When Gang of Youths released their debut album, The Positions, back in April 2014, the record’s candid content matter would remain a main and ever-present focus right throughout its ensuing tour and promo cycle. As ‘the album about cancer’, The Positions was quick to solidify itself with the Gangs’ fan base and corners of the industry as one of the best albums of the year but in doing so, also set the bar high for the Sydney rock band when it came to the eventual release of new material.
Skipping ahead to their national tour through April this year, fans were getting a taste of the music the band was working on, namely in “Strange Diseases”. It was an indicator that in Le’aupepe’s lyricism there was still a place for that frightened and young version of himself caring for his cancer-suffering wife, but a new perspective that was completely out from under the dark shadow that period of his life cast wide.
It’s a surge forward in creativity that has seen Le’aupepe and Gang of Youths produce a brand new EP in Let Me Be Clear and excitingly, their sophomore studio album. While The Positions’ successor is still awhile down the line, this new six-track offering from the band is a taster of where they’re heading. Still passionate, heart-on-sleeve compositions, the songs on Let Me Be Clear serve as a solid bookend to what was a tumultuous chapter of Le’aupepe’s youth.
Ahead of its release this week, Le’aupepe admits that any apprehension or nerves surrounding Let Me Be Clear’s presentation to the public are non-existent. He’s in a completely different place and mindset now.
“I came out of that shit a winner.” he says. “I came out as a fucking winner. I came out with my head held high. It doesn’t make me nervous; it’s about talking about me transcending the self that I used to be. Being superior to my former human, like I built an effigy of myself and I set that motherfucker on fire. I watched it burn; I laughed and drank and I slept with girls and I partied with my friends. I rode off into the sunset on a fucking gold bladed Harley, that’s what it feels like. It’s not going to feel horrible; it was still fresh, but it’s also – in Dave years – a fucking long time ago. I don’t let my feelings about this girl govern my personal security; the self is one that needs to progress and transcend.”
“We’re detached from the EP,” Le’aupepe admits. “We finished recording it months and months ago, probably nine months ago is when we were done with it. It all feels really nostalgic now, releasing this; these are old songs for us, almost. For the most part, we’re pretty detached from that part of my life now, that’s just a reflection of the scared Dave. The Dave that was married and fearing for the life of the person he loved. The Dave that was trying to work three fucking jobs and had never had his heart broken. That Dave is 20 years old.”
As to where the Dave Le’aupepe of 2016 sits mentally and emotionally, he isn’t coy about opening up about what still worries and challenges him.
“[I’m] still terrified.” he says. “Terrified for more ontological reasons; trying to find meaning and purpose in life and not just trying to cling to the one I already had. The Dave now is a more enthusiastic Dave, but also a more cautious Dave. I’m less susceptible to being caught up in the slings and arrows of outrageous bullshit. I’m more self-aware.”
For any artist or band, the stigma surrounding any follow up release to a debut album that receives any kind of praise or has a solid impact on an attentive public is one that has potential to eat away at a creative process but in terms of The Positions, where does one go after they’ve laid absolutely everything bare? As a way of coming to terms with and weathering such an emotional storm, the cathartic process of bringing these songs to life on record left Le’aupepe understandably shook when it came to the idea of proceeding beyond this first album as a writer.
“I was so terrified of not having anything to say after The Positions came out,” he comments. “I was thought I was done and I was ready to quit. I think I’m still perpetually ready to quit, but I suddenly found a bunch of new shit to say. Things that had been inside me that I had brushed aside because I was in love with somebody and writing songs for them. That seemed like a compelling enough reason to be, but now I’m finding other compelling reasons to be and compelling things to say. That’s the exciting thing.”
“I didn’t run out of shit to talk about, I didn’t run out of feelings; I became more empathetic and I felt more. I feel everything to a greater degree now than I ever did. I’m not so insular. I don’t internalise the great, grandiose Americana images that I was exposed to when I was living in Nashville, I’m looking inside and I’m able to expound real, human things and project them on to a screen for everyone to relate to. That’s kind of fun. There’s not this super unique set of circumstances any more, these are the universal things that are happening in my life that are easily relatable.”
Adjusting to the attention thrust his band’s way, award nominations stacking up against The Positions through 2015, multiple tour opportunities being locked down and a general rapidly generating momentum surrounding the flourishing Gang of Youths live show has had Le’aupepe try to balance a growing career in the spotlight with finding a comfortable and healthy state of self at the same time. He credits the experience of making The Positions with bringing him to some pretty real and confronting realisations in the end.
“Everybody, you included, said that I would find things to write about,” he remembers. “I did not fucking believe it but lo and behold, here I am. I’m actually starting to figure shit out. I’m okay with admitting that I’m scared. I admitted once in The Positions that I was scared; the rest was just me in absolute denial about the whole situation, which is beautiful in and of itself as it is a youthful sense of a defiant, ‘We’re gonna beat this thing’.”
