Youngblood a.k.a. Alexis Young makes spacey, electronic dance music with some serious dream-pop vibes. But it's the undercurrent of tension lurking beneath the beauty that makes this Vancouver performer an enigmatic force to be reckoned with.
GOONHOUSE: Tell me about Youngblood—why did you decide to go solo?
YOUNGBLOOD: I played in a band called Sex With Strangers for years. It was the best time of my life, those guys are like my brothers, but it came to a point where I didn’t feel like it was the fullest expression of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to be represented as an artist. The guys were like, 'You don’t have to quit, nothing changes! You can do both!' but I was like, no. If this is my thing, this has to be my main thing. So I quit Sex with Strangers a year ago. Youngblood is still super new, but I’ve been writing some of these songs for years now, whenever I had spare time. So yeah! What started as me wanting to express myself personally, has evolved into an exercise of creative collaboration with some of my best friends.
GH: That’s cool, so you still have a solid crew behind you?
YB: Yeah, and I would say that Youngblood wouldn’t be what it is without all those people. I'm co-writing most songs with my friend Parker Bossley who plays in the Gay Nineties. My live band is composed of basically all of my best friends, including my boyfriend. So we get to work together, and work out the live sounds and arrangements.
GH: But you're the creative director?
YB: Totally. I have a very specific vision for how I want things to look and to sound, so it’s nice to be in control of that. I feel like if I ever compromise, it's always for the betterment of the project. It helps to work with people who are super talented—it makes it easy.
GH: When you're first start writing a song, do you have a visual in mind?
YB: There’s a song called Alone With You on the EP coming out this summer that's like that. One night I was falling asleep—which is when the best ideas come because you’re turning off your logical brain—and I had this picture of really big church bells swaying and ringing. I wanted to make bells a prominent piece in the chorus, so I came up with this very Ronettes, Phil Spektor, girl group style. But then as the song evolved, it turned into a really laid-back sexy R&B song. It was so far from what I was envisioning, and now it's one of my favourite songs. It’s dark and oozy, and slow and sexy. There’s still bells in there, but it's totally different.
GH: You just rolled with it.
YB: Yeah. It’s a song about feeling exposed, and reacting in a way you didn’t think you’d ever react, and feeling outside yourself. So it all fits together in this dark and conflicted, guilty weird sound.
GH: Very cool. So you surprised yourself.
YB: Totally. I never considered myself an R&B writer, but I ended up doing something I didn’t think I was going to do—and that’s what the song is about, so it fits perfectly on the same trajectory. Ultimately it's hard to write songs with visuals in mind, but sometimes they can have an influence on the final sound.
GH: Who’s an artist you dream of collaborating with?
YB: Santigold—I remember listening to her when she first came out. I just listened to her first album again last week. It’s like new wave reggae: it's its own incredible thing.
GH: She was so ahead of the times. Like Rihanna is doing that stuff now, but Santigold was doing it years ago.
YB: I went back to check out her story, and found out that she’s 40. I had no idea! She does not look 40, first of all. But it was also really inspiring for me to [realize] she was 32 when her first album came out. That inspired so much hope in me. Sometimes you feel like you’re racing against the clock—like I have to get this shit done before i’m out of my 20's or no one’s gonna listen to it, or respect it, or whatever.
GH: Wait, how old are you?
YB: I’m 26.
GH: Oh girrrl!
YB: I know. But every time you read a profile, it starts by mentioning their age! I hate that, I wish they didn’t do it. I understand it’s for context, because then you can see where they are in their career—but people do new things, and stop and start careers all the time.
GH: Yeah, like why is that relevant unless the artist is really young, or really old.
YB: Exactly. There’s just been a system to interviews, like: 26-year-old Alexis was wearing an oversized pink sweater and we met at Revolver.
GH: Oh god, hahaha, totally.
YB: I went to an interview where I’d already met [the reporter] before, so I wasn't thinking about my first impression. It was for a music story, so I figured they weren't going to describe what I wore, it wasn't Elle magazine. But [when I read] the interview, the first line said: Alexis Young and I met up on a break from her job at Lululemon, and she was wearing this, and we met at a Kitsilano cafe. *laughs*
GH: How do you feel about being associated with Lululemon? I saw the how to achieve goals like a rockstar video they released, which is great exposure for you. But in terms of brand, it seems so different from what you’re doing.
YB: To be honest I did feel weird about it at first. I think because I had preconceived notions about the company, and didn’t think it was in line with my own values. But since I’ve started working there [as a contract graphic designer] I’ve been proven so wrong. I was blown away by the people, and the things they’re doing. They’re trying to become a brand that really cares about women, and women’s bodies, and community, and these are all things I care about too. I was kinda surprised that they were doing a lot of that stuff. They released a video telling my story, I mean, how can I be mad at them?
GH: Hah, yeah, like please don’t show this to your giant following...?
YB: Right?! I was so flattered and humbled that they would ask me to do that. It’s a part of my story now.
GH: Did you have a big part in styling your music video?
YB: It was the first Youngblood video, so I had the advantage of taking everything I love and cramming it into one video. The original idea was to look at obsession in three characters, and to draw from different genres and eras for each character. The girl obsessed with finding love is my 60's character, the vanity glamor character was a very 1920's-style baroque goddess, and the health and fitness character was very much late a late 70's/early 80s Debbie Harry, right down to those amazing onesies she always wore.
Graphic design and art direction is my day job, so I made these super-thorough mood boards for each character—like, here's the outfits, here's the makeup—and I was able to give those directly to the makeup and hair stylists.
I worked with ROOM Collective: I’m a big fan of their filmmaking style, so I fully trusted them to execute the idea. I wanted to almost mislead people into thinking it's going to be a nice, pretty video, but then completely smash their preconceived notions, and purposely try to make myself look really fucked up and ugly.
GH: I like that, there's an undercurrent of unease.
YB: The biggest thing I’m excited about is challenging peoples' perceptions, especially just superficially. If you look at me, it’s like: oh she’s blonde, she’s got blue eyes, what does she have to say? And I wanna be like fuck you, I’m really weird and fucked up and I’ve got a lot of shitty things to say. *laughs*
It's funny, when we were filming, it was a pretty small set, and it was really quiet. We were playing the song over and over in the background, and I was just freaking out, kind of screaming and shaking, and rolling my eyes exorcism-style like, she got the devil in her! Just puking up milk and glitter, rubbing it in my face, and kissing this knife and a mannequin, and the crew was just like: oh shiiiiit. After every take I would ask them, did that make you feel uncomfortable? If they said yes—it was good. If they said no, I was like k, roll it again, I don’t wanna stop until you feel uncomfortable.
GH: Is that just your persona, or do you like making people uncomfortable in your real life too?
YB: In my day to day life I go out of my way to make people feel comfortable. I’m very much a people pleaser, so its a nice way to escape and challenge that. I’ve always relished awkwardness. I was a super awkward teenager, and I loved those awkward moments when you first meet someone, or when you tell someone you love them but it's unrequited and there’s that moment where you can see their brain processing and you can see they’re not sure what to say. You either get a knee jerk reaction that's super impulsive, or you get this extremely calculated move. But you do get that moment of honesty. I think people are normally so careful with what they say, that it's nice to push somebody a little bit to get that honest reaction, so you can really gauge who they are.