Young Fathers on “Cocoa Sugar”

Making Their Own Rules

Jun 11, 2018 Photography by Rob Walbers Issue #63 - Courtney Barnett
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Kayus Bankole, one third of the Mercury Prize winning Scottish band Young Fathers, is on the phone from the studio in Edinburgh where the reception is, in his own words, "pretty shite." But he's battling through to talk about the trio's third album, Cocoa Sugar.     

Having debuted the Mercury winning Dead in 2014, and White Men Are Black Men Too in 2015, not to mention two EPs, Tape One in 2011 and Scottish Album of the Year winner Tape Two in 2013, a new release is not uncharted territory. If he's nervous, Bankole doesn't let on. "You create something, you put it out there, and you hope people enjoy it."

The three-year gap between albums is their longest so far. Which is not to say this trio that came together in 2008 after Bankole and schoolmate Alloysious Massaquoi met Graham 'G' Hastings at an Edinburgh youth club has been doing nothing in the intervening period. They recorded an original song for the T2: Trainspotting soundtrack last year, and have been busy venturing into the art world, most recently contributing to a live soundtrack for an evening of short films inspired by the work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

None of this is a surprise given how hard it is to describe their music. Bankole doesn't even bother. "For me personally I've given up. We go through stages where we're pop, which is not to say we are, but it's a way to describe ourselves. Some people say we're a rap band. If you want to call us rap that's fine. Everyone has their own reality. That's something I'm coming to terms with."

Pop and rap are only two of a long list applied to them. Bankole thinks this combining of genres is on the rise. "It's not as weird as it might have seemed 10 years ago. The gaps between genres are closing in so much. A lot of musicians are feeling liberated to break out of traditional chains."

They've also been called experimental, which is true when it comes to their ever-evolving sound. Cocoa Sugar is sparser than earlier work, with more ambiguous lyrics. "We're always changing, even within albums. No one track sounds like the next," says Bankole.     

What the new record does have in common is a more linear sound. "We wanted to create something, for lack of a better word, more normalized." For Bankole this meant, "I had to be more precise and controlled with the delivery," which isn't how he likes to work. "Once I'm in the studio I just want to be free. I want everything to come out uncleaned, unmeasured. I didn't like the process of making this album because it meant I had to be more strict with myself. I didn't enjoy that as much but at the end of the day, what does it matter?"

While the music narrowed in, the lyrical content went the other way. For a band that has been defiantly political, refusing to speak to rightwing press outlets in the past, the ambiguity is interesting.

"The world is shite, we get it. We are aware of all these things and the music tries to feel it, but it's not wagging a finger saying 'don't do this, don't do that.'" Bankole doesn't want Young Fathers to be thinking for the audience. "It's up to you to make your own opinion as to what it means to you individually."

After all, the last thing he wants to do is turn prescriptive. "There's no wrong or right way to express yourself." Or as he also puts it, "there are no fucking rules man."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.young-fathers.com

 

 

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