Anyone who knows anything about YUNGBLUD will tell you that he’s constantly making moves, from crowdsurfing his way through Times Square or ping-ponging across the stage on his recent sold-out Twisted Tales Of The Ritalin Club tour—a name inspired by his new graphic novel. But the moves don’t stop there as the musician is also taking a stand and building an army of his own in the literal fight for equality. Cue the underrated youth EP, a passion project so important, YUNGBLUD took an extra week to make sure it was just right.
YUNGBLUD spoke exclusively with AltPress from the road on an off day in New Orleans, which he reveals is coincidentally the same setting in which he locked in a collab with Imagine Dragons vocalist Dan Reynolds for “original me.” The musician runs through a track by track, spurting the first thing that comes to mind for each of the underrated youth EP’s inhabitants.
He touches on how the EP soundtracks his recently released graphic novel, The Twisted Tales Of The Ritalin Club, and why this is just the beginning of a broader universe making its way in the form of a concept album at a later date. YUNGBLUD isn’t just Dominic Harrison, and he’s here to make that abundantly clear to anyone who will take note of the movement.
That was the last song to go on the EP. I wanted the EP to open like a show does [where] it’s mental. It’s in your face, like, “Hello, YUNGBLUD’s back. YUNGBLUD’s back with the music, good fuckin’ mornin,” you know? That record is about that in this world of unjustified hate and people living in their ideologies, if you want me to be a part of your racist, homophobic, backward-thinking ideology, then I’d just rather be fuckin’ braindead. It’s about that internal anger and accepting yourself, no matter what people around you think about you. It’s all right to be yourself in this community. The instrumentation is mental. It’s just classic YUNGBLUD. Five different genres in one high-energy [song]—kind of what the fans want.
That opening sounds like a computer short-circuiting, which fits perfectly with the braindead concept. What was the inspiration behind that?
Yeah, completely. It’s my guitar through a sampler. We recorded my guitar and then bopped with it. And that’s exactly it. I wanted it to be like this completely manic, schizophrenic thing. It’s like almost glitching and twitching and just [like], “We’re off to the races.” I wanted to wake people up in the fucking morning. Someone’s gotta grab you by the scruff of the neck and be like, “All right, I’m here.”
The song is giving me an Arctic Monkeys vibe. In the past, you’ve mentioned they’ve influenced you. Which artists were you listening to when you’re making this EP?
I was listening to a lot of Green Day actually. I was listening to a lot of the Used [and] My Chemical Romance. I was listening to Billie [Eilish]. I was listening to [Lady] Gaga, [Marilyn] Manson [and] yeah, the Monkeys. But at the same [time], I don’t really listen to too much music when I make an EP—nothing different really because I don’t want it to influence me too much. I wanna go down avenues that I find on my own. The thing about this EP is it’s called the underrated youth EP. This EP is about YUNGBLUD becoming less and less about me every moment. It’s about the people I’ve met and the movement that’s happening around it. YUNGBLUD isn’t me anymore. YUNGBLUD is 50% me and 50% my fanbase. We are a collective now, and it’s about that mutual adoration between each and every one of my fans where we look at each other in the face, and it’s not about how many digits or analytics or gold discs or fucking whatever or fame. That’s fine—that’s just a separate entity. It’s about that mutual magic between us. We look each year in the face and go, “You fucking saved my life.”
You really have built a community around it.
Yeah, and this EP is about—the first project was me. It was about my head [and] what was going on in my head. This EP is emotional, [and] it’s about what is happening in my heart and the stories I’ve heard and the journeys my fans have taken me down into their heads and into my head. It’s almost like we’re a fucking connected train set, and I’m going inside their heads, and they’re coming inside mine.
This song is a tribute to individualism. It ain’t me telling my parents to fuck off. I’m not that naive. It’s about embracing your individuality and saying that the opinions of other people aren’t always going to be right and what’s going to be best for you. You as an individual only know what’s best for you. You as an individual only know what you truly are and have confidence and embrace that. That’s what that song’s about. The lyrics are fucking graphic as fuck, and I wanted to give insight into the pictures I paint inside my brain.
