Every so often, an artist comes along that refuses to conform to expectations.
Words: Ali Shutler.
“Of course I have something to prove,” grins Dominic Harrison. “I will do until the day I die. It’s what keeps me driven.”
With his Halsey and Travis Barker collab ’11 Minutes’ currently all over the airwaves, follow-up ‘Parents’ continuing the party, a headline show at London’s Brixton Academy on the cusp of selling out, main stage slots at the likes of Reading & Leeds filling up his summer, and album two well on the way, Yungblud’s world is painted seven shades of excitement right now.
“Everyone’s asking, ‘Is this Yungblud kid going to drop off?’ ‘Is this just a hype moment?’ And of course, that’s what it is, but the people asking that, I believe they’ve only skim read the brand.”
Brash, opinionated, and from the working class town of Doncaster in northern England, it’s easy for naysayers to dismiss him as just a loud-mouthed kid out for attention.
“Do you know what I love more?” he asks with a beaming smile. “Proving them wrong.”
If you’ve seen Yungblud live – if you’ve listened to the likes of ‘Loner’, ‘Parents’, ‘Polygraph Eyes’ or ‘Kill Somebody’ – you know this isn’t a passing moment; there’s more to Yungblud than neon socks and a capital-lettered need to be heard. He talks openly about anxiety, mental health and suicidal thoughts; he knows his generation has inherited a world that seems intent on destroying itself as quickly and as brutally as it can. But alongside that, there’s a clenched fist optimism; a defiant, unrelenting belief that change is possible.
“I’m not trying to piss anyone off. I’m not trying to be whatever these kids demand, that’s boring to me. That’s not interesting. I just want to build a community that helps people and is real. That’s it. I want to help people ‘cos they helped me.
“All my life, I’ve been searching for a sense of belonging. All my life, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt like I had to manipulate myself just to fit in somewhere. But finally, I fit in somewhere in this life, and that’s with my fans. I don’t feel lonely anymore.
“At the end of the day, I’m just building a culture. For me, it isn’t about how many hits I get. It’s about my fans and how many people are in the room. Do I care about being at the top of the charts? Eventually, one day.
“All I’m bothered about is connecting with people. I just want to put out dope, real shit. I want it to get as big as it possibly can get, of course – I want to be the biggest artist in the world – but that isn’t the priority. If that is the priority, I believe you’re in it for the wrong reasons. You want fame, go be a fucking TV presenter. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not here to do that. I’m not here for fame; I’m not here for money. I’m just here to tell my story and connect to people. I need to. People need to know how I feel, or I’m going to disintegrate.”
Somewhere, there’s a photo of baby Dom just six hours old, outside the hospital he was born in, with a The Beatles ukulele across his knee. Eleven years later, he started playing in a garage band.
“I just started writing these diabolical songs but to hear them played back by other musicians, that got me instantly addicted.”
His music “was always very political,” he explains, “but I remember moving down to London at 16, and when I first met management companies they tried to mould me into something that wasn’t political and wasn’t feisty at all. They tried to beat it out of me. They wanted me to flutter my eyelashes and wink at the girls because they thought that’s what would get me on the radio. After a year of that, I’d had enough. Fuck that; I’m gonna do my thing.”
Growing up on My Chemical Romance, Marilyn Manson and Eminem, Dom was never going to be the poster boy for radio friendly.
“They said it as it was. Why beat around the bush? Fuck the bush. Burn the bush. I always tell people how it is, even if it gets me into trouble.”
The turning point was a meeting with A&R Declan Morrell at an open mic night.
“I was playing acoustic songs and jumping off the fucking speakers. He realised there was a disconnect. I told him what music I was into, The Clash, Gaga, Oasis, and he helped me get back to myself.”
But still, “not a single label in the UK wanted to know. They just didn’t care. Everyone misunderstood me as this bratty kid who was disrespectful to older generations. I’m not that ignorant. I pay attention to the times. I make sure I’m informed, and I make sure I know what the fuck I’m talking about. I love being challenged. I love arguing and I love proving people wrong. If I’m not getting a record deal, I’ll release it myself.”
Once again that defiant ‘fuck it, I’ll do my own thing’ belief took over, and so he dropped ‘King Charles’ – and people started taking notice.
The ‘Yungblud EP’ was released at the very start of 2018, with his debut album ‘21st Century Liability’ following six months later. It’s been out for less than a year, but already things have changed beyond recognition.
“Ah man, it’s been fucking crazy,” Dom beams. “I didn’t expect much. I just wanted to put out a record that I thought represented me. It was a record about truth in the world where there’s so much bullshit going on. I can’t believe how it’s connected so strongly internationally. It’s all still a surprise. Right now, we’re playing a sold-out US run across America; it’s crazy.
“My performance and music are about capturing a moment in time and connecting with other people; it isn’t about fucking how much money you can make or how many fucking gold platinum records you’ve got. For me, it’s about connecting with people, and I’m in that fucking magic.
“Not everyone knows how to explain how they’re feeling, but you can feel it when you relate to someone. I can walk on stage and play a show in the mood that I feel, and I don’t have to play a character. When I walk out on stage, me and my fanbase have such a connection, people don’t understand it until they come see a show.”
