Yung Lean. If the name doesn’t echo back to circa 2013 and 2014, you’ve probably never experienced this wave of, for the lack of a better descriptor, aesthetic easily identified by the use of images of Arizona Iced Tea, the sad face emoticon, Japanese text, and early 00’s computer graphics. The result was something no one has seen before, which made different, which made it good, because the weird and the new always rub off well with the young.
At that moment, the new generation meant the cult-ish worldwide group who have quickly become attached to this phenomenon Yung Lean created with his crew, the Sadboys. After five years, several projects, international tours, and brand collaborations with Eytys and now Converse, Yung Lean and his cohorts are still going strong. And so is his influence.
But as with any artist that has experienced growth fans can’t help but feel sentimental for older material. Present in Converse’s One Star Hotel in Shoreditch, London, SCOUT had the chance to spend 15 minutes with Leandoer himself in a group interview.
For Manila’s self-proclaimed biggest sadboy™ (read: Me), will meeting the man that accompanied his late adolescent years be a dream come true? Or will it be a heartbreaker?
Spoilers: it made my year. It was sublime.
Here’s the unedited transcript of the fifteen-minute interview we had with Yung Lean:
I guess we’re all wondering if you could tell us something about the room? Maybe you can start of with explaining what everything means.
It’s kind of an extension of myself and what I like, what i’d like to see in a room. We were thinking about opening a store and this began as a pop-up concept but we have the Faygo drink, it’s the insane Clown Posse vibe. It’s kind of like a tropical vibe. All the posters were kind of inspired by barber shops and how they have posters from 2005 of photos like 50cent and Akon and things like that. And then it went to three 6 mafia and juicy j as well as neon and Super Smash Brothers. It’s my favorite video game.
Which of these posters did you derive inspiration from? Three 6 mafia or someone else maybe?
Lil Wyte, he just doesn’t give a fuck. He’s a good rapper.
We heard attendees had to win against you in backgammon to cop your collab with Converse. Why’d you pick backgammon?
I play a lot of backgammon. We played a lot of it on tour. One of the guys on tour, he’s the sound guy, and he watches a lot of the backgammon world cup, and I dont know it’s kind of like an “old people” kind of game and it takes a long time and it requires a lot of thinking. And once you keep playing you can play the game without even thinking. It’s nice. When I was in Mexico I saw a lot of people playing and then I kind of wanted to learn how to play. It’s a fairly simple game.
Have you read Gucci Mane’s book?
Yeah I read it this Christmas, it’s a really good book. It’s quite an easy read. It’s really interesting how you find out how he works with everyone. His whole life is very interesting. I feel like it’s more interesting than 2pac’s or biggie small’s definitely. He’s much more of an influence.
Around 5 years ago you were the underground hope of Soundcloud, nerd kids, and now you’re collaborating with a brand such as converse. How was this journey and how is it like now knowing that you’re fully in the mainstream field?
I dont really think I’m in the mainstream field, I still have a lot of projects that no one knows about. Still, when I get tired of Yung Lean I get another project. You just really have to keep your eyes open. I guess a lot of the other rappers that are coming up now like Smokepurpp, Lil Uzi Vert, XXXtentacion…all these guys came from soundcloud as well, it was just that I did it five years earlier and they became mainstream just like that. Anyone who is an underground rapper, if they want to stay underground, then that’s fine. Underground rappers…I think they are just saying that to sound cool. I need to pay rent, like for real.
Your last album Stranger is more minimalistic about music as compared to your music before.
Not to sound patriotic, but it’s a very Swedish way of making music. Swedes have always been minimalistic with furniture, brands like Acne and other clothing brands. I think it came naturally. In the beginning we were just fucking around in the studio and then you kind of step back and you want to do a little less possible but sounding as good as possible. I’m focusing more on the voice I guess.
Critics would compare it to Joy Division. How do you feel about this?
Great. One of the best compliments you can get. I’ve always felt that we had a little bit of a connection to Ian Curtis and the whole Factory Records thing was a huge Happy Mondays fan. I saw New Order live and I’ve always felt a connection with that. It’s the vibe and maybe the whole sadboys and everything, we’re kind of doing what was never really accepted in Stockholm and everyone was either making pop-music or traditional music.
Can you maybe tell us about how your style has evolved? Do you have any favorite designers or people you’ve collaborated with? What kind of part does it play in your life?
I think I’ve kind of gone anti-fashion. I started wearing my grandmas jacket. I don’t know. We have this guy on tour, his name is Tony, and he kinds of sends a bunch of clothes but it kinda looks like what old people wear such as leather vests and knitted stuff in the 90’s vibes. With what’s happening, I feel like everyone’s kind of looking more of the same and I wanted to step away from that. I still like what’s going and there are a lot of good upcoming designers.
How do you relax?
With drugs, go swimming, take walks. Travelling can be relaxing as well, if it’s not work related. Going to a place you’ve never been before, like Turkey. Maybe like an Ethiopan castle…on that Tintin shit.
Who are your style fashion influencers?
Kenny Powers, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani, Juicy J.
What are your plans for 2018? Are you releasing any new music with Ecco2k or maybe Lil Uzi Vert? There have been rumors.
There’s a lot of rumors. Bladee is actually with Lil Uzi Vert right now, I hope they make a song. But yeah, definitely making music with Ecco2k, that’s my brother. But yeah, he’s working on his own stuff now and yeah. We have a lot of songs in the studio waiting.
Do have any collaborations planned for 2018 with any other brands?
We had a collaboration last year with Eytys, the Spider. I kinda like working with anyone now and just working in house. But sometimes it’s good to get a bigger reach and these bigger brands, they have money. And we don’t have that kind of money. You got to do what you got to do until you get to that point wherein you don’t need money anymore.
— yung lean (@yungleann) December 1, 2016
How big of an influence is the internet when it comes to whatever you do?
It’s kind of a weird question because the internet is like a platform where you can find everything there. You can find music, you can find films. That’s the influence I guess, not just the internet per se. I’m not on tumblr anymore or I dont watch internet videos, i just use it for other purposes.
Since that time your music has evolved and changed, has there been a defined process? How have you evolved personally and musically?
I think it evolves kind of simultaneously. Whenever you grow as a person, your life experiences grow with you. You go through stuff and with music it’s the same thing.
Do you work on everything at the same time or one thing at once?
I do too much at the same time. I’ll be writing poems, recording an album, and working on a video by myself or working on video ideas. Just too much at the same time. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my brain. Sometimes I wish I can do one thing at a time.
— yung lean (@yungleann) July 6, 2016
When you’re working on music or clothes, how do you know when your vision is complete?
Never. You don’t know. You always want to work a bit more on a song or with whatever art you’re doing. You always want to work on it more but sometimes you’ve got to step back and think “this is enough.” Sometimes your intuition about the song on the first take could be the best.
To his appeal: Yung Lean and his music represented the possibilities one can make without compromise because of the internet. Personally, to see Yung Lean is not to see someone being as weird or as offbeat as one can get and get away with it, but to see someone just being himself and get away with it. And too see many people around the world, me included, relate with his way of saying and presenting things, understand and also speak this language he created, is simply beautiful.
Special thanks to Converse for making this interview possible.