Young the Giant's Sameer Gadhia talks about their rapid rise, 'Jools Holland' and befriending other bands
One number tells the story of Young the Giant’s rapid rise in 2011: $10.50.
That was the cost of a ticket to see the band in March, at the tiny Orpheum in Ybor City.
Five months later, Young the Giant was performing at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. Then they opened for Incubus at amphitheaters nationwide. A month after that, they were taping their own episode of MTV Unplugged. Last week, they played at the MLS Cup in Los Angeles.
“When we first signed, we were under the impression that this was going to be a slow-moving vehicle,” singer Sameer Gadhia said by phone from the band’s home base in Los Angeles. “We were going to write what we wanted to write, and we weren’t expecting any commercial success until the third or fourth album, when the label’s like, 'Okay guys, you need to do something, or we’re gonna drop you.’ So we’re very excited and pleased. We had no idea that we’d be able to do this.”
The ride may only be beginning. On the success of Top 10 alternative hits My Body and Cough Syrup, the group landed a slot at Saturday’s 97X Next Big Thing festival at the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre. (The band plays at 3:20 p.m. on the main stage; click here for details.) Then it’s time for a larger headlining tour that’ll bring them back to Florida in March. Rest assured, by that point, tickets will cost a bit more than $10.50.
Last week Gadhia, 22, called tbt* to reflect on Young the Giant’s big year. Here are excerpts.
Can you describe a typical day at one of these year-end radio festivals?
Yeah. Depending on the place, depending on our time, we normally fly in the day of, drive straight to the venue, straight to the festival ground. We’ll do soundcheck, maybe have an hour and a half to eat something. We’ll play, and most of these days, we’re gonna head straight off back to the airport and fly somewhere else. We have eight back-to-back shows, all in different states, on this run. So it’s gonna be a little bit stressful. But at the same time, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. We know all the bands that are gonna be playing, and we’re buddies with them, so we’re just excited to hang out again.
It’s really from playing all these festivals. Ironically, we’ve met all of these guys internationally, at different European festivals. We met Cage the Elephant in Amsterdam. We met Foster the People in Paris. Manchester Ochestra, we met in Atlanta, but we always bump into those guys. Everyone bonds over the fact that they’re young, American musicians. Even though we’re from completely different places and have completely different backgrounds, we can all find a common bond just from playing these shows together.
I wonder if it has anything to do with the shrinking scope of rock bands in America, as opposed to 20, 30 years ago. There are fewer and fewer rock bands having success on the radio and on TV.
Most definitely. Even as recently as a year and a half to two years ago, there were a lot more commercially successful rock bands. This year has been a very electronica-heavy year. That’s always been the thing, going from electronic music to rock music, from disco to rock, from the ’80s scene to ’80s metal. Right now, all of us really do bond over that. I had a good conversation with Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra — we have different music styles and tastes, but we both respect what each other is doing, the fact that we’re playing with guitars and bass and drums and vocals. It’s something that we’re proud of.
Was there a moment this summer where you froze up and realized: “Wow, we’re no longer in control of this ship. It’s gotten too big.”
Yeah. Especially on the heels of our first headlining run. Here we are, we haven’t really done much international touring, and then in May, we go to Europe and spend the whole month there. We performed on Jools Holland. And it becomes something beyond the scope of what we initially ever imagined. We were in Indonesia and we played a festival, and we saw people singing along to the music. Right afterwards, we went to Australia, and we found out about the VMAs. It was at that point in Australia, just the five of us, vacationing for a couple of days before the festivals there, we realized, “This is something beyond what we ever fathomed. It’s pretty insane.”
If it’s beyond what you ever imagined, when it happens, is it scary? Or do you feel you were emotionally prepared for it?
You know, I don’t think we were quite ready. Not to say that we’re even at that spot yet. But it’s a little bit overwhelming for us, the fact that now we get recognized every now and then. It’s a little bit overwhelming, and can be a bit annoying at times as well. I don’t think any of us were quite ready for that. Especially when we start working on these quote-unquote “international markets,” you start playing hot potato really, really fast. In the States, it’s such a large place that you can spend years just juggling all these different markets, playing these different places and trying to galvanize something, but as soon as you start extending it over to Asia and Europe and Australia, it can take a lot out of you. You could spend years and years touring without ever really evolving. That was our fear. So we were seeing success internationally, but we realized that we’re an American band, and we should expand in the place that we’re from before we get too ahead of ourselves and get lost in this game. We made that decision a couple of months back, that we’re gonna try and curtail most of our international touring for a while, and just try and focus on the States.
How involved are you in how the band is marketed and promoted?
