How Bob Dylan And Kendrick Lamar Influenced 19-Year-Old Northener Yungblud’s Explosive Debut

Doncaster local Dominic Harrison is a name you’re going to be hearing a whole lot more of. Since first releasing music a mere six months ago as Yungblud, the conversely old soul has drawn huge crowds with just a small handful of visceral cuts under his belt so far. From the ska-funk grooves in “King Charles”, to the poetically-layered lyricism in “I Love You, Will You Marry Me?”, and the abrasive hooks in “Tin Pan Boy”, Yungblud’s tracks are assertive and assured well beyond the singer-songwriter’s 19 years. The genre-traverser has just wrapped up some whirlwind shows across Europe and North America, and is set to embark on a larger European tour early next year.

Yungblud took time out the morning after his powerful live show debut in Sydney, to discuss his sudden justifyin ranks, confrontation and representation in his music, and his first encounter with Vegemite.

Yungblud: Yo, what’s going on?!

Best Before: Hey! How are you going? I was at your show last night – it was amazing!

Aw, sick! Thanks so much for coming.

It must be so weird hearing people sing along to your tracks here in Sydney.

It’s just mental! I keep saying this, but I’m gonna say it forever – to drop a song independently, and then to to have people singing along to it in Sydney five months later is just mind-blowing.

Things have moved so fast for you. Earlier this year, you played The Great Escape and Camden Rocks – you have really explosive tracks in your setlist but they still translate well from a festival stage to an intimate venue. How do you find different audiences are responding.

It’s been mental – everywhere, in different pockets. I remember going to a festival in Europe, when I’d just dropped “King Charles”, and we got put on this big tent, and I was like I don’t know how the hell this is going to translate when I’ve just got one song out. The kid before me, there was like five people in the tent. Poor kid. I was like, oh no! But I’m in Amsterdam, I’ll just do it. At least we’ve come, and we can have a laugh. The guitarist comes on behind the stage, five minutes before and says, “Hey, the tent’s full!” I’m was like, “WHAT?!” People were singing along in Europe, and then just to go across to America, where we had 60 kids in a room singing along in Seattle… and then to be in Sydney and have people singing along – I was like, what is going on?!

So crazy! I saw that you were actually in the US earlier this year on a songwriting trip. How long have you been writing music, and what was that experience like, to go overseas, and try it in a different place?

Do you know what? I’ve been writing music for a while – and when I was 16 I wanted to put my dreams in place to become a rock’n’roll star, but I kind of got into this dilemma where I would just write what I thought would get me on the radio – just another Bieber, or another Mendes, because that looked like what was working. After a year of trying that, I realised this is actually boring. This is not what I’m about, this is not what I’m interested in, what I grew up on, or what I’m influenced by. So I had a bit of a wake up call, and decided I wanted to do something different – put a pair of blinkers on and just write what I think. Right now, young people have been so overlooked and ignored – it got me angry. Politics right now is so relevant in the world, but I just couldn’t believe that no-one was writing about it in popular music, so I just thought this is what I’m going to try and do – bring real messages and real situations to pop music.

You’ve talked about issues around voting, and education funding in your spoken-word poem “Dear Parliament”, and then the misrepresentation of youth in “King Charles”, and similar stuff is happening here in Australia, and around the world. How do you think we can buckle the trend?

Right now, I’m just saying what I think. As a young collective, as a generation, we are so smart, we are clued-up, we are very clever, and we just need to vocalise what think, and what we believe. I’m just saying what I think – I’m not telling people what to think in my music. I don’t want to do that, because if I feel like I’m being preached at, I just shut my ears off. I’m not interested. I just want to say, you can say what you think. That’s when it’ll change. That’s when they can’t ignore us. Like what happened today, in Australia (postal vote results) – amazing news and a massive step forward. We know the future we want, we know the world we want to live in. The majority of us are intelligent people, and we know the way we want the world to go. Today is the perfect example of that. So, fucking yes!!

Australia is celebrating – it’s a great time to be here. So, you’ve talked about rock and hip hop sharing the same soul. I know you listen to Bob Dylan and The Clash, but also Kendrick. What do you take from their approach to lyrics, that you adapt in your own songwriting?

