OLLY ALEXANDER @ FUCKING YOUNG! #8

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Olly Alexander (Yorkshire, 1990) is fine. He’s travelling all over the world alongside his band “Years and Years” and Ellie Goulding, and right when we speak, they’ve just played at Coachella. It looks like a long way from home, from his birthplace in the United Kingdom, from fears and insecurities and growing up feeling special. Uniqueness is now Olly’s strength, while he gives his voice to the world, a special gift that sounds soft and strong and rather honest – kind of like Olly himself. He has also performed as an actor in Skins and Penny Dreadful; creativity cannot be denied in him but accepted and beloved, and while he assures maturity is getting to him, there’s this allure of childish energy, a cuteness of thoughts. Thoughts that come loud and strong an clear. We start speaking. He’s in Dallas. I’m in Barcelona. And between us, Jet Lag and a couple of hours in a flight and a whole universe magically revealing to him. 

“I just basically feel like it’s just about having a meaningful existence and I’m just trying to maintain that goal for myself.”

This issue is about outsiders, about those who don’t follow the rules. I would call you one, because it’s something positive to me. You’re one for many reasons – good singing, good song writing, good acting, good courage. To start with something, it will be you being open about everything, naturally. But there’s plenty of fuzz around Internet: you’re gay, you sing about love, you kissed your boyfriend on stage. It’s 2016 and it’s still news material. How do you handle this?

Well, a tough question. (he laughs) I guess, I handle it like everybody else handles that in life, I just try – as much as possible – to get with the people I love and love me and stay positive. I don’t want to let any negativity in my life. I basically feel like it’s just about having a meaningful existence and I’m trying to maintain that goal for myself.

Would you say that comes naturally to you? You don’t think if you do something, you just go with the flow.

I spent a really long time, a big portion of my life being kind of “I should be this, I should be that”, or “I need to achieve”, you know, I was very hard with myself. I would say “I need to achieve this goal for myself”. I think this can be really positive, it got me where I am now. But  I’ve realized now I care more about doing things that feel fulfilling and meaningful whatever they might be, you know, whether it’s like helping someone or helping a process.

When I started researching about your work, I found this quote of you; “I make music because I have a pain inside that can’t be heeled”. It came fast and soft, but from very deep. Would you say discomfort (positive or negative) is what makes you create?

I think if you’re a creative person, if you have a creative mind, that’s who you are, it’s in your DNA. It doesn’t necessarily mean you create art, it might be being creative with people, or whether you run an office or whatever. That’s just the way my brain works.

Your lyrics speak about missing, about ties and knots and prisons, and also about fighting and recovering. Is there much about you in this? 

Everything with the lyrics it’s all about my vibe really, from my experience, so you can take anything and see a reflection of me and I – like everyone else – have a million different parts and personalities. I would just say you could draw any conclusion from it.

Would you call yourself a fighter/survivor?

Yeah, I think I would call myself those because whoever you are you have to fight and survive different shit. It can be kind of healing to recognize that to yourself.

There’s a quote from one of your songs that read “I must behave, I must keep fighting”.

When I hear it said like that I think “that person seems to be having a hard time” hehe. But I actually wanted to write it… It was more like fighting an attraction to someone that you don’t feel you should be attracted to, in a kind of sexual politics.

You wrote your first song age 10. Couple of years later, acting came into your life. How did you find yourself within disciplines?

I don’t think I ever had pretty much confidence in what I was doing – ever. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, because I think you should always be a bit scared, it’s good to you. But ,ahm, I don’t know, I never felt I was really an actor necessarily. I think it’s because I didn’t have any training or anything, like you don’t need that training as an actor, but… I just have like a lot less  of confidence on it.

And has that changed for you? Do you feel different now about this now?