It’s been chaotic. “Of course, I’ve felt out of control. All the time, are you joking me? That’s the beauty of this beautiful game we play in music, that you can’t be in control, you know?
“At the end of the day, it’s being out of control that helps you act. If you’re on a tightrope and you slip, your survival instincts kick in. I love living on the edge. I love that sink or swim mentality, it keeps me driven, and it keeps me pushing. It keeps me wanting to strive to do better and be there for my fanbase as they’re there for me.”
The past year has given Dom a better understanding of what Yungblud is.
“Initially I was doing it for me, but the more I’ve met people, the more I’ve discovered it’s us. Yungblud isn’t me. 50% of Yungblud is them. Yungblud isn’t Dominic Harrison from Doncaster, Yungblud is a community where people can feel safe and be themselves. I want Yungblud to represent freedom and to represent unity and to represent safety and solidarity and forward thinking and intelligence. Not intelligence of me, but intelligence of my generation.”
“Obviously things are a lot busier now,” he continues. “I’ve seen a lot of the world, and I think I’ve become a lot more emotional. I’ve had to very quickly learn how to deal with the ups and downs that come with this. I’ve always suffered from anxiety and mental health problems, I sing about it a lot in my music, but I never thought it could get this intense.
“It’s the juxtaposition of emotions: on stage, I have the best fans in the world. I love them all so fucking much, and so dearly that I feel completely safe, I feel completely happy and excited and exhilarated. But then I wake up the next morning, and I feel horrendous. There’s a knot in my stomach, and I don’t understand why. It’s weird; it’s almost like my head can’t figure out which way to land. But it’s good. It’s all positive because I write about it. It fuels my writing. I’ve got so much to say; I just haven’t had enough time to say it yet.”
That urgency is why, less than a year after the release of his debut, Yungblud is already deep into the next chapter.
“I just want to give my fans more music. That first record, I don’t even see it as my debut album; it was more of a mixtape. ‘Alright, I’m Yungblud, nice to meet ya!’
“But this next album, I put a lot of thought into it, and I poured my fucking heart out. The new music is more emotional and it’s is based on the people I’ve met. That first album was angry. I was young, and I was fucking angry as fuck, but this new album isn’t about anger. It’s about reflection and spreading love and positivity.
“Everything is inspired by real stories. Everything’s inspired by what I know. It’s always got to come from a real place.”
Every song Yungblud creates is asked two simple questions: ‘Is it real?’ and ‘Could anybody else sing it?’ If it comes from a real place and nobody else could sing it, then it’s ready to go.
“I think that’s why, even though everything is a mix of genres, my songs are distinctly Yungblud. My fans know that it’s going to be a curveball every time but its always still so me.”
Take ‘Parents’: Yungblud had his first proper taste of crossover with ‘Eleven Minutes’, and then followed it up with his most outrageous song yet.
“I wanted to write a song that’s about protecting your individuality. It’s not me saying to young people ‘fuck your parents’. I’m not that ignorant. It’s saying if people don’t allow you to be who you truly are, then fuck ’em. It’s a tribute to, if you want to wear a dress as a boy, if you want to shave your head as a girl, if you want to do anything you want, you can.
“The song is about people who are going to influence you and tell you what to do, but they may not always be right. The only person that knows what’s best for you is you. That’s what that song is about, but I wanted to make the lyrics as outrageous as possible because I want people to say, ‘Fuck, he said what?’
“My favourite line in the song is: ‘My daddy put a gun to my head, said if you kiss a boy I’m going to shoot you dead, so I tied him up with Gaffer tape, locked him in a shed and then went out to the garden and fucked my best friend’. It’s outrageous, but it’s liberal.
“Liberal people, we’re so scared to be outrageous, but I want to break that mould. I want to say, ‘Fuck you, you narcissistic backward wanker’ to the people that are holding our future back.
“I dabble in different styles, but the glue that holds everything together is the message, and what I’m saying to young people. They are so informed, and we see a future that we want to be a part of. We see a world we want to obtain, but it’s held back by people who don’t understand us or aren’t quite ready for the world to go to that place yet. And that’s what I need to write about in my music. I need people who don’t understand, to understand. And the way we do that is by conversation and speaking out.”
That struggle to be heard, “it gets frustrating, but that’s part of the battle. There’s always gonna be push backs; it’s just science. If you push against something, it’s gonna push back. You’ve just gotta push harder and break through it. It’s fucking hard, and it’s tiring.
“My anxiety gets so low sometimes, and people ask me, ‘Why do you keep pushing, why do you keep going?'”
It’s because Yungblud isn’t just fighting for himself. Every time he walks onstage or meets a fan who’s been affected by his music, he’s reminded that he’s not in this by himself. His music still wants to change the world but rather than shouting into the void, picking fights with The Man or raging against the machine, he’s using it to shape a community who believe in better.
“All it’s about now is connecting with people and making them feel less alone. I know it sounds profound as fuck, but that’s it. I don’t care how many numbers I have next to my name or about record sales; I care about how many people I walk out to at night. I wanna play stadiums, man.”