Gang of Youths
There’s no bullshitting with Gang of Youths David Le’aupepe. That’s just my style. Cut to the quick. Start with the substance. Then let’s go from there.
So let’s do just that: Gang of Youths is an Aussie band armed with appreciably muscular melodies (e.g. Kings of Leon) and an equally appreciable authenticity. The band was raised in religion and, unfortunately over the songwriting season for The Positions, steeped in sorrow. Terminal illness. Death. Confusion. It’s all packed into these songs that propel through the chaos.
If that sounds compelling, it is. They’ve made waves in their native Sydney with ARIA noms and critical acclaim, and America is next. These days are all about “finding and acquiring”, says Le’aupepe, and 2016 should find and acquire plenty more fans for this breakout bet.
Stereo Subversion: I’ve read interviews where you describe your religious upbringing and your insistence to bring something meaningful while also losing the religion, so to speak. To tell the truth. What have you learned as an artist about what it means to convey something that’s hopeful, yet truthful, that doesn’t pull punches, but is still able to convey something positive?
David Le’aupepe: Good question. I feel like because we were so jaded and disaffected with our religious upbringing—all the lights, camera, dry ice, and evocative music—I think the real question that came about was wondering what authenticity was, whether authenticity was just some veiled apparition somewhere off in the cosmos that was unattainable by men.
Being authentic in this day and age is a difficult enterprise. You mentioned being truthful. I think truthfulness and authenticity can’t exist without each other. They walk hand-in-hand. I think I have an inability to lie very wel. You have to be honest, brutal, forthcoming. I think the beauty in what we wanted to do essentially is that I wanted the honesty. I wanted to ensure that we were producing something with a semblance of grandiosity, but also with a real authenticity.
I always say that there are enough fucking cowards on the planet to last us another six millenia. We don’t need any more people promulgating what isn’t real, what isn’t true. If we can contribute some kind of creative conversation that elicits real things, deep things, things that are true, hopeful, then we’re going to do that. That’s what we do.
SSv: Is that a shared sentiment between all the band members?
David: Yeah, totally. We all grew up the same way. We’ve known each other since we were little kids. I suppose embracing my predilection for the chaotic, it explains my affinity for being completely bold and honest about it.
They were all right behind me from the start. We wanted to make stuff that was honest. We wanted to make music that was empathetic and passionate, provocative and emotive. That was the intention. With that sheer consciousness of mind, we’ve been able to do it. If we didn’t have the same intentions, we would have fallen flat. The album would have been a piece of shit. I think it strengthened our internal bond, and also, given us a real creative direction that we’re probably going to pursue until we finish.
SSv: Is that true of art that you appreciate as well. The aims of the music you make—are those also the inherent values of what you listen to?
David: Oh yeah. I’m a terrible, old fogey. If something is true or honest or heartbreaking or life-affirming, I’m in. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like stuff that is made with machines. That’s absolutely not true. The last Jamie xx was made with a machine. I think it comes down to that weird, quasi-ethereal notion of authenticity… I think it can be seen everywhere. It doesn’t have to be sad, old guys like me, playing guitar. I’m only 23-years-old, but I have this sad, old guy mentality. I had it until Miley Cyrus released that song, “Wrecking Ball.”
There are people in all walks of life in every genre capable of making authentic music. I always look for it. I’m tragically unashamed of it. I’m a die-hard. I’m a morbid romantic when it comes to music—unleashing the beauty of humanity and the ugliness of humanity and everything that we are as humans. I really feel like John the Baptist, being stuck in the wilderness, eating locusts and honey. I’m an old man.
SSv: You’ve got your leather belt and camel hair?
David: Totally. I’m that guy.
SSv: Tell me the last time you were grabbed by the power of music in a way that surprised you.
David: It was Vince Staples. Rap music has always been a really important part of my life. I grew up in a really bad part of Sydney. I was hassled by cops.
Vince Staples is this 20-year-old kid, so lyrically honest, mature, asking real questions. Following in the footsteps of great contemporaries like Chuck D, trying to ask real radical questions, especially in a climate and culture complicated for people of color. It is hard to be black in America. It’s hard to be black in England. I think that was the last time I was utterly confounded by something, just utterly enthralled.
SSv: You were talking about what it means to make this authentic art. At the same time, there’s got to be that challenge on the musical end, the challenge to put it into a vehicle that’s also compelling musically, distilled into a five-minute idea. What have you learned about walking that fine line or creating that package where they both exist?
David: It’s a high-wire between two enormous quests. It’s really difficult. I think the point of making good, compelling music is that it’s pleasing to the ear, I suppose. But, it’s also suggestive of the subjectivity issue concerning the real thing.
I’m one of those horrible people who’s a real subjectivist. I don’t believe in objective taste. I don’t believe in objective truth. I think every truth is subject to one’s own mind, one’s own ego. So it comes down to [asking], ‘What is going to be the most accessible to the most amount of people with this kind of heavy shit? What can I perceive as accessible for people?’ I realized that we learned a lot playing live, about creating drama with rhythm, with tension, with restraint. We learned a lot about creating—not something artificial—but, creating an atmosphere within the music with high-pitched instruments, for example. It was just a triumph of pleasing the ears. That was the way that we did it, making compelling music.
You used the word, “distill.” I actually like that word. Distilling all this heavy emotion, this emotional, cathartic stuff, and making it compelling, was the real challenge. It’s really difficult, but we want to make music that reaches people. That’s what we want to do. We want to touch people in a profound way, the way we were touched by music. That’s the music we definitely wanted to make. We made music with the intention of connecting with people at a human level.
SSv: I’d love to talk about stateside impact, David, what that means to you guys, what the goals are there. Would you call that a goal, something you’re excited about? Does it matter to you where you break?
David: Absolutely. Of course, I want to make it in America. That’s why people travel thousands of miles to come here, because they want to make it in America. Who doesn’t? This is a place where there are 50 towns on the East coast listed for any tour. This is a place where our art form was birthed.
There’s a symbolic importance for us to make it here as well because I lived in Nashville for a while. This is where we intended to become somebody and something, even if it’s something very small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. This was home for me in New York. I have family here. A lot of close friends here. And I think in terms of making a sustainable living, being able to travel around and play our music for money, the United States is ideal for us. There are 100 college towns in this country.
So, yeah, it’s absolutely important. If it didn’t happen, it wouldn’t devastate us, but why not give it a shot? We’re all under the age of 25. Why not give it a crack?
SSv: Since we’re getting close to the end of the year, how will you remember 2015?
David: 2015 was the year of finding. It was the year of finding and acquiring. I had a lousy 2014. It was that way for everybody in my life. One of my best mate’s and his wife had a kid, and this time last year they lost the kid. So, this year feels like the year of finding, the year of receiving, the year of restitution. We released the album and it wasn’t horrible. What else could I wish for?