Young Fathers on winning the Mercury prize

This year’s prizewinners refused to crack a smile at the ceremony, but they’re more than happy about the recognition – and now they’re off to Berlin to make a totally different album

Hello Young Fathers! Congratulations on your album Dead winning the Mercury music prize – where’s the award going?

Graham “G” Hastings: “It’s going home, to my mum’s. [Fondles spike on the award] It looks quite dangerous actually (1) … it’s definitely more dangerous than the nominees award.

What are your plans on spending the £20,000 prize money?

Hastings: “Honestly, none of us had said shit about it. All we’ve been doing is focusing on our trip to Berlin to record the next album. A lot of great albums have been made there – Bowie’s Low, Lou Reed – but the main reason we’re going is because we made Dead in Edinburgh in a basement with no fucking windows! It’s stuffy in there. And we never want to make the same record twice, so we needed to push ourselves and do it somewhere different.

How is your German?

Alloysious Massaquoi: I was quite good at school, actually. I should have stuck at it, but then puberty kicks in and you want to play football, sports, meet girls … you can’t concentrate on stuff like German. But I think there’s an app Kayus [Bankole] has on his phone to learn a language so I’ll download that and pick more of it up.

When you spoke to the Guardian earlier this year, you credited the underage hip-hop night where you met as being key to your musical development.

Kayus Bankole: The sound system that night was amazing … it blew our heads off! An introduction to bass and we loved it, it was tasty. But now you have places with fucking limiters, saying you have to turn stuff down … what the fuck is that about?

Hastings: Edinburgh council are really fucking bad. They shut down anything if you try to make noise. I’ve been in studios where these guys come with meters and tell you to get out. It’s a city for tourists and rich, middle-class people, it’s not made for people to be creative.

Dead is a very eclectic album – what were the key influences?

Bankole: We’re sponges, we soak everything up.

Massaquoi: There’s lots of stuff our mothers and fathers listened to: for me, that’s classic soul stuff, African music, stuff they brought from Liberia and Ghana. And there’s opera music, Enya …


Massaquoi: Mate, there was so much!

Low by Young Fathers

Given that journalists struggled to describe Dead, can you help us out and tell us what the next record might sound like?

Massaquoi: Even we don’t know! The way we record is to just go in and see what happens – and make sure you have a song done by the end of the day.

Hastings: We’re not the sort of band to be like: “Right, let’s go and make a hit record boys.” We grew up with people around us telling us that shit (2) and we realised that the important thing is to just go with your gut. None of us want to repeat ourselves. Sometimes that can be annoying – we can’t even do the same take twice! But that’s how we are – we get bored quickly.

Are you hoping to sample the legendary Berlin nightlife when you get there?

Massaquoi: Yeah, we want to immerse ourselves in the city.

What are you like recording with hangovers?

Hastings: To be honest, none of us are big drinkers. When we go into the studio we’re normally quite sober. But there are no rules. Maybe this time we’ll all get rat-arsed. I doubt it though – we’re all fucking lightweights.

In the press conference after you won, a lot of journalists were confused about why you weren’t looking happier (3) …

Massaquoi: There are these expectations that they need you to be smiling, jumping around … a happy-to-be-here kind of vibe. But we deserve to be here. We’ve worked hard to think outside the box constantly to create new stuff.

It was pretty funny when the photographers kept saying: “Give us a smile!”

Massaquoi: It’s just like, “Why?” You don’t want to smile every day. There’s a time and a place for that. Straight-faced: it works.

Do too many bands get forced into acting certain ways?

Massaquoi: Yeah, there’s this overwhelming human need to be liked. People can get overwhelmed by occasions like this.

You seem disdainful of this kind of event, yet you’re here. Do you feel conflicted?

Massaquoi: We understand that it’s part and parcel of the whole thing. We want people to hear our music, so it would be stupid not to come here.

Red carpets, photoshoots, meals with the industry … do you feel like outsiders?

Hastings: Not really. The food was all right, actually. I didn’t even ken what it was, some onion jam thing (4). But all we really wanted from tonight was to perform – get on the TV and give it our all. It wasn’t about winning or losing, we hadn’t even talked about that. To win is the icing on the cake. But awards and stuff like that – they’re not telling us anything that we don’t already know.

Finally, can we get a Guardian Young Fathers exclusive – can you give us a smile?

Massaquoi: You haven’t got a camera, so of course! [Produces beaming grin]


(1) You could, quite literally, have someone’s eye out with it (2) Before self-releasing their Tape One and Tape Two EPs, Young Fathers’ career was stalled by some pretty awful music industry advice (3) Among the excellent questions from the press conference: “Will winning the Mercury prize change the way you write music?” (4) Looking at the menu, we think it was “red onion marmalade”. Although it could have been “micro-celery”, whatever that is.


Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

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