Years & Years‘ Olly Alexander sat down with Billboard Pride editor Patrick Crowley to chat about his sophomore album Palo Santo, working with Judi Dench on his short film, and why performing live feels like a “complete escape” for him.
Speaking of his record, Alexander tells Billboard that before even making any of the music, he wanted to figure out what would be the “most fun experience to embark on” because he knew that he would be putting together music videos, a stage show, and artwork and he wanted to tie it all together to create a fictional universe — a concept that was inspired by the likes of Lady Gaga, David Bowie, and Prince.
The fictional city of Palo Santo, which the record revolves around, is populated by androids but has a few humans who serve as entertainers because, as Alexander explains, the androids want to feel some human emotion.
Alexander discusses working with Judi Dench, who narrated the short film that accompanied the album, revealing that he became friends with her when they were in a play together.
“She’s basically like, how you would want Judi Dench to be,” he says. “She is that person, she’s so nice…I’ve been trying to get her in a music video ever since we worked together, and she’s always been up for it but she’s quite busy…we wanted to have this voice, almost like the Wizard of Oz in a way, sort of this all-knowing kind of entity, and we were like, ‘Oh, let’s ask Judi because her voice is so iconic, she’d be perfect.’ And thankfully she said yes.”
The singer talks about the transformation he undergoes when performing live, as well, calling it a “complete escape” and a “moment of fantasy.”
“For me, what’s so powerful about it is I get to shed my skin of…Olly in walking around the streets,” he says, “And I can put on something new, and it’s almost like, you know Beyonce has Sasha Fierce? I feel like mine is kind of this weird like bi-gendered, magical powers, alien who can dance.”
You can hear much more from Olly Alexander in the video above, and watch him get tested on his pop diva trivia — and gush about meeting Rihanna — in the video below.
Years & Years are currently on their North American tour — you can see the full list of tour dates here.