People use a lot of words to describe Gang of Youths. Killing it. Overwhelmingly successful. A band that can do no wrong. Last time they were here in Sydney, Alex caught up with enigmatic, Burrito loving frontman David Leaupepe, whom he just happened to go to high school with.
Davo: Dude, what the fuck are you doing here?
Happy: I’m interviewing you man!
Davo: No way dude. Look who’s interviewing me! This is the fucking weirdest thing ever.
Happy: Are you guys excited for tonight?
Davo: Yes. Extremely excited. This is our only headline show in Sydney this year I think.
Happy: And you were in Brisbane last night?
Davo: Yeah man last night, that was a bit of a struggle. We had to fly and be there and stuff like that. It was a uni night as well, on a Thursday. Do uni students get Fridays off or something?
Happy: Yeah, mostly arts students. They’re the only students that party though. Have you headlined many shows? I know you’ve done tons of support slots recently and a couple of festivals too.
Davo: Yeah, I guess this is kinda our first headline tour. It’s to coincide with a song we just put out.
Happy: Poison Drum?
Davo: Yes, poison drum. That old chestnut.
Happy: Who’s been producing all these rad songs?
Davo: So like, downstairs they were playing Real Estate, one of my closest friends Kevin McMann made that album and he produced our record. He owns this little recording studio in a college town in New York called New Poltz. We’re getting a guy named Peter Katis to mix the album, whose main credits are like Frightened Rabbit, Local Natives and The National. I guess it’s like our foray into serious rock music. Like meaningful music. But at the moment we’re doing a load of additional production, Jung (guitarist) and I, and that’s been a bit of a clusterfuck of different sessions.
Happy: So like the process for you isn’t like going into the studio and smashing out some music.
Davo: I mean, yeah we do smash it out, but for me everything is really painstaking. Like you know me, I’m like an obsessive control freak when it comes to anything musical. It’s mostly about finding a balance between writing what we wanna write and then also what we wanna do as a group and then trying to adjust it so that we can have some kind of ready recognition. All of our songs are like seven or eight minutes long.
Happy: Yeah, Poison Drum is pretty long hey?
Davo: Six and a half minutes. That’s actually one of the shortest ones on the record.
Happy: What seriously? I’m pumped for hearing this record now!
Davo: Ha, nah it’s the most self indulgent thing ever. It’s gonna end up being something like fourteen tracks I think.
Happy: Wow, so you’ve only released about three tracks recently through sony and stuff…
Davo: Yeah, but our entire catalogue amounts to something like 25, 30 tracks I think. We’ve just been taking this release at a really slow pace and staggering the releases. Our overseas label situation at the moment kind of demands us to take it a little bit easy on the Australian front, and I guess it’s just kinda the way that I choose to do things, much to the chagrin of the label and management and shit like that.
Happy: What’s it like working with Sony?
Davo: The fucking best. There’s this weird myth that indie labels are the good guys and major labels are the bad guys and there’s no truth to that at all. For the most part, if you’re in a label, chances are you’re just a guy whose got a mortgage and bills and employees, stuff like that. The way that you balance your artists, their creativity and their commercial expedience is kind of a big thing.
The major label thing just really works out heaps better for us, cause we’re only signed in Australia/New Zealand, we’ve only licensed the record. It’s not like a record deal where there’s any big contract where they get all our merch or own us whatever, it’s literally just the record sales.
And Sony really are the best, I think because they had such a long history of producing pop music that is pretty radio friendly, and we are significantly more esoteric than most of their output, they’ve made a massive effort to really be supportive. That’s not just like “aw yeah I’m just happy to be part of the ball club”, it’s actually the best fucking decision.
If I were to say that some labels are cunts and some aren’t, all it really depends on is who you’re working with. Doesn’t matter if you’re indie, major, whatever. Sony’s worked out really well for a whole bunch of stuff too, we can use their studio for free. That’s 100% honesty there too, no ball fondling.
Happy: That’s awesome.
Davo: Also you gotta mention that we were like besties in high school.
Happy: For sure, I’ll chuck that in. It’s making it a pretty weird sitch interviewing you though…
Davo: Yeah well at least you’re not asking the same boring bullshit questions. *sarcastically* Uhh so whens the album coming out?
Happy: *sarcastically* Uhhh so like, what are your influences? Who have you been uhh listening to lately?
Davo: Dude, I’ve been listening to my wife, telling me to go to bed. I’ve been up all night with my dog writing songs. Hey, ask me some more questions man. Stay on track.
Happy: Oh, yeah, uhh let’s see… That was the sony question… oh, I was actually gonna ask you what your influences were! But fuck that, right? Oh here’s one, you’re only in Australia for a little while
Davo: Yeah, we only came back for a couple of months for the Jezabels thing and this thing (headline tour) and just to finish the record in our free studio.
Happy: Where are you off to next?
Davo: I think we’re supposed to head to Primavera, but I think we’re gonna take that time off to complete the record. I’m taking June off as well, so I’ll get to spend heaps of time with my wife and my dog.
Happy: Has making the record been a real full time commitment for you guys?
Davo: Yeah man, it’s been a total anxious agonising excruciating journey to get through it, but it’s really been kinda cool. You sort through a lot of life shit when you do it. There’s another myth about making records that you can just go into the studio and just churn them out, but you deal with heaps of stuff. Especially if it’s a really personal album, which this one is.
I’ve also learned to stop being a cunt about all sorts of things, like not being so pedantic. I know what to take control of and what to leave. But yeah, it’s a real full time commitment and I spend a lot of time away from Megan, which fucking blows. It pays well though. Well, it doesn’t pay well, I guess it pays the bills and stuff.
Happy: If we could revisit some of the music for a sec, you play guitar in the show, are you playing all or any of the instruments on the recordings as well?
Davo: Nah, it used to be like that when I was demoing stuff and for that song Riverlands I played the piano and recorded that kinda straight through. We now do everything in a room together live and try to limit the overdubs as much as possible, we try to keep everything as live and as energetic and whatever as possible.
Happy: Who plays that tremolo guitar bit on Poison Drum then?
Davo: Oh that’s Joji, it’s all Joji man. I’m glad you like that man. That song’s not my favourite to be honest. I was in a weird head space when I wrote that. Like, the song itself elicited more of a feeling that we had more ambition than talent in kind of a weird sense. I think it lacked a certain emotional clarity and core initially. I guess it’s one of those songs where the meaning is kinda truthful to whatever my shit is, but I’ve always had kind of a battle with that one.
Happy: Are you happy with it now that it’s out there? It’s been out in the public sphere for a while now.
Davo: Fuck yeah I’m happy with it. Peter fucking nailed that mix, but before it goes on the record we’ll obviously revise it and do that kinda thing.
Happy: Is the track reflective of all the other stuff on the album?
Davo: No, not really. It’s really weird. I think because we’ve done this staggered release thing, where we did Riverlands then Evangelists, which is kind of a little closer to not only the subject matter but also the mood, cause I guess it is a concept album. Sonically though, it really shifts, and Poison Drum isn’t super reflective of how it is – it’s still gonna be raucous and energetic and have kind of a Replacements punk rock energy, so like, it’s always felt like it didn’t quite fit. I guess it’s all about how it fits with the other fifteen tracks on the album.
Happy: Yeah fair enough. I’m still impressed that you’re getting out fifteen, sixteen tracks, each about seven minutes long on the album. That’s insane. What else did I need to ask you..? Uhh… Hey so… Is this the least professional interview you’ve ever done?
Davo: Ha! Yes extremely. No, like, I don’t wanna tell you what the least professional interview I’ve ever had is. It was pretty fucking abysmal. I think professionalism is gaged by how well you ask questions and how well you connect with the subject, like you said, you get people who are like robots. Who are your influences. I’ll tell you about the worst one when that recording device is off though, cause the guy who did it was really cool, but the interview sucked.
Happy: So who’s lined up for support tonight?
Davo: There’s a good friend of ours named Tim Fitz who is a loopmaster. He’s actually brilliant, and I’m really reticent to say that about anyone but he’s really brilliant. He’s kinda the polar opposite of what we do, I guess. He forays into electronic music a little more than we do.
Also there’s this band from Byron called Mt Warning. Everyone calls them Mount Warning, but they’re supposed to be like Em Tee Warning, and they’re totally fucking nuts. Absolutely mental. Really good dudes as well, they’re a trio so there’s a lot of angst and nervous energy and they’re heaps cool. We’re taking them all round the east coast with us and like Brissy was a home crowd for them which was awesome cause Byron is like 2 hours away or something, and now tonight and then down to Melbourne.
Happy: That show is sold out too isn’t it?
Davo: Almost sold out I think. Which is absolutely ridiculous. You never think you’ll ever sell anything out as a musician, especially one as heinously self-loathing as me but it fucking happened. But it’s the weirdest thing ever, like people don’t think we’re fucking shit. Sorry, I’ve been swearing heaps. People don’t think we’re mediocre, people don’t think we’re average, like I’ve met people who have actually connected to the music in a real visceral way. Selling out a place is the fucking weirdest feeling. It’s almost like a confirmation of your ability in a strange way. In a market saturated with average alternative music it’s really cool to be able to do something like that, especially making guitar music, which is completely uncool now.
Happy: Yeah, I’ve noticed that attitude. Do you reckon that’s gonna have a resurgence?
Davo: Like a renaissance? Yeah, I mean it’s been about ten years since the last one. I think people are too quick to say that guitar music is dead. I dunno if it’s really dead – like it still exists in a capacity but it’s gone underground again. I fucking hope it comes back though, like I gotta pay rent. I’m not talking like Alex Turner talking bullshit, I mean like a real interest – I think there’s a lot of people hoping and praying for… not really a renaissance because the scenes that exist now are just so distinct. There’s a little bit of intermingling but I think people are kinda getting excited for another early 2000’s thing with bands like The Futureheads and stuff.
Happy: What makes you happy?
Davo: Mexican food. You know the Mexican food in California is literally better than the Mexican food in Mexico. It’s the same recipes and stuff but the produce in the US is just that much better and it makes like a huge difference. Oh also, if you’re ever at Mad-Mex, the trick is to order two kids burritos with chilli. You get way more food and for heaps cheaper.
Our wonderfully weird illustration of Gang of Youths is by Nicky Minus is a comic maker and visual artist currently based in Sydney. You can find a ton of her comics on her website or her tumblr, and you can purchase a super awesome physical copy of Jerks! from her store.
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