SOLD OUT! Gang of Youths

Gang of Youths

The holiness of love, the chaos and rapture of surviving against all odds, these are what drive Gang of Youths. A five piece from Sydney founded in the confines of their religious youth, enchanted by the spectacle of worship and deliverance, it's no wonder their music burns with the desperation of apocalypse. With singer Dave Le'aupepe's lyrics drawn from some of the most miserable life experiences
available to humanity, and the band's music taking cues from rock history's most ambitious and theatrical preachers, Gang of Youths drag the beauty out of everything from hell to high heaven.

Debuting in 2013 with smoldering single "Evangelists," they were met with instant radio play and praise. Only just out of high school, Le'aupepe was already planning to marry his girlfriend, settle down, and leave his dreams of music behind, but the band's first brush with recognition suggested there could be more to life than the path that had seemed so obviously laid before him. Things moved quickly: the band started their own record label, Mosy Recordings, got snatched up for really great support slots with Vampire Weekend, Foster The People, Manchester Orchestra, Frightened Rabbit. But as soon as the band let themselves get their hopes up, Le'aupepe would begin the worst period of his life.

Le'aupepe's soon-to-be wife was diagnosed with lung cancer after a melanoma on her ear metastasized. He began writing the songs that would eventually become their debut record so she had something to listen to in hospital. After they married, the band went into a studio in New York to track the new record. Working with producer Kevin McMahon (Swans, Rhett Miller, Titus Andronicus) and with Peter Katis (The National, Local Natives, Frightened Rabbit) mixing, they'd assembled a dream team - just one of the peaks that would contrast against the tragedy unfolding in Le'aupepe's life.

Le'aupepe's wife survived, but the relationship had other problems. Struggling to balance his commitments to the band - his closest friends - against his commitments to his marriage, unable to enjoy success with one while the other was breaking down, and feeling unworthy of happiness, Le'aupepe was dragged into self-destruction. "I was secretive, unkind, abusing drink and drugs," Le'aupepe says. The breakdown of his marriage and later attempted suicide were where Dave finally bottomed out, but the rest of the band were there to help him climb back up. "I don't ever wanna be unkind again," Le'aupepe says. "I'll spend the rest of my life repaying them for sticking with me."

Out of all that trauma and regret, Gang of Youths drew The Positions. Praised worldwide for its sincerity and nuance, blending the melodrama of rock's greatest traditions with piercing, hyper-literate lyrics, The Positions demolished any lingering notions of a pop/alternative dichotomy. Dave was also finding a new lease on life, finding strength in the band and the women in his family, including his young niece whose middle name, Magnolia, was taken from the title of The Positions' most triumphant song.

Debuting at #5 on the ARIA Charts and embraced by Australian youth tastemaker triple j, The Positions became the soundtrack for the Australian winter in 2015, with the band embarking on a national tour to support the record. It was the first time much of the country was seeing Gang of Youths up close, and they were charmed in every state. Reports praised their thumping live sets for living up to their songs' stadium-sized ambitions, stating that the band were a guaranteed success.

A year later the band released Let Me Be Clear EP, following on the success of their 2014 five-ARIA-Award- nominated debut album The Positions. Addressing similar themes of loss and heartbreak trumped by togetherness, the EP also showed the band expanding their scope with sweeping string arrangements and renewed dedication to songs as epic declarations of feeling. The band hoped to achieve admirable and genuine things with this new release, as said by Leau'pepe, "I want to make the most hopeful, life- affirming music possible. We want listeners to feel affirmed, to feel hopeful, and feel more. That's the most important thing we want to accomplish."

Once again scoring glowing praise across the board, Let Me Be Clear cemented Gang of Youths as mainstays of the Australian music landscape. After the success of their UK, European and USA tour, Gang Of Youths came back to Australian shores and rocked crowds and critics alike with stellar performances at Byron Bay's Splendour In The Grass and St. Jerome's Laneway, featuring songs from Let Me Be Clear, and also teasing fans with a taste of their highly-anticipated sophomore album Go Farther In Lightness.

The Philistines Jr.

(by Michael Azerrad)

Some people write great songs about larger-than-life things; on their new album If a Band Plays in the Woods…? The Philistines Jr. write about things that are exactly the same size as life: litterbug neighbors, unruly pets, broken cable service. "Write about what you know," explains Philistines mainman Peter Katis. "So I write about my brothers and writing songs and home life and recording our band and other people's bands." But the feat here is that it all adds up to something moving, inspiring, and maybe even a little profound. And you can hum along with it too.

The Philistines Jr. are brothers Peter and Tarquin Katis along with drummer Adam Pierce (Mice Parade) and an ever-expanding extended musical family. There's a good reason why the album title asks, if a band plays in the woods, do they exist? The Philistines Jr. have been playing in the woods of suburban Connecticut for 20 years, making charming, smart, even visionary music that has never seemed to catch a break. It's not for nothing that the band titled one early EP The Continuing Struggle of… "We got a great review in the Trouser Press Record Guide," Peter recalls. "And when the NY Press reviewed the book, they wrote 'And marvel at all the space given to struggling nobodies Philistines Jr.' Ouch. We've always had an underdog mentality."

