It’s been three years now since the release of Years & Years‘ debut album, Communion, in 2015. Since then, the three-piece band have been working on their upcoming album, Palo Santo, complete with a sci-fi inspired world of androids and humans. I sat down with Emre Türkmen to talk about the eagerly awaited second album, Eurovision, and Bitcoins.
Your second album, Palo Santo, is released 6th July.
Yeah! According to the press release it is!
I guess – well you can’t believe the press, but yes, I think it is.
How are you feeling about it?
Good, good – I mean, it’s good to get it out, it feels like it’s been forever. We’ve got a brand new show and everything, it’s crazy cool, and just want to start taking it out on the road and see what people think.
It’s been a long time since your last album in 2015. Has it been nice to just have a few years to write and record music?
Yeah! Communion came out 2015, but it wasn’t like the album came out and we went home. We had been touring for close to a year – generally supporting people – then the album came out and we toured solidly for another two years, and that was crazy. It was great but by the end we were exhausted. So it wasn’t like we were just hanging around making tunes for three years, but it was good to finally stop and be able to concentrate on not touring, and now it’s sort of fun because we get to have a pick of more songs to play live and we can have a longer show. It was good, but by the time we finished we were ready to be finished.
There was a trailer that was released with Olly Alexander, and Dame Judi Dench narrating. Did you guys get to meet her?
Have I met Judi Dench? I don’t think I’ve met Judi Dench, no – she was at home and I think Olly went with someone and recorded the whole thing in her living room. She’s got really bad eyesight so I think Olly was, as far as I can remember, holding the text for her. You know when someone turns the pages for you when you’re playing piano? It was a bit like that, but no I didn’t get to meet Judi Dench. I think we will at some point.
I think you should!
Yeah, I think I should too. She deserves it!
Where did the inspiration for Palo Santo come from? The videos that have been released so far are bizarre – from what I understand it’s this distant planet?
Yes, exactly. It comes from Olly’s mind mainly, but we’re all into sci-fi, we’re all into that genre. The three of us always bonded over David Lynch and Zelda, and The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood and all that sort of stuff. It just felt like it would be a cool thing to create an entire alternate narrative and set everything in that. It reminds me a bit of Sergeant Pepper – that’s not what was in anyone’s mind when we did it, but the idea is sort of quite meta isn’t it? A band within their own world. And then the idea was that each video can be its own thing but also relate back to an overarching theme and maybe a narrative arc. But mainly, it’s fun to do. If you can you should, right? That’s the motto.
Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale? What are your thoughts on it?
I have actually, yeah. I haven’t seen the last one because I haven’t had a chance to, we were in Belgium, but I’m going to watch it when I get home at some point. It’s now the second season and I didn’t realise – I haven’t read the book but it’s now sort of past the book so they’re kind of in uncharted territory. I think Margaret Atwood isn’t writing [on the show]but she’s kind of advising, which is kind of cool. I have no idea what’s going to happen.
It’s definitely a lot darker than the first series if that’s even possible.
Do you think? I’m usually good at spotting what’s going to happen in a show, and in fact it gets to a point where it’s quite boring, but this one does sort of pull the rug from underneath you, which is great.
I’ve had to pause it at quite a few points because I’ve been so shocked at what’s happened. It’s a little too apt sometimes in terms of how women are treated, and it’s a little too easy to see how it could happen.
It is, yeah, I know what you mean. Especially given that – I mean it’s got nothing to do with this but today I’ve just read that Trump’s pulled out of the human rights accord, the Geneva convention, which is mental isn’t it?
The news about him reads like satire.
Yeah, except satire’s funny, and this isn’t funny anymore. But it is true, I think you’re right in that you can see how it’s like a snowball effect and all of a sudden it seems as if you can say “oh well it’s sort of normal now!”.
It’s kind of scary how at first he was treated like a joke.
If you look at a lot of the people like that [Trump] in history, they do look like jokes until it’s no longer funny, and then it becomes a nightmare.
Do you want your music to be quite political?
Well the words are Olly’s and so on, and I really am not one for mixing politics and preaching and stuff with music, and neither is Olly either. But just by the sheer fact that he is a young gay man writing about gay love, sex, life, and all that stuff, it in itself becomes politicised simply because of the nature of it. But it’s not intended as any sort of political statement, it’s just very personal songwriting. I don’t go for politics songs, I don’t think that ever works for me, but everything is political, everything you do is political, from what you wear, to what you eat, to what programmes you watch. So in that sense yes, you can’t even avoid it, but no, we’re not trying to make music to preach. I’m very much personally allergic to sanctimony and all that sort of stuff, you know?
How does a song go from something that Olly has created and written on his own to something that all three of you feel to be a Years & Years song?
