Alex Crossan talks us through his second album, which features collaborations with Clairo, slowthai, Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell, and more
Mura Masa’s new album, R.Y.C. – or Raw Youth Collage, as those three letters stand for – is a record that delves into nostalgia. Across 11 tracks, Alex Crossan circles around the perennial question of living in the now versus losing yourself in lovelorn memories, swapping the maximalist sounds of his 2017 self-titled debut record in favour of intimate songs with indie-rock inflections. To help express these feelings, the Guernsey-raised, London-based producer enlisted a whole new cast of collaborators to help.
“I would definitely work with everybody I’ve worked with again in a heartbeat,” Crossan says of his previous record, “but I felt like the voice of this album was quite different. It wasn’t so much centred around a musical idea or a sonic idea. It was more centred around the theme of exploring the memories that make up our childhood, and why we depend on them. I picked the features according to that.”
Those features include a startling line-up of pop talent, including Clairo, slowthai, Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell, and many more, while Mura Masa himself takes the lead on a handful of the album’s most personal moments. We got to chat with Crossan, who took us track-by-track through R.Y.C.
01. “RAW YOUTH COLLAGE”
Mura Masa: Those three words, madly, came to me a couple years ago before I even knew that I wanted to do an album about nostalgia – looking backwards to look forwards. It started being the working name of the record and I workshopped it loads, tried to take words out, put words in, change it completely, but it just kind of stuck. It’s a description of what a person’s memories of their childhood are – a weird, unfiltered patchwork of happy and sad memories. That’s what a ‘raw youth collage’ is to me.
I wanted to record just with bass guitar, strumming those two notes. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t creating a pastiche of something that already existed, and I thought an interesting way to do that would be just go out of my way to emulate things as much as possible. I didn’t use any guitar amps on the album, I didn’t play any live drums, it’s all sampled loops and sequenced. I wanted to create a slight uncanny valley feeling – it is guitar music, but there’s something not quite familiar about it, like a forgotten memory of what guitar music actually was.
The same goes for the strings. I was using this library that’s all single note recordings of the London Contemporary Orchestra, then rearranging the single notes into what you hear on the record.
02. “NO HOPE GENERATION”
Mura Masa: This song is nihilistic, in the same way that a really good meme about being depressed is nihilistic. The message itself might be quite upsetting, but it’s supposed to be comedic, or part of a bigger communal in-joke. I’m not actually saying that this generation has no hope, but I am saying that everyone feels that way. We should start talking about it.
When I did the take, I just started saying “we need help” over and over and over. I didn’t plan to do that, but it was quite cathartic to say that out loud. It doesn’t have to be any more complex than that.
03. “I DON’T THINK I CAN DO THIS AGAIN” (FEAT. CLAIRO)
Mura Masa: I remember Claire tweeted me ages ago, before she’d even done “Flamin Hot Cheetos”, that she was a fan. I followed her back, then a few years later, she was working at Rostam’s studio and we bumped into each other and got chatting again. She was working on her album, Immunity, and played me a little bit of that. I was like, “This is amazing, it’s kind of in line with what I’m trying to write about.” I was really interested in that burgeoning American DIY scene, where instead of garage bands you get Bandcamp bands taking place in this weird imagined DIY space on the internet. I really wanted to have that on some of the album, and Claire, to me, is the best thing that’s come out of that scene in America.
I sent her this document I’d made that explained the themes of the album. It had some photography in there and a few mood board-esque things. I explained that I was trying to push all the vocal features to do something a little bit out of their comfort zone. I think what that culminated in was me just telling her: “For the chorus, you should just shout something. You should really yell and I’ll put loads of distortion on it and it should be really emotive.” She went away and wrote the song, basically as you hear it. I think I changed a few things round, structure-wise, but everything that’s on the track she wrote essentially in that first batch.
I used the Television sample (“1880 or So”) because I wanted to leave phantoms of the music that I grew up listening to – to allude to being nostalgic by direct reference, but also using it in this completely alien context that it was never imagined for. It took us a second to get clearance (for the sample), there was definitely one point where people on my team were just saying, “Well, you could just change the riff. Why is it so important to have this on here?” I feel it’s important to at least leave some direct homage or reference to these bands that were very formative to me, and if they’re up for letting me use it, I think we should try and accommodate that in every way that we can.
04. “A MEETING AT AN OAK TREE” (FEAT. NED GREEN)
Mura Masa: Ned Green is a friend of mine, he’s in a great band called Legss and he publishes a poetry compilation called Away With Words. We got reminiscing over a pint one day, and I was explaining that I thought spoken word was going to be a really important part of music next year. I think it was him who said, “I’d be happy to do some spoken word on the album, if that’s what you’re up for.” So it was quite a natural collaboration, it wasn’t based on any sort of influencer clout or anything.
It wasn’t like he came to the studio with (this spoken word story) written down. I actually challenged him, like, “OK, tell me a story from your childhood, don’t think about it. We’re already recording, just start talking.” The fact that he came out with this so eloquently, so off the cuff, indicates to me that it’s probably true. I’ve spoken to his brother as well, and his brother was aware of this story.
05. “DEAL WIV IT” (FEAT. SLOWTHAI)
Mura Masa: slowthai and I just get each other. We haven’t spent tonnes of time together, but it already feels like we’re really good mates. This song was actually my girlfriend’s idea; we were listening to the Stranglers’ “Peaches”, and she suddenly piped up like “slowthai should do a track like this”. I immediately was like, “Yes, that’s a fucking great idea – and I’ll be the one to make it with him.”
