Young the Giant Tackle the State of Their Band and Nation on Their Latest Album
Courtesy of Big Hassel
At the end of the Mind Over Matter tour cycle, Young the Giant decided to move on. Not from one another, but rather, they ditched the isolating and quiet confines of Palos Verdes, where they recorded their sophomore album. Lead singer Sameer Gadhia moved in with his girlfriend/now-fiancée in Venice, while his band mates also settled in the burgeoning west-side community.
"Even though we've been living separate from one another, we all live a few blocks away [from one another], so it still feels like this neighborhood vibe. There's a lot more inspiration now being around, you know, people," Gadhia says with a laugh. "Vibing with a lot of different visual artists and writers and meeting people has been helpful in fusing what we do."
Though a far cry from the band's earlier years in Irvine and Newport Beach, where they initially dazzled locals as the Jakes, Young the Giant have become a well-known indie-and alt-rock staple following the release of their second album, Mind Over Matter. After touring extensively behind that record, which culminated with a tour with rock giants Kings of Leon and their biggest stand-alone headlining jaunt, the band took a short break. But Gadhia says the ideas for what was to become Home of the Strange came during the tour; they fleshed out and worked on the material in 2015 before heading into Seahorse Sound Studios in downtown Los Angeles.
Unlike their time spent holed up in Palos Verdes with Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Nine Inch Nails, Beck, M83)—affectionately known as JMJ to them—Young the Giant decided to take a different route, production-wise. Criticized for being too poppy, the quintet showed major growth on their third album. "The first two albums, we were getting our bearings," Gadhia says. "This time, we were finally comfortable to say things we want and tell our story."
Working with Alex Salibian (Elle King, Mikky Ekko), the band took where they went sonically on the previous album and where they were trying to get to and fully realized their vision on Home of the Strange. Instead of being holed up in a house living, writing and sussing things out together, Young the Giant recorded the album on tape, which lends itself to a rawer, warmer sound that was more complex.
Though they were listed as co-producers on their first two albums, Home of the Strange was the first album for which they were active participants in the production process. "We wanted to work with someone who was really young and hungry," Gadhia says. "We loved our experiences with Joe [Chiccarelli] and JMJ, but we had to go through those steps to get to this point. This is the first album Alex has really done for a full band, but his aesthetic and sonic tones were something that we were really trying to achieve, and it morphed into a really strong relationship."
The band also tackled heavier lyrical subject matter, reflecting the members' diverse backgrounds. Gadhia comes from a family of Indian classical musicians. Guitarist Jacob Tilley is British. Guitarist/keyboardist Eric Cannata is an Italian-Jew, bass guitarist Payam Doostzadeh is Persian-American, and drummer Francois Comtois is French-Canadian. Thus, even before the election cycle, the quintet decided to focus on the path and journey of immigrants as the concept for Home of the Strange.
In Donald Trump's version of America, immigrants and their labor are, at minimum, frowned upon, if not outright disrespected. When the band began working on these songs, Trump's candidacy wasn't even in its infantile state. Yet, when you hear songs such as "Amerika" and "Something to Believe In," you can't help but think of them as political, even if that wasn't their initial intent. "The dream of coming to America and what it's like to be an immigrant in this country and how that narrative has changed in between two places is what we were going for," Gadhia explains. "For me, my parents are Indian, and I went [to India] a lot as a child, so I have that instilled in me and the idea of family first, and rectifying that with the reality of the American Dream and what that entails."
While Home of the Strange isn't a direct chronicle of each member's personal journey, "we just wanted to tell our story, and it wasn't a cynical thing about minorities and immigrants being persecuted—which they are," Gadhia says. "But it's the wonder of coming to America and finding a home for yourself. I think that's universally more applicable to anyone."
Gadhia and his band mates experimented with this album, performing in different roles, including playing different instruments. For example, Comtois wrote the verse and lyrics for "Amerika." "Francois and I have very different lyrical styles," Gadhia says. "But we're able to fuse that together and tell a cohesive story with one another. Francois and Eric are singing a lot more on this record. We wanted to keep it as fluid and interchangeable as possible. I also played a lot of guitar and organ, as well."
As they continue to tinker with their sound, Young the Giant are keenly aware of how this album is a major step forward for them. As their migration north to Venice symbolizes, the group aren't content with the status quo and are always looking for new inspirations.
"The songs on this album are about love, and that's been a hard thing for me to write about," Gadhia says. "'Cough Syrup' and 'My Body' weren't love songs. It's easy to hear how this would be a political album, but people will take from it what they want, and at the end of the day, it's more about looking forward and what we can do as opposed to fueling the anger and fear. There's a lot of redeeming qualities about America right now, and the fact that we have awareness is a positive thing."
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