Foto-© Stephen Roe

Ein paar Jahre ist es nun her, seit wir die Young Fathers in Berlin zum Gespräch trafen. 2018 war das. Die Band hinterlässt Eindruck, mit ihrer unvergleichlichen Musik und einzigartigen Visualisierungen, der furchtlos wirkenden Bühnenpräsenz und humanistischen Reflektion unserer Welt. Im letzten Interview nahm Kayus Bankole die beobachtende Rolle ein, schien ruhig und konzentriert den Austausch zu verfolgen, um in Schlüsselmomenten unaufdringlich, aber kraftvoll und überzeugt seine Gedanken zu teilen. Nun steht Cocoa Sugar’s Nachfolger Heavy Heavy in den Startlöchern. Diesmal sprachen wir online, einzig mit Kayus, der philosophisch wie damals, seine Sicht der Dinge erläuterte:

It’s a real joy to connect with you again. We met and spoke in Berlin in 2018 just before your previous record Cocoa Sugar was released. And I’m curious to hear about your experiences in the past four rather whirlwind type years.
You’re telling me… Four years is a super long time, especially for a band who is extremely prolific. We were used to being in that circle where you record and then tour, record and then tour, record in between touring and then tour again. Having that gap of four years, I don’t know if it was necessary, well it’s all in hindsight now… For the other two guys I think it was important to have a break and to live life outside the music bubble that you get yourself into. Pay attention more to family, pay attention more to relationships and, you know, dwelling in the mundane a little bit and just simple things like being around for weddings and or taking your little nephew or niece to school.

Can you describe the feeling you’re striving for when you create?
When you’re engulfed with something that you care about, you kind of lose sight of it. If you care about your art, there’s nothing more important. Not to the extent of actually dying for your art, but you’re risking all for it, to express yourself in a way. Because nothing around you really does feel free. The closest I’ve ever got to freedom was being in the studio with the guys.

During that break, where everyone was living individual lifes, I couldn’t stop. I was addicted to being around things moving, especially when the world was saying otherwise. Everything around us was telling us to stop. Everything around us was telling us to be apart from each other. I was like fuck this; I’m going to Africa. I’m going to be around things that are constantly moving. I don’t have to be the person who is orchestrating stuff or be the one who creates, I just want to be in an environment where things are just happening and the sense of community still exists. And once you’re away from something and you come back to it, it gives you a whole different perspective on how special it actually was. Everyone has their own special thing, right? For us, we’re just holding onto what makes us special and we create an environment where you encourage individuality but still find a way of bringing all together into the studio.

I have so many follow up questions to all of this!
Sorry, it’s the familiar face. There’s so much to catch up on!

When we last spoke, you explained that ‘making the album [Cocoa Sugar] was a conscious effort be more precise. To get to the essence of what the group is and to discard all that fluff’. What kind of approach did you take with Heavy Heavy?
We all have individual experiences about the process of recording Cocoa Sugar. I didn’t enjoy it as much because I felt contained. I’m a wild individual and I don’t really like perimeters around myself. But saying that I didn’t like it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good for me. It was a good process to go through to be able to fine tune your craft. With this new record, we took everything to the max, to the maximalist, to the extreme, and so what I was saying before, about cutting through the fluff, we’ve done that times 100. But we’ve done it in a different way, where we understand what is necessary.

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And what is it, that’s necessary?
Listening to the record, you can feel that it’s a lot more dense. You can feel that there’s a lot more layer, and there’s a lot more vocals in unison. There’s a lot more sporadic moments. There’s a lot more intricacies in the instrumentation as well. The moment I realised this maximalist approach worked was when we started stripping away some of the instrumentation. The most intricate parts that you wouldn’t really notice are there. We took that out, thinking that it wouldn’t really change the song. But that little rattling of the keys – we used our keys to do a little bit of percussion – felt so significant. All these layers felt so necessary. So we’ve cut the fluff, but we have more to play with.

What space are you finding yourselves in when you’re recording? What’s important for you in the sense of the physical space you’re in; how does that influence your music?
With the last record I experimented and tried my hardest to be in touch with my deepest, most feminine side. This record is more to do with the sense of being a part and being happy to be reunited with my fellow brothers. To be able to let all those demons out and figure out what comes out from it after. And be in a space where everything is at hand. We had the studio set up with everything completely on, everything was plugged in to the computer. The mic was constantly on, so if you had this murmur or you’re humming away to yourself with a half formed idea, we would capture it. We’d capture the essence of that moment as much as we could; and it’s that instantaneous nature that I’m addicted to. I love spontaneity and I feel like that was encouraged in this record more than the last.

Foto-© Jordan Hemingway
Foto-© Jordan Hemingway

Isn’t that just fascinating – you’re describing stripping it back to basics and choosing a really simple setup in a simple space – how embracing that simplicity, and focusing on all the little details like the rattling keys, creates something so inherently powerful?
Because you can’t… you can’t really quantify what it is, that makes it so significant, into the track. Maybe it’s the intention and the purpose? I think we operate in a space of necessity, that even stems from how we’re living at the moment. This is not a joke to us, we take this extremely seriously and we operate with a lot of care. If we weren’t doing this, we’ll have to get another job.

I was having a conversation not too long ago and trying to rattle in my head living in a world where there’s a lot of noise and working in an industry that is extremely fickle and based upon a lot of validation. How do you get people to care? That was the main question that was playing in my head. And then it just clicked on me that people only care when you care. And it just simplified that whole process and that whole philosophical conundrum. We have always been operating from a place of care. We care about the playlist and how the song orders are. We want to create a beautiful dynamic where the song that comes before and the song that comes after complements it and heightens it and makes it have a bigger impact. There’s friction and you can feel like you’re part of the journey. Sorry, I lost track of the question now..

