By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
With each step down the gravelly path of a secluded Malibu Canyon road, Young the Giant look more like a wayward, ragtag tribe than the Next Great Orange County Band. They walk in lockstep down a one-lane sliver of pavement in the summer heat, beset on all sides by thickets of shrubs and lush palm trees guarding a rustic, millionaire's enclave of ranch-style mansions and vine-covered Tony Montana estates. Tom Petty lives just down the road, they're told. The unified rhythm of pebbles crunching under five pairs of shoes—ranging from electric-blue cross-trainers to vintage rancher boots—defies the sidelong glances from sunburnt yard men and WASP-y Malibu-ites drifting by in luxury cars.
Truthfully, though, they're doing quite well for a scruffy, tight-knit band of early twentysomethings. Standing shoulder to shoulder, sweating in fitted jeans and lazy-day clothes, the conversation about finding a house of their own is going a lot differently from how it probably would have a year ago.
"It's gotta be somewhere where we can have a studio, a place to jam, and we all gotta have a room," says drummer Francois Comtois, who says he hasn't had a solid space of his own in almost two years. Initially, a spacious house in Encino is on the table. At $10,000 per month, their collective budget is a little high for the average college-aged kid. But bassist Payam Doostzadeh isn't really jazzed on the area. After all, it's Encino.
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"We need to try to figure this out before we leave for tour," says guitarist Eric Cannata, 22.
"No, we have to figure it out," Doostzadeh says urgently through his thick, jet-black beard. For all of them, the prospect of moving back in with their parents in their native Irvine is a very real possibility. Not that they have anything against their hometown—they still visit every chance they get—but who really wants to do that after stunning the MTV Video Music Awards with a bravura-laden performance, playing major festivals and selling out theaters multiple times per week all over the country?
On their way down to a beachside photo shoot, crackly banter flows back and forth amid a swirl of judicious decisions about houses and world traveling. The dream for most OC-bred bands on tour is to get their name out, but it's one grabbed by only a precious few. Yet Young the Giant have a secret weapon guiding them toward the rarified heights of No Doubt, Thrice, Social Distortion and the other giants of OC rock—the unlikely trump card of naiveté.
Years after hatching as a garage band in the doldrums of the OC music scene, their goal of charting their own sonic path regardless of other bands around them remains a constant. And while it sounds like a trope from a thousand band interviews, Young the Giant's members say there's a direct correlation between their platinum-level success and the times they made decisions based on the audacious ignorance of youth. All of the early risks they took—leaving prestigious colleges to pursue music full-time, abandoning their previous band name at the height of their local popularity, releasing their debut indie-rock album on a well-known heavy-metal label—could've derailed most groups. But learning to ignore scoffs from fans or head-scratching scenesters allowed the band to succeed in spite of themselves.
"I have recordings of old phone conversations we had with our managers," vocalist Sameer Gadhia says, his black hair tucked under a tilted Lakers cap. "Stuff like 'You guys are gonna have to just get used to slaving it on the road, and we might not get anything for a long time—you guys might be playing to no one for years, and that's probably the way it's gonna be.' And its funny: Things have worked out the way we naively thought they would. And that's been the identity and the idea of the band for a long time."
The boys outgrew every stage OC could throw at them, and they play their biggest headlining gig to date on Sunday: a sold-out show at the Pacific Amphitheatre at the OC Fair that'll bring in nearly 13,000 fans. But as most huge bands will tell you, this kind of thing rarely happens overnight. As they prepare for their homecoming gig and a sophomore follow-up to their chart-topping, eponymous debut, Young the Giant face the age-old test of any up-and-coming band—how long can they make this ride last?
And at what point do they finally, truly leave us?
* * *
Inside the cramped garage of guitarist Jacob Tilley's childhood home, he and fellow Irvine High band geek Gadhia started the Jakes in 2004, a diversion as haphazard as their name choice. It was just an acronym of all the members' first names put together (Jacob Tilley, Adam Farmer, Kevin Massoudi, Ehson Hashemian and Sameer Gadhia). Tilley and the band carved out a small jam space amidst a jungle of surfboards, bikes and random crap to make room for their tiny amps.
"In high school, it really was just something to get away from all the extracurricular activities and homework," says Tilley in his mottled English accent (after he moved from the U.K. in elementary school, Irvine kids made him the token Brit since as long as he can remember). The sound, a barrage of fast, trebly guitar and melodic, angst-ridden dance rock—à la Arctic Monkeys and early Jimmy Eat World—bounced off the garage door as the band practiced with different rosters.