Yungblud Wants His Music to Last Forever

Yungblud Wants His Music to Last Forever

Yungblud's mind is like a pinwheel in a hyper child's hand on a windy day. If you ask him, he may say he is the child.

As someone who has interviewed artists in various states, whether it be on Zoom or backstage at a sold out show or in hotel restaurants, it's easy to tell when they're "on" or not. It appears that Yungblud is greeting me from the comfort of a massive couch in a hotel lobby or an airport terminal, and he's teeming with energy. His thick English accent warbles in his mouth, but I hear one thing loud and clear:

"I'm on fucking cloud NINE, man."

The 25-year-old alternative rocker wears the scrappy working-class ethos of his north England upbringing with pride, reminiscent of the bright-eyed youth of the early U.K. punk scene. His toothy smile greets me on Zoom with a light in his eyes in the midst of a grueling tour schedule that has seen him across North America at record stores and festivals. His charm is undeniable and one minute with him will make it clear why he's such a polarizing figure in music.

Born Dominic Harrison, the brash, loud, opinionated musician wrestles with the "punk" label placed upon him. While punk is more than just a style of music, he pushes back against the gatekeepers, opting to refer to his music as just a part of the larger Yungblud ecosystem. He speaks with an infectious passion as he talks about his fans. From an outcast to a superstar, Harrison never bowed to the whims of popularity and algorithms. When people attempt to question his authenticity, he gestures to the army of fans that give him all the validation he needs.

From where I stood during his high-energy Riot Fest performance in Chicago this past September, hordes of teary-eyed kids clung to his every word. Yungblud snarled and grinned, kicked and screamed. Anything in his path was fair game to be trampled. Hints of neon pink socks, his trademark accessory, peek through the small gaps of the crowd. It was clear that Yungblud is a movement and Harrison is its charismatic leader. The only rule is to love.

In a bleak world, the simple and naive ethos of Yungblud is as important as ever. Harrison recognizes that "love rules all" may be a cliché, but he's gotten to the top of the world without ever abandoning that pillar of his artistry and character. Punk is more than an aesthetic, it's a state of mind. Yungblud doesn't care what you think, but he urges you to give him an honest chance.

For the new album, you did a record store tour. How was that?

Eighteen shows in four days is pretty wild. We had like two shows in nine cities every day. The thing about it is each store only holds about 500 people so they sold out so quick, so we put a second show up in each city. It was just fucking amazing! It felt old school like when you watch the Stones or Nirvana or Oasis or The Strokes or... even Gaga in the early days. Everyone was doing signings and in-stores when their record came out.

That sounds intense, but also fun. Obviously, it’s rarer to have that intimate record store experience now since there are not many left.

Dude, that was it! It’s all about fighting a game that’s playing against you, you know what I mean? At least for alternative rock and roll artists. I liked going out and supporting independent family-owned record shops. That’s cool as fuck. For me, everything is getting so much bigger than I ever imagined. I always wanted to do shit like that and obviously while I love playing arenas, I still want to play to 150 people in Long Island.

You are one of the only people who express their love for Long Island. I’m glad it’s getting love on tour stops, since everyone goes into the city.

I fucking love it, man. I think that's what Yungblud represents: opportunity for everyone who wouldn’t normally have it, you know? God, I will be at Long Island or fucking Syracuse and fucking Boise till the day I die.

I find it interesting you love Long Island considering some of my favorite bands like Glassjaw and Taking Back Sunday are from there. Much of the foundation of post-hardcore and emo music was built in these small cities, probably because of how bleak suburbia could be at times.

It's literally the whole fucking foundation of the British music industry, especially in the North. Go look at bands like Arctic Monkeys and Oasis and me! We write such miserable music because it's always raining.

I’m unfamiliar with what it’s like across the pond.