It’s a very plot-based song. You really do tell a full-blown story with it, so is a lot of it based on your personal experiences, or is it an overall commentary on society?
Both, man, both. The stories are right here from my fanbase, like about how YUNGBLUD as a collective—not me—are loved and trusted to transition to be in the body that they believe they should be in or come out to their parents or get themselves through a job or get themselves though a fucking semester of school that was the hardest of their life. It’s an accumulation of me and an accumulation of them. These pictures that I wanted to paint—all parts of society—allow me to speak to my fanbase without even meeting some of them. And I can’t believe I [haven’t] met them all yet. That’s the magic. I feel so connected to them even though it’s starting to get so fucking big. I still feel like I know them all.
You really do have that really amazing connection with your fans, just seeing how you interact with them through social media and even down to the pop-up gigs that you put together, so why was it so important for you to tell their stories alongside yours on this EP?
That’s what’s happening in my life right now. It [can] never become me and them instead of us. This EP is about a world of unjustified hate when the one common denominator in the people I’ve met is the constant optimism, fire, drive, passion and intelligence that’s embedded inside our heads. It’s called the underrated youth EP because people think we’re bratty kids talking about “fuck all,” but we’re so intelligent, and we’re so unified. Look at what Greta [Thunberg] just did. Look at the movement she just did with global warming. What an incredible young woman. I genuinely believe the future is going to be bright simply because we’re fucking in it and [a] apart of it.
You’re obviously very open with discussing equality, whether it be with sexuality or anything else. Why was it so important to shine a light on the oppression that people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum face?
At the end of the day, oppression, someone being themselves—no matter what you are—it’s fucking, it’s gone. The age of that is gone. Division is fucking so over. [It’s about] unifying people to feel like they can be themselves and love who they want to love and look like what they want to look like and be whoever they believe [they] could be. And that line that people always tip toe around, and I’ll fucking say it outright. “My daddy put a gun to my head/Said, ‘If you kiss a boy, I’m gonna shoot you dead.’/So I tied him up with gaffer tape and I locked him in a shed/Then I went out to the garden and I fucked my best friend.” Because that is young people now. We are going to love who we’re going to love. We are going to combat the unjustified hate with a bouquet of fucking flowers, and we’re going to beat it away like we would with a fucking stick.
It’s crazy that it’s 2019, and this is still a conversation. People are still fighting for that equality.
Yeah dude, [that’s] the thing about it. It’s always been fucking happening. At the end of the day, we are unified, and we are making a difference, and we can love who we want to love. The thing about it is, the labels are becoming so much less relevant. It’s about fluidity and just loving as humans.
“original me” (feat. Dan Reynolds)
Yo, I made a song with Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons. What the fuck? [Laughs.] I’m at Leeds Fest, five years ago, and I’m just fucking in awe of him, and now I made a record with him. It’s fucking crazy. That song is about embracing the part that you don’t like about yourself because your biggest superpower—the superpower you’ve got—is to be originally yourself. You are different [than] every other human on this planet. And fucking embrace that because that is a wonderful thing.
It’s so crazy that I’m in New Orleans because the last time I was [here] about three months ago for a day off—same shit—Dan Reynolds calls me. [He’s] like, “Dude, I love what you’re doing. I love [that] you’re an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community”—because he is. Have you seen his documentary about fucking Mormon society, [Believer]? When we were getting the song set up, he said to me, “The world ain’t ready for you yet. I want to fucking help you. Let’s do a record together.” I was like, “Fuck man, you’re Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons. This is crazy.” We get in the studio, and we’re both fucking mental. We’re both crazy energetic, and we just let loose, and it feels like a pretty fuckin’ magic song.
In the lyrics, both of you are singing in an almost self-deprecating way, but then you flip it on its head, and you own it—you take pride in it. Why was it important to own that?
