Straddling the Line Between Alternative and Mainstream
By Alan Sculley
As Young The Giant starts a headlining tour this winter, singer Sameer Ghadia knows the band has come a long way since the release of its self-titled CD in January 2011.
“Last year at this time we had a headlining run (of shows) and we were doing decently well,” said Ghadia, as he considered where his band was back then during a January phone interview. “We were selling out small club venues of 200, 300, 400 capacity. But we were traveling in a van and trailer, and we just barely had a tour manager. We didn’t have a sound guy. We didn’t have anything else… Now it’s a completely different game. It’s the first time we’re taking out a lighting guy,” said the singer. “We have a full support team and we have in-ear monitors now for the first time ever. We’re really excited for that.”
And Gadhia is excited too, because the shows are not only in many of the premier large club and small theater venues in cities across the country, several of the concerts were moved to bigger venues because of ticket demand.
It’s all a result of a year in which Young The Giant saw two of its singles, “My Body” and “Cough Syrup,” go top five at rock radio, played the main stage at the Chicago Lollapalooza Festival and became the only rock act to perform at November’s MTV Video Music Awards. In the week following that VMA performance, the band sold 10,000 copies of its debut CD, and it experienced a new surge in popularity that has now translated into ticket sales for this winter’s tour.
All in all, it’s not bad for a group that started out in a rather jokey fashion.
Gadhia and guitarist Jacob Tilley formed the group in Irvine, California in 2004 under the name the Jakes. They were still in high school and having a band was just something fun to do.
At the time, Irvine was getting known for its post-hardcore scene, as Rage Against The Machine and Thrice emerged from the city to make a major mark on the national music scene.
“Everybody was very, very, very serious,” Gadhia said. “So we created the Jakes in complete response to that. We’d wear ridiculous clothing and we’d go crazy on stage and sing about random stuff.”
Beneath the mirth that was part of the Jakes’ ethos, though, was a real desire to write songs and get better and better at that craft. The early fruits of those labors surfaced on a pair of self-made, self-released CDs. And by 2008, the group had seen enough response and promise in its music to put college on hold and take a real shot in the business.
The group didn’t have to wait long for a big break, which came when the group won a Sonicbids contest to open a January 2009 show for the Kings Of Leon.
“We had no idea we’d been entered for the contest,” Gadhia said. “Our manager did it for us without even telling us he did it.”
The show with Kings Of Leon accelerated record label interest in the band. In the summer of 2009, Roadrunner Records signed the group and by the end of the year the band lineup had evolved into its current form, with guitarist Eric Cannata, drummer Francois Comtois and bassist Payam Doostzadeh completing the lineup, and had taken on a new name – Young The Giant.
In 2010, the group began work on its self-titled debut CD, working with big-name producer Joe Chicarelli (whose credits include Counting Crows, the Shins and My Morning Jacket) and spending its first days in a genuine professional studio. Gadhia admitted that the band felt the pressure of the moment, but tried to use it as fuel for its creative fire.
“We were at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, this real studio where (Led) Zeppelin and the (Rolling) Stones and the Doors had all recorded these amazing albums,” Gadhia said. “I think that motivated us in a lot of ways. It’s like we can’t make garbage here. We really have to push ourselves to the next level.”
The Young The Giant CD clearly isn’t garbage. It’s a polished – and indeed professional – sounding CD that finds the group carving out a pop-rock sound that straddles the line between alternative and mainstream rock. The music is pretty evenly split between anthemic rockers like “My Body” and “Cough Syrup” and expansive, richly melodic ballads and mid-tempo tunes such as “God Made Man” and “12 Fingers.”
The songs sound well suited for live performance, and Gadhia noted with pride that the band plays its songs in the true sense of the word.
“I think there are very few bands out there that don’t perform with the whole music magic, the backing tracks and the Auto Tune and all the additional stuff,” he said. “We play live completely together. There are no backing tracks. We don’t play to a metronome … We feel very comfortable jamming together.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.