I’ve kind of grown up a bit, I suppose, and I’ve just been around for a bit longer, and I’ve less of anxiety about “Am I going to be good enough?” or you know, I still have some anxiety but I’ve matured a bit and I also had “Years & Years” and I feel more solid, I have a more solid core. When you try to meet success and achievements through other people’s definitions of them you never win, you never succeed, because you have to feel that all that suffer is artificial. I’ve been learning that over the years, to feel more content with all the infections and failures that go to my existence. (laughs)

When growing up, you’ve told suffering bullying and not feeling good about yourself because of being different. Can you talk a little bit about this?

Well if you’ve been a kid, you literally don’t understand why there’s a massive bullying target on your back.

Yeah totally.

It’s like someone’s put a mark on you for whatever reason and all the kids are going to go after you. With myself, I was visibly weaker and smaller than the other kids, my friends were always the girls, I was into drawing and painting, and music, I wasn’t into sports at all – I really hate sports. And that sent me apart right away. I think the kids could  see that there was something different, that I wasn’t like them, they would take a pick on me. That was kind of continue like verbally and physically, and then it got better when I got older. I was fifteen I could stand up for myself and I didn’t feel like victimised as much.

You spoke about drama class and about how it was a safe place for the underdogs. Think of a moment when you said “it’s fine, it’s ok, I’m me and I like that”, a shiny moment when fear was gone and bullies didn’t matter no more.

Well I had a really great art teacher, at school, so I was always in the drama class, and we had sort of a self portrait project, and I would do a very dramatic self portrait of myself, pretty much like screaming, like Edward Munch’s screaming mask.

I can picture it.

(hehe) And my teacher loved it and it was hanged up in the class. It was like a weird – scary – dramatic painting and he was very supportive of it and It felt really really good, it felt like I had done something which had some of myself in it. And it was accepted by someone who told the kids it was good. It felt like a really great moment.

I like that story. How can we change this and make everyone embrace their uniqueness? Instead of pointing each other’s differences.

That is a very hard thing to accomplish because I think the whole society and families structure the way we create models, which takes people to conform. As soon as you’re born that starts, like your parents have that whole lifetime being told that they need to conform with society, and they are going to start teaching you that so when you get to school, the way to treat people is in small groups. I don’t think it conduces to accepting other’s people uniqueness. I don’t know what the answer is, maybe there’s no perfect way of doing it. I think what would be good is if teachers had some sort of formation. Like you cannot change your parents, unfortunately, but you do sometimes get the chance to have a really great teacher. So teachers should be educated better maybe on different ways of teaching, and different ways of learning, and different identities. Literally sex education is not compulsory in the UK; if sex education was compulsory, and if young people would learn about different sexual identities, different gender identities at a very young age, that would be an enormous step in the right direction.

There are some artists who change the pronouns when covering a song to match their heterosexuality. (F.E: if the song was sung by a guy and now it’s a girl singing, she becomes he). How does this make you feel?

Obviously, heterosexuality is still considered the most acceptable form of  expression in music. And there are a lot of heterosexual artists and musicians that if they want to express themselves in an heterosexual way they are totally free and should be free to do that. However it can feel very… An artist doesn’t have to be gay for you to change the pronoun, like exactly what you were talking about, for instance, if Justin Timberlake would cover a song written by… I’m trying to think of a song with he in it. (thinks) Like in “Falling” by Alicia Keys, if he would cover that, and kept the gender pronoun, it wouldn’t mean he’s gay. You’re just singing a song the way it’s written. It’s just a form of expression and I think that would be an amazing place, like I would love to see a straight artist to do that. Specially this applies more to men, than to women. I’m not saying it’s any harder if you’re a woman, but we accept more fluidity from female artists.

I don’t think necessarily that is helpful with females either because they have to be this kind of hot bisexual girl, which I don’t think it’s helpful for non-straight women. Any sort of any small percentage of gayness with men is not allowed. Like “be masculine”. So I think it would be great to see straight artists to embrace that part of sexuality and also for the audience, it would be good. That was a very long answer to your question.

(we laugh)

Kind of a way of not giving that much of importance to gender. It’s a song, you’re singing to love, you don’t need to state that you’re this and that.