That’s it, man. It’s like, I hate parts of myself, right? “I’m so typical,” [and] “I’m a tryhard original.” I try my best to forgive, but I am that. And if I own that, and I am gay. I am Asian. I am white. I am fucking stupid. I am intelligent. I am a comic nerd. I am a sports fan, but I am that, so what the fuck are you going to say about it if I own that? You know what I mean? What can you say? I love that part in 8 Mile where Eminem is like, “You did fuck my girl, dog. I am trailer trash. I am this. I am that.” And then the fucking guy who was coming against him cannot diss him because he’s owned every part of him that he could have fucking ripped apart. There’s no more meat to chew anymore, and that’s the thing about. It’s just like, “I am this. I am me, and fuck you if you don’t like it because I love it.”
You’ve obviously collaborated with a lot of really awesome people over the last couple of months with Halsey, Travis Barker, Machine Gun Kelly and now Dan. Is there anyone left on your collab bucket list who you really want to work with?
It’s been crazy to see some of my heroes like Travis Barker and Dave Grohl genuinely condone my art in some way. It’s fucking crazy. I mean, I don’t know. Obviously, Gerard Way would be the fucking dream, wouldn’t it? ‘Cause I’m obviously obsessed with him inside and out and back to front. And you can certainly tell him that. Ring him and say “Dom wants to go for lunch and play Dungeons & Dragons with ya.” [Laughs.]
“casual sabotage” was such a fucking important record for me because I played that a year ago—no, two years ago, and it wasn’t finished. We played it in Holland, and one video got leaked on YouTube, and now it is the biggest tattoo within my fanbase. “I’m just a messed-up kid with sewn-up lips/I can’t take this shit I need to exist” is the biggest tattoo within my fanbase, and it’s crazy. I needed to get it right before I released it.
That song is about me showing [and] talking about my heart for the first time—talking about me getting heartbroken for the first time. [It’s] me saying that it is OK to put your heart on a silver platter and hold it in front of you because yes, someone is going to hurt it—many people might hurt it. Many people are going to stab it right in front of your face.
They’re going to hurt you [and] make you feel like shit, but never lose that part of yourself that simply holds your heart out and is purely yourself because if you do, then you’re just like them. Because one day someone is going to find that heart of yours on that platter and is going to treat it as preciously as you do, and they won’t hurt it. As I said, that record resonates with me so hard because it’s the first time I talk about my heart. You can casually sabotage yourself. You can casually close yourself off and build up an iron wall and never let anyone in again because of someone else’s ignorance and insecurity that they broke your heart. It’s that callout to say leave it out there. Let it be out there.
The tones are a little different than what you’ve done in the past. What inspired the beats?
I love hip-hop music. I wanted to do something that’d throw people. It’s very inspired by My Chem, Green Day [and] Good Charlotte, but then I wanted to modernize it with a modern beat and 808s, you know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s like emo meets trap.
Completely, but I wanted to do it—because everyone was fucking doing emo trap in the same way people do emo trap where you do one loop and never change chords. I wanted to just have my go at that—have a YUNGBLUD approach and make something that moves that genre on a little bit. I always want [to do that]. If people know what I’m going to do next, then I am fucked. I want them to be like, “Wow, fuck, he did that.”
“hope for the underrated youth”
This track is really fighting back against feelings of adversity, and with everything that you stand for, you’ve become the spokesperson for your fanbase and inspired them to speak up for themselves. Why is that so important to you with your music?
It’s interesting when people call me the spokesperson. It kind of sends a shiver up my spine. Yeah, that’s amazing, but I am one of them. I never want to be above them. I am not above them. I am one of them. Yes, I’m on the fucking T-shirt, right? But without the people wearing the T-shirt, I’m fucking nothing. It’s never me and them. I’m just writing the songs. People come up to me and say, “Dom, you saved my life.” I was like, “No, I didn’t save your life. You saved your life. I was maybe just a fork in the crossroad.”
On the single art, the EP art and even in the video for the track, you have this flag. Is there symbolism behind that?
Yeah dude, I love that flag. The flag is like, I love using the musical Les Miserables and the French Revolution. It’s very inspired by [that]—and even like “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay. Everyone has their banner. Everyone is part of something. We are part of a clan. We are part of a movement. That is our flag.