Pretty involved. There are daily discussions. Actually, I just got off a conference call with management and all the guys. We’re all democratic, and we’re all very opinionated. But democracy is always a good thing. Especially with Roadrunner, it’s a brand-new enterprise for them as well as for us, and it’s an adventure, this whole thing. We’re learning from our mistakes day to day, and seeing what works and what’s not working. There’s a certain level that you can be involved, and then the rest, you just have to let go and trust in the powers that be. But right now, we’re in this strange transition phase, and we’re very involved with where we’re trying to go.
To go back to something you said a second ago, you said you did Jools Holland? Who else was on the show when you guys did it?
We performed with Adele, James Blake, R. Kelly and Metronomy. It was really the most amazing television experience I’ve had. In the States, there’s no such thing as an all-band show. You do late night performances, Fallon and Kimmel, and they hold up your LP and say, “Here’s a song.” But with Jools, they meticulously choose the bands, seemingly from all spectrums of musical genres and tasted. But when we saw each other perform, we realized that we had a lot of similarities. We’re all set up in a circle. Adele would perform, then we were directly counter-clockwise to her, and we’d start after that; then James Blake would play; then R. Kelly would play, then Metronomy. It was a huge party, and so much fun.
I love that show. I think it would be one of the most fun shows to actually attend. Is it structured at all? Does it feel like a TV show, or is it really just a round-robin format?
It’s really round-robin. It’s surprising that they never have that many screw-ups. At some points, they’d go really fast, and we’d be like “Wait — what are we doing right now? Are we supposed to start playing?” It’s very spontaneous. In the beginning of the show, before everybody performs, there’s this thing that Jools does; he has everyone start out on a jam. So he’s like, “Everyone jam on A-minor.” He started with Adele’s band, and we added a jam to that, and then everybody started jamming over that, and it became this really massive multi-faceted jam, which was absolutely amazing.
I’m interested in the fact that you guys had to follow Adele. So you had to follow Someone Like You or Rolling In The Deep? I’m trying to think of another situation in music where an artist has to follow such a massive hit, like immediately.
Yeah, I know. It’s a bit strange. For us as well, we were very honored to be sandwiched in between two artists that we consider some of the best today, Adele and James Blake. James came up to me afterward, and we hit it off pretty well. And he’s like, “At first, I was really intimidated, because you guys have a rock song, and here we are playing Limit to Your Love right after you guys.” And we were like, “We were nervous to be playing right before you.” We were all able to bond on the weird tension.
Have you gotten to meet or hang out with any of your other favorite bands during this whole crazy run the past six months?
Most definitely. We’ve gotten a good chance to meet most of the bands that are making music right now, and that’s an experience that we never thought we’d have. We actually ran into Coldplay in Atlanta, at (the festival) Music Midtown. I was a big Coldplay fan when I was younger. Right after Jools Holland, we had a show in London, a very tiny show, and there was a rumor that Will Champion was there, who’s the drummer of Coldplay. Fast-forward a couple of months, and we’re at Music Midtown, and Chris Martin and Will Chamipon are walking out of the artists’ tent and we’re walking in. Chris Martin comes up to me and is like, “You know, I really like your guys’ band. We’re gonna watch your set.” I was able to say, “Likewise man, we respect you guys so much. It’s amazing that we’re even talking right now.”
I’m sure a lot of people have tossed this quote back to you, because it’s in your press kit. But when Morrissey said, “Sameer’s voice is unbreakable,” what was your reaction?
We thought it was a rumor at first. I didn’t want to believe it until people confirmed it. I was so just happy, I guess. Just to hear those kind words was so warming. I’ve actually been fortunate enough to be in email correspondence with Morrissey. He’s this really nice, very witty, sarcastic dude. Exactly how you’d imagine him, I guess. Very old-school. Apparently he only did fax until very recently. So he does the email thing very old-school, like he’s writing a letter. We were supposed to try to set up some shows together, but our schedules always clashed. Who knows? One day maybe we’ll be playing together.
Your voice is such a smooth and soulful falsetto at times, yet a lot of your music has this manic, frenetic garage-rock energy. Is there much of a push-and-pull within the band about which direction a particular song should go?
I think it was for the first album. I don’t think we knew that we had a song like My Body in us. We wrote it in like 10 minutes, and it was actually in response to this frustration we felt that everything we were writing was slow tempo, mid-tempo, a little more pastoral. We wanted to try to break free from that, because we knew that we had something else in us. Now that we were able to write that, coming into the writing for the new album, we don’t feel pushed or pulled in any certain direction. There are certain songs that are going to be uptempo. There are certain songs that are going to be more folky. It feels very natural and lucid right now.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*