Immediately after the debut album (Dead) from Scotland's Young Fathers won the prestigious Mercury Prize, the group took off for Berlin to record a vastly different sophomore album.
Blending hip-hop with a varied soundscape that brings in everything from drum 'n' bass to punk and psychedelic rock, Young Fathers began after 'G' Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi, and Kayus Bankole met as teens in a basement dance club in Edinburgh.
"When we were on tour last year in America, the idea for getting back into the studio and recording again was bubbling in our heads," Bankole says. "Close to the end of the tour, we sat down in a café, and it was a general consensus we all knew in our heads we wanted to make something concise and with less words and simpler, not dumbed down, but more direct."
The prize-winning debut's follow-up, Dead, White Men Are Black Men Too (released April 7), moves away from hip-hop into more experimental territory.
"As far as being boxed in, we've had to deal with that," he says. "We don't want to be trapped into one particular genre. For us, we don't give a fuck about hip-hop. We don't give a fuck about indie music. We just do us."
The band labors to keep things free-flowing in the studio, letting go of expectations and worries that a song might not be cool enough or something people won't get.
"We just do what feels right and don't think about those things. For us, being fearless is something that we all have when it comes down to recording. There's no formula, no set way on how songs are made. We don't do the same thing over and over again," Bankole says. "We have ideas in abundance. The hard part for us is withering it down to the core, to the bit that sticks. Mainly the thing is capturing the moments, that raw, that first initial feeling of a song."
In the early days of Young Fathers, Bankole says the band was young and impressionable, but listened to so much music and so many different styles that no influence in particular showed up too strongly in the music. And even as their peers were digging heavier dance music or aggressive battle-rap, Young Fathers embraced pop music as well.
"Being young we just wanted to express ourselves. We wanted to do something that felt real for us," he says. "When we first started, we loved hooks, we loved melodies, we loved distortion, we loved bass. We loved everything that gives you that rumbling feeling in your stomach. It was something that we bonded over."
The album title White Men Are Black Men Too comes from a line in Massaquoi's rap during "Old Rock n Roll," and it's a phrase that stuck in the band's head throughout the recording.
"That line is just perfect, especially when you listen in the context of the song, it stands for unity," Bankole says.
"There are a lot of differences in the world and there's nothing wrong with us wanting it to be equal," he says. "With that statement, it's metaphorical. We understand there are a lot of different shades, and it's important for people to not shy away from the topic of race, not shy away from the topic of religion, not shy away from the topic of gender. The best way to do that is to give them the opportunity to even just say the words. It's just opening a discussion with a lot of people. For us, it's a powerful statement to have with the album. That's the type of people we are."
As far as that Mercury Prize, Bankole says things were ticking along nicely for the band anyway, but Young Fathers looked at the nomination was a way to showcase what they can do, performing "Get Up" at the awards ceremony.
"The Mercury Prize itself opened people's eyes and ears. We can't deny that more people have now been paying attention," Bankole says. "When we took the platform, the most important thing to us whether we won or lost was to perform so people could see a band like us actually exists.
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