The ascension of Young Fathers has proven that good work can triumph over adversity. Along with being an unlikely group of mavericks that can sell out a show, the Scottish trio won the Mercury Prize back in 2014. Most acts would rest on their laurels and use the prize money for a vacation, but Young Fathers found themselves held up in a rain swept Berlin, feverishly working on album number two, White Men Are Black Men Too.

The album showcased a group that's not afraid to challenge the very people championing them: critics and music lovers alike. It's a dense album that becomes much more sporadic the more it's listened to, and an album that becomes much more understood once experienced within the context of a live show. That essentially is where Young Fathers thrive: within sweat filled venues, where they remain to be a challenging act to comprehend. They relish in this, and it's taken them across the world more times than they expected.

Ken Grand-Pierre sat down with band member Alloysious Massaquoi ahead of the group's sold out show at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg, to find out what makes the elusive group tick.

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How do you feel the live show has evolved since the last time you guys were on tour? It's been really interesting seeing the numerous legs you've been able to do for White Men Are Black Men too.

Yeah! The first leg was back in 2015, and this is it in its second life sort to speak. We also consecutively put out new stuff, so there was a bit of a worry on whether or not we were trying the audience a bit, with the live show. Especially because we haven't been able to record new stuff in a year, so it feels great to know people are still intrigued in seeing us. It gives the album a whole new lease on life, sort to speak.

I've seen you guys every time you've come to New York, and what I love about the shows is that I feel it gives the music much more context than words ever could. There've been situations where I'll talk to friends about Young Fathers and find myself using many more words than I intended to describe what you guys do, but with the live show I can just point and go 'see, that.'

Yeah! And I think with us there's layers to it, and it's like you listen to the stuff and get a rough idea, and it makes you wonder 'ok, what is it they're completely doing here? What are the influences? How does this all work? What is this about?' so I think when you watch us live, it makes everything feels that much more cohesive. It's become quite the point of what we do, and it's taken a while for us to get to that point really. It's quite interesting because when you undergo a project, everything has to match, like the videos and the posters, and everything, and it helps make sense of things, to make it an entity. The live show is very much an extension of that.

It's very interesting to hear you refer to the live show in that way, because one of the key elements, to me, is how primal they are, but overall there is an elegant aspect of cohesion, as though you can feel the world is coming together.

Yes, exactly! I think with human nature things... there's certain things that are very innate. I think what we do really well, is tapping into that, the simplest forms of it, and with this record it's as though we've delved into more complex waters. For example, if you tap on a table and make a beat, people will respond, and that's such a simple thing. I think that reflects on what we do, the response, and it's like you said: primal. There is a primal, and even tribal essence to what we do, that's quite symbolic of the human soul. It's funny though because when I talk about it, I'm making it seem so mystical, and out there, where it's really not something we think about. When we're on stage, we recognize it as being a platform, and the only thing we're coherent of is expressing ourselves, only ever that. I feel that when you're a musician, you might as well have the word 'JUSTIFY' branded all over you. Because when you're on stage you have to justify your existence, justify what makes you different, and simply justify what you do, all these things come and make things very serious. Off stage we're quite chill guys, probably to a staggering degree to most, but when we're on stage we have that aspect of tribalism on our minds, along with the fact that we always have to win a crowd over. I think we need that, that rawness, that... that passion, that drama.

It's a great thing to hear you say all that, because one of the things I've felt quite drawn to, even with Dead (debut album released in 2014), is how you guys go against having a plan; how you'll go against being constricted by format and execution, like many other acts would be. It was clear to me from the start that this wasn't some marketed/careerist perspective, but just some actual human beings getting together to make things happen.

Exactly! All we wanted was that we wanted it all to sound... well 'free' in the best sense of the word. I remember watching movies as a kid, specifically Clash Of The Titans, the old one with the robot owl and clay models and that. But that kind of thing, what makes it standout throughout the years is that you can feel like you're in it, and when it comes to songwriting, we want to make the listener feel like they're in the song. Like they can live in it. Feel that there's space to move, to breath, to be presented with questions and answers.

Other artists do this as well, and I believe that element of space allows the listener to sit with their thoughts while the song is going on, to touch upon the feeling or thoughts you're having directly to the song. The song is allowing you to take everything in, the literal movement of the song and what the song is essentially about.

What really struck me with White Men Are Black Men too was here we have a group that many consider to be indescribable, and with that album it felt as though you guys were celebrating that fact. You're genreless. No-one can really call you guys a 'hip-hop group' and to do so would be quite ignorant.

Yes, and that's the thing we've constantly battled against. We joke around that we'll be dealing with it until another new group comes around, does something slightly similar, and people go 'Oh you're just copying what Young Fathers did' but yeah, we've been battling against all that, because there isn't really a 'genreless' but more of a celebration of everyone's abilities and passion for different styles. It's not specific, we don't go in with a plan, we don't go in thinking we're going to make '____ type of music' we just go in allowing ourselves to be informed by our lives, like a conversation with a parent, remembering something like that can remind you of so much and even music that informed them. Go even further, go back to being in school and the music people listened to there. All that, being around that creates something, and to me there's more choice with that, that aspect of memories because you can always dip in and dip out, and constantly find yourself inspired towards humanity when it comes to writing.

