Albums of 2015 (#7): Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
Young Fathers have spent most of 2015 touring the world on the back of the success of their second album. But they've still found the time to plan a new base of operations back in Edinburgh
Following gigs in Malawi and China this year, Young Fathers are used to performing to audiences that may be unfamiliar with their unique brand of alt-pop music.
So the invitation to support Paul Weller on his current UK tour was eagerly accepted by the Edinburgh-based trio. At first glance, the former Jam frontman, still most associated with the Mod revival of the late 1970s, does not seem a natural fit with Young Fathers. But the group view the Modfather’s invitation as a welcome confirmation of their pop credentials.
“We’ve had a couple of boos from typical Mod guys, but I enjoy that,” explains Graham ‘G’ Hastings. "It kind of makes sense that Paul would be into it. He’s always been a guy who’s looking for the latest thing. It’s great to be asked to come on tour with him. A lot of people want to paint us as this weirdo, left-field kind of group. It’s good when people like him give you the seal of approval. Having spoken with Paul briefly over the last couple of days, I think it’s the melodic, pop side that he loves. I think that’s a side of us that sometimes people dinnae want to talk about – the strange pop music that we make.”
"There’s a side of us that sometimes people dinnae want to talk about – the strange pop music that we make” – G Hastings
That ‘strange’ pop music was to the fore in the trio’s second LP, White Men Are Black Men Too, which was released to near universal acclaim in April. Buoyed by energetic floor-shakers like Rain or Shine, the album maintained the momentum built by their Mercury Prize victory the previous November. It was an assured follow-up to DEAD, which had announced their arrival on the global stage, but was taped at breakneck speed.
“As soon as we recorded the album we had confidence in it,” G says. “We had planned to work much longer, but the album was done and the songs were good enough, so we decided to stop there and get it out. It’s the first time we’ve had an album that’s come out so quickly after recording it. With our previous records it was like you make it and it doesn’t come out for another year. But this is still fresh. We still enjoy playing the songs live. We get bored pretty quickly with stuff we do, but we’ve been on top of it with this album. The reception on the tours has been really good; and we’ve been travelling a lot this year places like to China to Africa.”
For a band that admits it enjoys “playing to an away crowd”, the opportunity to perform in such far-flung places was a challenge they relished, even if reaction to their shows could be mixed. “It’s weird for me when people sing our songs back at you as we’re used to the other side of things, when we’re trying to take the crowd rather them already have them onside,” G continues.
“In Malawi, some people were shocked, some were enjoying it. We got a mixture of reactions, which I always think it’s healthy. South Africa earlier in the year was fantastic. That was a life-changing experience. Every where you go, you pick up different things. China is one of those places that we never thought we could get invited; but there’s young people there who want live music. It was a strange experience but a good one at the same time.”
Young Fathers will take more time on their next release. Having secured a lease on a former rehearsal studio in Edinburgh, they plan to convert it to a hub of operations once they come off tour. “We took it because in Edinburgh it’s hard to find somewhere where you won’t get chucked out for making loads of noise," G confirms. "We’ve got a bunch of rooms we can use for a bunch of different things; shooting video, rehearsal, making t-shirts, we’re thinking of even having a darkroom for photos. It’s a wee centre for us to go to every day and be creative. We’ve been away all year, so we’ve no had time to record. We’ve done wee bits and bobs. But we need a place to be and time to be there. When we get there, we’ll get recording.