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Years & Years interview (published in Metro, July 2015)

Years & Years

There are two historic shower scenes in pop culture: Janet Leigh meeting her untimely demise in Psycho, and Bobby Ewing making his unlikely resurrection in Dallas. The way things are going for Years & Years, the London dance-pop trio who topped the BBC's Sound Of 2015 poll in January, the singles charts with “King” in March and are set to make it a hat-trick with debut album Communion, those watery incidents will soon be joined by a third: the much-mythologised moment when they recruited their singer.

One bleary-eyed morning in 2010, Melbourne-born Mikey Goldsworthy was crashed out at a mate's house after a party, when he heard the effortlessly soulful voice of Olly Alexander emanating from the shower – it was, he seems to recall, “Killing Me Softly With His Song” - and knew he'd found the frontman for the synth project he was putting together with friend Emre Turkmen.

It's a story which has been told so often that the only way of improving it is by pressing them for further details. “What shower gel was I using?” Olly jokes, interviewing himself. “Tea Tree & Honey. And Head & Shoulders shampoo. And then I stepped out of the cubicle in a bath robe. It set the scene pretty well for the rest of our career...”

They're an odd bunch, in many ways, but the chemistry works. Mikey, 27, is the bearded, laid-back Australian, and the quietest. Emre, also 27, is the bespectacled pretty boy who grew up in Turkey, and previously worked as an architect, helping to design Brighton & Hove Albion's stadium. Olly, 24, is the open-hearted and lovable focus of attention. Their commitment to each other is shown by matching tattoos: Olly and Emre have a letter Y, and are currently trying to peer-pressure Mikey into having an ampersand to complete the set.

Olly had already experienced minor fame as an actor, in Channel 4's Skins as Cassie's stalker Jakob, and in big-screen Bullingdon parable The Riot Club, earning him just enough money to move from the Forest Of Dean to a windowless room in Brick Lane, his first foothold in the capital. His earliest low-level taste of showbiz glamour, however, came at funfairs, for reasons connected to his father's work. “Blackpool Pleasure Beach was formative. It might not be the shiniest theme park, but there's a strange freaky facade to those places, that seedy circus showmanship, and a melancholy behind it. And as a kid I loved going backstage. I always loved the drama of that.”

Y&Y's early releases were on independent labels, notably ever-hip French imprint Kitsune, but when that deal expired, and Polydor came knocking, the universe seemed to be showing them a path away from the underground and towards the mainstream. “There's a tendency,” says Emre, “to think everything is meticulously planned, but life is what happens what you're making other plans, to quote John Lennon.”

Their eyes were always on the prize of mainstream success. “We wanted to make music that lots of people would get to hear,” Olly explains, “and would sit within what we consider pop. We're not snobby towards pop. But I wanted to make pop that was authentic to us.”

Authenticity, in their case, meaning the music of their childhoods: the sort of Euro-bangers you'd find on a Now Dance '95 CD. “That's the music I was listening to and love to reference,” Olly confirms, “and you can see a similar trend with bands like Disclosure.”

The power of Olly's new-found stardom became apparent when he and his boyfriend, Neil Amin-Smith of Clean Bandit, posted a photo on Instagram urging Ireland to vote 'Yes' to equal marriage, and received over 27,000 likes. He's still learning to deal with becoming a de facto spokesperson on sexuality. “Because I'm gay, if I speak out about a gay issue, people listen to that. It's quite weird, and I didn't realise that would happen, but it's been quite a positive thing. I really care about social change, and if you want less homophobia and more gay rights in the world, you have to embody that change. So I feel like I'm helping that happen, but I'm not standing on a podium delivering rhetoric. I'm just trying to be part of something... better.”

Not that he believes that the battle is won. “Equal marriage doesn't equal equality. Legally in this country we have a lot of the same rights, we've introduced anti-discriminatory laws against racism and homophobia, but the reality is that we live in a world that is largely misogynist and so on. Legislation can change, but attitudes take longer. In 50 years' time it will be radically different from today. I don't see guys holding hands in the street that often. When I can hold hands with my boyfriend whenever I want, and feel totally normal, things will have really changed.”

A gay subtext isn't always obvious in Years & Years' lyrics, but it's there. “I don't write about it much,” says Olly, “but I put the male pronoun in a few of our songs, like 'Memo', and the word 'boy' in 'Real', because I thought it would be cool to have a guy singing about a guy. That's important.”

If anything about Communion will surprise people, they say, it's the album's unity and coherence. “There are no 'collabs', no 'features', no rappers,” says Mikey. “We wanted a body of work that is its own world,” Emre explains. “We didn't want anything to take you out of that. There's no 'Hey we're at the club and bitches be dancing'.”

And if Communion will prove anything? “That we have a range,” says Olly. “A brain?” queries Mikey, mishearing him. Emre brings it all together: “A brainge.”

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