Entertainment & Arts

BBC Sound Of 2015: Years & Years interview

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Media captionYears & Years talk about their creative process and the excitement of the last year

BBC Sound Of 2015 winners Years & Years play infectious electro-pop that is dancefloor-ready but also has a deeper, darker dimension.

Frontman Olly Alexander's soulful vocals and angsty lyrics are accompanied by pulsating synths and keyboards from his bandmates Emre Turkmen, from Turkey, and Mikey Goldsworthy, from Australia.

Olly (who is "sort of from Wales", he says), has given up a promising acting career to focus on the band.

He appeared alongside Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in the West End and in films including The Riot Club and God Help The Girl.

But he is now channelling his innocent charm and natural performing talent into Years & Years.

Emre and Mikey met after Mikey advertised to find bandmates online. Olly, who was a friend of a friend, was recruited after Mikey heard him sing in the shower.

Image caption Years & Years: 'It feels like there should be more authentic acts in mainstream music'

What were your musical awakenings?

Olly: My mum listened to stuff like Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos, but she also listened to a lot of '80s stuff like Heart. I still quite like Heart.

The first artist I really loved was Stevie Wonder. That opened the doors to other soul singers like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.

Mikey: What got me into bass was Santana's bass player. Radiohead changed my mind a lot about music and really shaped what I'm like now.

Emre: The first time I got freaked out by music was when my mum gave me a tape with The Beatles on. I was in Turkey and I heard She Loves You. I must have been about seven.

I took the tape machine and went to my balcony. My friend used to live in the next building and I played it to him over the balcony.

Did you have jobs before joining the band?

Emre: I studied architecture and I was working in an office, which funded our first video.

Did you design anything?

Emre: I worked on the stadium of Brighton and Hove Albion, the new one. That was the last thing I worked on.

Image copyright Dan Wooller/Rex Features
Image caption Alexander (left) appeared in the 2013 West End play Peter and Alice with Dame Judi Dench, Ruby Bentall and Ben Whishaw. Whishaw later appeared in the video for the band's song Real
Image copyright Moviestore Collection/Rex Features
Image caption Alexander (left) joined Douglas Booth, Sam Claflin and Max Irons in the 2014 film The Riot Club

What is the best description you have heard of your music?

Olly: I like "soulful electronic pop"... what was it?

Emre: Electro-soul-pop.

Olly: Yeah. And another one was "mournful dancefloor pop", or something.

What are your songs about?

Olly: Some of them were written after a relationship broke down and I felt really rejected. They're rejection songs.

A lot of them had to do with a painful experience. That's just how I access whatever inspiration - whether that's feelings of inadequacy or not feeling good enough for someone or whatever.

I've kept a diary since I was 13 and you always write in your diary when you're feeling a bit [down]. It's kind of the same thing with songwriting. I've always written a song when I'd had to get something out. But they're not exclusively depressing.

Image copyright Polydor
Image caption Frontman Olly Alexander says he feels 'much more comfortable making music than I did as an actor'

What are you trying to achieve musically?

Emre: We just want to make really good music that we're proud of and that people will like or love and do it in a way that isn't contrived at all.

Olly: We all love making music and it feels like there should be more authentic acts in mainstream music and we'd like to be one of those.

What do you mean by authentic?

Olly: Now, to be a mainstream act, you have to be firing on all cylinders on so many different platforms. You've got to have a social media voice. You've got to do promo on TV. You've got to tour everywhere.

You've got to write your own music and perform well and all along be consistent with what you set out to do in the beginning, which was have your own unique voice. That's really difficult and it becomes quite easy, especially when momentum builds, to drop the ball a little bit.

Image caption The group supported BBC Sound of 2014 winner Sam Smith on tour last year

Olly, you're both a singer and an actor. Have you always been a show-off?

Olly: Probably. I'm trying to figure out why I have this insatiable need for attention.

How do you juggle singing and acting?

Olly: I decided to stop acting last year, so I haven't done anything for over 12 months. Films take so long to come out, so people think I'm still doing both.

I didn't want to do both. I might do it again one day, but I've always wanted to make music and I feel much more comfortable making music than I did as an actor.

Why choose music over acting?

Olly: I get to do my own thing with music. I get to write the songs and sing the songs. As an actor, you have to do what someone else tells you to do and say someone else's words. And you're limited by the way you look and music is just more rewarding creatively for me.

Does part of you not think, 'I could have been a Hollywood star?'

Olly: I just don't think that ever would have happened. I really don't.

What do you make of being number one on the Sound of 2015 list?

Olly: I can't really get my head around it. I nearly passed out when we found out. It was all so surreal and so emotional.

What do you think it will do for your careers?

Olly: I think it means we've got a real shot. People are going to listen to what we're going to do, and we've just got to not muck it up. We've got to make the most of it and deliver.

You toured with Sam Smith - did he give you advice on how to deal with hype?

Mikey: I saw him give advice on X Factor.

Olly: He said: "Make sure you surround yourself with people you trust and like, and never do something you don't want to do." That's X Factor advice.

Mikey: It works for most things.

Where do you see yourselves in five years time?

Emre: The Priory? A judge on The Voice? I don't know. I don't like thinking that far ahead. I'm very British in that way, it's very presumptuous. It's a very British thing to be wary of success.

BBC Sound of 2015 - the rest of the top five

2. James Bay - emotive singer-songwriter. Read the full interview and watch the session videos

3. Stormzy - unsigned grime artist. Interview and videos

4. Raury - Atlanta R&B prodigy. Interview & videos

5. George the Poet - socially conscious spoken word. Interview and videos

Discover all 15 artists on the longlist

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