It doesn’t always! There’s a lot more people on this album, but usually if its a song that the three of us make, as it were, then it can go a few ways. On Communion it was usually [that]Olly would either have a full song, or he would have a demo, and then he would send it to me and i would make music along to it, or I would have a piece of music that I would send to him and he would write to that, but in this album it was a bit different. We were a bit more of an indie band to begin with, we’re a bit more of a pop thing now, so there’s a lot of songs written with lots of different people in lots of different places. Hopefully it still sounds like us, I mean you can be the judge to that! But we didn’t go at this with any preconceived notion of what it should sound like – in fact, I think it kind of sounds a bit like genre to us is dead. I sort of see this album as a pick and mix, like each song is quite different to the other one, like ‘Sanctify’ is worlds away from ‘If You’re Over Me’. It just happens very alchemical if that’s a word? It’s not a word, just say it’s a word!
You live tweeted Eurovision this year, I saw.
Oh shit! What did I say?
You were a big fan of Moldova, which I was glad to see. We were big fans here at The Edge, and at Surge too. Would you ever like Years and Years to be submitted for Eurovision?
Eurovision? In a heartbeat! Yes! I would absolutely love to. The thing is, I know we’d get nowhere because, speaking of politics, Eurovision is essentially now just a political contest, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the songs anyway. Just take the first half of the programme as pure enjoyment and the second half as pantomime you know? But yes I would love to do Eurovision, I think that’s where we’re at anyway now.
As I grow older, I love it in a slightly different, more tongue-in-cheek way, but when I was a kid, me and my brother and my mum used to stay up to watch Eurovision, and then we used to do our own voting between the three of us. We used to write it down in pencil and then score people and see who came the closest. So I grew up with Eurovision, but when you’re a kid you just take it at face value, as you grow older there’s more irony to it all.
I was in Sweden for their semi-final, to choose the Swedish entry, and I’d never seen anything like that before, it was like X-Factor! My Scandinavian friends get sick of me talking about the politics of Eurovision – they insist it’s just about the music, but everyone hates us!
God bless! Yeah, they don’t quite have the cynicism we have here, for better and for worse. I think there’s good things about our cynicism here on this little island but there are also bad things about it – I think somewhere in the middle is best. But Scandinavians, as far as I’m concerned, [are]pound for pound [the]best pop songwriters on the continent, frankly. The Swedish entry was great, I didn’t like the guy, but the tune was pretty groovy. I thought that deserved to do better
Sigrid, and Alma, and Tove Styrke –
All the way back to The Cardigans and ABBA!
I also wanted to ask about your Cryptocurrency?
Oh yes! What about it?
Why and also how did this come about?
Why and also how? Why: because if you’re gonna build your own world it’s gonna need some currency right? You need money. And how: there’ll be some boffins in a room somewhere, some art history graduate girls, PR girls, and some geeky guys somewhere coming up with how to make it happen. But for us, we love video games, and when you play video games like Zelda and stuff, it’s its own world down to the most funny little details that kind of make it, so that’s what we wanted to do.
What is the Palo Santo ID Card? Is that literally an identification card for the world?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t really know if it’s going to translate into the real world, I don’t know if we’ve made it that far, we’re kind of doing it as we go along. But you’ll probably find out soon enough, I would say, let’s put it that way.
I really love that attention to detail – you haven’t just made this bizarre new world, you’ve made your own currency!
Yeah, why not? I mean bitcoin is just made up, I mean everything’s made up, so you can just make up whatever you want, as long as you can get enough people to agree.
I don’t know how bitcoin’s doing now. Our old monitor engineer, Harry, got some bitcoin and it skyrocketed, and he managed to buy himself a property and a piece of land in Portugal before it pummelled again. So he doesn’t have much more money left out of it but he managed to make quite a lot of money out of it, bless him.
This kind of thing goes beyond me – it’s like witchcraft as far as I’m concerned. It’s money, but not enough people agree that it’s money. I’m reading this book right now [Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow] that essentially explains that everything we agree on, it’s just stories; the European Union, money, banks. You get enough people to agree on this fiction and you make it real, right? So if everyone in the world one day went: “bitcoin is real money, let’s use that!”, then bitcoin would not be this weird thing everyone laughs at. So it is what you make of it; Palo Santo is real!
If enough people say it is then it is, which is kind of scary with The Handmaid’s Tale – if you take it to that direction then it can get quite scary.
So final question, why should people listen to Palo Santo and why should they come see you on tour?
They should listen because it’s really great pop music and it’s from the heart, and they should come and see us because we’ve got a crazy new live set show with all sorts of crazy things happening to bring the world of Palo Santo to life.
Palo Santo will be available via Polydor from July 6th. For information on Years & Years’ tour, see their website.