If there’s just one story in music worthy of the Netflix biopic treatment, it’s the evolution of punk. From the brash and gaudy uprising of the Sex Pistols and Ramones to the right-wing’s worst nightmare of bands like NOFX, Against Me! and Anti-Flag, all the way to the modern-day rise of mosh-starved maniacs like PUP, Turnstile and Knocked Loose.
But just like the culture itself, punk as a genre has bounced around and bled into all different corners of the sonic spectrum – nowadays we have punk bands with violins, punk bands with horn sections, all-synth punk bands and solo punks that play acoustically. There is no one ‘type’ of punk sound out there – which is kind of the point, when you really think about it.
Capitalising on this is 23-year-old Yorkshire hellion Dominic Harrison, better known to his legion of teeth-cutting anti-fascist rascals as Yungblud. With his ultra-catchy hooks and head-turning aesthetic (both of which following just one rule: if it isn’t garishly over-the-top or sure to make conservative pundits on Twitter shit their dacks, it’s nowhere near good enough), Harrison has fast become an unlikely mainstream icon – a poster boy for edginess in a sea of safe-playing popstars.
With his second full-length effort – the bold and booming, plot-twist-heavy Weird! – Harrison wants to make it abundantly clear that he’s not here to make a hit, rack up millions or stuff his arms full of industry awards. If he has one ambition, it’s to start a revolution: one of defiant self-love and acceptance, of eschewing the status quo and embracing that no two people are the same – that conservatism in 2021 is simply embarrassing, binaries are meant to be smashed and conventions are meant to be challenged.
The new age of punk is here, and as Australian Guitar learns first-hand, Yungblud is ecstatic to be pioneering it.
What’s the vibe you wanted to capture on this absolute beast of an album?
This record is so much more emotional than the first one – it’s a lot bigger, a lot louder, a lot more dynamic. There’s a lot of Queen in there, y’know? I was listening to a f***ing lot of Queen. And I don’t know, my first album was so f***ing angry, y’know? I was this beautifully naïve, angry kid, who just felt misunderstood. I think a lot of people have loved me throughout my life, but they didn’t understand me – and I think there’s a massive difference between being loved and being understood. So the first album was a callout – is there anyone out there like me? And it turned out there were a lot of people out there like me! This next album is about those people – it’s about every kid from every continent, of every colour, shape and size, every personality and sexuality, that I’ve had the privilege to meet, and the way they’ve influenced my life.
I suppose that ties into the cover art, doesn’t it? All those dissonant versions of you, they represent…
Me! Every single one of us has seven different personalities at any given moment, y’know? We all have multiple different sides, we’re so three-dimensional, and these seven people make up who and what we are. I just wanted to radiate the idea that you can embrace that and you can be proud of that – be proud of every single shade of you and every different colour, and just rock out with them.
It’s interesting as a journo, because this record challenges everything I’ve learned about the music industry. Usually in the case of an artist like yourself, you’ll have the first record be what it is, and then following the trajectory you’ve been on, LP2 will be very radio-friendly, playing it all as safe as possible. But you’ve gone in the complete opposite direction – this album is punkier, edgier, more guitar-heavy… Was that something you had to fight for?
100 percent. So many people were pushing me to do this f***ing Tik Tok rap, and I was like, “…F*** off!” Yungblud isn’t a f***ing hit machine. There’s so much music with an agenda right now – so much music with a f***ing motive. I wanted to write music not for a motive, but for a reason. Because all I give a shit about is my fanbase. And I love that you were honest with me about how this album f***s with you as a journalist, because that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I want to break the rules – that’s the fun bit. When I have something to kick against, I’m at my best. I’ve got hits that didn’t make it onto this record, which could have been international smashes – but they weren’t telling the truth.
Why, by some f***ing miracle, have I gotten this far? It’s because of my my fanbase and my community – they know I’m telling the truth to them, and I ain’t gonna leave them behind. All I give a shit about is growing this little club, person by person – I’m never going to go, “Alright, cool, it’s time for a f***ing hit on the radio now.” Because by doing that, I’d lose my credibility – I’d lose my connection to my fans. And f*** that! I remember Grammy week, some geezer comes up to me wearing a f***ing canapé on his blazer – you know exactly what kind of dickhead I’m taking about – and he’s like, “What’s the formula, man?” And I’m like, “…What?” He’s like, “How do you do it? What’s the formula to your success?” As if this isn’t a real f***ing thing – that I’m just playing some f***ing character! My formula is to tell the f***ing truth, mate!
I love that you’re doing what you’re doing as someone who’s managed to crack the mainstream, because you’re really challenging the ill-established – often conservative – notion of what’s “acceptable” for a Top 40 artist. Do you feel like you have the power to spark a revolution in the pop sphere?
At the end of the day, I would love to. I think there’s a revolution going on in our generation anyway. There’s a revolution going on in sexuality and gender. There’s a revolution going on in racial equality. There’s a revolution going on in environmentalism. We might as well be talking about all that in our music, right, instead of hiding behind our f***ing Mercedes and a bottle of champagne. It’s like what I was saying about how there’s so much music with an agenda right now – we want to sever the head off the f***ing agenda, and keep it in our fridge.
Annihilate the binary!
F*** yeah, man! At the end of the day, I have three things I ask myself before I put a song out: Is it telling the truth? Could anybody else sing it? And do I f***ing mean it? And if I answer those three questions correctly, I’ll put it out. And now I have an album of those songs. I think it’s going to stick with people for a long time. Because that’s the thing: music does have such a shelf life right now. It’s done and then it’s gone – nobody actually goes, “Yeah man, I’m going to put this album on for the next five years.” And with guitar music right now, you really need to push the boundaries – rock music sounds different to the way it did last time, in the way that it sounded different to the way it did before last time, and the way before last time’s last time.
I find that trends in rock music tend to be cyclical, but every cycle comes with its own innovations.
That’s exactly it – it’s always cyclical, and it always comes from inspiration and a place we’ve been before – because obviously, as a musician, you’ve been inspired by something that already exists. But it’s never quite the same, right? And that’s what I’m buzzing about – I want to do something different and naughty and spicy; something new!