“Taking Arizona Iced Tea and Making It Cry”: An Interview with Yung Lean and the Sad Boys

This month, Yung Lean and his crew flew over from Sweden for their first North American tour; we spoke to them the night after two crazy-sold out Webster Hall appearances.

July 16, 2014

Sad Boys, the Stockholm hip-hop crew led by 17-year-old, AutoTune-throated rapper Yung Lean, is full of enough beguiling contradictions to make fans of their music addicted and non-fans feel at least curious. Their music can sound like a stripped-down, trap-inspired averaging of every commercial hip-hop track on your rooftop BBQ playlist this summer, and yet it's bass-heavy and monolithic enough to feel like a missive from the sky. Sad Boys are from Sweden, but their music is full of references to coveted American dollar store items like Arizona Iced Tea, Gatorade and Oreos. They named themselves after the predominant emotion they ascribe to their music—sadness—and yet their shows offer something of an ecstatic experience, with kids flying everywhere and Yung Lean pogo-ing and shout-rapping so hard that the whole robotripping robot vibe just kind of falls away. The afternoon after two consecutive, very-sold out sets at Webster Hall last week, Yung Lean rolled up to The FADER office with Sad Boys producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman in toe, along with Gravity Boys member Bladee.

So what was it like to play your first show ever in New York yesterday and have that kind of response? YUNG LEAN: Beautiful. Wonderful. It was crazy.

Did you expect it? YUNG LEAN: We knew that the shows were sold out. Everything started in the US—all the first articles and everything and all the fans—so the American fans have been waiting the longest, I think.

Any notable differences between the New York fans and the fans you play for back home? YUNG LEAN: Back at home, it’s usually people we know. It’s a group of people, and if you play a show in Stockholm, you know everyone. We can be a little less organized in Stockholm; it’s not really that serious. And on the White Marble tour in Europe—I don’t think there’s as much hardcore fans as in the US. In the US, it’s like this whole celebrity culture. As Yung Gud said, they all look at you with big puppy eyes, like, “Ahhh, this is amazing.” Yesterday was definitely the biggest show we’ve ever played. It was bigger than the show we played with Trinidad James, for sure.

You guys seemed very comfortable up there. YUNG LEAN: It’s like, you feel comfortable, but at the same time, not 100%. You need to do like three or four songs to get into it. I don’t know—if it all comes natural on stage, that’s fine, but when I start thinking about what I do, that’s when it goes bad. Not bad, but it’s like, What am I doing now? Should I look at this person? Do I shake the person’s hand or do I go over there? If it’s just like a routine, then it’s the best.

Why do you think your music has connected with so many people? YUNG LEAN: I think it’s like with any movement—they can relate, they feel the same way. I don’t know, [they are probably] creative teenagers that are making music and doing their small clothing brands and stuff, so they’re like, Yeah, that’s what I want to do as well, and maybe they’re doing it. But obviously it’s the music mostly—it’s the best language.

How did Sad Boys start? YUNG LEAN: We had this other group before, and we just created Sad Boys as a group in the big group. I don’t know—we were all on the same level. We were bored in Stockholm; we wanted to do something.

How did you come up with the name Sad Boys? YUNG LEAN: Dunno. I think you guys came up with it as a joke. YUNG GUD: I was going to buy some clothes at a store with Sherman, and it was closed, and I got sad, and basically that’s that. YUNG SHERMAN: Yeah, and I used to put [the words] “really sad” on my songs on SoundCloud. Because the music was really sad.

Do you guys feel sad all the time? YUNG GUD: Definitely.

Where does it come from? YUNG GUD: Being alive. YUNG LEAN: I’m not that sad.

You guys don’t seem that sad when you’re on stage. YUNG LEAN: No, we’re having a good time. We are.

Tell me about your individual names? Are there stories behind them? YUNG LEAN: My last name is Jonatan Leandoer Håstad and Yung Sherman just came up with it. We met and they were like, Yeah, you should join our group, and Yung Sherman was like, “Yo, Lean is in the group.” YUNG GUD: I came up with Yung Sherman’s name. We were shopping at a sneaker shop and he had a Ben Sherman shirt on and I called him Yung Sherman. YUNG LEAN: Both of our names have nothing to do with the drugs. Like smoking Shermans, sipping lean—it has nothing to do with that. And Gud, you were just called Gud when you first.. YUNG GUD: Yeah, I called myself Gud. YUNG LEAN: Super cocky. YUNG GUD: Then I wanted to make it a bit more… I dunno, funny. So I started calling myself Yung Gud Shorty. It was a stupid decision.

What is the relationship between Sad Boys and Gravity Boys? BLADEE: We started making music at kinda the same time. We didn’t know about the stuff they were doing. Jonatan is a friend of my younger brother; that’s how I heard of him first. YUNG SHERMAN: I knew ECCO2K, and then he introduced me to the others guys. And then Bladee sent me a message on SoundCloud, I think, and said, “You should come make some music at [Gravity Boys member] Whitearmor’s place sometime.” BLADEE: And we found out we were doing kinda the same thing, and me and Lean made the track together for his Unknown Death 2002 mixtape: the “Heal You/ Bladerunner” track. We’ve just been continuing making stuff together, and we hang out all the time. But we’re two different groups, and we do kind of different music, but in the same genre.

