Heels & Picks: Mind over matter
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
I first heard Young the Giant moments after landing in Montreal. I had cleared Canadian customs and was about to spend two months in La Belle Ville to record my solo album, which drops at the end of the summer.
“You’re back home, eh?” said the customs agent.
Well, perhaps that’s not exactly what he said, but it’s good to take a moment to perpetuate a stereotype when it applies to your own people.
I had piled my snow-dusted luggage into the car of my long time bestie, Krissi, and popped in the passenger seat beside her girlfriend, artist manager Anne Vivien.
“You have to hear this band!” Krissi exclaimed while we surfed the radio for cool songs. A mix of alternative modern rock and an almost croon-like rock vocal hooked me.
“My body tells me nooooo!” sang Sameer Gadhia from the crackling Canadian dial.
“This band is called Young the Giant,” Krissi said.
“They are called WHAT?” Anne replied.
Exactly. Still, it has a certain je ne sais quoi. Non? As it turns out, Young the Giant happened to be in Montreal that weekend for a show, and Krissi and I went as guests of Roadrunner Records.
They killed it. It was a highly entertaining show, with solid musicianship and some seriously well thought out, catchy alternative pop songs. Gadhia has two microphones lined up, front and center on the stage. An old-school brat pack looking microphone for his crooning moments, and a full-on clear vocal microphone for when he lets go the rock wail. Cool.
This tour was in support of the band’s self-titled debut album, one that featured rock radio singles and soft-drink commercial staples “My Body” and “Cough Syrup”.
Nowadays, as The Giant grows a little older, the band is out in support of their newest album, “Mind Over Matter”.
For many bands, the release following a successful debut is fraught with doubt and second-guessing the direction of their sound. Young the Giant stepped up to the plate with a fully-realized album that balances the lion with the lamb. But this time, it all feels a little bit bigger.
Young the Giant scored an opening slot for Kings of Leon’s upcoming North American tour, and you can catch the band at several major American and Canadian amphitheaters and stadiums this summer and fall.
I caught up with guitarist Jacob Tilley to talk about the new album, Morrissey, top rejected band names, avoiding the sophomore slump and being a pedal junkie.
ERIN SMITH: Your new album is intricately arranged and it feels like the songs are built for stadiums rather than theaters. Was that something that you were conscious of while making the record?
JACOB TILLEY: It’s been four years since we recorded the first one; I was 18 when we recorded that record. We’re definitely getting better as we get older.
I think, for this record, me and all of the guys wanted to explore all these sonic palettes that we had become familiar with on the road.
The stadium question, we get asked that all the time. If we ever get to that point, I mean, it would be awesome to play for 10,000 people every night. A lot of our favorite bands, we take things that we like from their aesthetic and sound and we try to recreate that within our sound and framework. We’ve barely supported people in stadiums ourselves, and it sounds cliché but with bands like Sigur Ros and Radiohead, they are comfortable in those spaces and maybe we just emulate those sounds, I don’t know (laughs).
At this point, our band has achieved all of the goals we wanted and so we’re happy with where we’re at.
ES: Can you talk about the origins of your band’s name? Did you have any rejected band names that you didn’t use?
JT: We were called The Jakes, but by the time 2007 came around, it became clear that we were a whole different franchise. We flipped through college art books trying to find really cool names. Actually we thought we were being really clever, putting “the” in the middle of the band name, but that year we had Foster the People come out and a bunch of other bands with “the” in the middle.
When we came up with the name Young the Giant, it inspired a few songs that actually ended up making the record.
As for rejected names, we were throwing around Apollinaire for a while.
ES: While making “Mind Over Matter,” did you feel obligated to recreate the vibe of your previous hits?
JT: We never really thought to recreate another “Cough Syrup” or “My Body.” Obviously those songs have been absolutely great to us and embody a time period in our lives that we will always treasure.
We felt some external pressure to write another hit, and that led to a very dry period in the writing of the record where we were all getting frustrated. We were coming up with material but nothing that we felt was worthy of making the record.
We went through a time, and it brewed for a while, where we weren’t coming up with songs we were passionate about. But that ultimately gave way to “Mind Over Matter”.
We were all living together in a house in California, and we kind of laid down a little bit of “Mind Over Matter,” and once we wrote that song it was the spark of inspiration that got the album going. We wrote “It’s About Time” right after that.
As a band, you know, you spend your time playing your songs for people out on the road. So on some level, of course you want those hits, but it’s not really a conscious thing that you focus on.
We’re still a young band, we’re young guys and we’re still figuring out this music business thing and how to record and how to be the best musicians we can be.
ES: I tend to lean towards fashion in my blog. Can you tell us about any favorite designers or clothing lines for stage, or just for hanging out?
JT: (Laughs) That’s a really funny question.
ES: (Laughs) Are you a clothes guy, or not really?
JT: Well, I can be a bit of a beach bum, honestly. Levi jeans are always reliable; I love my Nike running shoes. It’s hard to stay in shape and healthy on the road, I have to have my Nike shoes, they’re just awesome. But I can’t wear the Nikes onstage because it’s too difficult to change pedals.
On stage I wear dress shoes, something I can switch pedals easily with.
ES: Did you use any effects or pedals on the album that were new?
JT: We are huge pedal junkies. It’s a problem. I literally have drawers full of pedals.
Some of the pedals we used, they are so complex. Very clearly on the song “Camera,” we ran all of the electronic drums through a bitcrusher and we also used that on the guitars. It’s a very unique distortion. It’s difficult to use, but as we went along we got stronger at creating sounds.
ES: “Having suffered with relish so much yes-but-no new music, I could break down with happiness at the new – debut – CD by Young the Giant. I will be kneeling with gratitude on a hardwood floor for many years to come. It is the whole thing … it is the perfect tone … and Sameer’s voice is unbreakable.”
That is a quote from the legendary, and ever-elusive, Morrissey. How was that moment for the band?
JT: To tell you the truth, when it happened, I had heard of The Smiths and my Dad was always trying to turn me on to them. But I hadn’t really had a chance to get attached to them as musicians and people.
So when that happened, it was obviously such a big deal. All my friends were like, “Oh my God!” I only really knew a couple of Smiths songs. So after that point, I educated myself on the band.
To be given that kind of acknowledgement from a rock idol and a legend is incredible. And I’m so lucky and honored that he would reach out and say such grandiose things about us. I think Morrissey is a great lyricist. I’m English and to me, a band that is able to embody a piece of history, the coal mines shutting down and Thatcher’s iron fist, I think it’s awesome they can write that way. I think Johnny Marr is pretty much the best guitarist ever, as well.
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.