Undertow Jam 2016 ft: Young The Giant

Young the Giant write the sort of soaring, melodic rock ‘n’ roll that’s bound for greatness. From the jolting percussion and anthemic chorus of “My Body” to the lovesick fervor of “Cough Syrup” to the uptempo, sun-stained pop of “I Got,” the California five-piece’s stunning debut features an arresting collection of songs that announce the presence of a vital new band. “Islands” marries off-kilter jazz rhythms with vocalist Sameer Gadhia’s haunting falsetto to create an unnerving effect; the electric slide guitar that punctuates “Street Walker” shrouds the song’s dance beats in mystery; and it’s impossible to interpret the wall of chiming guitars in “Twelve Fingers” as anything less than pure joy. Young the Giant play big songs with big ideas, and they’re not shy about it. Consider the chorus of “Guns Out,” where Gadhia sings pointed, disconsolate lyrics over a devastating crescendo of noise: “You’ll drive in my car/ just tell me we are going somewhere/ where the stars meet the sky/ And all these people with small dreams / are looking up at the big screen/ Well, am I wrong or am I right?”

Possessing a well-honed song craft that usually belongs to far more seasoned musicians, the band’s members only range in age from 20 to 22. Comprised of Gadhia, Jacob Tilley (guitar), Eric Cannata (guitar/vocals), Payam Doostzadeh (bass) and Francois Comtois (drums/vocals), Young the Giant present a diverse set of musical ideas, one that’s as varied as their ethnic backgrounds—Indian, Persian, British and French-Canadian among them. But they share a sophisticated sensibility and they’re all natives of Orange County. If they sound polished, it’s because they’ve been playing music together since high school. “We all started writing music when we were really young,” says Gadhia. “I thought it was interesting to play in random dive bars around Orange County when I was 16. Being that age and seeing how music worked was interesting. Everyone embraced each other. It was a big community of friends.”

Although they developed their skills at shows around Irvine and Newport Beach, it wasn’t until Gadhia and Tilley started college that the band began to turn into something more than a hobby. “Jacob and Sameer would come down from college in Northern California and we’d try new material at shows,” Comtois says. “That’s how we’d gauge the songs we were working on—the response from the audiences.” The overwhelmingly positive response convinced them that they should pursue music full-time. The band recorded the Shake My Hand EP, a seven-song collection that includes a version of “Cough Syrup,” which became a favorite on KROQ. On the strength of their newfound following, the band embarked on a 2009 tour and caught the attention of Roadrunner Records. After opening up for the Whigs and Kings of Leon at Chicago’s House of Blues and making a pit stop at South by Southwest, the band signed with Roadrunner in August 2009.

For most of the past year and a half – when they weren’t on tour – the musicians lived in Newport Beach and Los Angeles, writing and recording their full-length debut. They also acquired a new name. Formerly known as the Jakes, they began calling the band Young the Giant in January of 2010. “We started when we were 16, 17 years old, and our true writing capabilities came later,” says Gadhia. “We wanted to play under a new moniker that all of us felt equally comfortable with.” (Gadhia also explains that the name is purposefully nonsensical, a “leftfield idea” meant to evoke curiosity. On the band’s MySpace blog, he points to the Brothers Grimm fairytale, “The Young Giant,” as a happy accident.) To begin writing, they moved into a house together on the ocean in Newport Beach, which they say provided inspiration for the album. “It’s about freedom, making music that we like playing,” says Comtois. “That’s what we experienced at the beach. Listening to the album represents to me what we’ve been through over the past couple of years.” Gadhia agrees: “A lot of the ideas on the record spawned from our time there—that concept of eternal summer, of youthfulness.”

They lived on the beach for about seven months, then relocated to a West Hollywood apartment that served as both their living quarters and creative space. It was then that the band began working with producer Joe Chiccarelli, whose work for artists like the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and My Morning Jacket they admired. (My Morning Jacket’s Bo Koster guests on keys on several of the album’s tracks; Roger Manning, keyboardist for Beck, plays here on “Your Side.”) They tracked most of the songs live at Sunset Sound Studios in LA, which they found initially daunting but were pleased with the results. “Joe demands a lot of his players,” says Comtois. “There was an element of us stepping up.” Says Gadhia, “He brought out the best in us in a lot of ways. I don’t think anyone can compete with his level of precision. I think it really worked because there was a combination of his skill with our energy.”

Between recording sessions at Sunset Sound Studios and Kingsize Studio in LA with Chiccarelli and mixing sessions at Electric Lady Studios in NYC with Michael Brauer (Coldplay, My Morning Jacket) in mid 2010, Young the Giant toured the country with Minus the Bear and Steel Train. As fond as they are of their work in the studio, they find themselves equally drawn to playing live—another venue for them to work out their ideas. “The road is like being on a constant adventure,” Comtois says. “I look at it like the way Kerouac saw America, going from town to town. If you’re in a band, that’s the closest thing to that type of lifestyle and that energy carries over to the live show, especially because we’re all friends. We so enjoy playing with each other and we’ve been jamming for so long, even if we’re on stage, it’s the act of playing music together first and foremost that’s so awesome.”