Mercury Prize 2014: Young Fathers: “We’re an odd group”

Mercury nominees Young Fathers are making sense of their 2014, a year defined by acclaim.

They stand out as one of this year’s outsiders, but don’t put it past Scots Young Fathers to walk away with this year’s Mercury Prize. Besides, it’s in their history. Earlier in 2014 they picked up the Scottish Album of the Year for ‘Tape Two’, a release that was barely considered an album in the first place. “Technically when you’re putting them on iTunes, you can’t call them albums, you have to call them EPs. That happens. But we always considered them a body of work,” says the band’s Graham ‘G’ Hastings a week ahead of what could be the trio’s biggest breakthrough moment yet. The SAY tip landed them their biggest acclaim yet, but 2014’s seen word spreading faster than anticipated. Whether down to frenzied live shows or sheer word-of-mouth around full-length ‘DEAD’, they’ve raced past the “new band” status that’s tagged along ever since the three of them formed in their teens.

At one stage Young Fathers were a boy band, the sonic opposite to ‘DEAD’’s piercing industrial tones and cuss-filled cries. Still, that’s not stopping Hastings and co. from having big ambitions. Audiences await in their masses and there’s little doubt in their minds that this year’s Mercury Prize represents a huge opportunity to speak volumes in three cutting minutes.

Ahead of the ceremony, ‘G’ reflected on the individual factors that helped Young Fathers break big.

Was 2014 always going to be the year that you broke through, so to speak? You’ve been working for so long towards stuff.

Every year, we’ve always been trying to push it. It’s never been, ‘Let’s leave it until then’. We’ve always been eager. 2014 just happened to be a busy year for us. We really didn’t think of it as breaking through or making it, in any way. We’re just busier. And that’s what we wanted to do. You quit your jobs, you decide to do something wholeheartedly, and that’s good for us. Now we’re just constantly doing something new. It’s what we wanted to be doing. Through the last couple of years we’ve been working, ever since ‘Tape One’, towards something. It spiralled and snowballed, and now we’re here.

This time last year you were being spoken about as a new band. Was that strange?

We’re always thinking that not enough people have heard us yet. We’ll always be a new band to someone. It doesn’t really bother me. Some people might listen to ‘Dead’ now before realising there’s stuff before. They’ll discover both ‘Tapes’ and that’s even better. I think I prefer being called new, to be honest.

Has it been important to take your time over stuff, or the opposite?

We’re not a band to take our time on things. We like to just fucking let it go. There’s no thinking about it too much, really. In the years that we were working on stuff, ever since we met at 14, that was us listening to people who we shouldn’t have been listening to. They were telling us to keep stuff held back. ‘Tape One’ we just made at the time and put it out. We decided that everything should be like that. Bashed out in a week, with no premise - and whatever happens in that week goes online. We were always going to put out whatever we recorded that week, just as a kind of rebellion. That’s carried on. We work quick. We don’t like spending too much time on music. Before, there was a lot of people involved. But ‘Tape One’, that’s just us. It also seems to be the point where everything just gelled and we found the sound we were happy with. It was a case of making sure a song was finished by the end of the night. We have a short attention span - we get bored too easily. So we never take our time.

Word’s spread about you via word-of-mouth - is that down to the live shows?

We’re an odd group. It’s not something you can just sell to people and be like, ‘This is it’. This isn’t a guitar band. It’s not something that’s straight down the line. With the shows, people get it quicker. They might like the music and like certain songs, but when you see the live show that’s what sells the group for what we are. We’ve always had the ability to get into music when it starts playing really quickly. That’s something the three of us have in common. Every night it’s new. We perform the songs differently every night. We’re honest as performers too. If we’re feeling tired or if we’re feeling energised, we express it. We can’t get on stage and pretend to be happy every night when we’re not. People seem to like it. If we’re not enjoying it, I don’t really feel that crowds would enjoy it.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen, whether everyone’s going to fuck up. It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff.”

— Graham ‘G’ Hastings, Young Fathers

What’s been the biggest test of you guys as performers this year? Festivals?

They’re difficult in the way that we just fucking get up, fuck off and that’s it. It’s not a typical pop concert where people come to see you and it’s a once in a lifetime experience. At festivals it’s you amongst other bands. It’s not the setting that you would choose but at the same time, you can win over a lot of people. Quickly. I kind of like the in and out thing where you don’t get a soundtrack and all that shit. You don’t know what’s going to happen, whether everyone’s going to fuck up. It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff. And we all enjoy that kind of thing because it makes you perform differently. Some of the best gigs we’ve had this year have been when you can hear nothing, when the sound’s all fucked up.

The Mercury Prize - you talk about enjoying recognition, a bigger audience. If you win this, it’ll be the biggest exposure imaginable at this stage.

That’s the only thing to take away from any kind of award, or when people are talking about you. We just want to perform. We’ll perform for those three and a half minutes and that’s it. No-one’s going to tell us anybody we don’t already know. So, we’ll take the performance and go for it.

Young Fathers are nominated for the Mercury Prize 2014 with their album 'DEAD', out now on Big Dada. The final winner will be announced at London Roundhouse on 29th October.

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