Ah don’t worry, it’s just beautiful to listen to your thoughts. It reminded me of the genre question you get asked all the time and the rationalistic labelling of things… It’s nearly like, actually, we don’t need any of that. We just need something that comes from the heart, that’s truthful and that’s just there and it just exists because it needs to be out there. And it allows people to take whatever they need to take at that moment.
Yeah, 100%. And you know, Graham calls it genre bingo. Because they’ve called us everything under the sun. They’ve called us pop band, they’ve called us rap group or alternative indie or whatever the case may be. We used to feel that it was important that if you are going to give us a label, give us the one that does us justice. Don’t do all this labelling based upon us being a multi-ethnic band. We don’t fit in the urban radio, we don’t fit in the pop radio because we’re not pop enough or not urban enough. But you know what, we have all of that in abundance so now I feel like just give us all the names. Give us all the names. We’ll take it and we’ll use it and we will inject a bit of difference. And you’ll see that it’s okay to exist in a world of your own.

Last time we spoke you’ve explained that ‘making music is like a conversation, like a give and take back and forth that helps propel each phase of the group’. You just said you’re glad to be back with your brothers – which phase do you feel like you’re in now?
Appreciation phase. I think I’m in the phase of understanding and developing. It’s a hard thing to completely have confidence in yourself. My confidence is illuminated – not in solitude, but when I’m with the boys. Because there’s a sense of encouragement there to try. This phase is a lot to do with just appreciation.

You’ve been in this band for so many years. In the musical or creative sense, what is it that draws you back to each other, that motivates you to create another album?
Knowing that whatever we have and whatever we share, we can’t get that shit anywhere. There’s nowhere in this world, and there’s stuff that I say with a bit of shyness but this I say with extreme confidence, that there’s no way in hell that these three very strong, idealistic individuals would exist in the same era together. Furthermore, even be able to allow their differences to shine and still come together in something that feels cohesive. Like I said to you earlier, I’m not precious about creativity. I don’t feel like I have to do something or personally create all the great stuff in the world. No, I like being present. I like being around that, I want people to just do. Even if I’m a spectator or an audience member. I just love things shifting; shifting the paradigm of the weird and beautiful, messed up dangerous world we live in. To hopefully eventually get to a good place.

For the three of us, the song is paramount. We have our differences and we argue, but the love for creating something special or creating something. Just something that falls between the cracks, something that exposes a level of difference that can be celebrated. We all share the ideology that the song is paramount so we can leave our egos outside the door. We can exchange lyrics amongst each other and if someone else can sing it better, let them sing it better because it will make it a better song at the end of the day. We push each other to the edge. Like in Holy Moly, what’s the story when you go beyond the edge? I want to see what it’s like when your toes are crawling and making this claw shape on the edge of the Cliff in that moment where you are about to take the leap. The uncomfortability of that is the impetus to spark something that’s amazing.

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In a world that often feels infiltrated with conflict, the thought of the three of you being so different, but able to overcome those differences for a bigger purpose…
If the paramount, the most important thing within the band is the song. What if the reign supreme outside the world is care for each other no matter your differences? You still have that root thing that keeps you together where you can have disputes. You can have all this conflict, but with care being the core, you can still come together and make something beautiful. I think this record is our way of rebelling what was and is going on in the world. This record is like overdosing in humanity. And has a feel of togetherness.

The filmmaker you worked with for the I Saw video, David Uzochukwu, explained that the video is revolving around a fictional community. A community that touch, heal, and dance with each other while the intensity in their connections at the same time evoke a feeling of danger. I’m aware that this is a huge question, but what role does music play in bringing us closer together?
Through the years, the two guys have always strongly believed that music can change the world. And I’m slowly coming around to that myself. They will say that there are songs that kind of embody the zeitgeist and invoke the sense of rejoice and joy in a time of sadness. There are songs that call to arms, where people will rage against the machine. It’s a tough question.

Apologies for throwing it at you as the last one.
Alright, let me try to answer the question more precisely and not be vague or go off on a tangent. Please can you ask me the question again?

I think I picked up on the I Saw video because of the communal aspect that creates togetherness but can also provoke a scary feeling to those who are not used to it. And wondered what role music can play in creating community.
What’s making me come around to that idea more is having conversations with people like yourself or meeting people after shows and talking about life experiences. There was a point where we were in America, I think we were in Texas. A woman came up and said to us that one of our songs, War, helped her during the time her father was out in combat. The funny thing is, I never saw that song as a literal song about war. In my head it was more about how love is a battlefield. And how relationships feels like war sometimes, you know, talk about the bull and the chain. Hearing people’s interpretation of the songs and what it means to them and to me. All of it is circumstantial. All of it is by happenstance and some of it just comes in the right time. I never really understood country music, and it’s probably one of my favourite kinds of music. But it made sense to me when we were on tour and we were driving on these wide open roads in America, seeing the terrains of deserts and the vastness of the country. And then hearing these country songs, they finally made sense to me.

To simply answer the question is that when it comes to our live shows, the diversity of people that I see is amazing. You normally go to shows and there’s a dress code and everyone wears the same thing and has the same haircut and has the same swagger about them. All of that does not exist at our show. There’s young, there’s old, there’s no dress code. You can’t spot out someone who listens to our music in the crowd. It’s just a beautiful amalgamation of different people coming together to move or to feel something from the show. And that to me is a testament of how togetherness can be achieved.

Young Fathers Tour:
17.02.23 Köln, Essigfabrik
18.02.23 Berlin, Astra Kulturhaus
19.02.23 Hamburg, Mojo

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Sophia Kahlenberg

Sophia, 29. Fotografin. Dann kam das Schreiben. Verspürt starkes Herzklopfen beim Wort ‚Australien‘. Aber Berlin ist auch ok.

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