“I’m resigned to the fact that I’m fucking so scared. I’m terrified. I’m terrified of loving; I’m terrified of letting people love me. I’m terrified of staying still and I’m terrified of remaining in stasis. I’m terrified of my ambition crushing me, but I’m terrified of just settling, you know? These are all the things I’m afraid of. There’s so much shit that I realise I’m afraid of and I wouldn’t have known that, had I not been through the whole process of The Positions and done all of that.”
The release of Let Me Be Clear comes off the back of a monumental set for the band at Splendour in Grass over the past weekend. Performing to easily one of the biggest audiences they’ve ever had in Australia on the main Amphitheatre stage, Gang of Youths wrangled emotion, charm and a rousing call-to-arms response from the army of festival-punters who rallied behind them enthusiastically in belting out lyrics, cheering and sharing in the energy.
A connection between the band and crowd that has been growing stronger with each headline show the band has been performing around the country since The Positions‘ release, Le’aupepe notes that when it comes to this new collection of songs, he’s not after a fast-fused and deep connection with the lyrics from the fans.
“I don’t really care,” he says. “As long as they’re connecting with something. Find something to read and read it. Find something good to watch and watch it. Find someone kind, who’s worthwhile, and love them. There’s no fucking rules to this and I’m not going to designate that people have to enjoy Gang of Youths’ music a certain way.”
“There are going to be people who don’t give a flying fuck about the lyrics, you know? As long as they’re trying to connect with something, as long as they’re trying to find some meaning in emptiness and in the point of existence. As long as they’re trying to do something that is in some way positive and constructive and defying the absurdity of life and the total nihilistic void that is the cosmos, then what more could I ask for? As long as they’re trying to feel something and to be something, as long as they’re trying to feed their soul with something.”
This effect their music has on the fans is clearly an element of the ‘job’ the band takes incredibly seriously. You can see it at every live show if you’ve ever been, regardless of where you are in the crowd, Gang of Youths create an all-inclusive environment to enjoy being part of. Fear, uncertainty, reinvigoration and fresh happiness are all associated with their music and as the band’s frontman openly admits, it’s a good thing to be in touch with the entire spectrum of emotion.
“It’s entirely okay [to be scared],” Le’aupepe says. “We need to be reminded of that. It’s okay to be afraid, we’re all fucking scared; the world is shitty right now. People are fucking miserable and they’re angry. We’re watching things fall apart; we’re watching the evil empire fall apart in front of our eyes.”
“It’s disconcerting,” he continues. “We are so digitised and so detached from reality, so detached from feeling anything that we’re trapped in this bullshit, selfish, hip and cool ennui thing, where we’re content to be world-weary and cynical because if we’re not? If we let ourselves be remotely human for a fucking second, we might actually feel something and feeling something is bad, because feeling things leads to pain and it leads to us also feeling a bit mushy because sentiment is, of course, totally uncool and totally un-hip.”
With a new chapter of the Gang of Youths story already being worked on as album #2 continues to come together, there’s already a tentative title and solid direction in Le’aupepe’s head moving forward.
“People are so much more fucking comfortable to bounce to some bullshit trap beats that have been appropriated by some white cunt on a stage,” he says, agitated. “Reproduced for the masses so that this powerful, black music has been turned into white consumerism. We’re so much more comfortable to bounce to that shit but when it comes to anything remotely fucking human, we are terrified, because it breaches our sense of laidback, cool cynicism that protects us from feeling fucking human. We are sick, we are all sick, I am fucking sick with it. We have an illness and it’s like, I’m in this period where I’m trying to purge all that bullshit and find some semblance of authenticity in that garbage that’s inside of me.”
“It’s going to be very, very strange.” he admits of their next album. “I’ve actually got songs, I’ve got material. I want it to be the embodiment of lightness. I have a title; I have a name for it – it’s called Go Farther in Lightness. It’s about empathy, finding humanness and trying to negotiate the sickness of soul as a millennial with no clue.”
And of his bandmates, who any fan will recognise the strong brotherhood between, Le’aupepe is excited about embarking on this part of the journey together.
“We found a formula that works, you know? We found the bond that’s going to keep us together for the rest of our lives. We chose our own family and we chose each other. I think I’m excited about this shit because it’s so much less about my relationship to someone else or to another external thing, and just [about] me trying to figure my shit out. That’s what people need to hear from me right now, I think. It’s what I need to say.”
Let Me Be Clear by Gang of Youths is out via Sony Music Entertainment Australia/Mosy Recordings tomorrow, July 29th.
Live photos by Andrew Wade.