Exactly. It’s very… (sigh) no matter who you are, you don’t have to conform and say well I’m this or I’m that, I have to sell myself in this specific way because society told me so, so that is a sad and uncolourful place to be.

(laughs

The world seems to be changing; trans issues are on the mass media, genders are starting to fade and it translates into different fields. “Desire” explores all of that.

I suppose because I’m in this position now, where I have a platform, where I can do and say and make things that will be seen by a number of people, so I just think how do I wanT express what I really care about, what I believe in, the art that I’m making. And since I’ve grown up the people that has been my family really has been LGBT queer people, non-straight people, gay people, transgender, people who do drag, people who don’t identify with any gender, that has been all my friends, all the people I’ve been with since I was a teenager. I really love them so much and I wanted to include them and give them an space and a platform in a pop video. It’s not the most transgressive music video in the world but I’m so proud that I could showcase so many identities that normally don’t get that many space on mainstream media. So that’s really why I wanted to do it. And because it’s one of the issues of our community today, that is an inclusion of all sort of different members, because there have to be different experiences and people within it. And then it’s great from me to give such prominence. And I always had a conflict because I think we gave a lot of of space and too much importance to gay white man, which I am myself (laugh) and I think part of recognizing that privilege is to try and make sure I encourage other people’s voices to be heard, and to share my platform, and give myself to other people.

You are very open about sexuality, mental health. You speak out and clear. I have the feeling you appreciate the gift to be heard, to express and communicate. 

It’s a privilege, I think.

But, everyday I still listen to what boys do, what girls do, how a man is and how a woman is. Would you think of some ways to break boundaries and think beyond – helping and freeing?

Oh god, well, it’s a pretty hard question, I wish I knew how to be doing that, but I think part of what keeps people thinking that way is fear, they are afraid of different identities, afraid of different sexualities, a fear within themselves. But if people meet someone they never had the chance to be with, a trans person, or a gay person, or is someone they love, they meet a member of the community, they completely change attitudes, because they realize they have a common shared experience with this person, that we are humans and they can identify with that person and their fear starts fading. We can only really achieve that by – I’m guessing – have a diversity of LGBT and queer people on TV and on media, and also teachers to be openly gay or trans or bisexual, or politicians to be open about it, and it sort of happens. That would be the step on the right direction.

Are you afraid of something?

Yeah, I’ m afraid of the usual stuff, like my friends and family getting ill or dying. But I tell myself not to be afraid.

Tell me a mantra for someone who is lost.

Aaaaah (screams and laughs). I don’t know if this is helpful, but I use to tell myself that I have the power to respond and not react to situations, to choose responses rather than reactions.

If I say; you can choose to build a portrait for yourself, like those from ANTM (and Tyra and the garbage, that was very funny) or any other surreal landscape. What is it, what are you wearing, who is dressing you, who’s next to you?

I’ve never been asked this question before. I think I would like to be in a big greek kind of mythology painting, and I would be Icarus, flying towards the sun with my big wings. And it would be filled with very beautiful kind of great looking greek gods. (laughs)

Years and years”, you guys are having some massive success. Where are you going now (musically, spiritually, globally)?

I don’t know really. It’s a nice place to be. Well, it’s a scary place to be. I think I’ve mentioned it earlier, but I’ve always been putting very high demands on myself and now I just want to be creative, being open to any possibility. So letting that happen and not trying to decide that much what’s going to happen next, because it could be anything. I’m excited for the future.

And regarding your acting career? 

It’s been on the back for a couple of years. I feel much more comfortable making musing, there’s much more I want do and people I love to work with, and it takes us so much time. I think I’ll keep with the music for a bit longer, definitely.

Last question, but because there’s always need to be a last one – before starting again. Olly Alexander really likes… 

(He laughs) Mangos.

O. Mangos? Allright, I like mangos too. And Olly Alexander is really wishing…

A. I had more sleep last night.

We laugh again.

WORDS: Oriol Bruc

Olly Alexander for Fucking Young’s EIGHT ISSUE -> http://fuckingyoung.es/olly-fy8/

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