It’s crazy and very harsh. It's fucking tarmac, rain, cigarettes and a massive sense of community. I think it shapes us. There’s beauty in the dirt in the north of England where I'm from, and it does shine through in the record. There isn't a lot of room for bullshit. People will call you out. I think that's what's wanted in my music. I always wanted to tell the truth because you get called out.

But if you're in Los Angeles or New York at an industry dinner, they’re blatantly talking shit. Everyone's not going to say anything. In the north [of England], someone’s gonna say something to you. I’m proud of that.

Sounds about right. What was that culture shock like coming to America when your career started taking off?

The shows are fucking nuts. I love America because I think there’s so much choice. You’ve got to be great or you don’t make it. There’s a mad stigma, especially with U.K. bands coming to America. They’re like, “It’s so fucking hard!” Like yeah, the scene is so big and there’s so much music that you’ve got to put on a show. You can’t just turn up and expect people to mosh around. I like that everyone says, “Impress me.” All right, let’s fucking go. I think that’s why The Stones and Queen really made an indent in America because they brought something that wasn’t there before. Even the Sex Pistols brought something that had never been there before, but it was intriguing.

So your new album definitely channels a different vibe and you’re taking upon a lot of ‘80s punk and new-wave influences. What was your musical diet like leading up to this?

I think what is kind of beautiful in the thought process of writing an album is that you can't pick the sound. It's almost like Harry Potter where the wand chooses the wizard. I was always obsessed with new-wave music and the late ‘70s and early ‘80s New York scene. Debbie Harry and The Ramones and stuff like that I was obsessed with. I would’ve loved to have been there with Lou Reed and everything like that.

I started Yungblud because I felt misunderstood. I felt like no one really understood my sexuality, the way I want to identify, the way I saw the world in terms of gender and fashion. No one gave a fuck. No one wanted to understand it and everyone thought I was crazy. Then Yungblud came about in this crash and wave of a generation. I was right there on the first wave of liberation, sexuality, gender and what the fuck do you want to identify as. I don't want to remain silent anymore.

I think people weren't afraid to tell people they are ignorant anymore because of this explosion of connections. I was so angry at the start of my career because people didn't understand me, but when I found this community, I realized there is a subculture and there is a fucking movement. I grappled with the idea that I always thought was a cliché: everything in this world always comes down to love. When I was 19 years old, everyone said that and I was like, “Nah, that’s such a cliché. Everyone says that.” Then you find a community and you actually “succeed,” whatever that means, in music. People start showing up to shows and you get to look them in the eye. The rarest thing about us is that Yungblud is a community. It’s a culture. We have an idea. It is all about love. It’s fucking been said a million times because it’s true. It’s been said so many times because everyone wants to feel it. Everyone wants to be a part of it.

For bands like The Ramones, Debbie Harry, The Sex Pistols and The Damned, there was this idea of that “FUCK” anger turned into an inward feeling. If you look at Joy Division, The Smiths, The Cure, even The Ramones, it’s all about love. Even Iggy! It’s melodic and it’s all about love. I just want to make music that you and your mates listen to when it all gets complicated. Everyone starts to figure out a formula or go ,“Oh, what's going to be the next trend?” Fuck that. I want to tell the truth and make music that can last forever. Someone asked me a question yesterday, “What would you say to a young musician starting out?” And I would say it's all about truth. You’ve got to tell the truth because we're often so focused on one moment, but when you write these songs, they last forever. These are in the world forever. Just because you’re big and just because she’s small, it doesn't mean you’re fucking iconic. You can be big for one second and completely forget what to bring into the world that’s not been there before. I think The Cramps are just as iconic as Bowie! With the album, it’s got that spirit that I feel from my fanbase. When I say to come to a Yungblud show, I say, “Don’t look at me, look at them. Look at how they communicate with each other. That's the difference between me and everyone else.

And now we have unprecedented access to each other. You’ve talked before about how before musicians can be filtered through TV, magazines and all that. Now, there’s no middleman and you can reach the audience directly. People can smell when you’re not genuine.

