We met Colin Caulfied, better known as Young Man, when he toured Berlin to talk about life and such with one of the most inspiring upcoming artists we’ve encountered lately. Young Man live is like being at one of those rare shows when the word soundscape is deserved. Here’s what talking to Young Man is like:
I checked your tumblr a couple of days ago and could find some videos of you, just singing songs by indie bands in your bedroom and it was amazing to see the progress from there to here. How did that start, how come you started filming yourself?
I actually started doing cover songs and original songs at the same time, so I just started learning other songs to find out how to make music. But then I saw these really simple videos of a guy from Florida and he was really good, so that gave me the idea to make short videos and put them on youtube. With no other goal than to get a little feedback at first and then it developed into a kind of musical diary…
So you didn’t really plan to get yourself out there with the videos?
No, I didn’t even know that that was possible at first… At some point I started to realize it could happen. But for the first couple of months there was no plan, no agenda.
So how did it actually happen, did you send demos to labels?
I was lucky, I never contacted anyone, people contacted me. I went to Paris to live there when I was a junior at college and a label contacted me pretty much right when I got there and set up a show. So they put out the first EP and I ended up playing a lot of shows in Paris.
Did you feel like your time in Paris or in Europe influenced you in this starting time?
Oh definitely, I had to learn so fast. When I played my first real show in Paris, there were so many people and really I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t even know how to play my instruments all that well. At first I played alone a lot, and then later with a drummer, a good friend of mine; so that forced me to figure out what I was doing really fast and it still influences how I work with the band now.
With starting out as a solo artist and then gradually becoming a band, do you feel like your music changed through Vol. 1?
They/we are Young Man now, but that took a while, too. Vol.1 is a little bit like me backed by a band, but Vol. 2 is much more a band record, you know, we grew together and collaborated a lot more. And I really prefer that.
So do you think the world still sees you as being the centerpiece – plus four?
I guess so – and it makes sense, because I still write most of the music, so the music is mostly a reflection of my thoughts and me…
You’ve been in the studio recording. Tell us a bit about the experience.
We were in the studio in New York, recording our album Vol.2, which is coming out next year. Vol.1, which was out in May, we recorded in Chicago with John McEntire a long time ago, in 2011. So it took us a while to put it out… But the experience was really eye-opening! It was my first time recording in the studio with a full gang and a producer, which is such an overwhelming difference from recording at home and in my bedroom. Really rewarding though!
It is a great album, yes! It sounds conceptual almost, the way you write about youth and growing up… Do you see that as the recurring theme in your lyrics as well?
Yeah, that’s definitely the recurring theme, I think every album tackles that theme a little bit differently. The first EP was Boy and all the songs were written from a child’s perspective, introducing the concept in its simplest form. But even then, the idea of that album was at the beginning, talking about the different stages that you’re going through when growing up, and at the end of the album, concluding and drawing something from the experiences and trying to realize what one has learned.
So the first one was from the end of childhood, the second one was at the perspective of being in a really intense relationship and then Vol. 1 is about the time of finishing school and dealing with all those intense issues of self-doubt in regard of where you want to be in life.
The phase when you make all the decisions that shape your life…
Yeah, and everything kind of spins out of control for a little bit.
But aside from those specific differences thematically, each album deals with the idea of living in the presence – and doing that successfully – while still remembering your past. Although to be honest, I usually write songs and have no idea what they’re about until after a lot of listening… and then it clicks. But it usually fits, it all makes sense in the end, but I don’t know how it does.
I feel like the phases that you describe with your album, it’s a bit like the way you started out, with your musical diary. In your own youth, did you go through these musical phases that everyone goes through? Did you have a Punk phase and a Hip Hop phase?
Yeah definitely. I never had a Punk phase though! I had something like a Post-Punk phase that got me into weird-sounding guitars. But I started out with radio-pop when I was young, like Smash Mouth, which was the first album I ever bought, I loved it! That was the first time I really listened to music purposely and dissected it as art, almost. And then I had a Rock and Blues phase and got into Prog-Rock and Jazz. When I got into college, that was the time that I started listening to Indie-pop.
So I definitely had phases, but I never tried to unpack how they run parallel to who I was at the time, that’s an interesting idea though.
…It is, it’s so interesting to think about who you were and what music you listened to cause you change so much in those years!
Is there anything you want to achieve as an artist that you haven’t yet?
Oh many things! Vol. 2 is the last Young Man record, and there are a lot of different reasons for that, but mainly because I have a lot in my head that I want to do. For some people it works out to be in a band with a lot of creative output and still sound different in each album – like Radiohead, they have been around for almost 15 years! But for me, especially with Young Man being conceptionally linked to and determined by youth, now that I feel like I’m getting over that, I don’t want to be writing about it anymore.
So are we gonna see mainly you as a solo artist?
I like being in a band, but there’s so much that I’d like to do. I have been writing a lot of electronic music lately, trying to get into that, and recently I collaborated with a chef in Chicago for a musical meal where I made compositions for all the different courses… That type of thing is something I’ll always do on my own, but I’d love to be the drummer in a band again, that’s how I started out. You know, just someone in a band who plays their parts really really well, but not necessarily the guy in the front.
Thank you so much Colin for taking so much time to talk to us and for all the words so wise for a man so young (not all of which have found their way in this interview because who has time to read, really…).