the AU interview: Francois Comtois of Young The Giant (California)

While he was in Newport Beach, California, I had a chat to Francois Comtois, drummer of Californian band Young The Giant, who will soon be on our shores for Splendour in the Grass, as well as a couple of dates with fellow Californians Grouplove. We chat about their debut self-titled record, Australia, their upcoming tour with Incubus and much more….

Hello Francois, how are things going!

Very well! We were just in Vegas for a few days. Things got a little crazy, we just came back today. So I’m having a chance to run some errands and relax on Balboa Pier as the sun sets!

So we’re of course here to talk about your debut self-titled album, which was recently released in Australia – and you’ve already got an Australian tour lined up! Not a bad way to kick off the release… are you looking forward to the trip?

Yeah we’re incredibly excited. We’ve had the opportunity to go to Europe and play our music recently, and of course we tour all over the States… but some of us had been to Europe before we started touring. This will be the first time any of us will have made it down to your country! I actually had a buddy from High School just move out to Sydney, so he’ll be meeting us for Splendour in the Grass.

Well it should be a blast! We had a great time up there last year. And so let’s talk more about your music now… I imagine the debut album was a long time in the making.

Yeah well it was a long time in the making as far as writing goes, and then the entire recording process was split up be time on the road. So that lengthened the process of everything. Then there’s the time to prepare the record before it can be released… a soft release then a big release. So for us this record has been a long time in the making, although it’s been finished for us for some time. Now we’re just starting to release it in other markets like Australia.

Well it’s being played to death in our offices at the moment… and I’m very much looking forward to seeing you at Splendour because I missed you at SXSW! Couldn’t get into the room you were playing in at the SPIN party. You’ve done SXSW a couple of times now, what’s that experience like for Young The Giant?

It was interesting this year because it was our first time there as an official SXSW band, and that gave us a lot more opportunities. We were busier as far as press is concerned. It was great though. We rented a house on Congress St, and had our girlfriends come meet us there. So we were able to relax there and have some BBQ get togethers when we had some off time. But the rest of it we spent on 6th street, getting to see artists we really respect and had been wanting to see for a long time.

Who were your highlights?

The two highlights for me were TV on the Radio, right after we played at the SPIN party. A really awesome set in my opinion. And we also got to see Little Dragon at the IFC house, which was another place that we played. The setlist they chose was awesome, and we were in a great mood… so it was just so much fun.

When it comes down to it, do you find something like SXSW makes a difference for you as a band? Do more people start calling after seeing you at your showcases?

Yeah, I think there are a lot of people that are influential who go to these events, and wouldn’t get the opportunity to see us otherwise. And then there’s the general exposure we get to the fans, too, which raises our profile. And I was very confident in the way we played. Overall, it was definitely a positive experience, and we got a lot of good connections out of the SPIN party, and had enough time off to get some good stories out of it, too. I think everyone feels like that need to take advantage of the free beer. We certainly did.

Did you grow up in California?

I was actually born in Montreal, but I’ve been in California for about 8 years now…. coming up on 9, something like that. So it definitely feels like home now, especially when we’re out on the road for such a long time. There’s something about coming home to now only our family and friends, but just how amazing California is as a place. Definitely feels like home.

Well the reason I bring it up is because when you think of Californian music, there are a few iconic bands that come to mind. One of these bands is of course Incubus, and you’ll be touring with them extensively following your jaunt in Australia. What does it mean to you guys to tour with them – and play the Hollywood Bowl!

I remember when we got the e-mail that we’d be playing the Hollywood Bowl, everyone freaked out a bit… that’s definitely one of the more iconic venues in California, and by extension the rest of America and the World. As a band, the tour is pretty high profile, so we’re looking forward to getting a lot of exposure. It seems like it’s going to be a very professional undertaking. We’re finally going to have a bus instead of having to drive ourselves everywhere. We’ll have an actual bus driver! We’ll be playing venues we’ve never played before, at capacities we’ve never played before. It should be pretty good.

I wish I could be over there for it! But I will be at Splendour… what can we expect from your shows down here!

Well we generally feed of spontaneity, and so we’re hoping to bring that into the live set. And we’ve noticed a lot of interest from Australia on the social media side of things, asking us to come play. So hopefully there’s a good reception, but at the end of the day, we’re just excited to see that part of the world.

I know that back in 2009 you won a SonicBids competition to play with Kings of Leon… how much precedence do you place on the social media side of things? It sounds like you’ve got your head pretty well around it?

We were all college students before we decided to take time off to focus on the music side of things. So we all had our heads around the social media side of things thanks to our social lives. It’s such an important part of the lives of young adults these days, so I think it make it all the much easier when it’s a given that most people can find you on a number of sites if they’re interested, and you don’t really have to do much else.

But I think it is really important to know which sites will get you the most exposure, and which ones will allow you to get your music out to those people as easily as possible.

I was just watching the music video for “My Body”, a great view! Is that your most recent clip?

We actually just finished up “Cough Syrup”, and that was really fun. It should be out soon. But “My Body” was a really interesting experience for us. There’s the performance side of the clip, and the narrative side. We weren’t really involved in the narrative side at all, because we had so little time in Southern California. I think we were trying to spend time with friends and family, and that was one more day we had to be on the film set. So we were pretty hands off there.

The performance side was filmed in Malibu Canyon, on a rainy, really cold day. We took out the only gear we had, beautiful gear that we hold dear to our hearts, and we had to put it out in the cold, mist and rain! And we had to do take after take… our hands were all frozen, but once we saw the video, it was all worth it. It turned out all right. But I think a couple of us got colds after that!

The sacrifices for art! You also played Sasquatch! Festival a couple of weeks back… I have to mention it because I understand you pretty much flew from Europe for it. How was that experience?

Yeah, well we basically flew from Munich to Seattle, with a 2 hour break in Chicago, and so we were pretty discombobulated from the travel. We were all over the place. Then we showed up at the Gorge in Washington (State), and it’s definitely the most incredible venue I’ve ever seen. A full panoramic view of the Gorge and the mountains and the sunset. The first day we showed up, it was a super surreal experience. We were on the main stage so we saw Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips… those sort of artists we’ve loved and respected since we were kids. I nearly lost my mind!

On one hand we were in a very strange mindset, having only just returned from a month around Europe, pretty jetlagged. But at the same time we’d been given such an amazing opportunity, so we really wanted to make the most of it. I think we went out pretty hard, but got a couple of days rest afterwards, so we weren’t worse off for it!

Hopefully we don’t exhaust you too much in Australia ahead of Lollapalooza! Now I’m going to leave it on one final question that I ask all drummers: what’s your favourite percussion instrument?

I love the snare. A nice, tight, full bodied snare. There’s really nothing like that to me. Though, if I was only allowed one set up it would be the kick snare hat.

Jul 31 – Splendour In The Grass, Woodford
Aug 02 – Corner Hotel w/ Grouplove, Melbourne
Aug 03 – Oxford Art Factory w/ Grouplove, Sydney

Their debut self-titled album is out now. You can purchase it digitally HERE or physically HERE.

Photograph by Pieter M. van Hattem.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.