people all over the world [the chance] to go to a city they’d never been to before, and in different languages.

15. When you look back on 2020, how big of a part has activism played for you personally?

Massive. This year has been a year of insane, integral activism, because as I said earlier, this year gave us a second to think. This gave us a second to know and to understand what was f--king wrong with the world -- to understand the racial injustice, the understand the oppression against the LGBTQIA+ community, to understand politicians denying climate change. This year gave us something to kick against, and we kicked against us massively.

I was in L.A. with the whole Black Lives Matter movement, and it was so incredible to see people from every walk of life coming together for what is right, because the Black community were and still are seen to be less than everyone else, and that’s bulls--t, that needs to change, and we won’t stop fighting until it f--king does. It’s about informing, and it’s about coming together, and it’s about talking. My generation doesn’t want to be divided -- we want to be united, we want our mates to be equal, we want the f--king bloke across the street who’s buying milk to be equal. That’s what it’s about now.

16. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?

I mean, I’m a pretty open book, to be honest. But I do have a really, really unhealthy relationship with buying candles. My house is full of candles. It’s like a f--king candle shop. I’m the candle man, with a candle van, and a candle... plan.

17. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?

You’re gonna hate me for this -- movie, The Notebook or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Song, “The Only Exception” by Paramore.

18. If you were not a musician, what would you be?

An archaeologist. I f--king love history.

19. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

Keep going. You have no idea what’s f--king coming, but keep your head down, keep doing exactly what you’re doing, and mum knows that you’re hiding cigs under your pillow, so hide them somewhere different.

20. What’s your message to fans who have been supporting you -- and waiting for this new album to arrive?

This story’s about you. This story’s for you. You have helped me so f--king much. This is yours, this is ours. I can’t wait to grow, I can’t wait to see you again and I can’t wait to cuddle you again. Thank you for everything. You are the beginning, you are the middle, and you are the end of the story.

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