Olly Alexander has been on the periphery of fame for a while. When he was 18, he left the countryside of Wales and moved to London. In no time, he started racking up the acting credits. He appeared on “Skins,” one of the most watched teen dramas in the UK. He starred as Peter Pan, alongside Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench, in the West End play Peter and Alice. And, most recently, he held the leading in Stuart Murdoch's film, God Help the Girl, which took home several awards at Sundance. But Olly doesn't want to talk about that. Instead, he's here to talk about his band. And while he can obviously act, he can really, really sing. The guy's voice is so falsetto, it's tough to tell whether he's even a guy. (When I was playing the band's latest release, a moody cover of "Breathe" by Blu Cantrell, my mom commented how nice "her" voice is. Needless to say, he has no trouble hitting those high notes.) Years & Years' debut album is still a year away, but for now, we'll be listening to the intoxicating single, "Take Shelter," on repeat. That, and lamenting the downfall of Blu Cantrell.
How did you meet Emre and Mikey?
Olly: Well, I really wanted to be in a band again. I'd been in bands when I was younger, but I moved to London when I was 18 and hadn't done any music for awhile. I met this guy, Mikey, who was in a band, and I was like, 'Please let me be in your band. I want to be in a band again!' But he wasn't that into it. So the story goes, there was a party at his house and I stayed over, and he heard me singing in the shower the next morning. He was like, 'You have a good voice! You can be in the band.' Your first song, "I Wish I Knew," is great, but it's very different than your most recent single. How has your sound evolved?
"I Wish I Knew" was written when I was 19, and now I'm 24. It feels natural that the music would change as you grow up. You never want to stay still as a musician. You always want to explore and discover more. When we started, we didn't know what we were doing. We were just friends picking up instruments. The music was so different when we started. It's taken us a long time to figure out what our sound is. But I think that kind of thing take time. I'm suspicious of acts that meet and two months later are signed. You don't have a foundation, and you don't know who you are.
You've also spent some time acting, pretty successfully. Has music always been what you ultimately wanted to pursue?
It's always been the dream. When I was nine, we moved into a new house. Before we wallpapered it, we wrote our names and ages and what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote, 'My name is Olly and I want to be a singer.'
How old were you when you were in your first band?
When I was in secondary school, so 14 or 15, I was in a band with my friends George and Georgina, just the three of us singing with a guitar. It was just a cover band, and we'd to do TLC, Destiny's Child, and Hanson. We sang "Mmmbop." Please tell me I can find these on YouTube.
No! Speaking of covers, your version of "Breathe" by Blu Cantrell is amazing. Have you always been into R&B?
Yes! Oh my god, yes. I loved that music so much growing up. For awhile, I went through a big singer-songwriter phase, and I liked a
lot of intelligent music, like Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley. But I always, always loved R&B. The reason I wanted to sing was because I wanted to sound like an R&B singer. And the "Breathe" song is so good!
I had to convince the other two that it'd be cool. It's one of those songs that everybody loves but that people have forgotten a bit.
Yes! I had completely forgotten about it. What a great one-hit wonder.
I know! But actually she had one other really good song called "Hit 'Em Up Style." [sings] "Hey ladies, want to go back and hit 'em up style." Now we know what your next cover will be.
I tried to find her on Twitter so I could be like, "Hey Blu, check out my song!" But she's just not around these days. Who influences you the most right now, musically speaking?
I go through phases in my life where I'm hungry for new music and I'm bored of listening to the stuff I'd been listening to. My friend
played me some weird DJ, and I hadn't realized how into electronic music I was. So I started listening to a lot of that stuff. House,
DJs, dance—that sound has influenced the band a lot. But I will always be influenced by good songs. I always go back to songs I think are really beautiful, like "A Case of You" by Joni Mitchell. When can we expect the album?
That's a good question. I think it'll be done by the end of the year and it will come out early-ish next year.
How would you describe the sound of the album as it's coming together?
Thematically, a lot of the songs I've written—at least 6 or 8—are breakup songs. It's going to be a whiny breakup album. I'm most
creative when I'm feeling a bit shit and lonely. I use music as therapy. A lot of the songs come from painful rejection [laughs].
I shouldn't be laughing.
No you should! Because if you're not laughing, you're crying. Everyone can relate because everyone's had their heart broken. it's a cliché
but it's a cliché for a reason.
Are you acting while you're working on this album, or are you taking a break from that?
I don't know how anyone would have time to do both, and I wouldn't want to, actually. I got to a point where I felt creatively
frustrated. I had some amazing experiences acting, but I just want to do my own thing. Acting's such an intense industry, and I'm getting so much out of this. That's not to say I'm done with acting. I'd still like to be in an amazing movie one day. Did you record any new music for the Stuart Murdoch movie?
I did a few songs. In that movie, I don't really sing much. I'm hilariously a guitar player. I don't play guitar, but in the magic of the movies, I'm great. But yeah we recorded a few tracks that I'm singing on, which is so cool! That movie was amazing. Were you a big fan of Belle & Sebastian growing up?
When I was a teenager, I had some friends who were super into Belle & Sebastian. I remember hearing "I'm A Cuckoo" for the first time at a party, and it was like, 'Oh my god, this song's so cool!'
What was it like to work with Stuart?
It was so cool. He's such a legend.
Casey Lewis is on a mission to track down Blu Cantrell. She's on Twitter - @caseymlewis.
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