- 06 Jan 21
Punk icon Yungblud is about to go stratospheric with his barnstorming second album, Weird. He talks about reflecting the strange tenor of the times, personal turmoil, attending Black Lives Matter protests, writing about sex and drugs – and why Dave Grohl has described him as the future of rock and roll. Live photography: Miguel Ruiz
A bona fide cult hero to Gen Z punks, 23-year-old Dominic Harrison – aka Yungblud – is set to ascend to another level with his sophomore outing Weird, a blistering collection of emo-tinged alt-rock. Yungblud looks every inch the youthful tearaway when Hot Press catches up with him over Zoom, with the singer sporting his familiar look of spiky hair, lock-chain necklace and Korn t-shirt.
Sometimes, though, even rebels without a cause have to move house.
“I’m moving into my new place in London here,” explains Yungblud in his strong Yorkshire tones. “I’m surrounded by boxes! It’s a bit weird but it’s alright. Like, it’s stressful as fuck, but I think once you tour the world and put out an album, you can deal with stress like that. (Laughs) Really, the moving in is fucking easy!”
Weird is certainly an appropriate album title for these unprecedentedly strange times. How has 2020 been for Yungblud so far?
“It’s been a fucking mental year,” he acknowledges. “I’m not gonna pretty that up. But I’ve felt so connected to my fanbase, and I always work well when I’ve got something to kick against. My whole fuckin’ life, when I’ve got something to kick against – that’s when I thrive. And I’ve had a fuckin’ lot to kick against in 2020.
“With this album, I really wanted to express the idea that just because we can’t talk to each other right now, it doesn’t mean we can’t feel each other. People were saying to me, ‘Alright, Dom, I think we should push the album back, because these are unprecedented times.’ And I was like, no, fuck that. My fanbase has been waiting for this record. It’s been the craziest year ever, and I wanted to write an album that said, ‘Forget about the pandemic.’ I wanted to make something for the weirdest years of our lives.”
The title also references the tumultuous time Yungblud experienced following the release of his 2018 debut, 21st Century Liability, which earned him an intensely devoted army of fans. Sudden fame and a series of personal crises took their toll, and the singer wanted to reflect that chaotic period on Weird.
“The past 18 months were the craziest time imaginable,” nods Dominic. “It was like a fucking movie. I nearly lost me mum in a car accident, and we blew up really quickly – so quickly, I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ There were people outside the hotel, there was people outside my house, do you know what I mean? At the airport, there’s a fuckin’ camera following you around.
“I fell in love and that was all over the internet. Then I went through a break-up and it was the same thing. We were on tour and it was just insane – I still felt depressed even though I’d got everything I wanted. It was like, ‘Everything just feels fucking weird.’”
Ultimately, the animating spark for Weird arrived following Yungblud’s triumphant show at Brixton Academy.
“When we played that gig,” he reflects, “I remembered that two years earlier, I was sharing a two-bedroom flat with a couple of guys from my band. We had a bucket for the damp and there were fucking live wires exposed all over the place. If we touched those, we were dead as fuck. Adam, the guitar player, lived in the living room, which was also the kitchen.
“We’d watch videos of the Foo Fighters and Kasabian playing Brixton Academy and we’d think, ‘If we could just get there, it’ll all be alright.’ Fast forward two years and there I am, onstage at Brixton Academy. Amidst the chaos, I just feel this silence in my head. I almost grew up two years in 20 minutes.
“But the sheer sense of community was amazing. When you come to a Yungblud show, there’s no single. It’s not like, ‘Oh, this song is big on radio.’ It’s more like, this is the fucking experience of your life. And I couldn’t sleep. Like, who fucking sleeps after Brixton Academy? So at about half-four in the morning, I wrote the lyrics to the song ‘Weird’: ‘I’ve got Jesus on my mind / Don’t wreck your brain, it’s gonna be alright / What a weird time of life’”.
For Dominic, the song crystallised the concept for the album: it would explore where his generation was at socially, culturally and psychologically.
“I knew it was gonna be a very fucking British album about the weirdest years of our lives,” he notes, “in terms of sex, drugs, identity, love, heartbreak, depression, anxiety. It’s literally gonna be a series of Skins within an album. That moment was the catalyst.”
Yungblud also shares his generation’s desire for social change. Earlier this year, along with his ex-girlfriend, pop superstar Halsey, he attended a series of Stateside Black Lives Matter protests. Remarkably, both had prepared to be medics in advance, with first-aid kits, to provide emergency assistance to protestors shot by “non-lethal” rubber bullets. Subsequently, Halsey thanked Yungblud on Twitter for running “exposed in front of rounds being shot to drag wounded people to safety without even thinking twice.
“Obviously it was very scary, cos it’s a real fuckin’ thing,” says Yungblud, “but it was also incredible. Because it was insane to see the amount of people coming out from all different walks of life, risking their health for what is right. This is why I have such faith in my generation, because we are defiant and don’t want to be divided. We want to defy the oppression and the hate.
