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Gang of Youths' David Le'aupepe on family history, and going maximalist on 'Angel In Real Time'

by Mary Lucia

March 10, 2022

On their new record, ‘Angel In Real Time,’ Gang of Youths' frontman David Le'aupepe took a maximalist approach to the release, "... it needed to be offensive to taste making sensibilities. It needed to be a complete violation of all those things. It needed to not be a downtempo miserable, sad, sodden record that everyone expects. There's this weird idea that somehow you can only convey true emotion with sad quiet intimacies and I resent that.” Watch Mary Lucia’s full interview with the Aussie rocker above, and find a full transcript of the conversation below.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity and length.

MARY LUCIA: I gotta know. Did you guys name the band Gang Of Youths so that you would be next a Gang Of Four in the record store?

DAVID LE'AUPEPE: Gang of Four, Sonic Youth--put them together, Gang Of Youths. It was meant to be one record, and then I'd go and get a job doing something normal, and then it sort of spiraled out of control and snowballed into the awful thing that it is now. It was uneventful, like first year, and I thought I could get away with such a stupid name. But unfortunately it's sort of followed us around.

There's so much regret I think people have if they throw something into the title with youth, with kids, at some point--

One day, God forbid I'm in a band when I'm 60. But one day it'll be Gang Of Boomers or something. I've always had an enormous regret about it, but there's not much I can do to change it. And also googling Gang of Youths is a mixed bag, because you often get horrible stories from all manner of different developing nations where a gang of youths, robs a liquor store and murder somebody, and that used to be a novelty until we were constantly tagged in things online about horrific crimes being committed elsewhere.

Oh, dear God. I want to know, when you were making this record, you recorded in London, yes?

Yeah, we recorded at about seven countries, actually. But London predominantly.

And are you the kind of band that has songs almost completed before you hit the studio? Or are you someone who can actually work in the studio?

Absolutely not, not only do I not have songs completed in the studio, I didn't have songs completed, basically two weeks before the record was supposed to be delivered. So I suppose I had stuff in the last two albums sort of prepared. But this one I kind of went in with maybe three that already written and the rest we're just writing on the fly. And I think I kind of had to the follow the muse, I suppose. And things kept revealing themselves to me about my dad's life and about the actual subject matter of the source material. And it felt like it would have been a bit unfair to have already determined what the songs would be before they were able to come to life. And also, I'm just not that good at doing that. I have to improvise, otherwise I sink.

Well, I think that writing about something as personal as the loss of your father, that you would have to have a certain amount of trust within your bandmates to go, "Well, this is where I'm at, this is what I'm feeling. Are we all cool with this? Because this is it.

100% trust. Always 100% trust, I think that the four of them understand what was going on in my head. And they got the vision of what I think I needed to do. And it needed to be maximalist, it needed to be offensive to taste making sensibilities. It needed to be a complete violation of all those things. It needed to not be a downtempo miserable, sad, sodden record that everyone expects. You know, there's this weird idea that somehow you can only convey true emotion with sad quiet intimacies and I resent that. I think it's a very old fashioned way to look at music, I think to convey things with huge, enormous, sweeping, panoramic-style songs, I think is just as effective, and we wanted to combine the two sensibilities. I think there's a lot of groundswell around what we're doing, it being too big or too ambitious, or too much stuff or too overcrowded. And I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed at it I guess.

What really does too ambitious mean, exactly?

I think maybe not curtailing oneself to the expectations of what a quote unquote indie rock band is supposed to look like, or feel like in 2022. I think that's probably what it looks like. I mean, I'm just talking from a critical eye, you know, really looking at what people are into listening to and I think the five of us have never been great at listening to advice and telling us how we should go about our business. I think we wanted to do something that was not what was around, whether or not it's good is a completely different matter, I think, but it's ours.

Yeah. And it's out of your hands kind of in a way too, I always think once you put on the record, it's like, "Wow, I don't need to lose sleep over this anymore." It's out, it's somebody else's problem.

I will lose sleep over it irrespective, I think regardless that there's no sleep that's gonna be had, I think it's not necessarily reaction I'm worried about, it's more about the idea that so much of myself and my Dad I've allowed and I've propelled it into the world. And that's a terrifying thing. You know, how much it means too much.

Can I ask this? My father passed away as well—

I'm sorry to hear that.

I'm sorry for your loss as well. But my whole family has quite a dark sense of humor, pretty gallows, but people would say to me, and I know, it's just the thing people say, because what the hell do you say, but they would always say, "Oh, I'm sure he's watching over you." And I would just have to stifle a laugh because it's like, I doubt it because that's not what he did in life, you know? Has he all of a sudden changed now that he's crossed over, and now he's this protective--it's like, no, my thought is that's not so much the case. But I know, again, people don't know what to say.

