There are some acts you just can’t ignore — a band with incredible talent and a story worth telling. There’s a reason they played a sold-out, 26-date tour throughout Australia, were nominated for five ARIA awards for their debut album The Positions, and rose like a phoenix from the ashes of a broken marriage, a suicide attempt, stints in rehab, and everything else life placed in their path.
The five-piece rock and roll band known as Gang of Youths (lead vocalist Dave Le’aupepe, Donnie Borszestowski on drums, Joji Malani on lead guitar, Jung Kim on keyboard and guitar, and Max Dunn on bass) give rise to a promising light where there was once only darkness, anger, and denial.
There’s vulnerability and hopefulness in their music, and their live performances are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Even if you’re a wallflower, frontman Le’aupepe will get you to dance.
On June 14, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand why Gang of Youths earned the reputation as a must-see live act. They performed at an intimate venue called Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles, alongside Waterstrider, and Paper Days. And let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed. I was in awe.
“Los Angeles, this is fucking cool. Thank you! I can’t believe you all fucking showed up!” Le’aupepe shouted into the mic midway through the show.
The moment “Strange Diseases” began playing, the crowd seemed to let go and really feel the music. Fans who were previously enjoying their cocktails ended up setting them aside so they could really be present. The girl standing beside me in front of the stage lifted her arms into the air and began singing the lyrics.
There was something so incredibly life-affirming about watching Le’aupepe connect with the audience – crooning about healing and self-discovery. It’s what influenced their sound. We all may have experienced what it’s like to have a tired heart, but once you give Gang of Youths a listen, you’ll soon realize that life is too short for it not to be full.
Recently, Gang of Youths joined forces with Grandstand Media & Management to handle their publicity, which Le’aupepe said has “been pretty fucking tremendous.” He also took the time to chat with me about the significance behind the music, life lessons, and the band’s most memorable touring experience. You can check out the interview below.
Where are you guys at right now? Both physically and in regards to your head space?
Dave Le’aupepe: Physically… I’m on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle and the rest of the band are in Sydney. Psychologically… we’re somewhere between quiet, contemplative, frenzied, and restless as fuck. Tell me a little about your live performances… I’ve heard they are intense. What can your fans expect?
I like to think our live show is the most important aspect of what we do — it’s so important that we incorporate playing live together in a room into our recording process; I also like to think that we aren’t horrendously disappointing. Expect gyrating, broken equipment and maybe even an accidental collision with a sweaty, big haired, demon eyed me in the audience, because I’m an idiot and like to run around.
How does the crowd/audience differ our here in Southern California compared to Australia? Does anything stand out?
It really depends on what part of each respective territory we’re talking about here — rural and regional Australians tend to get drunker but are a little less inhibited than city-dwellers both in that country and here in the United States. American audiences tend to engage with the show in a different way and are perhaps are a little more prone to relenting to the emotions in their approach to appreciating the craft, whereas in Australia the appreciation can be a touch more cerebral. Honestly, there isn’t a huge difference country to country. People in Los Angeles and Melbourne respond differently to people in Buffalo or NYC or Sydney.
The band’s name is Gang of Youths. What kind of trouble do you guys get yourself into (if at all)?
So, the name is a shitty composite of Sonic Youth and Gang of Four, which seemed funny and evocative when I was 19. Now I’m faced with the dilemma of whether or not we continue on into our 30s with such a goddamned fucking stupid name with such obvious demographical limitations. If you Google “Gang Of Youths” all sorts of horrendous shit that isn’t actually our music comes up — most of it related to damaging property, riots, armed robbery and assault. Sorry world. Guilty as charged. GOY are fucking up the program.
What’s “The Diving Bell” all about? After discovering your music, that’s one of the tracks that really struck a chord with me.
The relationship that informed the narrative and themes of The Positions went long-term for a significant period of time, as I was waiting for a US visa and the girl I was with had to live in Nashville in order to receive cancer treatment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. It’s about having to maintain the intimacy of our relationship and the hope keeping our fight with cancer alive within such shitty confines and across air land and sea without falling victim to the fatalism and drama that eventually welcomed the astonishingly fucked up end to our union. I talk about “blue screen blues” as both a reference to the blue TV screen light in Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and also to the fact that the majority of my interactions with this girl took place over the phone, on FaceTime or on a computer screen. It’s about finding the important shit and how fucking hard it is to do so given such drastic circumstances.
Since relocating, what’s the biggest life lesson the band has learned so far?
Life has no meaning, so make one up; we are going to die, so we intend live accordingly. We should switch from T-Mobile to a carrier with better cell service; no matter how much you love America, we will always feel like strangers, even though it’s become home; and that’s okay.
Describe the most memorable moment of your guys’ touring experience.
The guys know I’ve become a little bit of a Francophile the past few years. So, after Primavera this past June they surprised me by taking me to Montpellier. After wandering around for a while, I yelled across the road to these thin, cool looking Parisian kids (in my impossibly shitty French) asking them if they had a certain substance that’ll only get you a misdemeanor in the US now thank fuck. We then spent the rest of the night walking around with these absolute fucking champ dudes, talking shit in the park and singing awful songs unbelievably loud and kinda drunk. I don’t know why it stuck out to me — had I not asked these kids for what I was asking for, the most memorable night I’ve had in a long time may never have happened at all. Carpe Diem boys. Ask strangers for marijuana.
It’s happy hour. What are you drinking?
Most relevant childhood memory related to music?
I saw the video clip for “Sweet Child O’Mine” when I was four, and from then on all I wanted to do was play guitar. I have a tattoo of a skull and crossbones with a top hat that I got for 20 bucks on the Sunset Strip. It reminds me of being a weird, sad little kid from a broke family and thinking that maybe I could play guitar on a stage one day.