Though Young The Giant has been touring for half of a decade, they only recently decided to leave a more permanent mark on the music scene with their self-titled debut, a series of deep but accessible streams of consciousness inspired by the group’s stay at the beach. The Aquarian recently spoke with drummer Francois Comtois to shoot the breeze on everything from the shore to the subconscious.
What was the first thing you guys did when you saw the album on the shelf?
On the shelf? We were in the mall of America, and we had a day off before we were headed to the U.K., and we were just walking around and went to the FYE and figured, ‘Whatever, we’re in Minneapolis, what are the odds it’s actually going to be on the shelf.’ And we went in, and there it was, and we all kind of freaked out and everyone took pictures and sent it out to family and stuff. It is definitely a surreal experience to be out in the middle of the country and so far away from where we’ve been doing this in the past and to actually see that there’s some distribution. To finally have something that you can hold onto and people can have a tangible representation of our music was pretty great.
What was the message you wanted to convey? There were a lot of singular “you”s on the album. It seemed kind of anonymous.
There’s never a preconceived subject on any of these songs. What we like to think is that a lot of it comes from our subconscious, and we spent so much time living together in Los Angeles and at the beach just writing the record; it kind of is just all the experiences we have. I don’t know who specifically who Sameer is singing to, but I know that he’s singing about the experiences we had together, the comfort we had at the beach and then having to leave that and then the experiences we had separately from those in L.A.
So, what is your subconscious like?
At the time, there were a couple different things. First off, when were all living in Newport Beach together, the adjective I would use is “hazy,” which describes the hanging out, not doing much of anything, you know, going to the beach. And then when we finally got to L.A. and we had management up our ass saying, “You have to finally write this record now,” all that became a lot more focused… but for the most part we were driven to actually write stuff—really all over the place at first—and then really focused when we actually had to get down to it.
It’s very chill and relaxed but also very tight. You’re playing to play.
That’s always been the case, going into this whole thing, even before we were thinking about actually trying to have a legitimate career in music, we just really enjoyed playing together and we really enjoyed playing tight sets together; we’re hard on ourselves on one another when we play, so we really can’t enjoy the set. As much as we move around and go crazy, in the end if we don’t feel like what we’ve played was tight and up to our standards, we tend to kind of beat ourselves. So, while recording the record and writing, that was always kind of a driving force to make sure everything was tight and sounded professional.
In “Guns Out” there’s a lyric that says “Somewhere where the stars meet the sky.” Is that driving down Sunset Boulevard, or were you guys thinking about your future or what?
I can only speak to what I see in that song, obviously we had discussions about where the songs are going lyrically and the subjects, but I can’t speak specifically for Sameer. For me it was living in a place where there’s just so much history and there’s so much glamour, but it’s very real. It’s a very real place when you actually live there. It’s also projecting into the future and looking at what’s coming for us. For me it’s definitely about Los Angeles at night, if I were to describe that song in a couple words, just walking the streets of L.A. at night. There’s just something about Los Angeles that’s unlike any other metropolis in the states that we’ve encountered so far. It’s a lot more laid back, in my experience.
For the song “Islands,” it’s kind of ambiguous as to what you guys are trying say, not lyrically but with the music. It seems like a mixed message.
When we originally wrote that song, it was super rhythmically heavy. The drums were crazy; really fast, all over the place. The song was about 20 or 30 BTMs faster, and when we took it to our producer, Joe, one of the issues he had with all of the stuff—you know, even now, the stuff is very, very dense—so when he heard this song, he told us to shelve it; “If you guys want to come back and take a fresh approach we can do that later on.” And that’s what we ended up doing later on when we went to the studio; completely stripping it down, slowing it down, he told me just to basically sit out; “We’ll think of something for percussion later on.”
I remember we actually just jammed it out and that’s what came out, so for me it was definitely a question of stepping back and trying to allow the record to find a little pause, a little breath. And obviously, as a drummer, I guess I have an ego so, I still wanted people to hear me hitting shit… I thought it turned out pretty great. I love listening to that song; it’s different than anything else we have on the record.
It’s funny; we write a lot of stuff that ends up being really mellow, very down-tempo. For some reason or another, none of those tracks apart from “Islands” really made their way on the record, but that’s something we’d really like to explore further in future recordings.
The song “My Body” seems kind of optimistic and based on that up-tempo, driven sound. Do you think this is a reflection on the world you guys inhabit right now?
The aggressiveness comes from the way that we write. I don’t know if there’s any actual conversations taking place about what we’re experiencing. It’s just—when we write together we’re so ADD at times, so full of energy that if we’re not doing something that is purposefully kind of slowed down, a lot of the time it ends up being very dense, very fast and energetic. As far as “My Body” goes, that one was a direct reaction to our frustrations in the writing process.
We’re signed to a major record label, and there are certain pressures that come with doing that, one of which is the need to produce a single of some sort, and we had come up with a bunch of tracks that we were confident in and the label kept saying or the management kept saying that we needed something that was super high energy, super crazy and so we just got a little sick and tired of it once and had a couple drinks downstairs in our apartment and went upstairs to the loft to start jamming, almost as kind of a parody started writing this over-the-top, super big kind of anthemic, really fast song in “My Body.” And we finished it and were kind of like, “Wait, it was a joke at first but kind of sounds badass.” So just a complete reaction to what were feeling at the time.
What’s your favorite song, based on the sound, and based on your performance on it?
I think of two different songs. My favorite to play is “Street Walker”—again, it’s the ego; I get to hit a lot of stuff really fast. My favorite to listen to is definitely “Guns Out,” although I really do enjoy playing that song too… If I’m trying to go to a party, I’d definitely listen to “My Body,” but if I was just chilling out in the van, “Guns Out” is more in line with that.
What would you say is the earliest song you can remember that had a real effect on you?
I guess one of the early lullabies my mom used to sing to me, and we all started recording it. It’s called “Ange Bleu”; it means “Blue Angel” in French, and I don’t even remember really thinking anything about the words. But it was just the melody that struck me when I was a kid; when I was four or five years old, and I still remember every part of that melody. Now I know the words, but something about that melody always stuck in me, and I found later on in listening to music that some people are most attracted to lyrics, and some people are most attracted to tones, but I’ve been most attracted to melodies.
Young The Giant will be playing the Music Hall Of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on April 14. Find more info at youngthegiant.com.