When we eventually got in the studio and I was playing him the Stranglers tune, I was encouraging him not to rap, just to sort of shout in this weird diatribe. We did 20 minutes of improv yelling, and he was totally getting into the fiction, affecting different voices. Eventually that got culled into the three-minute version, but there’s a 20-minute version where he’s just going off on one. I felt like it had to be a little bite-sized piece of punk instead of this long, arduous thing, but I really want to do a dubplate of the 20-minute version.
06. “VICARIOUS LIVING ANTHEM”
Mura Masa: I wanted to make a weird anthem for doomed youth – something reflective of the Instagram lifestyle without actually mentioning it at all. It’s such a big part of our personal identity and we’ve got to face up to it. We’ve got to start talking about them and realising how weird they are.
In the grand scheme of things, we’re still in the infancy of understanding how these can actually be used. It’s like cigarette ads from the 70s. We think, “What the fuck are they talking about, cigarettes are good for your health?!” I feel like we’ll look back in a decade and be like, “How the hell were people able to use Instagram like that? It caused a massive spike in suicides,” or whatever the data will uncover.
07. “IN MY MIND”
Mura Masa: The sounds on this are inspired by classic Nintendo. That aesthetic just bleeds into what I do anyway, because video game music was such a big part of shaping my tastes. I started playing video games when I was four or five, so it’s been a super fun part of my life, and it’s where I go for comfort.
As well as that, it’s meant to be this idea of being nostalgic for things that you weren’t around for. This is about being in the club, and jungle music, and raves, and things like that, and how it feels good to imagine those things and feel nostalgia for them – but I’ve never been to a fucking rave! I grew up in the middle of nowhere and wasn’t exposed to those things until much later. Sonically, it reflects that as well, my idea of what it might have sounded like to have been there, but extrapolated ten times.
08. “TODAY” (FEAT. TIRZAH)
Mura Masa: Tirzah is such a naturally intimate, melancholic, reflective songwriter, so she slots right into the album. I think we only hung out for two or three hours when we wrote this, it was supernatural. We spent most of the time talking about the themes of the album and swapping stories and phrases. Again, it was a case of a much larger conversational take that was then taken home by me and chopped up in my bedroom. I haven’t done an acoustic song like this before.
The vocal clip in the background is part of an interview that we did near the beginning of the album-making process. I got one of my friends to interview me about what the album was about and really test me and push me for two hours. It was almost like therapy, really trying to have a breakthrough about what the album’s about. Those little distorted clips are me talking. They’re the breakthrough moments that I had.
09. “LIVE LIKE WE’RE DANCING” (FEAT. GEORGIA)
Mura Masa: This is the other side melancholic/nostalgic coin, which is rose-tintedness and dewy-eyed innocence. It doesn’t matter if we’re misremembering those things as better than they were, because it feels amazing in my head.
Georgia instantly took to what I was wanting to do because she grew up in the club scene. She has a very natural connection to dance music in particular and we were listening to a bunch of old records, all from before either of us were born, fantasising about what it would have been like to have been there. And then we started talking about the nostalgic feeling around early-00s French house or clubland stuff – really weird, overly innocent lyrics, probably written by a European who doesn’t speak much English, but the simplicity of that one lyric just cuts through. “Live Like We’re Dancing” was kind of my version of that.
10. “TEENAGE HEADACHE DREAMS” (FEAT. ELLIE ROWSELL)
Mura Masa: The epic poem at the end. For the last kind of ‘song’ song, I wanted to lean into all the saccharine feelings and the confusing cloudiness of this feeling: “Did it used to be better? Am I struggling to live in the moment? Is it that it really was better, or am I getting hung up? Is it a good thing that I can lean on nostalgia for the crutch and the comfort?” It’s quite a confusing line. I’m not sure anybody really has the answer. So that’s why the song kind of takes place in this weird serious tone, but there’s some playfulness in there as well – a few jokey lyrics.
I didn’t have any contact with Ellie before this, it was another case of feeling like she was the perfect person to write on this album and reaching out, which is the case for many of the features on the album. I had already written the first verse and the main bones of the song, and then she came in and wrote her verse as well. I think it slots in perfectly. It’s a really nice moment, right at the end of this weird journey.
The end is my favourite bit on the album. It’s a catechism of nostalgic noises to me, like the little MS-20 whirry synth that I remember from UK garage records when I was a kid. And even the chords – for some reason those chords feel for me like something from a past life, and the cacophony of it all and how confusing it is, but how lucid that last moment is. That’s why I wanted it to be the sign-off from the album – apart from the next track.
11. “(NOCTURNE FOR STRINGS AND A CONVERSATION)”
Mura Masa: Real talk, I don’t really know why I decided to put this on the end. It felt like the right thing to do. There’s a moment where you’re experiencing nostalgia where you have this bittersweetness, or this kind of sadness, because you realise that you have to eject yourself from it again. I feel like that little tape-looping instrumental bit is involved in that moment. It feels nice, like a warm hug – but a hug that’s being released and leaving you. I wanted it to be a little bit like that at the end of the album. Fade out back into the real world.
A nocturne is a piece of music in dedication to the night time. I feel like the end of long nights when you’re walking home is a nostalgic moment for a lot of people. It was meant to be a score written for a moment in real life where people are reminiscing, so that’s where that title came from. I kept it in there and put the brackets on there to signify that it’s an after-thought, an epilogue to the rest of it. It’s my girlfriend’s favourite song on the whole album, so I don’t know what that says.
Mura Masa tours the UK, Europe, and North America from February 20