“We can smell the bullshit a mile away. Everyone was there for simply what was right. The black community are not seen as equal, and we’re not gonna fuckin’ stop fighting until that stigma is a distant memory in the history books.”
A good start, of course, was Joe Biden giving Donald Trump the boot from the White House – Trump’s pathetic ongoing attempts to cling to power notwithstanding. Yungblud was ecstatic with Biden’s victory, posting a clip to social media of himself with his top off, running around and cheering.
“That was a big fat fuckin’ step in the right direction,” he enthuses. “Dude, I’m speaking to a lot of young people right now. They’re excited that America did that, and that the vote was swayed by young people and the black community. It inspires people – they’re hitting me up from Poland, the UK, Ireland saying, ‘We have a voice in our next election. If the young people in America did it, we can do it.’ Everyone’s going, ‘Oh fuck, if we vote, things change.’”
Getting back to matters musical, Yungblud enjoyed another landmark moment during the MTV Europe VMAs in November. Before his spectacular performance – which saw him descend from the roof of the Camden Roundhouse, wearing angel wings, to perform ‘Cotton Candy’ and ‘Strawberry Lipstick’ – he received a glowing introduction from no less than Dave Grohl, who said, “You’re about to see why I think rock and roll is not dead. Ladies and gentlemen, the unstoppable force – Yungblud!”
“I love MTV and I’m very grateful, but fuck the award!” laughs Dominic. “For Dave Grohl to say that he believes rock and roll ain’t dead right now because of what we’re doing, it nearly made me fuckin’ cry man. That guy is literally the reason I picked up a guitar. All I gotta do now is meet Mr fucking S from School Of Rock; have dinner with the fuckin’ Gallaghers when they’re talking again; and sit down with Johnny Rotten, and tell him to stop being a fucking twat and supporting Trump. And then rock and roll history is made – we’re sorted!”
Had you he Grohl before?
“I’d met him at festivals, but I know what people are like; at festivals you sometimes have to be a bit polite or whatever. But for him to say that was ridiculous, crazy.”
What were the Foo Fighters songs that made him pick up a guitar?
“I remember seeing the video for ‘The Pretender’ when I was really young,” says Dominic. “My dad took me to see them at the iTunes festival in the Roundhouse, and when I got to see that song live, it just completely fucking redefined how I wanted to do music. The custom-made Gibson Dave plays; the band; Taylor slapping the fucking drums and hitting them so wildly… it was insane.
“Of course, I’d also see the live clips and watch Sonic Highways and shit. And then remembering he was in fucking Nirvana was just mindblowing to me.”
Did you get into Nirvana as well?
“Yeah, absolutely. Nirvana amplified my aggression in music, that’s why I love them.”
Apart from the music, Yungblud also has a very strong visual identity, with the likes of Johnny Rotten and Keith Flint a clear inspiration to his look. Were there any other big influences in that regard?
“Definitely Vivienne Westwood man, I’m obsessed with her,” he raves. “I’m also obsessed with Kurt, The Clash, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, David Bowie. And yeah, definitely Keith Flint and the Pistols. People forget about Steve Jones when they think about the Sex Pistols, but I loved his look. I think Steve Jones was the glue that held that band together.
“Sid was obviously the fucking reckless punk, heart-throb and lost spirit. Rotten was the intelligent, almost Richard III, Hunchback Of Notre Dame figure. And Cook was a fucking rock star in his fuzzy jumpers. But I love Steve Jones man – he was like a cowboy.”
It’s amazing how influential the dystopian sci-fi aspect of Westwood’s punk aesthetic continues to be. Indeed, one of the most iconic movie characters of the 21st century, Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, drew considerable visual inspiration from ’70s punk, with Cobain-style grunge chic also in the mix.
“It’s just about freedom, that’s what punk represents,” says Yungblud. “Punk ain’t just safety pins and people bashing the shit out of their instruments. Rosa Parks was a fucking punk: ‘Fuck you, white man, I’m not gonna fucking stand up for you. It’s not right.’ That’s punk.”
As well as the grittier textures, there is also a notable pop sensibility to Youngblud’s output.
“I love melodies, man,” he shrugs. “That’s what I think makes people stick around. I could be really fucking indie and cool and whatever, but I’m not bothered about that. It’s so funny, indie bands will slag me off, but I don’t give a fuck – I wanna play stadiums. I want the milkman to whistle my songs, and I want to write about truth. I want to write about the stuff people don’t want to think or talk about – but they’ve got to, because it gets stuck in their fucking head!”
Hopefully if we have a successful vaccine rollout over the next year and things go to plan, we’ll be able to see Yungblud live before too long.
“We just announced the 3Arena in Dublin for next November,” says Dominic. “We played Vicar Street last time. The gig’s only been on-sale for a week and it’s already halfway sold out – it’s brilliant.”
• Weird is out now on Polydor. Yungblud plays 3Arena, Dublin on November 20, 2021.