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Young Fathers Trim The Fat For Twice The Impact

The UK experimentalists find togetherness through creative malleability on new album, Heavy Heavy.

by Gregory Adams

Photo by Stephen Roe

Community. Home. Finding spiritual sustenance. These are just a few of the big-picture themes Young Fathers’ Alloysious Massaquoi says are pulsing through “Rice,” the uplifting introductory track to the Edinburgh trio’s new album, Heavy Heavy. While there’s also a gastronomical finesse to lines like “I need to catch more fish, baby,” he suggests we not take things too literally on that front. That’s not to say, however, that he and bandmates Kayus Bankole and Graham “G” Hastings haven’t ever found themselves catching cod off the East Coast of Scotland.

“[The lyric] was more metaphorical, but at the same time, our sound engineer goes fishing a lot and he took us up to Dundee. We went fishing, caught some fish as well,” Massaquoi recalls to RANGE, adding of how the experience ultimately impacted Young Fathers’ creative process, “Those sorts of memories seep through into the record. You’re collecting stuff over a period of time like magpies, and then you’re able to expel that into the studio and onto the record.”

Perhaps a more apt line to hone in on from “Rice,” then, is its “I need to bide my time until I’m home again.” It’s now been five years since Young Fathers delivered their previous LP, 2018’s Cocoa Sugar. While they began working on Heavy Heavy in earnest at the tail-end of 2019, creative sessions in the trio’s basement studio naturally paused when COVID-19 kicked-in full-force the following year. Then Bankole briefly moved to Ghana. But as pandemic measures loosened, all three reconvened in Edinburgh, refreshed and beaming with musical ideas — arguably more so than any other time in their career.

“When we normally do a record, we have a handful of songs. This time around, we had an abundance of songs that we had to sift through,” Bankole explains, he and Massaquoi reiterating that 40 to 50 song ideas had been percolating in the background before becoming the 10-song Heavy Heavy. “Everything was considered… hence why it’s called Heavy Heavy: the denseness.”

Back in the basement, the trio began twisting up synth sounds, while also throwing propulsive, hard-throbbed mechano-drum beats behind pieces like “I Saw”; the elastic yelp of Talking drums Bankole had brought back from Africa are interwoven throughout. The record contrasts high bpm bangers like “Drum” with “Tell Somebody,” where pipe organs and crash cymbals unfold like slow motion fireworks. As vocalists, Young Fathers ebb and flow between singular raps and rich, full-bodied vocal harmonies. To paraphrase Massaquoi, those magpie claws came into Heavy Heavy extra-stuffed.

“The thing with us is anything goes,” Massaquoi reveals. “If your keys are jangling and it sounds [good], we’ll put it in there. If someone sneezes, we just run it through the track. That’s fertile ground for us, that environment where whatever you come with — whether it’s 10 pages of words, or one word you want to say over and over again — everyone [is] encouraging [you to] fucking go for it.”

This communal spirit also extended beyond the Fathers proper, with Bankole’s friend Tapiwa Mambo taking the vocal lead on “Ululation.” As its title suggests, the track is spiked with uvula-undulating cries, but Mambo was also given a wide breadth to get personal with the piece. “She was having some issue with her partner, so she came in pretty frustrated and wanted to vent about a bunch of stuff,” Massaquoi recalls. “She came in sort of humming something. It was like, ‘You want to go up and do something? Whatever you want to say!’ She freestyled a whole bunch of stuff, like a ceremonial thing. It was based on gratitude. Even though you can be upset at somebody — your loved one, or whatnot — there’s gratitude to [having] them in your life. She started talking in Shona, her native tongue, and it just felt right as soon as she started doing it. It was beautiful.”

Some of Heavy Heavy’s brightest spots unveiled themselves spontaneously, like on “Ululation.” “Rice,” meanwhile, had originally been in Young Fathers’ ‘maybe’ pile, until they revisited a demo and realized how the tune played perfectly into the album’s themes of togetherness. What unites it all, oddly enough, is Young Fathers’ dedication to a creative malleability — an experimental spirit that finds the trio building out densely-packed pop tunes. At least for now.

“We’re not precious about being a certain way,” Bankole explains. “What it feels like right now is that we’re architects redesigning how things should be when it comes to expressing ourselves on a record.”