Young The Giant may have gone quiet for the past couple of years but they’ve returned with their third record in a big way with a big message. The indie rock outfit from Irvine, CA is releasing Home of The Strange, an album that wrestles with and ultimately creates an identity of the modern American immigrant. It’s a heady time to release songs with such a weight, but the execution should offset any naysayers: these are big, beautiful songs that take you somewhere else. We talked with Young The Giant vocalist Sameer Gadhia ahead of Home of The Strange’s release this week.
PureVolume: After listening to the album, there’s an ambitiousness to the composition of a lot of the songs that’s great. What were you inspired by when you were writing this record and what kind of themes and interests were you drawing from?
Sameer Gadhia: I think it’s been the process of two albums to really figure out what that sound is for us. It’s always been on the tip of our tongues but we’ve never really fully executed it. Sonically, at least, it was finding our producer Alex Salibian. We were kind of going toward that direction with our demos but with him it really crystalized and I think it’s a combination of using digital recording tricks and writing in a way that makes it feel like a band experience, essentially paying homage to the traditions of recording an album, but at the same time deconstructing it and making it fit for the way we want to do things. This album, compared to all the others, is not a big studio album. We did it in a bunch of different studios and some of it is even just cell phone recording but we ran everything through tape and we used the right processors to get that warmth. It’s something we had been playing with for a long time but I feel it was like hip-hop that had influenced the sound of it for us. We’ve always liked the backbeat of music in general, and finally figuring that out sonically.
PV: This album, it has a lot of interesting textures to it, and it’s very dynamic. There’s a very intimate nature to a song like “Art Exhibit” and “Titus Was Born,” and then almost straight-up arena rock on other parts. Was that kind of interplay intentional?
SG: I think we’ve always been a bipolar band in terms of what we write. We have very, very disparate sounds compared to other bands and it can sometimes be a great thing. If there’s a band you like and they just have that one sound, that thing that you like, you know they’re going to remake that same song and do it really well. We’ve never been that bad, we’ve always had this weird schizophrenia about us where we do more rock elements, taking a lot from the Raconteurs and White Stripes and stuff like that, and then there’s something else entirely, more of the Radiohead influence. I think we embrace that entirely, more than ever on this record. It became natural, it just kind of happened that way.
PV: The sequencing really takes you through this journey, highs and lows, but there is a curious common thread through the record in which water is everywhere: rainwater in “Art Exhibit,” storms on “Titus Was Born,” rivers in “Repeat,” oceans on the title track.
SG: Water has this almost divining, rejuvenating thing about it, and for me as a lyricist and as a collective, we’ve always been more inclined to talk about nature. For us it’s always been what we vibe on together. When we travel together we go to far-flung places and I think there’s just something timeless about nature. That’s just kind of our personal style. I’ve tried, but I can’t write songs about highways and bus stops and gas stations like Bruce Springsteen. That doesn’t resonate with me as much. I think that the ocean on this record has a more narrative quality, the way that something can take you to another place, the journey. “Titus” was one of the first songs we wrote for the album and it was essentially about this guy named Titus that was born on a boat and traveled the world and arrived in a new land. The immigrant story is really strong as a narrative throughout the album and that was completely separate from the political stuff that was happening now, it just felt like it was something that was unique to us. We all identify as American in some sense of the word but we all come from different places. I’m Indian, and we have Persian, Canadian, English, so we all have these stories of coming here and the water was the journey, almost thinking about the Mayflower, just coming to America.
PV: The immigrant nature of the album is striking to me — I’m a first-generation Mexican-American — so starting off with “Amerika” and ending with “Home of The Strange,” it was touching. I assume that as you guys were writing this over the past few years that those politics weren’t as prevalent as they are now, but I have to wonder if you’re going to get that question a lot now.
SG: We’re okay with that because we’re not telling someone else’s story, we’re telling our story. I’m Indian and I identify with some things in that culture but I was still born in America, as I’m a first-generation American too, so I feel like my place is somewhere in between those two. I identify with some parts of my Indian heritage and some parts of my American heritage too. I feel like an outsider in both places but the home I find is in the space in between, this place you have to create for yourself, and I feel like that’s what Home of The Strange is. We haven’t been shy about our political beliefs lately because it’s so polarizing now. Before we all had our beliefs but now one side is in direct opposition to the creation of ourselves, why we even exist here, and I think that’s okay. I think there comes a time when people need to stand up and use that platform. We’re not going to be like Rage Against The Machine, neo-liberal and anarchist, but we’re just telling our story and it just happens to be that our story is something that one side of the country doesn’t want to hear about. We have the ability and the platform to show people that we’re products of immigrants, that’s where we came from, and we’re still American. That’s what the American way is, that’s what this is about.