Westword Music Showcase

Young the Giant Rises

Young the Giant will headline the Westword Music Showcase.
Young the Giant will headline the Westword Music Showcase. Eric Ryan Anderson
Last year, California indie-rock band Young the Giant planned to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its self-titled debut album. The group would play a string of concerts, revisiting all the old songs — including platinum anthemic hits “My Body” and “Cough Syrup.”

The pandemic, of course, threw a wrench into those plans. So the band's members celebrated the release of the anniversary edition of their debut last November by going back to Sunset Sound, the famed Los Angeles studio where they originally recorded the disc, and streamed the show they had planned to take on the road.

Young the Giant has blown up over the past decade. And even as the group continues to grow, it's looking back on its early years. 

Drummer Francois Comtois recalls when he and the rest of the band — singer Sameer Gadhia, guitarists Jacob Tilley and Eric Cannata and bassist Payam Doostzadeh, who were all in their early twenties at the time — first loaded their gear into Sunset Sound in 2010. They were intimidated to be making the album at the storied studio, where 300 gold albums have been recorded, and they were humbled working with producer Joe Chiccarelli, whose résumé includes albums from Frank Zappa, the White Stripes, My Morning Jacket, the Strokes, the Shins and many more.


Coming back for the livestream, the bandmates felt like they were returning home.

“It almost felt like coming back to a homecoming thing in high school," Comtois remembers. "A lot of the same people were still working there, so it was really cool, and we were definitely more appreciative and less scared shitless this time around.”
Before the livestream, the bandmembers had to relearn some of the songs they hadn’t played in a decade.

“I think we hadn’t played them because, at the time, we were just maybe too hard on them and just didn't feel like they were a good representation of us,” Comtois says. “And then we learned that these are fine; these are good songs. But we're having to kind of take stock of all that so that body of work can be brought back.”

Comtois says a few of those deep cuts from the band’s debut might end up on the set list of its headlining gig at the Westword Music Showcase at the Mission Ballroom Outdoors on Saturday, September 18. Other national headliners playing the outdoor stage include Thundercat, Matoma and Hippo Campus, followed by an indoor Mission Ballroom show with Kaytranada and Duke Dumont. The two-day festival will also include dozens of Denver’s best bands.

For longtime fans, the festival will be a treat. Young the Giant hasn’t set up an extensive American tour this year. Comtois says the musicians are just “dipping their toes in” to performing live again with a few festival dates. Their first gig since the pandemic began was a slot at this year’s Lollapalooza in Chicago in late July.

“It was overwhelming,” Comtois says. “It was really overwhelming, in a good way. The emotions leading up to it were a lot of excitement and definitely a healthy dose of anxiety. We’ve been doing this forever, so this is by far the longest that I've gone without playing a show since I was like nineteen.

“You kind of wonder when we get out there, playing for 40,000 people, if the muscle memory is going to be there, or if we might just be so overwhelmed that our sensory systems just shut down,” he adds.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case at Lollapalooza. Instead, the show was cathartic.

“I love spending time in the studio, but I'll be the first to admit that touring for ten years and touring pretty heavily at times can get repetitive and you get a little jaded," Comtois notes. "But there's really nothing else like connecting with an audience and playing that music and having them bring their own unique experience to it. It was incredible.”

Overall, he says, it’s been “amazing to be back out in front of people and actually really appreciating it for maybe the first time in a little while.”

Following the release of Young the Giant’s debut, the band went on to release 2014’s Mind Over Matter, 2016’s Home of the Strange, and its most recent effort, Mirror Master, which dropped in 2018 on Elektra.

During the time off the road because of the pandemic, the group has been working on a new record, collaborating in a few different ways.

"Sometimes it's literally just the five of us in a room with our instruments, playing through a bunch of ideas and kind of jamming,” Comtois says. “And then once something interesting happens, we'll stop it right there and expand on that.”

During lockdown, the members worked on material recorded at their home studios. They had a rotating medley of ideas that one member would work on and then pass to the next until they had a full song. This kind of approach was what the band dubbed its "song-a-day project," taking a few cues from how Ben Gibbard worked on material for the Postal Service.

“There's something interesting about working in isolation,” Comtois says. “Sometimes it's not good; sometimes you really do need that human connection. But every once in a while, it kind of gives you a slightly different view of what you're working on. And just having that time to sit with something in the morning...maybe it's not working, and you can you come back to it in the afternoon and have a different idea."
Comtois says he and his bandmates are aiming to have the new album finished early next year and are hoping to set up a full tour after its release.

For any given record, they try to reflect on what has inspired them, Comtois explains. He's recently been listening to a lot of electronic and orchestral music like Max Richter, Brian Eno and Fourtet. In the early days, when they were still touring in a van, everyone was blasting Little Dragon, J. Dilla, Radiohead and the Strokes.

All that was the music of their youth, when they met in high school in Irvine, California, a town with a great education system and a lot of pressure to get into good colleges. Comtois says that pressure help shaped their attitude toward careers in music.

“There’s a lot of perfectionism and attention to detail and all that stuff,” he says. “And I think that can be a hindrance sometimes in music — but it can also be a good thing if you hold yourself to a higher standard, which we always kind of did."

There was also a community of musicians at those Irvine schools.

“Irvine is sort of an antiseptic bubble,” Comtois notes. “There's really not a lot going on. As teenagers, you have to make your own fun, and for us, that was just playing music all the time, like getting together with different people at their parents’ houses and jamming a little bit.

“Everyone was going through different bands and sharing different bandmembers," he continues. "And this was just one of those projects that had the combination of players that came together and sort of clicked, and it felt special. We decided to pursue it beyond the normal battle of the bands and just jamming around.”

They knew they had a lot going for them — especially Gadhia’s singing ability.

“The dude is an incredible talent,” Comtois says. “So that's going to make things easier from the get-go.”

It also helped that Cannata’s cousin Ben Adelson was studying music business at the University of Southern California. He was the band’s manager then, and still is.

“He would say, ‘I booked you guys two shows; get ready for those shows and play new material,'” Comtois recalls. “He was the early engine that pushed us to play more shows and to write more and to try to take things more seriously.”

Fortunately for us, they took his advice.

Young the Giant plays Saturday, September 18, at the Westword Music Showcase, on the Mission Ballroom Outdoor Stage. Tickets are $90-$190. For more information, visit the Westword Music Showcase online.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon