By Jay Cridlin
Times Staff Writer
These kids today. Why are they all so happy?
Bands bursting with day-glo positivity are a dime a dozen in modern music. Fun., Imagine Dragons, Passion Pit, Walk the Moon, Grouplove and Of Monsters and Men all sing scream-along anthems with fists-in-the-air abandon, and their young fans can't seem to get enough.
"Maybe it's just what's going on in the world — people are kind of sick of feeling down," said Sam Martin, singer of L.A. indie-pop startups Youngblood Hawke. "They want to find an outlet that makes them feel positive about everything, and music is a big part of that. It's a way to escape."
Youngblood Hawke's hit We Come Running is a perfect example. "I've had many people come up to us and say that that song gets them up in the morning," Martin said. "That song kind of makes them feel like they can do anything."
Youngblood Hawke — who on Friday will add a shot of youthful exuberance to the Funshine Music Festival at the Florida State Fairgrounds — just released their debut LP, Wake Up, a collection of glossy retro synth-pop and huge, hooky choruses.
But of course, anyone who follows pop music knows that the brightest songs can come from some pretty dark places. So it was with Youngblood Hawke.
Founding members Martin and guitarist-keyboardist Simon Katz were part of the pop trio Iglu & Hartly, who in 2008 signed to Mercury Records and became quite popular in Europe (their song In This City was a Top 5 hit in England). But Iglu & Hartly imploded due to tensions between the band's singer and Martin and Katz.
"The way that band was going, we felt we didn't really have a voice," Martin said. "We couldn't make the music we wanted to make."
Martin's musical tastes are all over the map. His first concert was Public Enemy at about age 8 ("I remember Flavor Flav sweating all over the stage") but says his all-time favorite concert was the White Stripes at Red Rocks in 2005 ("That was just mind-blowing"). He's a massive Rolling Stones fan; one of his prized possessions is a career-spanning box set on vinyl.
It was for the best, Martin said, that Iglu & Hartly broke up — but that doesn't mean it was easy. He and Katz were working odd jobs to make ends meet, pondering whether to quit the biz and go back to school. But he describes writing songs like We Come Running and the equally uplifting Live & Die as a "cathartic experience."
"We were writing these songs to lift ourselves up," he said. "One day, it clicked. It felt like this was a reflection of what we felt. It felt like, This is us. This feels right, this is music that's close to our hearts, and is a reflection of what we're going through right now. . . . We kind of wrote (the album) and stepped away and didn't notice that there is a strong theme of hope that runs through it."
In recording Wake Up, they layered vocal upon vocal upon vocal — even recruiting the West Los Angeles Children's Choir to sing backup on We Come Running — trying to recreate the collective energy of a massive live concert.
"I'll do the verses, and Alice (Katz, Simon's wife) sings along with me," he said. "During the chorus, we'll have everybody do group vocals. That emulates what we do live. It's one big group sing-along."
That group-hug sentiment radiates throughout Wake Up, and so far, it's translated from the stage. "We're huge fans of getting the crowd singing and lifting you off your feet," Martin said. "We just make big songs that kind of grab you."
What could be happier than that?