We take a journey through space and time with the Young Lions frontman, Zachary Britt.
When I’m introduced to Zachary Britt of Young Lion’s over the phone, he’s in the sun soaked city of Brisbane having arrived from Melbourne the day previous.
“I’ve got places in both Brisbane and Melbourne and I’m between both fairly regularly,” he says casually to me, someone who only just went on a plane for the first time last month. “I was based in Melbourne for about two years and I was also in Brisbane for a long time.” He’s no doubt racking up frequent flyer miles like George Clooney from Up in the Air, he says with a laugh – “I’m saving them up to cash in when we go on tour again!”
Air travel aside, I’m namely speaking to Britt about Young Lions’ brilliant new record, ‘Mr Spaceman’. It’s their third album and in many ways, their best work yet. Though I’m not ashamed to say that I love their previous efforts ‘Burn’ and ‘Blue Isla’ maybe the tiniest bit more than this newer release, the artistry occurring on ‘Mr Spaceman’ is perhaps the band’s most mature and developed to date. (You can read my review of the album here). At its core, it’s a concept album that tells the space opera-like tale of a man lost in the vast cosmos, trying to find his way home; all playing out alongside massive, hypnotic soundscapes that further push the envelope on Young Lions sound.
One of the very first things you’ll notice about this LP once the beautiful opening song ‘Out Of The Dark’ fades away is that the band’s music for the most part here feels so much moodier and angrier than on past releases. It feels a lot less like the hopeful, anthemic soundtrack to Jared Leto’s life in a 30 Seconds to Mars album and more like a dire warning sign. That would be because the band has shifted their focus from keys that often feel celebratory and endearing to ones that are, more or less, distressing and discomforting. D minor makes an often appearance here, a key which Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap once called the “saddest of all keys“, and if that’s not an indication of what to expect on ‘Mr Spaceman’ I don’t what will be! This change wasn’t one that happened through a change in tuning, vocal style or one happening by pure accident; it was a conscious and purposeful move to help tell the story of ‘Mr Spaceman’ in the best way possible.
“It was a conscious choice to write in different keys this record”, Britt echoes. “When you’ve done two albums you really want to try and come back to it and do something new. We thought a lot about the keys we were gonna work in and did a little bit of research into certain keys and the kind of emotions they invoke. I’ve been recently into frequency therapy and researching how people use frequencies therapeutically. Certain frequencies can invoke certain feelings in certain people. It really peaked my interest.”
However, it doesn’t stop at mere Internet research for Britt. He really took the extra mile; literally. “At the end of the year, I’m heading over to India with some people who have taught a lot of stuff about that for the past fifty years. I’m so keen to do that!”
And it also wasn’t just about controlling people’s emotions like some musical puppet master, there was also a desire to change things up in a way that made the whole experience different yet also retained the Young Lions sound at its heart.
“When you’ve been a band for a while you’re still gonna have that same sound. I think people have a fear that it’s gonna sound too different when you actively take a different approach but I truly believe that no matter what, if you’re the same people you’ll still have aspects of that sound. ‘Blue Isla’ and ‘Burn’ had a really comfortable and warm feeling,” Britt says at one point in agreement with my feelings about their past two records, “but we wanted to travel with this one.”
He means that part quite literally, too. “We were inspired by movies like Interstellar and we’ve been delving into that idea of space as the new frontier for mankind. We as a human species are really pushing into new areas that we never have before. So we wanted to make an album that in a lot of ways gave an out of body experience and also pushed people out of their comfort zone. Yet at the same time, we had to make sure they felt familiar enough to feel like they could go that far out of themselves.”
“I’m a big fan of experimenting with psychedelics”, Britt also adds.
My eyebrows shoot off the top of my head at this point, being a bit surprised by the honesty in his response without me pushing for anything whatsoever. “A few of the guys in the band are as well but that kind of stuff isn’t for everyone and I think we really wanted to create that feeling for everyone.”
“And we wanted to also deliver that in the tour we’re about to go on. We’ve got a fully immersive live show with crowd interaction and props and things that are bringing people into the experience of the room. We want to, in a figure of speech, leave that room and get out of there; mentally and physically. As we’re pushing our minds we also have to know that there are some people who can’t go on that journey to that extent chemically so that’s what we’re trying to create musically so they can go on that journey.”
Even a few weeks after this interview I still can’t get over the mention of “props” and have been racking my brain as so far as to what it could be! There’s only one way to find out: go to one of the shows on that upcoming September tour with The Comfort!
Outside of planning the theatrics for their headline tour, ‘Mr Spacemen’ became a labor of love for Young Lions as they came in and out of the studio, spending tiresome hours fine tuning the songs over and over till they were at the standard the band needed them to be. Near enough was simply not good enough for these guys.
“We pushed really hard and we worked on it for a long time then went back into the studio to work on it and mix it again with some other people. We just felt it was still sitting below the bar we wanted. We needed to have it give that out of body experience. So we spent a few more weeks of production and adding more oomph to it all so those soundscapes just took you away and made you forget where you were at.”
If the band had cut corners throughout the process, not only would the music suffer but so would the story. As Britt puts it, “The concept is pretty strong here. Obviously, with album’s you have to leave some things to the listener’s interpretation. You wouldn’t want an album that only had a certain amount of ways to look at it.”