It’s actually such a sick comparison – I love that – Dylan and Kendrick, fucking yes! The thing about those two artists is that they are more than their music; their lyrics are individual in their own right. They say things and comment on culture instead of “Baby, get down” or “I love you so much I wanna shit myself”. Kendrick’s song “DNA” is like “hip hop has done more damage to young Americans to young Americans than racism.” I love that line – it’s a comment on culture, and that’s what’s so important. But musically, they’re so hooky and catchy that they almost trick you into listening to it nonsensically, and then figuring out what the song’s about. That’s so inspirational.

I didn’t know the backstory to your song “I Love You, Will You Marry Me?”, with the graffiti on the wall. What was it about that particular twisted love story that prompted you to immortalise it in a song.

It was just something that was very interesting. It was very close to home, and a story that had been touched on, but not been told in a creative way, and I just got this idea in my head, until it got to a point where it was like, “How can I not tell this story?” It’s about two young people who got completely screwed up by corporate companies, and corporate companies that took advantage of something as precious as love. That’s something that needed to be talked about, and I think it was a quirky story that hasn’t been told yet. I was very lucky to have stumbled upon it.

“Tin Pan Boy” talks about Denmark street and its venue closures – we’re seeing a similar thing happen in Sydney. Here, we’re finding people have to be more innovative with events and spaces, for example. What’s the music community in London doing to keep the scene alive?

There’s a society called Save Soho that I love, and have been talking to a lot. They’re trying to keep the fire alive. It’s so hard because these people are so powerful. That’s what I’m about – that’s why I wanted to write this song, to make people aware so people can get fucked up and dance about it, but it’s about something. I wanted to write something that makes you want to scream in peoples’ faces. I’m trying to save an area that I love.

I have to say, “Polygraph Eyes” was my favourite song you played in your set. It’s so on point with the conversation happening around the world, with sexual harassment. What’s the story behind that song?

That was a song that was a weird one, that was influenced by someone I knew when I was young. Going out and partying with friends, you kind of see this happening all the time, and it’s not just black and white. It’s not just having sex with someone without their consent, it’s looking at it and watching it and realising that going “Come on, just do it”, or conversations like that – that is sexual harassment, and it’s happening a lot. It’s something that needs to be stamped out. Again, we know the world we want to live in. That is not acceptable whatsoever. It’s kind of strange, when I stumbled upon the idea, because everyone was like, “Are you fucking mad?”, because the idea and the subject is so out there. I wanted to do it in a way, that it’s got this mental hook that draws you in, and then you listen to the lyrics, because they do mean something heavy and it’s an issue that I need to talk about, and that’s very relevant.

It’s crazy because it is, but this is the first time I’ve heard it in a song – it’s bizarre. It’s taken till 2017.

See, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m not here to beat around the bush. I’m sick of artists tip-toeing around the subject. Yes, the world’s so bad, but what are they doing about it? I’m an artist that’s here to step over the danger zone and try move the needle.

Your plans for the next year – you’ve got two new singles coming out and some more shows lined up. Do you have a gameplan for how to take it all on?

I’ve got so much music ready to go – that’s what exciting. I’ve been writing and writing a lot, and me and my team have found the record that I want to put out. Next year, the gameplan is to release loads of music, keep touring, keep fighting, keep interviewing, keep trying to get my message out there, because, as I say, I’ve got so much fire in my belly right now, and I just know exactly what I want to do. I’m ready – 2018, let’s have you!

Well, we’re excited to have you back! I know you wanted to have a schooner and try some Vegemite while you’re here. Have you had the chance to do that yet?

I can’t wait – hopefully I’ll be here April, next year. And yeah! I have! Vegemite and cheese on toast – you’re shitting me. What the fuck? And chicken salt?! You’re kidding me!

It’s disgusting!

Man, I totally and utterly disagree! I’m literally all about that shit! Why have I not discovered this?! I love it! I think vegemite and cheese on toast – I’m taking that to the death. I’m putting seven jars in my suitcase.

Hear Yungblud’s latest single “Tin Pan Boy” here: