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Years & Years new album 'Night Call' is frontman Olly Alexander's solo project

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Don't try to sweet-talk Olly Alexander.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEET TALKER")

OLLY ALEXANDER: (Singing) You're such a sweet-talker. You made me believe every lie was a beautiful sound. You're such a sweet-talker. Man of my dreams, tell me where are you, where are you now? Sweet-talker.

SIMON: The English pop star has been the front man of Years & Years for more than a decade and released many hits with that band. Now he has a solo project, still under the band's name, and has released his debut album, "Night Call." It is a cocktail of lust, love, pride and self-discovery. Olly Alexander joins us now from London.

Thanks so much for being with us.

ALEXANDER: Thank you so much for having me. Oh, it's a pleasure.

SIMON: A lot of this album feels like you just got out of lockdown and started dancing. What inspired it?

ALEXANDER: Yeah. Well, a lot of the album came from the lockdown period when I was just, like a lot of people, spending a lot of time by myself in isolation. I live alone, and all I wanted to listen to was dance music, stuff that made my body move and made me feel good in this, like, very visceral way. So I kind of fell back in love with dance music and, you know, wanted to write songs about hookups and going out and just liberation of the dance floor. It's always been inspirational to me.

SIMON: I notice you say hookups and not love or romance.

ALEXANDER: Oh, what does that say about me (laughter)?

SIMON: Well, I...

ALEXANDER: (Laughter).

SIMON: I'm just asking.

ALEXANDER: Well, for me, the kind of few years that I was sort of focusing on, like, writing this album, I was single. I was kind of blundering in and out of romantic dalliances, let's say, and not really knowing what I wanted or trying to figure that stuff out. And I saw it reflected back at me sort of in the songs, and I was like, OK, yeah - sort of a voyage of discovery through sex, almost (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMMACULATE")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) Under a velvet sky, two hearts were lost, running wild. Don't it hurt so much? No, I can never give it up.

SIMON: Tell us about the song "Immaculate."

ALEXANDER: I was listening to Afrobeat, techno, and just wanted it to feel like this luxurious holiday romance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMMACULATE")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) Want it, the danger - it's calling out to me. Play that beat in my heart again 'cause you make it sound so immaculate.

I often kind of come at songs by titles, and I have wanted to have a song called "Immaculate" for a while. And I love the way it kind of rolls off the tongue.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMMACULATE")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) I just want to feel that beat in my heart again 'cause you make it sound so immaculate.

SIMON: You just starred in an award-winning television series, "It's A Sin." It centers the time of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. You play a gay character in the process of self-discovery. Do you ever feel an artistic or personal - what I'll carefully call a burden to represent something?

ALEXANDER: I don't know that I would call it a burden, but I do feel responsible for (laughter) the things I do and say and put out into the world. People are going to watch what I'm doing or listen to what I have to say. I want to be responsible and, like, I want to do myself proud and my community proud. So I'm going to at least try.

SIMON: Your grandmother, I gather, was also an inspiration for this album.

ALEXANDER: Yes, she was. My grandmother, Rosemary (ph) - she was an opera singer in her time, before she met my granddad and settled down and had my mum and her sister. But she died in the end of 2019. And she was such a huge supporter of mine, and I was so close with her, and it was such an utterly profound experience to be with her as she was dying. And I would just sit with her, you know, in her room. She was in palliative care. And, you know, you just try and forget for a moment that she was dying or - you know, you just want - I just wanted her to feel comfortable, so I'd give her a little head massage or, you know, I'd just say to her, I'll see you tomorrow. You know, whatever it would be, like, we'd just try and kind of keep it as casual and as normal as possible. So yeah, I just spent a lot of time thinking about her and trying to process grief really and not really knowing quite how to do it. I really love thinking about her, and she directly inspired the song, "See You Again."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEE YOU AGAIN")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) Won't you lie a little for me? Can we pause this conversation? It's not an explanation I need. It's just a little much to take in. If you got to go and this is the end, is it OK if I just pretend?

SIMON: You broached the whole matter of growing up and even growing old here.

ALEXANDER: I felt within myself like I've - kind of like I'd grown up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEE YOU AGAIN")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) I'll see, I'll see you again. I'll see you again, I pretend.

I'm 31 now, and I know I've got growing up to do (laughter), a lot to do. But I've been around for a few years now, you know? I've kind of, like, took a while to kind of feel comfortable in, if that make sense.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEE YOU AGAIN")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) I pretend.

SIMON: Now, I've got to tell you, we've known each other all of, you know, a few minutes. The person with whom we have been conversing is earnest and sweet and kind...

ALEXANDER: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...And doesn't add up with some of these songs like "Sooner Or Later."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOONER OR LATER")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) You're a heartbreaker. You'll be the death of me sooner or later, sooner or later. Love chaser, you're chasing it out of me, but I'm going to break you sooner or later. You'll be mine.

SIMON: I'm going to break you sooner or later. What's going on?

ALEXANDER: My shadow self is emerging in this - in the music. I've been writing a lot of songs - love songs - where I felt completely trampled over and, like, I just wasn't interested in writing songs like that. I didn't really fall in love like that anymore, and there was so much expectation that came to relationships when I met someone that was so - it was like, what am I going to be? What are you going to be? How are we going to get through this? And like, what parts are we going to play when we - as we date each other and all of that stuff? And I really wanted to just play around with those expectations and write songs where I, like, really tried to prioritize having fun in the studio, just embodying this character that wasn't afraid to sort of be a little bit out there, you know?

SIMON: Do you think a lot of people feel the need to bust loose with fun now?

ALEXANDER: I mean, I do. We always need that space to kind of just let ourselves go. And it gets harder, doesn't it? I mean, everybody's kind of, like, burdened with anxiety. So if you do get that chance to just let go a little bit, then you have to take it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOONER OR LATER")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) Sooner or later you'll be mine. You'll be mine sooner or later, sooner or later. You'll be mine.

SIMON: Olly Alexander from the band Years & Years. His new album, out now, is "Night Call." Thank you for some wonderful music, and I wish you a lot of happiness.

ALEXANDER: Thank you for listening and having me and - yeah, been lovely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOONER OR LATER")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) Yeah, sooner or later, you'll be mine. You'll be mine sooner or later, sooner or later. You'll be mine. I'm going to find you. I'm coming, ready or not. Wherever you're hiding, just know that I'll never stop. I'm going to find you. I'm coming, ready or not. Wherever you're hiding, sooner or later, you'll be mine. You're a heartbreaker. You'll be the death of me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.