For Yung, the five year period between the release of their debut album A Youthful Dream and sophomore effort Ongoing Dispute has been a defining one.
The thrilling Danish indie-rock four-piece returned with their long-awaited follow-up at the end of January; a powerful record which sees them embrace a more collaborative output.
“During the process of writing this album I’ve learned a lot about myself but I’ve also learned a lot about working together as a collective”, frontman Mikkel Holm Silkjær told Daily Star Online.
“I think one of the main reasons it took such a long time was that when we started writing music together, it was like we were starting all over. It was like we were forming a new band.”
The long gap saw Yung regroup and recharge after relentless touring had taken its toll. But during their prolonged stint away, Mikkel, along with bassist Tobias Guldborg Tarp, guitarist Emil Zethsen, and drummer Frederik Nybo Veile discovered a sense of patience, as well as an openness to band members’ influences and tastes.
And it's worked wonders. Ongoing Dispute, released via PNKSLM Recordings, sees them retain the anthemic brand of post-punk from their first LP, released in 2016, but with a major sonic push. They are tighter, more melodic, but boast a deep sense of conviction buoyed by Mikkel’s honest, anguished vocals on themes of capitalism and social injustice as he strips the idea of self-image.
“We even renamed our name for a long time Yung 2.0”, Tobias told Daily Star Online. “It was a joke thing but it was something we referred to. It had to do with everything within the band. It wasn’t at all the music, it was everything surrounding the music. It was trying to be better at doing all the boring parts that I especially neglected for a long time, handling everything better and not delaying stuff.”
There’s one particular moment during its writing process, the band recalls, that changed everything.
On a whim, Emil threw in a Prince-esque riff during the writing of the track Dismantle – not the type of guitar hook you’d expect from a band more synonymous with post-punk.
Mikkel said; "I was like ‘are you even allowed to do that?!’, and you did it. I looked at you (Emil) and you went ‘yeah, I just f***ing did that’. It sounded great. That’s just an example of us bringing in the things each and everyone of us is good at."
Tobias added: “I feel like that very moment changed the rules within the band. Anything goes.”
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown caught up with Mikkel, Emil and Tobias, to talk about Ongoing Dispute and the years since A Youthful Dream, how they’ve changed as a band, and what’s next for a revitalised Yung.
Hi guys, how’ve the past 12 months been for you? How’ve you dealt with the challenges the pandemic has brought and how have you navigated it as a band?
Tobias Guldborg Tarp: “The first half of the lockdown was kind of nice in the sense there wasn’t much for us to do but we were able to meet up and work on new material. We were even able to do a couple of shows in the autumn.
"But the last three months we haven’t been able to do anything. It’s been quite boring. It’s the same for you, I guess. We haven’t even been able to meet up in our rehearsal space.”
Has it been all virtual? Is there anything you can do?
Mikkel Holm Silkjaer: “We celebrated the album release virtually. That was kind of strange, having written the album, all four of us, which is a first. Not being able to celebrate and give each other hugs. That was certainly strange.
"During the summer and the fall, we’ve been able to do stuff at least. The last couple of months we’ve done a lot of things virtually, which is strange and frustrating, but that’s just how things are.”
On a more positive note, you’ve just released your new album Ongoing Dispute, the follow up to your debut A Youthful Dream. What was its writing and recording process like this time?
Mikkel: “It was so different! I want to say positively different. It was such a big struggle to write the album because it was the first time we wrote a full length record, the four of us. Up until this record, I’ve brought in a lot of the material and most of the stuff for the songs had already been written, but this record are songs we’ve written all four of us. We’ve written our own parts.
“When we recorded A Youthful Dream we had a big record label backing us up financially. That meant we were able to do a couple of things we weren’t able to do the process of writing and recording Ongoing Dispute.
"It was a big struggle to raise money for this record. We’ve spent a lot of time, the past five years, worrying about money. It hasn’t been a limitation but it’s been frustrating. Once we had the money for this record, we found ourselves in a studio with one of our close friends and our regular sound tech. That was the first time we’d worked with someone that really knew what we sounded like.”