What’s it like being your age and living where you live? YUNG SHERMAN: Boring. YUNG GUD: Boring. YUNG LEAN: I think it used to be boring, but now it’s sorta fun I think. YUNG GUD: It’s still boring. YUNG SHERMAN: Very boring actually. YUNG GUD: Extremely boring. YUNG SHERMAN: It’s fucking boring. YUNG GUD: It’s miserable. YUNG LEAN: I don’t think I could live anywhere else but Stockholm. Maybe like, I don’t know, Rome or Shanghai, but only for like a year or something. It’s a nice place to work and live, and when you’re on tour and playing in different countries you like visiting them, but I feel at home in Stockholm. BLADEE: You get motivated by the boredom. YUNG LEAN: All of our music pretty much came from being bored and not liking other people’s music in Stockholm and not liking the people around Stockholm and stuff.

Would you say that your music comes out of a fascination with American culture? YUNG LEAN: No. It’s not about culture, it’s more like individuals. If we see someone doing something in the US, making music and stuff, we get excited about that person; it’s not about the whole American culture. All the Arizona and Gatorade and stuff, that’s just not something we can get in Sweden, so it becomes something fun to talk about, cause it doesn’t make any sense really. I think a lot of American fans or people that read about us—they think that we’re trying to be a part of the American culture, like all these Swedish kids that love America. We rap in English, so I guess there’s something, but we’re very Swedish, actually.

From an American perspective, you can’t tell if you love a lot of things from here or are making fun of them. YUNG LEAN: It’s definitely not making fun of it. The products that we rap about—that’s stuff that we like. YUNG GUD: I feel like something that is kind of us is taking a specific product and taking it out of its context—like taking Arizona Ice Tea and making it cry. Taking brands and specific parts of maybe American culture and just ripping it apart. YUNG LEAN: It’s not like our songs go, “Walk up in the store, buy an Arizona…”

It’s interesting how it registers differently here for us. YUNG LEAN: I imagine it’s really confusing to see a bunch of Swedish teenagers rapping about stuff that’s so normal for you.

And then you’re also combining it with sadness, or the idea of sadness. YUNG GUD: Yeah. We don’t really have an agenda. Making music for us is like having a drunk conversation or a high conversation. It’s just something that happens. YUNG LEAN: Sometimes you don’t speak to each other, and you go in the studio and you just make songs. It’s our way of hanging out; we talk about music and make music.

I’ve heard you guys talk about your hip-hop influences, but are there any non hip-hop influences that are worth noting? YUNG LEAN: Yeah, I think at the moment we’re more inspired by stuff other than hip-hop. YUNG GUD: Mainly things with ambience. Not specifically ambient music, but like trance music, or like the Boards of Canada style of music has always been an influence—at least for me. Left-field music in general, from all over. YUNG LEAN: I’m really into, like, characters—music characters like Sid Vicious and Kurt Cobain, just like how they are and stuff. Like Lil Wayne.

How they construct a persona? YUNG LEAN: Yeah, and obviously their music as well. I get a lot of inspiration from movies. And Bjork. Anything—even The Knife and stuff. It’s so everyday, but it’s also colossal. It’s hard to describe.

Do you consume media constantly? YUNG LEAN: Yeah—film, books, everything. But I think that vibes and human relations are also super, super influential. Just being in a room at a place at night could give me more inspiration than listening to a Chief Keef track or something. I usually write lyrics when I’m in the club, or when I’m walking home from the club. Not the club [laughs], but like if I’ve been somewhere. Like under the influence—there’s a lot more real thoughts, and then you wake up and look at the lyrics and you try to understand what you wrote the night before. I don’t sit down and say, “Now I’m gonna write lyrics.” I just write it and then when I’m in the studio and recording, then I look at what I’ve written and try to make sense out of it.

I know drugs come up a lot in your lyrics. Is it based on real life experience with drugs or more like a fascination with the idea of them? YUNG LEAN: It’s a mixture of what we’ve seen and what we’ve done and what happens around us. A lot of people in Stockholm, people that you meet. BLADEE: But it’s also for the imagery in the songs. YUNG LEAN: Yeah, of course. It’s about a character, it’s not like… BLADEE: The music is not about drugs.

So you're saying you're playing a character? YUNG LEAN: I think it started off as a character. I think Yung Lean was everything Jonathan wasn’t. And then I realized that Jonathan… BLADEE: Jonathan was gone [laughs]. YUNG LEAN: A mixture between like personal and real stuff. That’s when I write the best, I think: when you’re just listening and you’re like, lalalala, and then there’s something real, and it’s like, Whoa, he’s actually a human. I think it’s like a theater when you go up on stage and when you make music videos. You have a way of like, your body language and everything, the way you look at people.

What do you guys want to bring people with your music? YUNG SHERMAN: Weird. YUNG LEAN: Some of the fans are like, “I only listen to black metal and Yung Lean”—that’s like the best fans. YUNG GUD: All the fans are equally great. YUNG LEAN: I don’t know. Feeling that you belong. It’s a good feeling.

“Taking Arizona Iced Tea and Making It Cry”: An Interview with Yung Lean and the Sad Boys