“As far as the story goes, we really wanted to go with someone who essentially just disappears. And this person was a bit of a rebel on earth and burnt all this money from a militia group and…”. Britt senses himself possibly about to get too carried away by listing off the aspects to the story and stops himself momentarily, instead, telling me something that’s even more exciting. “We are going to tie a lot of this together and explain it better as we have a great group of visual artists and comic book artists working on some visual stuff that’s going to come out. The comic books are probably what I’m most excited about and have been more excited about than anything!”
That’s right; the band is taking a leaf out bands like Coldplay and adding visual storytelling to their album and in doing so, creating a whole other experience for listeners. Yet Chris Martin and co. weren’t the band on the tip of his tongue.
“I’m a huge fan of bands like Gorillaz and Coheed and Cambria that have crazy visuals and depth to the stories they create to really give the listeners and fans a little bit more depth and grip what they’re trying to say. We really wanted to dive into and create a world that people can disappear into ‘cause sometimes this world is pretty scary. It’s one we’ve been working on for a while with directors and what not and we’re working with Neil Walters who are directing our videos but is also co-directing and writing the story that will fit in with the songs.” With a talent like Walters also at the helm alongside the band, this just makes me even more excited for what’s about to come!
As we’re speaking, Britt continues to dive further and further down the rabbit hole of this record and the massive behind-the-scenes effort they are putting into it, dropping a huge piece of news right to me over the phone. “We’re in production now at the NASA space museum in Brisbane. It’s pretty amazing.” That is no doubt an absolute understatement on Britt’s part!
“The place used to be a space museum that had all these simulation training spaces for astronauts. But we got onto a guy who used to work there, which was a pretty serendipitous thing, and we thought that he’ll ask us for half a million dollars to use this stuff. Yet he hit us back and said that since we wrote an album about space and they had a space museum, that we could go and use the facility. That’s been so pivotal to all the stuff we’re going to be releasing over the next year. It’s fucking wild. We still can’t believe it. And we’ve been building a spacesuit since last year on a shoestring budget too!”
In. Fucking. Sane.
Now, the story itself is widely open to interpretation with each song feeling like it could easily exist in a vacuum outside the record. ‘Burn the Money’ feels in some ways as a cry for minimalism and an end to capitalist greed whereas ‘Message’ could also be deciphered as a song about the relentless of touring away from your loved ones. In fact, the more I think about this record it does seem in some ways, an allegory for that very feeling. A man lost and unsure of where he is or what’s going on in desperate desire to go home who has to undertake tasks and journeys in order to make it back could easily translate to a musician’s headspace on tour shifting from wanderlust to home sicknesses as the days count on and the miles between him and his loved ones continue to add up.
I in passing mention that the ending song in my pre-release copy was ‘Superhuman’, a track that surprised me for its almost sad and dark conclusion to the story you travel on with ‘Mr Spaceman’. Britt takes note of this and sheds some light on that tracks illustrious and decisive history, chiming in that “‘Superhuman’ almost wasn’t on the album at all!”
“It’s not on the proper release but it is on the deluxe edition and the vinyl edition. We really pushed for it to make the cut but a lot of the producers and management felt it was too much like the old Young Lions, but that was the whole point! It ties it all back in! Lyrically it fits that journey, saying that we are all superhuman and that we are so much more capable of bigger things. I’m a big fan of watching people like Elon Musk and what he’s doing. There are some crazy people out there doing crazy stuff and I know we are capable of so much more than we think.” (Yeah, it wouldn’t be a talk about anything space related if” The Musk” didn’t get a mention, now would it?)
“We’re just trying to keep up!” Britt exclaims, a hint of tiredness but also adoration in his voice. “Like when you’re a kid and you’re riding your skateboard down a hill. If you fall off and it just keeps sliding away from you down the hill, and you’ve gotta get back up and just keep running to go and get it; I’ve felt like that over the past year or so.”
With all this work being poured into the album, Britt sometimes forgets about the forest and even the trees, seeing only the small leaves slowly growing out from the boughs. “You need to zoom out”, he tells me, “and see where you are and how hard you’re working and appreciate all that.”
The road has been tough and tiresome for Britt and his bandmates no doubt but with the album receiving an extremely positive media and fan response (you can read my review of this stellar record here), and with a mysterious tour looming on the horizon, it all seems to be worth it.
“It’s been a lot of hard work but we had a responsibility” he begins, “to tell this story right and inspire people to push themselves; to be superhuman.”
‘Mr Spaceman’ is out now and tickets to their September tour are on sale now. This is one you don’t want to miss!
Friday, September 22: The Evelyn Hotel, Melbourne, VIC (18+)
Saturday, September 23: Fowlers Live, Adelaide, SA (Lic. AA)
Sunday, September 24: Amplifier Bar, Perth (18+) – Queens Birthday Long Weekend
Saturday, September 30: Foundry Records, Brisbane, QLD (All Ages) – 1PM SHOW
Saturday, September 30: The Foundry, Brisbane, QLD (18+) – EVENING SHOW
Friday, October 6: Factory Theatre Floor, Sydney, NSW (18+)