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Early tracks, featuring Gadhia's emotive, trembling vocals, are a relatively similar (though obviously cruder) predecessor to their sound these days. It clashed with the Irvine music scene post-Thrice and Rage Against the Machine—two bands with locally bred members who ushered in widespread appreciation for aggressive music after their national breakouts. Gadhia and some of the other band members admit to being swept up in short-lived stints in such bands, though the Jakes were never of that ilk.
"We'd go to Heritage Park Community Center and watch all these bands play. A lot of our identity, at least for Jake and me, was tied to that," Gadhia says. "We spent a long time trying to figure out what our voice was and trying to do something a little different than what was happening at that time."
Though they may have stuck out by going their own way in their mid-teens, one thing the then-Jakes picked up early was gigging in the bar scene instead of sticking to backyard parties and city-approved community centers. Years before they'd be legal, the 16- and 17-year-olds were forced to wait in the cold to play venues such as Detroit Bar and LA's the Roxy and the Viper Room, allowed in only long enough to do a set before being tossed the hell out for being underage. But such indignities paid off—Ben Adelson, a freshman music business major at USC, took an interest in the band after seeing them at an LA gig. At one point, the teenagers found themselves huddled in Adelson's dorm room, where he'd talked to them about getting serious and being their manager—but what Cannata remembers most from that meeting was the opportunity for the band to collectively down a 12-pack of beer and half a bottle of cheap booze without getting carded or worrying about their parents.
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"At least I made it to the bathroom when I threw up," Cannata, the youngest of the group, says, laughing. "Everyone else threw up all over his place."
Despite the damage done to his dorm room, Adelson eventually got the band to agree. Under Adelson and longtime co-manager Drew Simmons, the Jakes played relentlessly in LA and Orange County, raising their profile through local battles of the bands, a stint onstage at Disneyland's Tomorrowland Terrace and an award for Best High School Band at the 2007 OC Music Awards. In a growing circle of local acts that included the Union Line, Delta Spirit, Yellow Red Sparks and Local Natives (then Cavil at Rest), the Jakes were the wide-eyed youngsters everyone liked but never thought would amount to much. It didn't help that the Jakes had a rotating cast of members: drummer Jason Burger left for a career as a freelance musician, replaced by Comtois on drums. Cannata joined as a guitarist the same day, and shortly after that, longtime friend Doostzadeh joined as bassist. The new members bonded over the fact they used to make fun of the Jakes in their early days and intended for this to be a temporary thing.
Gadhia left for college at Stanford, and Tilley went to UC Santa Cruz, but the two would rejoin the band every couple of weeks to play shows and rehearse. This lineup wrote a number of new songs in 2008, including the melodic "Cough Syrup"—a song the band ultimately released on their debut album as Young the Giant.
Suddenly, "Cough Syrup" became a hit after the release of their EP Shake My Hand and landed them airplay on KROQ-FM 106.7's Locals Only roster. They were now faced with the possibility of being a successful, national touring band. By now, Cannata, Comtois and Doostzadeh were beginning college as well; it was clear there would have to be a decision between a music career or the life of studied suburbia.
For Sameer's father, Tushar, the idea of his son leaving a place such as Stanford was not acceptable. He remembers sitting down with the boys and their parents for a four-hour meeting to discuss what route the band would be taking. The parents relented by the end, reaching a compromise that each son would take an academic deferment.
"As parents, we were all torn," Tushar says. "I grew up in India, and where I come from, things are looked at differently when it comes to education. I also realize that when someone has a passion and a dream, [you don't] stop them. [Sameer] singlehandedly convinced me and the rest of the parents in that room so that by the end of the meeting, I switched my opinion and said he had my blessings."
* * *
The tide crashes gently behind the band as they pose on a stretch of Malibu shore on a crystal-clear afternoon. As waves break and saltwater laps at their feet, a photographer lies on the sand, snapping frames. Occasionally, their eyes wander as bikini girls with golden legs and people in the water stare at the photo shoot. A pair of college-aged chicks walking back to their beach house do a double take, looking over their shoulders.