Behind the scenes with Young the Giant
A look into the lives of this blooming O.C. band.
It was absolutely pouring rain the day we made our way up the narrow, winding roads high in the hills of Los Angeles to meet with Irvine-based indie rock act Young the Giant in its temporary, four-story home.
We showed up at noon – and only two of the five members were awake. Bassist Payam Doostzadeh greeted us at the door. Vocalist Sameer Gadhia joined us in the kitchen, directing our attention to the breathtaking view just outside the window. Not the clearest day, for sure, but the beautiful hillside and the tallest structures downtown could still be taken in.
One by one the others congregated in the kitchen and promptly began cleaning up from the evening before. The place wasn't a mess, exactly, but having only lived here for six days, the guys admit they had to break the place in with a little housewarming party. A few of the guys tag-teamed lugging garbage bags out to trash cans; others tidied up the common areas.
"Dude! Who put actual dish soap in the dishwasher?" one of them asked as soapy water began to seep onto the floor.
On stage the breakout band already performs like seasoned musicians, yet this midday scramble reminded that the quintet, all in their early 20s, are still as young as their moniker. Their fridge, for instance, was pretty bare, minus some obvious essentials: Dos Equis, a couple of avocados, a few pears, random condiments, some cheese.
It hasn't been too long since these guys moved out of their parents' houses. Since then, they've almost always been on tour, where large appliances aren't necessary.
In just a few years, Young the Giant has been able to bust out of the local music scene and achieve rapidly growing mainstream success. The band, initially formed as the Jakes in 2004 when its members were still in high school, quickly built a solid O.C. following, though it went through a number of lineup changes before gaining momentum with its "Shake My Hand" EP. That disc included the track "Cough Syrup," which made them regulars on KROQ's "Locals Only" program.
In 2008 the band entered a contest and beat out 1,500 other artists to land a gig opening for Kings of Leon at House of Blues in Chicago in January 2009. That same year the band changed its name and played the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas – after which the group signed with Roadrunner Records and released its self-titled full-length debut last October.
This year has been the busiest so far, kick-started significantly when YTG was chosen to kick off KROQ's annual Weenie Roast y Fiesta at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in its hometown in June. Unfortunately, their excitement for that gig was limited: it came at the end of a long string of shows, so they weren't able to actually soak in the moment or enjoy other acts on the bill, as they had to be at another festival in the Bay Area the next day.
"It was really nice to see a lot of the earliest fans that have been coming to Orange County shows since we were the Jakes back in the day," drummer François Comtois says. "You hear about it every year, and it's one of those shows – like Acoustic Christmas – and you see your name associated with that, or hear (KROQ) say that you're playing – (and) it doesn't make sense really. It sounds strange."
The Weenie Roast milestone was quickly met with another giant opportunity: In August the band performed its hit single "My Body" at the annual MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles. Gadhia, who spent part of the appearance being willfully jostled by fans, describes the experience as surreal; their actual airtime was only three minutes and 30 seconds, but the night itself was a complete dream.
"I don't think we ever imagined that we'd play the MTV Video Music Awards," he says. "I always remember watching when I was younger – so many amazing bands come through there. Even a year ago, we were living in L.A. and watching the VMAs in our houses, just like everyone else. I don't think we ever thought we'd be playing (it) the following year, so it's kind of crazy."
Now, the band is giving back to its hometown, teaming with Irvine-based company Vizio for two sold-out shows at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana (soon to be renamed the Observatory) on Dec. 16-17. The gigs will benefit the Irvine Public School Foundation's efforts to keep music education in schools.
"We are all direct products of music education in Orange County," Comtois says. "I started playing music when I was 10 years old. I was playing the recorder or something, but that really early introduction to music and the concepts, it really helps later on."
FINALLY, SOME DOWNTIME
After a vigorous touring schedule that included numerous large-scale festivals, opening for Incubus and experiencing a jaunt overseas, Young the Giant hadn't been home for longer than a few days in more than two years. Following its last leg, the band settled into this furnished L.A. home where numerous other musicians have taken up residence while writing and recording in the area.
"The main purpose of this little house, I guess, is to relax a little bit (and) wind down," Gadhia says. "(Touring) takes a toll on your health and your sanity, so it's nice to have a place with space so we can kind of do our own thing when we want to."
It's also imperative, he says, that the band clear their heads and begin writing its next album, due out sometime next year. The three months they will spend here will be spent bonding and writing. But it isn't all serious business. When things get tense – which tends to happen during long stretches of clashing creativity – Gadhia says the guys hit up the basketball court on the outdoor patio just steps away from their jam room on the second level of the house, or they head to a nearby pool table.
Each member has his own means of relaxation. Gadhia frequents his own meditation and yoga area, located in the gigantic closet just off of his bedroom. Guitarist Jacob Tilley is an avid surfer, and when he can't physically be out catching waves, he works out on the Indo Board in his room. Doostzadeh relaxes by playing video games; guitarist Eric Cannata, given the smallest nook of the house for his bedroom, often escapes with his guitar. Comtois, the group's resident chef, says he's honed his culinary skills after missing home-cooked meals while on the road. Now, he often hits up numerous local markets for fresh ingredients to cook for everyone, at least every other night.
Though tasked with working on a new record before kicking off its still-expanding headlining tour in February – which now includes a stop at the Wiltern in Los Angeles on Feb. 11 – Comtois says the guys are also using this downtime to flesh out other projects with fellow collaborators, as well as put in much-needed face time with close friends and family in O.C.
"For a long time, the only thing we had time to do when we came home from tour was see friends and family and girlfriends," he explains. "We got off the plane or tour bus and tried to jam pack all of these quality times, and it didn't feel very natural. It got really stressful after a while and left no time for personal endeavors or anything like that."
Still, though life on the road has its strains, the band members are grateful for what they get to do. Having seemingly just graduated from playing 200-capacity venues in its home county, Gadhia says there isn't too much to really complain about. To artists who came up alongside them or are just starting out, Gadhia says he knows what it's like to feel trapped by your location.
"Don't be afraid to venture out there," he suggests. "The first couple of tours that we did were completely do-it-yourself, and we started with just playing college shows in California. So I think, just stay tight, play as many shows as you can and try to vary them. Don't always play in Orange County – try Los Angeles or San Luis Obispo. Try to venture a little further and do something different."
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