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"My sister saw them at her college a few years ago," one whispers to the other. "Holy crap. Yep, that's them."
It's not odd for the band to get recognized anymore. In the past couple of years, a path of stepping stones—winning a band contest to open for Kings of Leon in Chicago, stints at South By Southwest, performing at the KROQ Weenie Roast—have raised their burgeoning profile. And there was their 2010 debut, hailed by the likes of Blink-182's Mark Hoppus and Morrissey for its glimmering, textured indie pop, fueled by tightly wound instrumentation and Gadhia's lofty, Bollywood-inflected vocals.
But in 2009, when they were living in Newport Beach in a cramped bungalow, a far different scenario stood before them. Following the success of Shake My Hand and loads of touring, the band had labels courting them, the strangest of which was Roadrunner Records, built on a foundation of growling bands such as Slipknot, Nickelback and DragonForce. The Jakes didn't know why Roadrunner would be interested—but it was offering a solid contract, unlike other, hipper labels who were promising everything but offering little.
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"It was a risk," Gadhia admits. "They came to us and said, 'Listen, we don't want to impede what you guys are doing. We realize our limitations, and we want to grow with you and make this a learning experience for both of us.'"
Before a contract could be signed, keyboardist Ehson Hashemian decided to respectfully depart from the group; the band released a letter to their fans via MySpace stating that he bowed out because of differences in opinion about the path the Jakes were taking.
With a new record deal and a new album on the horizon came a new name: Young the Giant. The name change came at the height of the band's early popularity and confused almost everyone who wasn't in the band. "We chose that name because we were really naive and we had no idea," Gadhia said. "We had all these high hopes of what this could be. The first record, who knows? We could be touring the world."
Roadrunner stuck by its promise, bringing in nine-time Grammy-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli, whose résumé included serving as a producer or engineer on records for Beck, Elton John, U2, Jack White, Tori Amos, Frank Zappa and more. The band worked every day for weeks to perfect the songs before presenting them to their new producer.
Polite and mild-mannered in interviews, Chiccarelli is also known in the industry as a tireless taskmaster. As part of his regimen, he would spend hours with the band, dissecting every part of every song, drilling them dozens of times in a row as he perched in a loft space in their new—and cramped—Hollywood apartment, listening to the tracks ad nauseam. He soon moved the band to the Sunset Sound studios—hallowed ground where the Doors and Led Zeppelin once recorded.
"You walk into these walls, and you feel so unprepared and so terrified," Comtois recalls. He'd worked especially hard to perfect his chops as a drummer, having at one time been a bassist. Inside the multimillion-dollar den of sound, the newly renamed band let their sweat flow and beards grow under Chicarrelli's brutal live-recording routine.
They would commit their songs to muscle memory, continuing to play sections of each track ritualistically until Chiccarelli was satisfied. It's a practice that, to this day, allows them to, well, not have to practice much.
The tightness of the band is only a slight representation of how tight they've become as a group—not only united under a career, but also as people who actually like one another. Inside their temporary Malibu home (owned by Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger), the band are tracking demos; they've transformed Einziger's private movie theater into a plush, Eastern-inspired bunkhouse surrounded by tour luggage, a mess of random instruments and Shiva statues. Since moving from Irvine, they've spent nearly every waking hour with one another for the past three years, living together, playing together, touring together. Even now, when each member could easily afford to live on his own—something most touring bands can't wait to do—they still choose to stay together and move into yet another house for the process of recording their sophomore album, due out in 2013.
The other byproduct of their closeness, both at home and on tour, is the ability to roll with the punches, whether it's technical difficulties, personal squabbles or being stuck in a blizzard. In May 2010, driving through the frozen Sierra Nevada mountains while on tour with Minus the Bear, the band hit a brutal snowstorm that caused road closures. With no way to get to the Reno, Nevada, show on time, they decided to turn the van around and roll on to the next city. Making the best of a bad situation, they took a little detour as they came down the mountain.They saw a huge open field carved by a deep, freshly melted stream and decided to get some swimming in, freezing temperatures be damned.