Hastings is on the road when I call him, having just returned from six weeks of touring the USA. He tells me it’s great to be able to get introduced to an expanding set of people at the Young Fathers shows, but that the attitude of the band to live shows remains as it always has been. “We just want to be honest because people respect that a bit more,” he says, explaining that the nature of the set can change on a nightly basis when different crowds and venues are taken into account. That’s not to mention the mindset of the members. “Sometimes the last thing you want to do is get up on stage and do a show, but those can be some of the best shows you do.”
The obvious question to put to him is about the impact of the Mercury Prize, awarded to Young Fathers for their album Dead in late October of last year, but he is quick to rubbish the notion that it has impacted on their musical process. “When we got the Mercury most of the music for the new record had already been written,” Hastings says, “but any more exposure is liberating.” He continues, “All we’ve ever wanted is to be heard, and we believe we make pop music. We call ourselves a pop band because we want to be in that world. But what we say is different.” It’s interesting to hear a band with such an independent aesthetic and eclectic sound, but the band is clearly out to make more rather than less noise with the light now sharply thrown on them in the wake of their Mercury success.
The title of the new album White Men are Black Men Too is, I argue, a potentially provocative statement in light of this, but the response is enlightening. “The title is a statement, but it’s one that has a personal meaning to us. We can see people portrayed under one umbrella and it’s disgusting. The world is made up of individuals.” Running on with the theme of an increasing audience, it is interesting to hear about the band’s experience of touring in South Africa. “We went to South Africa and were asking about how they all felt about the title. Obviously race issues are much more relevant there but it’s also a really forward thinking country with regards to young people and music. The hustlers on the street have a really strong sense of culture. They see the connection between music and wider society: they move at the same time. If you see things from someone else’s perspective it can make things clearer. It allows us to say something more meaningful.”
I ask him about the state of hip-hop in popular music, and his answer is unrelenting. “I just don’t believe that people want to be pleased, that they only hear what they want to hear. Mainstream media is trying to please everyone, so in order to show difference you have to include a band like us. No one knows what to do with a band like us and that’s what we’re up against.” When I ask if Young Fathers are trying to revive something from a past era of pop, the response is even more bleak: “Pop music is dead. This is the last fucking hurrah. We’re using our music to get heard in spite of the media and the executives. People want us to exist in some left-field world but that’s not good enough for us.”
It seems that he is confident about Young Fathers’ ability to effect change, which is testament to their maintained sense of confidence in spite of their increased exposure. “Being pigeon-holed gives a good headline but the story doesn’t mean shit. We didn’t want to say we were a political band because you lose people who ideally you would want to change, and you’re only going to be preaching to the choir. It’s not about anger though, it’s about subversion. “You’ve got to use your enemies’ strength against them.”