In Conversation: Yungblud
There’s a compelling hint of the burlesque about Yungblud, the kohl-eyed Yorkshire rocker whose generation-defining EP 'Hope For The Underrated Youth' comes out this week.
Go on, have a quick flick through his social media; the man could pull daft sexy faces for England, and if your first impression is that he looks a bit like Billie-Joe from Greenday after a dip in the fountain of eternal youth, well, that’s fair.
Man alive though, the geezer can write a tune. Steeped in classic rock (his grandpa toured with T-Rex, and he was reared on Beatles and The Clash) Yungblud – real name Dominic Harrison – has a craftsman’s knack for a pop hook, skilfully interweaving hip-hop rhythms and punk vocal licks with a balls-out anthemic sensibility.
He’s also woke. Extremely. The subject matter of his songs run the right-on gamut from mental health to #metoo and gun violence, and it’s perhaps for this reason his career is going from strength to strength, on a zeitgeisty updraft of disaffected online youth.
We caught up with him by phone, on tour in the US…
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Things certainly seem to be popping off for you right now.
It’s insane mate. We were in Houston last night. Couldn’t even leave the venue. Kids banging on our car windows. It’s been like that everywhere on this tour – kids camped outside venues at 5am, the morning of the show. Fucking mad.
Why does your stuff speak to so many kids, do you think?
I grew up in Doncaster, feeling like I never belonged anywhere. All I ever wanted with Yungblud is to build a community, to create somewhere where people feel like they belong.
It’s not about having hit records, it’s about the mutual thing I have with my fans. It’s like therapy. Looking into each others eyes, me from the stage and them in the crowd, simultaneously thinking ‘you saved my life.’
Any difference in the reactions between different countries?
No, and that’s the craziest thing. Young people today are the most international generation ever. People don’t care if you’re from Holland or Houston – we’re on the same side, and the state of the world is our priority.
Like, I was playing a show in Texas the other night and we did ‘Machine Gun (Fuck the NRA)’. It was so fucking funny, the security guards at the front, all redneck as fuck, shaking their heads, and the kids loving it.
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Your songs tend to have themes, and take on big subjects and politics. Is that part of the appeal do you think?
If you asked a young person five years ago if they cared about politics, they’d say they didn’t give a fuck. We don’t have that luxury any more. The world’s telling us 'sit down and shut up', look at Greta Thunburg – fucking love that girl. I’m out here, night after night, in the trenches. There’s an army of us ready to rise up and fight for an equal, liberal world. We’re here to make noise and make a change, not to be polite about it.
But even though the themes are serious, you don’t act serious.
You’ve got to do it with humour, it’s the only way. Make it approachable and fun. I really want to combat the big problems from a place of love and unity – but at the same time people don’t come out to a gig wanting a lecture.
Do you go back to Doncaster much? How are you received there?
I was home a fortnight ago and I saw a Pride flag. That never used to happen.
Why call yourself Yungblud, and not, say, Dominic Harrison?
I did try it that way, at first. I moved to London to go to art school, in my teens. To be honest, the people there were as bad as the teachers back home, or worse. They told me what to do, like a paint by numbers. I wanted to sing about politics then, but nobody wanted to know. And when you’re that age, if a big A&R man tells you to flutter your eyelashes like Shawn Mendes, well, you flutter your fucking eyelashes like Shawn Mendes.
Anyway, sick of all that I holed myself up in a west London flat. I call that ‘the month’ – I did nothing but scribble and write and listen to Arctic Monkeys and Eminem. Bit of Busta Rhymes. I drew my stage outfit, wrote a bunch of songs, came up with the logo – everything down to my pink socks came out of that time.
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Your fans style themselves the Black Heart Club – what’s that about?
I have two black heart tattoos on my fingers. I did a post about it, the next day 70 people got matching tatts. They’re like an army, there’s 35,000 of them now. That’s what my new EP is about, with the artwork an everything – playing with that idea of my fans as an army, fighting for a fairer world.
The fans are 50% of what makes Yungblud, by the way. It hasn't been just about me for a long time. It’s me and them, together as a community.
You’re really good at social media – but as somebody who writes a lot about depression and insecurity, what do you think about the toxicity of online discourse?
I love social media. It gives us all a platform, like never before. Nobody can be squished anymore, anybody can do anything. There are downsides, like life. People aren't gonna like you, people are gonna hate you. And to be honest, if every fucker likes you, you’re just a Hoxton Bar & Kitchen singer-songwriter.
I want to be divisive, I want to create a debate, and make people think. My fans let me do that. The secret, like real life, is to find the right people. Build a community around yourself, who will allow you be who you want to be, look how you want to look, love who you want to love.
So you’d never block anybody?
If I don’t like what someone’s saying, I want to be able to see it, so I can combat it. And if I do like it then I’ll embrace it. I think that’s the whole point of it. I don’t want to block myself from seeing information, because then I’m limiting where my imagination can go and I’m ultimately just limiting myself. So no.
You’re not afraid of a fight.
At the end of the day, I am trying to tell people what to think. I’m full of contradictions, me. I’m human, and I embrace that. I’m not always going to be right, but I want to empower people to speak their truth. To help kids like me, when I was back in Donny and I wouldn’t dare leave the house with my nails painted, wearing a dress.
Right on. Final question – as a Beatles fan, are you a John or a Paul guy?
John. He had more bollocks.
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Words: Andy Hill
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