One of my big fan accounts is called the YUNGBLUD Army, and I was like, “Fuck me, man. We are a bit of an army, aren’t we?” That spouted out into so many intentions. I wanted to shoot the EP cover on a real 1800s glass plate camera like it would’ve been shot in World War I as just regiments would go over the top or go to war that shoot a picture to kind of live throughout the ages. In those glass plate cameras, you see into people’s souls. And I’m like, “It’s got to be shot like that.” It’s all surrounded by this military scene—this battle that we’re going to meet the fucking unjustified hate head-on with a bouquet of fucking flowers.
Before the song came out, you projected the lyrics on the Houses of Parliament. What was the motivation behind that?
It was a direct thing saying we can get our voices anywhere if we scream loud enough. It’s a government building. It was actually technically apparently an act of terrorism, the police said. I was like, “Oh fuck.” But it was completely illegal. We didn’t ask to do it. I just paid some fucking shifty geezers to project on the Houses of Parliament and rallied my fanbase to that place and created something powerful. Like I say, this is more than the music. I want it to be more than the music. It’s a movement of young people. It’s a movement of people in general and a fight for equality.
Going back to the music video that just came out, one of the focal points is gun violence when it takes a turn at the end. Why was it important to you to incorporate that in this video in line with the track’s message?
That’s a massive issue in the state of the world that’s still allowed to happen. I find it ridiculous after the amount of shit that goes on every fucking week in America. You look at a gun, and you look at someone in gun violence, and you go “Fuck, it happened again today, but only three people died, so that’s not that bad.” It’s like, “What?” You know it’s crazy [and] a massive part of what we’re fighting against. Why is that allowed on this planet? Why is that even a fucking option where a human can take another human life so easily and so barbarically?
It’s deeply upsetting, and I will not stop fucking talking about it. I will not stop pushing boundaries so it’s uncomfortable. I will not stop fighting against it until it’s abolished because we won’t stop fighting against it until it’s abolished, and it will be soon. One day we’re going to be behind the desks, and we’re going to be in the fucking shiny shoes [and] fucking stupid suits, and we’re going to fucking make a change. Because of the conversations that are happening and the seeds that are being planted right now.
“waiting on the weekend”
That’s a little acoustic track I wanted to give to the fans. I used to work in a guitar shop, and I wrote that with the [manager] who taught me guitar. So I wrote that with my uncle, Shane Gilliver. He’s a guy with glasses from Leeds who lives in South London now. I just wanted to write a song about a girl I used to see on a train platform in London and just let them see another side to me that I wrote with someone who’s very dear to me and someone who’s not a fucking A-list songwriter from Los Angeles or anything like that. We recorded it completely live. The take is live [with] me playing guitar and singing and Adam [Warrington], my guitar player, playing a 1600 pump organ just to have something that is just a fucking moment. No explanation. It’s a bit of a lullaby that I wrote, and I just went, “Fuck it, I’m just going to release it.” For no other reason than I want to.
It’s interesting because a lot of what you’ve put out thus far is very high energy and rock-driven, and this took it down a notch.
Just to sing you to sleep. I wake you up. The EP is like a cycle of a day, isn’t it? I’ll wake you up in the morning, and then I’ll sing you to sleep.
It really is when you think about it. Why did you end on that song? Why was the acoustic the last one to end on?
Because it’s almost a bit of a secret. I tried putting it in the middle, and it didn’t work. I was just like, “You know what, let’s just put it at the end as a little bit of a shocker to really fuck with people’s heads.”
You have a graphic novel, The Twisted Tales Of The Ritalin Club, and it was mentioned that there’s an EP with that. Is that this, or is there something else?
That’s this. It all fits with the story, intertwining with the song lyrics. It’s based on the song lyrics. I don’t want to give it away too much. You’ll see within the words and the script and the way “parents” flows and the way “hope for the underrated youth” flows and a song I was playing live flows. The script is all intertwined within the lyrics.
You’ve teased that a full-length is on its way as well. How did you decide that these tracks fit better on this EP than whatever you have planned in the future?
The full-length is going to be a full concept album. And I wanted to lay the groundwork of what the concept album will be about, and I want to just give my fans music. I think it’s time to give them music and time to give them another world to fall into before I create a fucking universe.