If you thought the new Gang of Youths album might be an easy one for Dave Le’aupepe to write and the band to record, think again. (And you should really know better by now, frankly.)
Appearing this week on Jeremy Dylan’s My Favorite Album podcast, Dave gave a 3-4 minute long monologue describing a number of “battles” or tensions that he’s dealing with as the band’s songwriter — battles over not wanting to be repetitive, but also wanting to hold on to what’s made Gang of Youths a success so far; battles over wanting to be experimental versus wanting to create beautiful and accessible music; battles over writing about the pain of losing his father while recognizing that he’s living a very happy and charmed life at the moment.
Though it was published this week, the interview happened around mid-February — at one point, Dave mentions that he’ll be turning 28 in a couple weeks. (His birthday is February 27.) The episode is about Go Farther In Lightness and some of Dylan’s favorite albums of the last decade. But late in the ~30-minute conversation, Dylan asks Dave how that album and the band’s previous work is influencing what Gang of Youths is doing now in the studio. And that’s what prompts Dave to talk about all that tension and the things he’s struggling to balance in the new songs. As you’ll see, his eventual answer to all of these A vs. B questions is that he wants to “find a third way.”
Here’s my best attempt at transcribing Dave’s response to this question:
It’s hard to be able to bridge the old us, or the old stuff, I guess, and what it is we’re sort of turning into. Trying to find the voice again is really hard — I’ve had writer’s block for about three years again. So that’s been really tricky to navigate, especially because the last album did well and that’s a lot of expectation that I put on myself to do better than that — it always has to be better or different.
So it’s hard because there’s a tension between wanting to marry the things that I liked and what people who enjoy Gang of Youths’ music liked about what we do — but also trying to carve something new and forge something ahead.
One thing that I realized when I was first in the writing process for the new album is, I was trying too hard to be too experimental, which is kind of where I lean. I’m a punk rock/hardcore punk kid at heart, y’know, so a lot of the music I listened to growing up was quite abrasive or it was really experimental. But that sort of defeats the purpose of wanting to make things that are beautiful and accessible, but also challenging enough. So I had to veer away from being too challenging, being too fancy … at least with the kind of things I like to write, it sort of drains the heart from what I’m trying to do.
There’s a very fine line for a lot of songwriters … it’s a fucking real fine line between doing things that are challenging because it’s pertinent to the themes, and it’s relevant and interesting … and challenging because you’re fucking totally insecure about people thinking you’re not challenging enough. And I found that a really, really difficult battle.
At the same time, I don’t really want to repeat what we’ve done, but I also don’t really want to abandon the things that I feel like were strong about us. It’s kind of more about finding a third way — a synthesis between that thesis and antithesis somewhere in that Hegelian dialectic type. That’s so pretentious of me to mention Hegel. But somewhere in that dialectic, finding the result of the previous fucking sublations and then moving forward with that thing. And that’s kind of what the work is about at the moment and where I’m trying to fit it in.
And there’s also a sense of angst that I think I always had that I’m somewhat lacking now. I’ve got plenty of anxiety these days — but the angst, the rage is probably, maybe a little bit subdued and subsided because, y’know, I live in the city that I want to live in, I’m incredibly fortunate. I’m a privileged motherfucker now, y’know? Completely different to how I grew up, and completely different from where I come from. And I’m very happily married. I live quite a charmed and comfortable existence at the moment.
So trying to balance that, but also like deal with things like the loss of my father, d’ya know what I mean? That’s sort of a tricky thing to balance, as well. Like, I don’t want to constantly rely on trauma in my life in order to fuel art, because it’s kind of always what I’ve done. But I don’t want to, I guess, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous monotony. Everything’s kind of good now, so I cannot mine my experience for a real sense of pain, which I enjoy writing about. I do enjoy writing about pain and painful things. So this album has been really tricky trying to marry ??? and find a third way.
(Dylan asks a question that basically says … “You don’t want to be one of those people who … the songs aren’t coming so I need to fuck myself up.”)
For me, I never intended to fuck my life up to write music. My life just kind of got fucked, and the only way I was able to help myself find ??? was to document it. And I think that’s probably the difference between me and better songwriters is that most, or all better songwriters that I know can just write songs. Where for me, I actually have to wait for shit. And I have to document it, and I document it in a very cocky way, y’know? A way that is sort of … archetypically mawkish as well, y’know? I wish I was one of those people where you could say, ‘You’re a natural.’ I wish I could be one of those fucking people who could sit down and … ‘I’m gonna write a song about this, this, and this’ and just be able to turn out a classic. I’m not like an Eric Church or a Kacey Musgraves. I don’t know how to do that, no fucking clue.
So it’s kind of just mining experience and trying to document it in a way that I think people can, in some way, identify with. It’s such a tricky balance for me to not feel like I have to traumatize myself in order to get good stuff. Because there’s been enough crazy fucking shit that’s happened in the past two years, y’know — as I’ve told you in previous conversations — for me to find that. But I think it’s a trick about finding the muse and sticking to it, and relating to it a little better.
Dave’s phone connection wasn’t too great, so I missed a few bits here and there. You can listen to the whole episode here — the Gang of Youths/Go Farther In Lightness segment begins at about the 1:07:45 mark and goes on to the end of the show.
The interview is about 30 minutes long, as I mentioned, and includes a lot of talk about GFIL, which Dave now says is not the “steaming shitpile” he used to think it is. (Whatevs, he’s his own worst critic. We all know it’s brilliant.) He has some nice praise for his bandmates’ contributions to that album, and for “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” in particular.
There’s no talk of album progress or release dates. As always, you can get all the latest updates on the next Gang of Youths album right here on Deepest Sighs.
(Photo by Jones Willingham and used with permission.)