That’s it. You can’t fucking hide it anymore. Back in the ‘90s, if you had a good song, looked pretty cool and had a great label, you’d get on Top of the Pops. Now, that’s not the case. It’s got to come from you with no bullshit. That’s why I find it so funny when the term “industry plant” gets thrown around. Like, who decides what’s popular? It’s not the label or the media or the magazines or the fucking radio. It’s the people.

Take a look at The Tramp Stamps and how quick they fizzled out because people felt they weren’t genuine.

The true test of authenticity is time. That’s when they say, “I love you. I want you around.”

You’ve talked about the “TikTok pop-punk” genre, in your words, and how you’ve used that as a medium to get your message across.

Everyone called me punk in the beginning, and I ain’t fucking punk. I’m me. Everyone just compartmentalized me into this genre.

And everyone needs to label things.

It almost sets me up to fail because I am not. I believe what Yungblud is doing is not like anything that's been done before. And when you compartmentalize me into a genre, everyone’s like, “Well, it’s been done before.” Now it's like you're putting me in a box so you can dilute me and you can digest me. The people who listen to Yungblud don’t want to digest it. They want it all over their fucking body!

That’s the point with it. I just don't conform. Censorship and manipulating myself to fit in with a preconceived idea is literally what my whole entire message is against. It’s literally about expressing yourself really beautifully. What I love about TikTok and TikTok pop punk is that it’s the definition of punk. It’s freedom. The idea of punk became such a pretentious genre and it’s so gatekept, which is the antithesis of what the word means. I think TikTok’s punk as fuck because it’s people expressing themselves without any fucking filter, doing whatever the fuck they want. And that's sick to me, that’s why I fucked with it in the beginning. Then all the alternative musicians were around me going, “Oh, I don't like TikTok. It's just fucking dancing” Yeah, because you’re fucking fake. You’re putting on this cool facade because you can't show who you really are. It's so cool to see someone in Milwaukee pull out the phone and create and be seen by the world. That’s my message.

Sometimes I have a problem with how it dilutes art, but I feel like if you mix it up, we get cool art and I’m down.

Just look at Kate Bush. Some people were annoyed that now kids were discovering “Running Up That Hill,” but it’s beautiful that she experienced success again 40 years later with a whole new audience all because of social media. Kids are listening to Kate Bush now!

That’s the exact reason why I sampled The Cure in “Tissues.” I was like, “I love this song. And I would love to watch my face as I get mind blown the first time I heard ‘Close To Me.’” I can do that for a younger generation. That's cool to me because some people don't know The Cure! I played in 18 cities and I've been like, “Alright y'all, so I sampled The Cure. Does anybody know The Cure?” Obviously, people scream, but 20% of the venue has never heard The Cure. And I'm like, “Yo, go check them out after this because they changed my life. And that movement changed my life.”

What I think we're doing is reminiscent of the past, but something completely fucking new and authentic. That’s why I say turn up at a Yungblud show, then you’ll see it. You’ll feel it and you’ll taste it. That’s why I say if you turn up at a Yungblud show and you still don’t get it, you were never meant to.

Speaking of The Cure, did you really just email Robert Smith and say you wanted to sample the song? That’s bold.

The story was that the session was going dogshit. It was like midnight and had been going on since 6 PM. I was ready to call it day. Me and my mate got some beers and we started playing songs we love. Suddenly [mimics drum intro to “Close To Me”] came on and I just started shakin’ my ass!

The Cure really does have some of the most thrilling, simple drums.

I was like bouncing around the studio. My energy got lifted and I went, “I need a song like this.” I needed a song like fuckin’ “Footloose,” as well. I wanted to dance. I told the producer to buy the song on iTunes, put it into Logic, snip the start and loop it for an hour. Then put me in the booth. Everyone was like “Oh no, the publishing!” Fuck the publishing! Just put it up!

