There comes a time in a young band's life when they hit that sweet spot where their voice, their sound, and their unity as a band gel perfectly. For Los Angeles-based indie rockers Young the Giant, that time is now. This trifecta of musical magic manifests itself on the band's third album, Home of the Strange, on Fueled by Ramen.
"With these new songs, we've fully embraced what it is to be lyricists. We're not trying to combine fiction writing and lyricism anymore," explains singer Sameer Gadhia, who minored in fiction writing at Stanford University where he studied human biology before dropping out to pursue music. “We’ve also taken a collective approach to the thematic and lyrical development of each song on this album. Most of these songs came together during the demo process at either Seahorse Studios in downtown Los Angeles where Francois, Eric and I would spend hours collaborating over coffee on the rooftop, or at our producer’s home studio in West Los Angeles where we would do the same on his back patio. We used to view songwriting more like being a fly on the wall and not being in the story. But, on this record, we're in the story more than ever. It's personal, but universal at the same time."
The new record not only displays the group's new heights as lyricists and communicators, but it shows a rich, musical growth for the band as well. "We've always struggled to really capture what we do live on record. We accomplish that on this release. Now that we're on our third album we finally figured out how we need to work together. It helped that we had a theme and we all kept on that path in one solid mindset throughout the process."
The theme of Home of the Strange is of the modern American immigrant story. It's especially relevant to the quintet as they're from different ethnic backgrounds and most are immigrants or first-generation Americans. Gadhia is Indian-American, Jacob Tilley (guitar) is British, Eric Cannata (guitar/vocals) is a New Jersey-born Italian-Jewish, Payam Doostzadeh (bass) is Persian-American, and Francois Comtois (drums/vocals) is French-Canadian. But, it also speaks to anyone who feels like they don't belong, or feels marginalized, angry about the state of affairs of our nation (especially in this polarizing election year), or hopeless about a better future.
On "Amerika," for instance, the band explores the idea of the American dream and how to reconcile that with the various cultures they each grew up with. The song, which USA Today named one of the 10 Best Songs of the Week, was inspired by Franz Kafka's unfinished novel of the same name. It's the story of a 16-year-old boy named Karl who flees Germany under uncertain circumstances looking for a better life in New York and struggles to find a place to belong between the two cultures.
"We find ourselves searching for our own ethics in between the often-contradictory beliefs of this polarized American Modern Age and those of the romanticized cultures of our forefathers," reveals Gadhia, whom The New York Times declared "one of the great contemporary rock voices." "Our perspective is irreversibly tinged with this rhetoric of the immigrant conscience and guilt. Searching for the 'American dream' is to lust for excess, power, and sex. We realize that when we achieve our goals, they often leave us more hollow than before."
"Home of the Strange," meanwhile, is a tongue-in-cheek play on the national anthem. "I've always had to reconcile the ideals of my Indian culture that my parents tried to instill in me with what it means to be American and figuring out what my American dream is. There was always a conflict of where it is that I exist. Am I American? Am I Indian? I always felt that I was somewhere in-between. I wanted to find a place to belong."
"Something to Believe In" was inspired by conversations with students they met at colleges in 2015 while performing on tour. It’s about being brave enough to forge your own path if the one we're raised to follow fails. "Everybody wants something to believe in," he says. "But what many of us are taught to believe in - go to school, get a job, have a family - doesn't always work. Kids are coming out of college with serious debt and jobs are scarce. They're realizing the dream is broken. It can be liberating and scary at the same time to carve your own path instead."
The album's most hopeful song, "Repeat," is a call to action to not repeat history. "The only times people tend to make big changes is when they must - when they are faced with something greater than themselves. Things seem bad now with environmental issues, the economy, the job market, but sometimes the best changes come when we are at our lowest," says Gadhia.
Musically, the band came into the recording sessions with a specific sonic vision. "We wanted a full, live band sound, but at the same time really direct and up-front. It's the perfect combination of old school and new school. It's like a contemporary hi-fi record. We finally achieved that live sound we'd been touching upon on previous records, but it's full realized on this one," says Gadhia of the sessions with producer Alex Salibian (Elle King, Mikky Ekko) and executive producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Jay Z, fun.), who won the 2016 Grammy Award for Producer of the Year for his work with Mark Ronson and Nate Ruess, among others.
The band also finally figured out how to truly write together as a band. "Most bands don't actually write together," notes Gadhia. "It's a great concept, but it wasn't until this record that we actually fully achieved it. Our new producer Alex really helped us get there. We realized the genesis of a song or its end point can come from any member. And we all switched around, too. We played different instruments. I played a Hammond organ on 'Amerika,' and Jacob played vibraphone while Francois sang the verse. Overall, Fran and Eric sang and wrote more this time around. It's really our most collaborative effort."
Since the band's 2010 inception, Young the Giant has made a name for itself in rock as the "thinking man's band," winning over fans, radio, and press with their incendiary live shows, strong musicianship, and poignant lyrics. The band's 2010 self-titled debut, which reached No. 6 on the Rock and Alternative album charts, featured the RIAA Gold-certified hits, "Cough Syrup" and "My Body," which peaked at No. 2 and No. 4, respectively on Alternative Radio. The band's sophomore release 2014's Mind Over Matter hit No. 7 on The Billboard 200 and spawned the hits, "It's About Time," which reached No. 2 on the Alternative Radio chart and the title track, which hit No. 15.
Even with chart successes, critical praise (Rolling Stone, Billboard), coveted television appearances (The Late Show with David Letterman, MTV Video Music Awards), and high profile festivals (Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo), Young the Giant still feel like they have a lot more to do and, more important, a lot more to say as a band.
"We have a platform and we have our own beliefs, but at the same time, what's amazing about songwriting, music, or literature is that it brings people together and it shows people that everyone has the same problems and wants the same thing. This record is really a call to consciousness to really understand our predicament," adds Gadhia.