Years & Years Break Down New Album 'Palo Santo'

Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander pivoted his focus to be as unapologetic as possible, for better or for worse, for the band's second studio album, Palo Santo

Months after its completion in April, Palo Santo has officially spread its magic far and beyond with its Friday release, and iHeartRadio spoke with the synth-pop trio about the inspiration behind all 14 tracks:

1. "Sanctify"

Olly: I'm gay, FYI, and I have in the past had romantic experiences with guys that identify as straight and the whole situation is just very intense. I wanted to write a song about that, but it's also kind of inspired by Britney [Spears] era - 'Slave 4 U,' Christina [Aguilera], a bit of Justin Timberlake.

2. "Hallelujah" 

Mikey: That one had a lot of different versions.

Olly: We tend to do that. We make a lot of different versions of the songs, but that song I wrote with Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter [who are] like pop Gods and Goddesses. That song's about when you wanna just go out and meet somebody and you don't care who it is. You just wanna go and lose yourself to the music. . . .I did do a rewrite of the lyrics and then I went back to the original lyrics 'cause I was, like, "Oh, it's not as good," and then we changed a lot of production stuff. There's so many versions.

Emre: Was that the "It's too wordy" one?

Olly: Yes. They're like "too wordy."

3. "All For You" 

Emre: They said that one didn't have enough words.

Olly: No. They said that one had too many words as well.

Mikey: Was that wordy?

Olly: That was too wordy. Thing is I write very wordy songs 'cause you have to say words to mean something. This is another theme of the album. This song is about reflecting on a past relationship and being, like, "Those things that you did and those things that you said, and the way that you treated me was more about you than it was about me."

4. "Karma"

Emre: It's a very '90s old school jam kind of thing. I would say if Montell Jordan married someone from TLC.

Olly: That is a beautiful relationship.

5. "Hypnotised"

Emre: They said that one had just the right amount of words, so that was ...

Olly: Good word counts.

Mikey: We call it Goldilocks.

Olly: It made it. We got approached by film director Baz Luhrmann to make something for him 'cause he was making an H&M advert. We were like "Oh, do you wanna use maybe some of these songs?" He was like "Oh no, I'd love to make something new with you guys for this." I was, like, "Oh I would love [to]." I wanted to write a song about falling in love because that was something I was wanting to experience but wasn't experiencing in the last two years. I was like "I'm gonna fall in love." Yeah, I have a lot of issues, and that's what that song's about, being hypnotized by someone.

Mikey: He was pretty hands-on. He came in a lot to the studio.

Olly: He was like very on it. He wanted to be really involved and he's such a sweet guy.

6. "Rendezvous"

Olly: I'm dancing to the song in my head. This one was born by Emre.

Emre: It's quite old school.

Mikey: Olly and I went to get coffee and then we came back.

Emre:  We're gonna assume Mikey needed a little break shall we say it, so Olly took him for a walk.

Mikey: I needed therapy. I needed coffee therapy with Olly.

Emre: They came back and we had the song, and then Olly got stoned and wrote all the lyrics in like 45 minutes.

7. "If You’re Over Me"

Olly: The song came about really quickly. I wrote it with this guy Steve Mack and it was done in two hours basically 'cause it just can sometimes happen really quickly, you know? We were, like, "Does it sound like Years and Years?" We fought over it for like six months, and then finally we all became happy with it. So, it got there in the end. It's about an ex that's trying to come back into your life [and] is being, like, "Maybe I'm still interested." You're like "Give me a break. We broke up."

8. "Preacher" 

Olly: This song again was written with Justin and Julia, but it was a quite different song. We had it for ages and we were, like, 'Oh, we like it. It's really catchy, but we don't know how to like make it work." I rewrote the lyrics, rerecorded it. 

Mikey: It's was like one of the earlier ones. What was it called originally?

Olly: "Feelings"

Emre: Who'd you want to give it to?

Olly: I thought Nick Jonas would have killed it, but he didn't want it. But that's okay. 

9. "Lucky Escape"

Olly: I wrote this song right after "Rendezvous," or before "Rendezvous" when we were at that studio in London, and it was like another song that came together really quickly. I was feeling some type of way about my ex. . . .You know when you're out a relationship and you wanna be, like, "Yeah, I made a lucky escape. I got out good. They're an awful person." You're being petty as hell but you dodged a bullet.

10. "Palo Santo"

Emre: I think [that's] the song that gave the whole thing the concept because it comes with it. The universe of Palo Santo.

Olly: I came across this type of wood, like a stick of wood [called] Palo Santo and then you burn it and it smells good. It's meant to cleanse your space of negative energy and I was just fascinated by that and I loved the way that sounded, so we took the name of it, Palo Santo, and created the universe that the album lives in.

Mikey: It also translates to Hollywood, which is a Marilyn Manson album, and we all love Marilyn Manson

11. "Here" (Interlude)

Olly: I recorded it on a boat and we just made a demo of it, and then the demo ended up being what went on the album, which is nice I think 'cause it's like a little bit more lo-fi, DIY idea. It's just like a little vibe at the end of the album.

12. "Howl" (Bonus track) 

Mikey: There's a track that didn't make the album called "DNA" and ["Howl"] was kind of its sister. That one we made it at the same time. I feel like they were siblings.

Olly: We did in LA initially. It's one of my mum's faves. The title is inspired by like the Alan Ginsberg poem "Howell" and it really is a song about being, like, "Am I gonna be okay?" I wonder that sometimes.

13. "Don’t Panic" (Bonus track) 

Mikey: It's very British.

Olly: Ever since I was a kid, my mum always said that to me, 'Don't panic," when she knows it's gonna really annoy me. It makes me panic more. I used to have really bad panic attacks and it's a little on the nose to call something "Don't Panic," but sometimes you wanna just be on the nose.

14. "Up In Flames" (Bonus track)

Olly: "Up in Flames" was made with Greg Kurstin, and it was one of the first songs that actually got made. We weren't gonna put it on the album and then we got lost a bit and we came back to it. We were, like, "Oh, we like this song." I remember being in the studio and thinking I wanna write something that sounds a bit like something in between Chaka Khan and Britney Spears, and it kind of came together and made "Up In Flames."

Watch the exclusive interview below:

Original article by James Dinh at iHeartRadio