Young the Giant's Sameer Gadhia talks Radiohead, 'The King of Limbs' and learning from Thom Yorke's voice
We’ve been through enough Next Radioheads to fill an entire Virgin Megastore: Travis, Coldplay, Muse, Doves, Keane, Elbow, Idlewild, the list goes on and on.
These days, the New Next Radiohead might just be Young the Giant. Thanks to hit singles like My Body and Cough Syrup, the young SoCal group had one of the biggest commercial and critical breakthroughs of any young band in 2011, performing at the MTV Video Music Awards, recording their own episode of MTV Unplugged and opening for Incubus at amphitheatres nationwide. They’re now in the midst of their first-ever headlining tour, which has a sold-out stop at the Ritz Ybor on March 17.
Young the Giant are huge Radiohead fans — especially singer Sameer Gadhia, whose soulful croon bears more than a slight resemblance to Thom Yorke’s. Even Yorke’s own idol, Morrissey, thinks so —he’s gone out of his way to call Gadhia’s voice “unbreakable.”
“One of my friends told me, 'You realize you were able to achieve on your first album what Thom Yorke’s been trying to achieve his whole life — trying to get Morrissey to give him a nod?’” Gadhia said. “It’s interesting, you know? Because for me, it’s all about Thom Yorke.”
Shortly before Young the Giant performed at Tampa’s 97X Next Big Thing in December, we interviewed Gadhia about his band’s swift rise to fame. We couldn’t resist spending a solid 10 minutes of the conversation nerding out about our favorite band. Here’s how it went.
Are you fans of Radiohead?
Yes, we’re actually massive fans of Radiohead.
I never know how to ask that question, because I feel like, “Of course everybody is,” but then some people aren’t. What is it about their music that you dig? Any particular songs or albums that stand out?
I love every single thing that they’ve done — Kid A, Amnesiac, OK Computer, Hail to the Thief. In Rainbows was such a beautiful album. What they’ve been able to do is something that no one can say they can do right now. They’ve constantly been able to evolve themselves, they’ve constantly been pushing the envelope for over a decade. They’ve always been the forerunners for new and innovative music.
For us, and for most acts, it’s very cliche to say that Radiohead is their favorite band, and their biggest influence, because they really are — they’re a career act, they rose from obscurity and a lot of cynicism. A lot of people really didn’t like them at first, and they felt that they were pigeonholed into this genre that they didn’t see themselves. They envisioned something more. They had the motivation to evolve and do something completely different.
I was just looking on Stereogum, and saw that they just released these 25-year-old demos of their stuff. I don’t know if you’ve heard those, but it’s absolutely amazing. You hear this stuff, and it’s pure pattern Roxy Music, coming off of the heels of the '80s crush and R.E.M. They weren’t that proficient with any of their instruments. Thom Yorke has a really whiny voice. Phil Selway was not that strong of a drummer. Jonny Greenwood and those guys were always innovative guitarists, but I think they’re really lost in what they wanted to do. And now they’re so free, and they’re really able to tap into the subconscious of their writing. When I see them jam together, it’s really like that pure feeling. Whenever we feel that, we realize that they must feel it like 20 times as much.
Have you seen them in concert?
I’ve seen them once. Eric (Cannata), our guitarist, was actually able to see Thom Yorke perform with Atoms For Peace at the Echoplex, a secret show.
When we were living in Hollywood, they were living in the Hills at that time, recording The King of Limbs. So a couple of the guys were on Runyon Canyon; it’s a big hiking trail that is very, very notorious. And they were hiking on the trail and they saw Thom Yorke, just bolting down the hill. “Is that Thom Yorke? He looks like he’s in amazing shape! He’s in way better shape than we are!”
What is your favorite vocal performance of his?
Nude is probably one of my favorite vocal performances of his, from In Rainbows. I learned a lot from just listening to that song, and singing along. The amount of control he has — that smooth transition from his softer voice to his really beautiful vibrata that goes into a very strong, really rich, mid-level, full belting range. And it’s just absolutely amazing how he can hold those notes. Everything I can say is just overanalyzing it. But he really is an absolutely amazing vocalist.
And more than the vocals, his melodies are just so interesting. He brings in this crazy bastard form of jazz. It’s really interesting to be able to listen to a Radiohead song for the first time, because they always start with an instrumental intro, and I always try and think, “Oh, so what’s Thom gonna do next?” I try and sing along to what I could imagine him singing. Then he goes and does something completely different. He’s able to have these very poppy, almost four-on-the-floor melodies that are still so interesting along(side) this crazy diaspora of insane instrumentals. Bloom, on The King of Limbs, the first track, is just such an amazing instrumental part. You wouldn’t imagine he’d be able to bring something to the table like that — something so long and sweeping to such an angular song.
What was your experience listening to The King of Limbs for the first time?
We were actually on the road at the time. It was just before lunch, our manager had gone out to get a reservation somewhere, and we’re just sitting in the van. I remember it was very cold. And we just all sat and listened to the whole album, the whole way through, the whole time together. Afterwards, we were just like, “This is frickin’ genius.” It might not be what people were expecting of Radiohead, because they’ve received a lot of mainstream success recently, especially with In Rainbows. Before, they had a lot of haters, and now they’re more of a universal band than ever. And The King of Limbs was able to do something completely different. I think we kind of expected this album to be nodded off, but it’s going to become a gem in the next couple of years. They’re literally telling us, “Screw everyone. We can do whatever the hell we want.” Very cool.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*