In an increasingly political world, indie rock band Young the Giant offers a unique and honest snapshot of modern America through their music. The members represent a melting pot of ethnicities — singer Sameer Gadhia is Indian, drummer François Comtois is French Canadian, bassist Payam Doostzadeh is Persian and guitarists Eric Cannata and Jacob Tilley are Italian and British, respectively.
Young the Giant broke out in January 2011 with their self-titled debut album, a work that epitomized sitting on a California beach on a summer evening. The album landed them on the 2011 VMA’s and was a hit with fans and critics alike. Released in January 2014, Young the Giant’s sophomore album Mind Over Matter was heavier in production and drew comparisons to Coldplay’s and Phoenix’s arena-rock sound.
Working with producer Alex Salibian and Jeff Bhasker on their third and most recent record, Home of the Strange, Young the Giant tackles themes of identity, love and youth with eloquent lyrics and instrumentation that allow Gadhia’s voice to shine. Effectively, the band has created an album that is uniquely and wholly expressive.
The Emory Wheel talked to drummer François Comtois over email about Home of the Strange, which was released Friday, Aug. 12, by record label Fueled by Ramen. Hailing from Canada, Comtois later settled in Irvine, California. The multi-instrumentalist joined as the band as the bass guitarist before becoming their drummer in 2007. The band will start their fall Home of the Strange Tour on Tuesday, Sept. 6, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Maya Nair, The Emory Wheel: This record feels like a perfect distillation of your first two albums while also being completely unique. What was the creative process like this time around?
François Comtois: We started writing this album with no real timeline or plan in mind, which was very much like the writing process [for Young the Giant] the first time around. That mindset allowed us to feel more free and patient from a creative standpoint. That being said, we also have so much more experience now than we did back then, so we were able to stay more focused on what it was that we were trying to say and achieve with these songs.
I think the biggest departure from both previous albums was a willingness to approach the songs as more of a collective rather than a group of individual musicians focusing primarily on their parts. That practice brought different perspectives [on] everything from lyrics and melody to the rhythmic identity of the songs.
EW: You said your opening song, “Amerika,” was inspired by Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel of the same name. What about this novel spoke to you?
FC: Amerika‘s protagonist finds himself in a series of increasingly bizarre situations arranged by some unseen force. There’s a constant feeling of anticipation and uncertainty as you’re reading that felt so fresh and pertinent to us, especially given our own experiences touring America.
EW: Could you tell me more about Titus, the character from “Titus Was Born,” and how he fits into the narrative of the album?
FC: Titus is a stand-in for us as the storytellers. He’s born in a turbulent time and place, but goes on to try and make a (hopefully) positive mark on his surroundings. We wanted to introduce a character that could contextualize some of the first-person lyrics on the record without making it some grand operatic statement.
EW: The theme of not growing up is interspersed throughout this album. Has that been a theme in your own life as you grow older?
FC: Our generation is the recipient of some serious mixed messages. We’re told up to grow up and be serious as often as we’re told to stay young at heart and irreverent. The lyrics to our music have always been a reflection of how we choose to balance those incongruent pieces of advice in our own lives.
EW: The title, “Home of the Strange,” seems to be a play on “Home of the Brave.” What makes first-generation Americans or immigrants strange?
FC: The story of America is the story of cultural hybridization. The message we are trying to convey is not that we as immigrants (0 to 100th generation) are strange, but that the practices and traditions that arise from a melting pot are a beautiful and bizarre amalgamation that couldn’t exist any other way. We think it’s important to embrace that.
EW: What would you say to first-generation Americans who are conflicted about their identity and what they want to do in life?
FC: Be true to yourself, there’s no rule that says that we all have to fit into neat cultural boxes. Take the values and ideals that speak to you and make them your guiding light. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s worth striving for.