He tries his best to inject a sense of humor into every standard thing his label makes him tweet. Take, for example, a recent festival announcement that saw Years & Years grab a sub-headline slot under a certain handsome teenage pop sensation. “life goal achieved!” Olly tweeted gleefully in response, “we’re underneath Shawn Mendes!!!”
I relay that brilliant work of Twitter mastery back to him; he bears that gap-toothed grin again, blushing at the fact he’s now wound up “tweeting sexual innuendos towards pop stars who ignore [him].”
Since he’s already out, Olly can avoid that strange echochamber that likes to scrutinise the sexual identities of the world’s biggest stars. In the days before our interview, tabloids and die-hard stans have been having a field day, trying to align the song lyrics, fashion sense and mannerisms of their favourite singers with who they might be sleeping with. “I get it, but like… there are already gay pop stars! Maybe focus on us — we have to be gay!” Olly laughs, in response. “I’m all for expressing your sexuality in whatever way you feel most comfortable. Straight guys have a rough ride in the sense they always have to be straight, 100% of the time. That would be dull as fuck!”
For all of his humor, there’s no denying that Olly Alexander is defined by his emotional candor: his battle with mental health is something he’s spoken about openly in the past. We talk about tears on three separate occasions and about how bottling up sadness (“I’m always taken aback by people who say they haven’t cried in 10 years!”) seems strange to him. Instead, he says, we need to be more honest. “As a kid I was bullied, but I still went into school wearing eyeliner,” he laughs, remembering his teenage years. “I wanted to nail my colors to the wall and show that I was different, but I had epic levels of self-hatred, too.”
At this, Olly gazes out of the window. For the sake of his music, how often does he look back? “I like to remind myself of how far I’ve come,” he admits, “[and] for a while I didn’t, because I wanted to erase it from my memory, but you can’t forget these things.” He turns back around, breaking from his melancholy. “They come back to bite you on the arse if you do!”
Years & Years's second album, Palo Santo, drops on July 6.