As he answered his phone from the backseat of an LA cab en route to the airport, Olly Alexander, frontman and vocalist of chart-topping band Years & Years, sounded quite enamoured with life right now. But having just spent what he tells me was a “really quite glamorous” week in the land of the tanned, toned and beautiful, who wouldn’t be?
It’s nice to imagine that during our phone call he was being driven down a wide, sunny boulevard under clear blue skies with towering margins of palm trees rising skywards on either side. Who – but for Alexander and his driver – will ever really know for sure what exactly was on the other side of that window? Leaving the ‘golden state’ behind them, he and fellow bandmates Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Türkmen were heading to New York Pride to play the first gig of a run of major summer shows. From the end of June, Years & Years will be stopping off at various points on the European festival circuit, including appearances at Volt Festival in Hungary, Gibraltar Calling and Benicàssim on the Mediterranean coast of sunny Spain.
With new music looming on the horizon, this year was supposed to be a quiet one for Years & Years – that was, until certain opportunities began to arise. “We were just meant to be finishing our album and not doing many shows, but then somehow it’s ended up that we’re pretty busy again. But that makes me happy,” he tells me. He continues, “It’s really fun to do the shows, and I’m really excited for the support from people who are hopefully still happy to hear us.” If there is one statement to sum up the unassumingly grounded frontman – that would be it. Setting this aside, Alexander clearly possesses bucket-loads of talent, which, paired with an endearingly fizzy personality, means audience reception needn’t be of any concern to him. Harry Kossier, frontman of fellow indie-poppers Peace, has even claimed Alexander possesses “one of the best male voices that [he’s] ever heard in the flesh.”
Having successfully conquered the charts in 2015 with singles [King] and [Shine], released on their debut album [Communion], Years & Years were sat comfortably in the Official Charts Top 40 for over a year – with more than two years spent within the top 75. Then, as if that wasn’t impressive enough for a debut, [Communion] has now gone on to sell over a million copies worldwide. Despite now boasting a summer of at least eleven shows over the next couple of months, Alexander, turning the conversation towards new music, tells me his number one priority is still “finishing the album and putting new music out. It’s just the last few songs now really, and we’re getting there. It just needs to get finished. Get the album out, tour it, do it all again.”
He then reveals that thanks to the trio being that little bit older and that little bit more experienced, the as yet untitled second album promises to sound both new but fundamentally Years & Years as we know and recognise them at the same time. “I think the new music does sound different. It sounds like Years & Years, but it also sounds like it’s moved on somewhat. I think for us it would be a bit frustrating to do the same thing that we did first time round, but at the same time it’s kind of like – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, he did reveal that one song from the upcoming album will feature a superstar collaboration with American singer-songwriter John Grant.
Since completing a tour with Ellie Goulding in 2016, as well as their own headline dates (including Wembley Arena), Years & Years have maintained a noticeably lower profile than their breakthrough year – only one single has been released since. This came in the form of [Meteorite], which was written for the [Bridget Jones’s Baby] soundtrack. Of writing the song, he says “I just imagined that I had the perspective of Bridget.”
Aside from this, Alexander became part of the indie supergroup Band for Refugees in support of the Help Refugees charity, with friend Ellie Roswell from Wolf Alice. “This [Band for Refugees] was a really amazing thing to be a part of. It’s all bound up in a kind of punk spirit,” he tells me. “I feel like there’s always some new huge news story or disaster or terrible tragedy, and I think it’s easy to forget that there’s still a refugee crisis.”
It is worth noting that this is not the only cause Alexander has championed, and in fact actually comes second to the Pride movement. He has been openly outspoken about sexuality and mental health for a long time, putting himself forward as a prominent advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. This is actually one of the driving forces behind what he has dubbed as the band’s ‘Pride Tour’ which, following New York, headed to Toronto before crossing the Atlantic for an exclusive UK show at Brighton Pride this August.
“I think that Pride is a really important event for LGBTQ+ people and to be a part of. It is really exciting, but also quite humbling,” he says. “I used to go to Pride when I was younger – I just never imagined that I’d be up there playing for everyone. It kind of blows my mind. We just really want to put on a show for people, you know? See you in Brighton!”
Catch Years & Years performing alongside Pet Shop Boys, Fickle Friends, Jocelyn Brown and more at the Pride Summer of Love festival on Sat 5 Aug in Preston Park.
By Kieran Graves