Tobias: “I feel like the process, more in an indirect way, up until touring around A Youthful Dream, everything went by so quickly and we built our lives around having this band together. Ever since we’ve slowed down, we’ve all had to fill the void that was left where we used to do band stuff because we weren’t touring as much. Changing things up a bit and trying to reconnect in stuff. We all found our own way to fill out that void or space. Connecting with different outlooks and fundaments in life has been a new experience for us.”
Where it was more collaborative, what was it like compared to the last one?
Emil Zethsen : “It was in a more democratic fashion. Mikkel had the groundwork with the main idea and we added the remaining elements of each song. This time around anyone would bring in an idea and we would just work on that. It’s been fundamentally different in that sense.”
The experience in general, was it a more enjoyable process in that way?
Mikkel: “I think it was more exciting.”
Emil: “We didn’t really have any idea of where it would be released. It was a strange, long period of time. It’s all just fuzzy for me, at least. We didn’t have a plan like that. It was delayed so many times and we kept on writing new songs. It was a strange process and a strange time. I guess it was more liberating that everyone could contribute.”
Mikkel: “I think one of the main reasons it took such a long time was that when we started writing music together, it was like we were starting all over. It was like we were forming a new band.
"We already knew each other incredibly well because of all the touring. We started this new band and it felt really exciting, but it also felt like new territory. We had to do a lot of groundwork in terms of exploring one another.
"It look a long time because we hadn’t actually written an album or songs together in such a fashion before that. I feel like that period of time was frustrating because we didn’t have a plan, we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have any money, but it was exciting because we had this new thing that we didn’t know what we were creating or album we were going to make.
“I remember every time we finished a song I felt incredibly excited because it felt new. It felt like when you meet a new person and you’re really attracted to that person. It could be in a romantic context or a friendship context, but you’re just attracted to this person, but you don’t know the person and you don’t know what it is. I felt that way with every song we wrote. I was really proud. That was a new feeling.”
Tobias: “It was nerve-wracking to see what we’d all end up with. We didn’t know where this new feeling was taking us. Every pre-written idea didn’t seem to work out very well. Most of the material was written spontaneously with the four of us in the same room.”
Mikkel: “That’s so funny. I remember when we first started writing this, we started writing new music in the fall of 2016. I brought in a couple of ideas I had recorded and somehow they just didn’t work out. Without any of us being vocal about it, we just started jamming. That was the first time we did that. At first I was thinking I can’t believe these songs don’t work out because so far it had been working out, what happened? Then we started jamming and we started getting curious about jamming.”
Having gone through the challenges and the period of time up until the release of Ongoing Dispute, do you think it’s the reinvention or reinvigoration of the band?
Tobias: “Definitely. We even renamed our name for a long time Yung 2.0. It was a joke thing but it was something we referred to. It had to do with everything within the band. It wasn’t at all the music, it was everything surrounding the music. It was trying to be better at doing all the boring parts that I especially neglected for a long time and handling everything better, not delaying stuff.”
Mikkel: “I don’t know if this relates to the question but I feel like we’ve learned a lot about what you can achieve as a collective. During the process of writing this album I’ve learned a lot about myself but I’ve also learned a lot about working together as a collective. Emil and I, we’re a couple of years younger than Frederick and Toby, and occasionally it’s been a struggle for them to have a couple of young boys in the band, but I think during the years we’ve spent on this record, Emil and I have matured a little bit.
“I have learned a lot about working with other people. That’s not because of the touring, that’s because of the album. When you disagree with someone you have to have a talk about it. That’s not something I did prior to writing this album.”
I know it’s only just been released but are you now positive looking ahead about what you can release with this newfound collectivity?
Tobias: “Definitely. We’ve been working on new material as well with this same dynamic within the band. It’s probably still evolving, taking shape. I think we’re just still trying to go with whatever it is. So far, we’ve written what seems to be maybe half a new album. I think what we learned from this album is to embrace a slower pace and a slower mentality, and seeing where the material and where the group dynamic takes us.”
It’s full of anthemic post-punk we loved from the first album but shows a sonic maturity as you push boundaries melodically. What was it like seeing the album blossom?