I mean, when you’ve gone from a dead studio session and then the lights look different, the feeling’s different. I’ve been looking at the same wall for five hours wanting to punch it and then going, “Oh my god, that's the best wall in the world. Let me paint on it!” It just woke me up and then I went, “I feel left out like a child.” Then my mate picked up the guitar and it sounded like The Strokes’ “Reptilia.” Fucking sick. I said to do a verse and a guitar hook. I got in the booth and looked down at the notes that said, “I'm in love again and tomorrow I'll be sad.” I loved that line. That was it. I left the studio that night.

I actually turned to my guitar player when we were playing and I said, “We get to play this song forever.” This is fucking amazing. You only get one of them songs. We're gonna be playing this when we’re 60 and look like wax. Now I’m in the car and I’m like “Holy fuck, I've got to try and get to Robert Smith.” One of my favorite songs I’ve ever written is at the behest of one of the most iconic people ever. I emailed him and he emailed me back with such grace. He is truly brilliant. It was fucking amazing.

Going back to gatekeepers, people love to criticize you but at the same time, there’s a reason why everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Robert Smith loves you.

That's the most beautiful thing for me. It's all about energy. It’s not about awards. No offense, but it’s not about press. It’s about people. That’s why I was like let’s do this [Zoom] with the cameras because I want to speak to you as a fan of music. I don't give a shit what people write about me. I care about people and energy. And when I speak to Ozzy or when I speak to Rob, they said got slated. Why? Because they tell you the truth. The people hate the truth. People loathe people who are free because they don't understand it.

I was reading all the reviews of the album and 50% of people love it and 50% of people fucking hate it. I spoke to Ozzy about that shit and I spoke to Lenny Kravitz about it. Lenny was like, “That just shows you’re doing something original.” When someone like that says that — I can't fucking say that because I’m just doing me, so of course it’s original because it’s my heart! Guys at the fucking Guardian in the UK might think it's dogshit, but that's okay. Lenny said to me that music and art in this world is meant to be discussed, and it's so sick when you hear someone like that and you just go like, “Oh my god, you’re fucking everything to me.” They open up and say “Yeah, I’ve been subjected to that.” Okay. Everything will be alright.

What is your ultimate dream and goal being that I see you already at the top of the world?

Meet more people! Everyone's always, “What do you expect from this album?” To just grow this family a little bit more, and then would be the goal for the next album and for the one after, it will be the goal for that. This ain’t about one moment for me, and it confuses me when people or the labels try and be like “What’s the song?” If I was ever defined by one song, it would be the antithesis of — it would undermine everything I’ve tried to do. People grow and grow over time, You look at my favorite artists like Bowie or Gaga and try to define them by one song, they've got five, they’ve got 10, they’ve got 20. The point is the idea makes them great.

Lastly, this album is less like a reintroduction and more like a restart for you. Why do this now?

I was ready for it. For 21st Century Liability, I was angry. I was fighting everyone. All you see is that rock ’n’ roll is dead. No one wants to play me on the radio. It was just dead. Then weird! happened and rock is the biggest thing in the world again. For this album, I always wanted to move. I don't want to stand still. I'm not going to make a pop-punk album. I’m not going to make what everyone expects me to do. I love new wave ‘80s music and I wanted that to be ingrained. I wanted to make songs that I'm going to play forever. I want to be here to have fun and to push the boundary and shock people. I think this album got the spirit in it that I wanted and the story that I wanted to tell at this moment. I can't believe how beautifully it resonated with my fan base. It’s so funny seeing Yungblud antis on Twitter going, “Oh, I hate this guy but ‘Tissues’ is kind of a bop.” That's what I'm saying. It's all about people. It's all about love. I am a vehicle for people's expression, so if I got mad for people hating on me then I'm a hypocrite. It's all about expression. I want people to express themselves because it allows them to get out feelings that would otherwise be balled up inside. That is the point of Yungblud. For me, that is the point of art. I'm excited to put this out into the world and watch people digest it and do what they will with it.

Photography: Tom Pallant