We’ve teamed up with the legends at Mountain Goat to spotlight some of the incredible talent that is emerging from the underground Aussie scene. This week, we caught up with Brissy artist Yb., who is making serious waves, despite initially being “really scared” to enter the indie music scene.
Check out our Underground Playlists - Powered by Mountain Goat - on Spotify and Apple Music here.
Young Meanjin/Brisbane-based indie artist Yb. has had a massive year in 2022, from being the face of Spotify’s 'Front Left' campaign to releasing his critically acclaimed E.P Blackphemy that challenged stereotypes and called out the often 'white' and ignorant Australian indie scene.
Chatting with him on an early morning zoom call, Yb. is warm and inviting, and it was easy to forget about the two screens that sat between us. Synonymous with catching up with an old friend, Yb. chats about his last year of success, quickly diving into the gritty details of releasing his first song, Useless, which launched his career.
“I released the first song, and it was very petty because I just finished up with a breakup,” he laughs.
“I had no real way of expressing my emotions back then, so I was like, 'lemme make a song about it’. I got my older brother to mix it and then posed it on Instagram, and a lot of people were like, ‘this is cool!’ ‘Breakup anthem!’, you know?”
As with any breakup, there are two parties involved and Yb. let slip that it was a little awkward at first, garnering success off the back of a tricky situation that involved feelings outside his own.
“I released two songs - the first song was called Useless, and the second song was called Bipolar - and Bipolar was about me, but it was very direct. So my ex's best friend comes up to me, and she goes, ‘look, I’m all for your business ventures and whatever, but like, you’ve got to stop writing songs about her.'
“It was a trying time at the start, but we grew. We grew a lot!” He laughs again.
While Yb. is all cheer outside of the studio, he channels a much more serious tone for his music, discussing difficult and often confronting topics like racism, ignorance and the heavy pressure to conform and leave his cultural predispositions behind. His newest body of work, Blackphemy, does all this with a nuanced beauty and grace that others would struggle to emulate.
“I worked with Tom [producer] once before that session, and we made a completely different song that will probably come out later this year. In the second session, I was kind of looking to create a body of work. I had a lot of songs, but I didn’t know how to tie them together. It was one of those things - so many of the songs I’d written stem from the issue of racism and what it felt like for me growing up, so that was one thing I was talking to Tom about.
“We just brainstormed the idea of Blackphemy, and we were like, 'ok, cool, that can be the idea of the E.P, we’ve got some songs, and we’ll put them together, but Blackphemy is gonna be what we’re gonna do for this specific song we’re working on today.'”
“The session ended up feeling more like a conversation. Like we didn’t think about it, we just let it flow. We thought Blackphemy was kinda smart because: ‘blasphemy’ but also ‘what it feels like to be black for me’, and at the end of the session, I was like, well, that's the song that ties everything together.”
Despite his love of indie music, Yb. initially tried his hand at a rap career, stemming from a deep love for the genre but also from an idea that maybe that pocket of music is where he’d be more accepted.
“I love rap, I tried to get into it, but it was not for me; my voice didn’t quite carry in the way it was supposed to. Like I don’t got the swagger about me as well,” He laughed.
“I really liked indie music as well, and as soon as I left high school, that's pretty much all I was listening to. I just really wanted to start in that scene, and it was really daunting because, especially in Brisbane, you’re often overlooked if you’re not a band.
“Indie is already a genre that is predominantly white and was like, ‘damn, I don’t know if people are going to accept me’,” He admitted.
“It was one of these things that I was really scared about, but I had really cool people around me, and I think they helped me push through that barrier.”
Despite his success and the outpouring of love and support he continues to receive, Yb.’s experience hasn’t been as smooth sailing as some of his contemporary's.
“I’ve had people in my dm’s saying, ‘oh, you make pretty white music’, and it’s like, how do you even respond to that?”
“Like, first of all, what is white music? I’m just making the type of music that I like to make. At the end of the day, I’m a black artist, and I’m making music as a black artist.”
“I don’t know why people get so territorial over music and genres, and for the longest time, I’ve just had to push past that. I love indie music, so I’m gonna make it.”
Yb. quotes beloved African-American indie artist Steve Lacy as one of his biggest influences and the person that inspired him to push past his fears and make a career in indie music.
“For the longest time, I was just trying to find someone that sort of looked like me, that was doing the same thing I did.
“It was so cool to see him [Steve Lacy] do his thing, and I’m so glad that he is where he is now because I think he paved the way for a lot of coloured artists to come through and show their talents.
“I remember seeing an interview he did with Ted X, and in it, he said that he works off his iPhone a lot, and I saw that and was like, if he can do that, I have no excuse.”
That attitude, along with some true talent, has allowed Yb. to go from strength to strength, clocking up millions of streams on listening platforms and touring with some of Australia’s biggest artists, such as Allday, San Sisco and Golden Vessel. Yb.’s slowly branching outside of Australian artists too, and he jumped on British legend BIIG PIIG’s Aus tour when she was here last July, but his next hurdle will be tackling his first headline tour, coming up in March.
“I’m feeling kind of anxious, but in a good way. We’ve been doing heaps of supporting tours but haven't really done any stuff ourselves. This time we’re picking the support artists and sorting out venues, which is daunting. When you do support gigs, they usually just say, ‘be here at this time,’ and everything is organised. But there is a first time for everything, and I’m excited. Anxious but excited.”
For his AUS tour, you can catch Yb. in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane throughout March. You can purchase tickets here.
You can also check out Yb.’s title track Blackphemy on our Underground Queensland playlist - Powered by Mountain Goat.