I get the sense that he surrounds me--he shrouds my conscious mind kind of wherever I go in that sense, I feel that way. I feel like he lives sort of in this weird part of me. But he was the kind of man to do that in life. He cared about what I did. He cared. But it's interesting, for me, it's about the metaphor of his spirit being around, maybe if it's even not a literal thing that I can follow. And I think in the music, I wanted to expand upon things that would have given him great joy. There's a lot of references to great American Modern Masters--minimalists, Terry Riley, Rush, Glass, Lamont Young--the people who think made great substantial pieces of work that were jam packed full of stuff.

Did you ever get the feeling that being around somebody whose death is imminent, that you almost selfishly are looking to that person to make you feel better about it?

Absolutely. I've done it throughout my life, you know, been around people who weren't well, and I think for this period, though, I had to just strap on my big boy pants and sort of look at my dad and not look to him to try and comfort me in this. Because he'd done that 26 years. And I think I owe it to my father to be--without going too far into a cliched kind of masculine tribe or whatever, to step into the shoes of my father to be the stability that he was for me without gendering it.

I think that also brings out those really carved out roles in a family during a time of real distress and trauma. It's like, if you were the screw up in the house, you became the huge screw up during this time or if you were the empathetic giver then you were heightened. I mean, I think I'm only speaking from my own experience.

Of course, I mean, I've always been the family screw up, I was the one voted Most Likely my household to screw everything up. So I think for me, taking on this kind of weird responsibility, it was it liberated me from that reputation, I think gave me something worth fighting for in that and that was to make my Dad's end of life more comfortable and to give comfort to my mom, my sister, and my wife. My sister's husband was extraordinary as well, he stepped up. That kind of solidified, you know, probably the next 10 years of my life in relating to my family. I'm just glad that my dad wanted me around.

The night that my father passed away, he passed away at home and we called give whoever the hell you call and they went to the wrong house. It was three in the morning. And we're standing out in the front yard my brother's doing the the whistle at these two, like absolute goons in black coats walking up to a dark house while we're like down the street going, "Here!" It was crazy. I want to ask you specifically about that song "Brothers," with secrets being held in the family and seeking out the truth and then literally seeking out the siblings that you did.

I just knew when I was a kid and my dad was hiding stuff. He was a tremendously sweet, gentle, charismatic, intelligent, bright, sincere man, you know, unemployed so he was home basically most of my childhood. But I always knew that there was like something he was hiding and I wanted to know what that was. And so when I went looking for it--my wife and I went to Samoa, found all this family that thought my dad died in the 70s and then we were told that I had these brothers in New Zealand. When I when I found them, that reconnection was for me, radical and life changing and transformative, but also felt like no big deal because it was something that they'd done in my soul. Maybe in my gut, I already kind of knew, like, it just felt like a part of me was being returned. Does that make sense? That's what I think the crux of the song is about, it's about restoration of truth and family. Everyone's got family secrets, and my father, he's an Indigenous man--Black and Indigenous men born in the 30s and 40s are often filled with stories like this, and I think it was sort of returning something--a restoration.

When you did meet your extended family then, were they aware that they had been a secret to you?

Like I said, they thought my dad died in the 70s. It was like seeing a ghost. It was like I I've been just grown in the ground in the greenhouse somewhere and delivered to them fully formed. It was sort of that that astonishing. My auntie, my dad's youngest sister was living in Sydney at the time. And I turned up and she said--we won some award in Australia and I was on TV, doing the bows. And she said, "I thought I recognized you." It was really strange. And it was that surreal that I could be living 20 minutes away from her but she had no idea I existed, or that her brother was still alive all that time. You know? I think for me like a lot of what this album is about is about giving the people in my family peace of mind that they're important now and that despite my father's decisions, I want to be included with them, my family ties are set in stone. Does that make sense? And set in record, you know?

Absolutely. That's perfect way to end this. Thank you so much, David for taking the time to chat. The record "Angel In Real Time" will be out and it is listed in your record store next to Gang of Four and Sonic Youth. Thank you very much. Have a great rest of your day.

You're a legend. Thanks so much for having me. Cheers.

Gang of Youths perform "The Heart Is a Muscle" at The Current Studios in 2018

Gang of Youths - official site


Guest - David Le'aupepe
Host - Mary Lucia
Producers - Derrick Stevens
Technical Director - Eric Romani