Actually, in recent years Peter has gained some fame as an in-demand producer, having produced acclaimed records for Interpol, the National, Jónsi (of Sigur Ros), Frightened Rabbit, Tokyo Police Club, Mates of State, the Swell Season, Fanfarlo, Jukebox the Ghost and many others. No wonder the album sounds so gorgeous. But it's also the reason the record took so long to make. As Peter notes, "If you work on a record three days a year, it takes about ten years!" Peter wrote all the songs (along with Tarquin) and plays most of the instruments on the album — and no, that's not a fat lady singing on the exquisite title track, it's session ace Rob Schwimmer on the Theremin (and piano).

As with most Philistines Jr. albums, the music mixes rock instrumentation, vibraphone and glockenspiel, and electronic sounds like a half-broken sequencer, a cheap Casio keyboard, or the legendary Dewanatron, here played by its co-inventor Leon Dewan. In keeping with the lyrical themes, the sound is quietly radical — listen to the subtle but epic shift from keyboards to guitars on the majestic "B." "When I appreciate things for being weird," says Peter, "they're not obviously weird."

The album's ominous opening, with its definitively spooky strings, sounds like the part in an old horror movie where the ghoul is about to pounce on an unususpecting victim; it quickly gives way to a sun-lit, Xanax-fueled waltz about how the cable TV doesn't work and the band isn't going anywhere. But that specific, even pedestrian imagery swells out into something universal — every day, everybody feels the same way about something. Or as Peter sings, "the theme stays the same/ with the notes and words rearranged."

The guy who's frustrated by people honking their horns ("The Bus Stop Song") is the same guy who doles out heartfelt wisdom to his child ("Tarquin's Half-Assed Mission Statement"); he's the same guy who indulges in a Walter Mittyesque fantasy ("If I Did Nothing But Train for Two Years, I Bet I Could Be in the Olympics") and he's the same guy who reels in horror and disgust at burgeoning neo-McCarthyism ("Working Title: The Mob"), and feels relieved when his brother doesn't have to go off to war ("My Brother Tom, the Green Beret"). He's a guy who cares a lot, and when he starts to think people suck, his bitterness is mixed with a generous dose of melancholy. "These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be happy," Peter says. "And many times I've figured out the secret of happiness — but then the next day it's gone. You've got to keep rediscovering it. And that idea is in the record, even in the instrumentals. It doesn't have to be a song with words to get that idea across."

Maybe you'll hear echoes of the pretty and finely wrought songcraft of Sufjan Stevens or the wistful, digital-flavored yearning of the Postal Service, but the fact is, Peter has never really delved into either of those. If a Band Plays in the Woods…? stems more from the Cars' sleek pop, '60s exotica like Martin Denny, the dramatic juxtapositions of soundtrack maestro Bernard Herrmann, New Order, the spartan sorrow of Erik Satie, the righteous power of Fugazi, the plainspoken musings of Jonathan Richman. Years ago, Peter absorbed Pet Sounds and that's in there too. "The Beach Boys are often overtly playful but with a very heavy underlying melancholy," he says. "Which I think is very much what our band is. To me, sadness in a song means power and beauty — not a crushing sadness, but a hopeful sadness." Which is why a song called "Hell No, We Won't Go" can sound forlorn, or why Katis can sing words as defiant as "All day, all night/We'll stay and fight" and make them sound resigned.

There's probably a little of the Who's rock opera Quadrophenia in there too. See, the Philistines often make what can loosely be called concept albums, like 1995's The Sinking of the SS Danehower, which suggested an analogy between a sunken submarine and the band's lack of success. "I've always found it fun to make records that aren't random collections of songs," Peter says. "We've always reworked musical or lyrical themes and extended them across the album. If you've got a good idea, why waste it on just one song?"

Here, it's the motif which goes, "Hey, hey, it's the end of the world again/ Here we are, just waiting for everything to end" — it's funny how one can take something like excessive car honking as a harbinger of the downfall of civilization. And each time that theme comes around again, it has a different resonance. In "Tarquin's Half-assed Mission Statement," it has a moving ring of mortality. But that "again" is key — the truth is, there have been plenty of times when a lot of people were convinced the end was nigh, and yet the world has gone on. By the end of the album, the theme seems to suggest that we all depend on a little drama to keep life interesting.

What does Peter hope people feel when the last song on the album is over? "I hope it makes them kind of sad," he says. "But it's all right to be sad. Life is sad and life is hard. But it's also really good."

And finally, to quote a voiceover by Peter and Tarquin's dad on a previous record: "...and so the Philistines Jr. continue to write songs only about themselves, further alienating their listeners and annoying their friends."

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