Tobias: “It’s been amazing. The main parts of the blossoming is due to our different inputs. We’re different people and we have disputes. We’re also very open, or at least became more open people. The blossoming I find is a product of us embracing one another’s different ideas, outlooks and tastes.”
Emil: “Production-wise, we were all must happier in comparison to A Youthful Dream. I’m really terrible at describing sound but I feel it’s a thicker, a better sounding record to my ears. In that way, it’s nice to hear how it came out. Of course, you always listen to all the flaws and things you would have done differently, but in general we’re all pretty happy with how it turned out compared to A Youthful Dream, which I still find that, in certain ways is a good record, but we weren’t satisfied with the overall sound, I guess.”
What inspiration were you consuming over this period of time writing the new album?
Emil: “I tend to listen to the same music I have for the past 10 years.”
Tobias: “I don’t find that to be true at all!”
Emil: “I can’t remember when I discovered something or if it influenced me at the time. I really don’t.”
Tobias: “I love Prince but maybe more so Emil loves Prince. Emil playing Prince-influenced guitar has become the archetypical example of us bringing in all kinds of ideas. I believe you started getting into Prince during these last five years.”
Emil: “I had a period where I really wanted to play decent Nile Rodgers-style funk guitar. I guess I was fascinated by that a little bit.”
Mikkel: “I remember when we wrote the song Dismantle, which is I believe one of the early songs, but at some point during a part of the song, during the second verse, Emil went Prince-ish on the guitar. I just remember when you did that it just blew my mind! I was like ‘are you even allowed to do that?!’, and you did it. I looked at you and you went ‘yeah, I just f***ing did that’. It sounded great. That’s just an example of us bringing in the things each and everyone of us is good at. That moment really changed the song in my head, in a positive way.”
Tobias: “I feel like that very moment changed the rules within the band. Anything goes. You could just do anything and usually people bring in wackier, out of the ordinary, and maybe apologise about it. But then everyone would be super excited about it and you’d be like ‘no, you have to do that!’
Mikkel: “When you’ve played in a band for a long time and when we wrote at the time we’d been playing as Yung for two, three or four years, but it seemed like we’d been active for a long time. But when you’ve been active as a band or musician for a long time, you often confine yourself to certain rules. But when Emil did that thing, he kind of said ‘f*** the rules’.”
Emil: “I had no idea it was such a groundbreaking moment for you! I’m surprised you can remember all these things, it’s all a blur to me, to be honest.”
Tobias: “We remember everything.”
It was a real landmark moment.
Tobias: “To answer your question, I have listened to a lot of new stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient music lately. I think it added some calm around the writing, at least for me. It grounded me a bit. I like to think I passed some of that grounding to the other guys as well.”
You are predominantly an indie, post-punk band in sound but does it take the pressure off knowing there are no rules and that you can bring in these new influences and styles, rather than being so direct with your output?
Emil: “It can be really tedious, really quickly. I never felt like we limited ourselves in anyway. In the beginning Mikkel would provide the songs and everything was going fast. So when his change happened, I feel it’s really a necessity to not limit yourself and I don’t think we ever did. I hate the idea of trying to fit in to something. It’s very cliche because everyone would say that, but the idea of trying to fit into some box is just silly. If it sounds good, then it sounds good.”
Tobias: “Go with your gut and pray you have a good taste in music.”
When you first started out, is Ongoing Dispute an album you thought you’d make? Is it quintessential Yung?
Mikkel: “I remember when we finished the album, some of the members of the bands thought the songs were too different to one another. We had a lot of discussions about that. When you find yourself in the middle of writing a record, it seems like everything is very obvious and ‘we wrote that song at that time or we felt that way when we wrote that’. Eventually when we came up with the tracklist and it was mixed and mastered, I called up Toby, that must have been two years ago, and I was like ‘wow, just listen to the record’. I though it made sense. That was the first time I realised that all the songs made sense and we had written a record. I don’t think I thought about that when I was writing the album. It was on to the next one.”
Tobias: “It was pretty aimless during the process. Writing songs could be such a struggle or it never went according to plan, songs would appear when everyone was creatively exhausted. This one tiny idea could become a song in an instance. That never really allowed for a full vision of what the album would turn out to be. After hearing the result, in the order it’s in, I had the same experience that it felt like one entity as an album.”