But the majority of people... who said it... I think it was Iggy Pop, he said in an interview that the majority of people don't listen to music the same way a small minority of people do (music lovers), and I think there is some truth to that. So the confusion people have at times to describe us, to understand us, it doesn't confuse me really. I can understand people feeling there's a time and a place for some music, especially if someone works a 9-5, wants to go dancing and have a drink... not myself since I'm quite a light-weight, probably the biggest light-weight ever [laughs] so I'll take it easy on that.

I have to bring this up, because as much as I love Young Fathers, I also really love Massive Attack. You two coming together really is one of those things that makes so much sense, and I'm really happy it was able to happen. That's fantastic that you two are doing Hyde Park as well...

That's really great to hear man, thank you for that. I think the biggest thing this experience has been, especially to me, has been quite a learning curve. We always kind of struggled against being put next to another artist. We don't make sense next to a hip-hop act, or a rock act, because we're always in between genres, rather than completely delving into them. So when the opportunity came up to work with Massive Attack, we didn't really need to think too much into it because of what those guys have done.

And also, a lot of what you guys are going through now is what they went through back in the day.

Exactly! It makes sense, and doing the shows with them really opened my eyes to a lot. After seeing them so closely, I understand the importance of positioning, of harmony even. With Massive Attack, you have these two completely different people that still have similarities. Especially with their ethos and their desire to create something new. I think that bridges the gap, and being around that just thought us a lot. The way they work in the studio, is completely different to how we work in the studio.

Going back to the album, it's been out for about a year now and as your tour an album and constantly find yourself talking about it to journalists, fans, friends, and that I imagine the meaning of the album, the internal reaction you've had towards the album, changes for you. Has this been the case with White Men Are Black Men too?

Absolutely, of course. It happens all the time. Some times a journalist will say something that will make me go 'Oh wow...you came to that conclusion?' but it is interesting seeing reactions. Especially, because when you write music they're always stories essentially, always a collection of words put together. You can be singing about something that's very truthful, but at the end of the day you're thinking about the words, you're thinking about what you want to say and how, and there's so much control over that. Add in the fact that you're creating something that you can't even see, and it just causes it to take a life of its own. You can't see music, but you can feel it, and it pushes a button within you that's deep within.

One of the things I like about how we work is that we allow ourselves to free ourselves up, to say 'so what?' to something that might not make sense right at the start of the time. If you care about something, everything matters and ultimately comes together. I don't want that to sound arrogant, to me it's more....

Of a freeing type of feeling.

Yes, exactly, that! And that impression is also what we hope to leave behind.

One of the things I find myself echoing to my friends and colleagues, is when Young Fathers comes up it's important to point out how the way you guys standout is more accidental due to the music world around you.

Exactly, and a lot of that is also informed from where we're from. Where we're from, that type of thinking and that type of going out of the box isn't the type of thing that's wildly celebrated. When you come from the UK, you're not supposed to say you're good at anything, you're supposed to be glorious failures. Even with like Scottish Football, if a match happens and the losing is brutal we're meant to go 'aw fuck, they were fucking great though weren't they?' But yeah, at times it felt like we weren't expected to succeed, we've had to constantly fight against that notion within ourselves so we could push back that cultural difference. Contrast that with an American person who's told from the size of a fetus that they can do anything, and you lot can sell yourselves all the time [laughs]. It's been an interesting thing to deal with at times.

That's been an aspect of your music that's stood out as well, where yes you are from Scotland but it hasn't been a defining aspect of the sounds and lyrics really. There's a lot of Scottish bands I've grown to love over the years, but even as an outsider I've noticed a bit of conformity.

Of course, there's quite a bit of that for sure. I just never understood the... we're proud to be this and that and... I just never got it. I never understood being proud of a piece of land you happened to be born on, you know?

Especially since all that happened was our parents fucked there and boom, we happened.

[Laughs], exactly! And they had a great time doing it too! All of that is by chance. That reminds me of a great Ted Talk I listened to where this Nigerian/Ghanaian writer named Taiye Selasi said something that rang so true to me. Her talk was called 'Don't ask where I'm from, ask where I'm a local' and that rang so damn true to me. What she was getting at is that where you're local to has more reference points of ABC than where you're originally from, that where you're local to makes you rounded and not where you're inherently from; that where you're from has nothing really innate, just all these connotations. But where you're local to, gives you a better picture of a person, and I found myself just relating to that loads, especially in regards to Scotland.

After winning the Mercury prize several years back, you guys went right into making White Men Are Black Men too and decided to do so in Berlin. How much personality of the city do you think found its way onto the album, and was the album at all informed by your surroundings at the time?

Maybe, but at the same time... [laughs], when we went, it was cold, windy, and where we recorded was practically a basement [laughs]. So honestly, it's a bit of a lackluster answer but it felt as though we were in Scotland most of the time.

What brought you guys there initially?

We just wanted to record somewhere different, it was really just the desire to do that. But, we've read about Berlin and how there was so many artists, painters, and photographers, and how there's this community of people coming and going. It felt important to do that, it felt like the place that would re-spark our creativity.