A Frank Conversation with Years & Years Frontman Olly Alexander

Years & Years are rising fast in the pop world, with a slew of hits and the BBC’s coveted “Sound of 2015” poll under their belts. (Previous “Sound of” winners include Sam Smith, Haim and Ellie Goulding.) The band’s newfound fame owes much to Olly Alexander, Years & Years’ charismatic if a little too youthful frontman, who croons over bandmates Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen’s synthpop productions with emotive force and intensely intimate lyrics. The band played a raucous show full of dancing, sing-a-longs and, of course, Alexander’s stirring vocals at U Street Music Hall on March 29. The Downtowner had a chance to catch up with Alexander backstage after the show to discuss his childhood, dysfunctional relationships and what it’s like to be a gay musician in the post-Sam Smith era.

Q: When did you start singing? Were you into it as a kid?
Olly Alexander: My mom says I was always singing as a toddler. Just talking and screaming with this horrible voice she said. Then, as a teenager I always wanted to be a singer.

Q: The story goes that Mikey heard you singing in the shower when you’d both slept over at a mutual friend’s after a party and then asked you to join the band. Was that all set up by you to get into the band?
[Laughs] Yeah, it was like my audition. If you’re looking to make it into a band and maybe someone in it stayed overnight, I’d recommend doing that.

Q: It seems like all your songs are about dysfunctional relationships. Is that coming from personal experience or is that just how you think pop music should be?
That comes from experience, you know. I just have had a lot of dysfunctional relationships, Peter. I’ve really gone from one to another to another. I’ve been stuck in a cycle of being addicted to rejection in some fucked up way and always choosing someone who is going to reject me. But, I’m in a less dysfunctional relationship now. I’d say it’s relatively functional.

Q: In “Memo”, you sing and write from a gay perspective about romance and heartbreak between two men.
I’m definitely writing from that perspective. There’s a choice when you write a song with how you talk about someone else. I watched Joni Mitchell do this interview where she said songwriting became easier when she started writing about “you and me.”

Q: I would think that writing and singing about some other experience that isn’t your own would be hard.
Yeah, that would suck. I wouldn’t know how to do it.

Q: So are you going to pull a Sam Smith and have a big interview to come out, or will you just let people listen to your songs to figure it out?
This has only been a thing recently. I’ve done a few interviews and been like “I’m gay and I’m singing about my boyfriends.” I guess for a lot of people you need to say something before they’re really accepting of it.

Q: Do you think you being gay might disappoint the female fans fawning over you?
There are a lot of gay artists with a lot of young female fans who love them just as much after they’ve come out.

Q: You guys have swag. What influences your style?
Emre doesn’t care about what he wears; we have to dress him. Mikey is into dapper clothing and printed button-up shirts and like Alexander McQueen and fashion label stuff. I dress like I’m a teenager in the 90s or like a 90s west coast hip-hop rapper or something. We are each our own individual Spice Girl.

Q: [Laughs] You’re like retro Sporty Spice and Mikey is like Posh?
Yeah, exactly. Mikey is absolutely posh.

Q: So what’s Emre?
I don’t know what he is. Emre is more like Scary [Spice].

Years & Years’ debut album “Communion” comes out on June 22 on Polydor Records.

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