Lyrically you’re diverse too. Mikkel, you’re quoted as saying the band had to dismantle self image and as well as your own self-image as a songwriter. How did you get into the mindset of writing these songs?
Mikkel: “When we started writing the album and lyrics, the first couple of songs I wrote lyrics for are very much about dismantling your own self image and coming to terms with the fact that we’re all humans and humans have got a lot of flaw. Admitting that we’ve got flaws or you as an individual has got flaws, that’s a strength and something that took me a long time to realise.
“We had a couple of very busy years and everything happened so fast. We found ourselves in New York, Tokyo, all across Europe, playing at SXSW in Texas. We met all these people and when you’re a young person and exposed to that kind of success, your self image might change a bit. That happened to me as a young person when all the these happened. I was 21 when we released a youthful dream. When we released it, it was kind of a turning point because it felt like a journey ended. I woke up, I was very hungover, and reality punched me in the face.
“I knew this before but I started realising that through literature we have so much inequality on this planet. I realised I had a lot of privileges and that I didn’t want to write about myself because it didn’t make sense anymore. I wanted to talk about the problems in society. The problematic structures in society. I started writing about that without really thinking I was going to write about this. It just kind of happened.
“As I wrote the lyrics I realised things. When we wrote Friends On Ice, I wrote the lyrics quite quickly. After finishing the song, I didn’t realise what the song was about but I’ve been able to contextualise the lyrics. I’ve realised that to me it’s about being confused about consumerist culture, capitalism, and it sums up the album that when you do things on a collective level, you learn so much more as an individual and you get further as a group. I didn’t realise that when I wrote the song.”
A maturity as a songwriter is coming through now, would you say?
Mikkel: “Definitely. A lot of things happen when you find yourself in your 20s. 21-26 is only five years but it seems like a lifetime when you’re in your 20s. A lot of things happen.
“At some point I realised that maybe I didn’t want to identify with the character I had become when we wrote A Youthful Dream. Ongoing Dispute is very much about dismantling that self image.”
What’s the music scene like in Denmark right now? Do you foresee that it’s going to be like when the pandemic is finished?
Tobias: “There’s a lot of great stuff going on. Young and old bands are hungry to get out there.”
Mikkel: “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what this pandemic is going to do to music and how it’s going to influence music. I don’t have an answer but I think once this thing has passed, I think music scenes across the world are going to blow up. I’m really curious about what genre is going to blow up.
“In Denmark for the last 10 years, there has been a lot of guitar-based music coming out. It seems like the last couple of years have been rough but we have a lot of really interesting bands in Denmark currently. Hopefully we can do a Denmark tour in April. We’re so lucky we get to play with a couple of our favourite Danish bands. Trader and Whistler.”
Tobias: “It was in the media recently that someone contemplated that lockdown has been good for pessimistic guitar-based music. People now more than ever need anger. The pandemic is great for rock music.”
Mikkel: “People are embracing the pessimism.”
What’s next for Yung? Are you looking ahead at where you can take the band? You mentioned new material and songs you have already but what does the next chapter hold?
Tobias: “Hopefully more touring and meeting awesome people. We’ve haven’t really talked about it much I guess maybe because of the pandemic. I tend to want to enjoy more and more where we are, rather than to get somewhere else. We’re looking forward to writing.”
Mikkel: “I’m really looking forward to going back to the studio at some point and recording new music. I feel like Ongoing Dispute was us exploring new territory. Nw we’ve explored the territory, now it’s time to build the city.
“Making the next record, I don’t think it’s going to be as big a struggle as this one as we’ve matured as a band. We know each other now. We know how we collaborate in a creative environment and I think that’s really going to help us on the next record. I’m really looking forward and excited about what’s going to happen next.
“To be honest I’m so glad we’ve closed down Ongoing Dispute. It’s been our record for a very long time and now it’s not our record anymore, it’s everybody’s record. It’s on its own journey now.”
Tobias: “I think it’s the first time I’ve heard you be not anxious or pessimistic about the next record! I’m the same, I’m excited.”
Yung’s Ongoing Dispute is out now via PNKSLM Recordings