Maybe you’ve heard the buzz about Gang of Youths. Maybe you read the full-page article in the Washington Post. Maybe you saw them on TV at the NRL Grand Final or Late Night with Seth Meyers. Maybe a friend of yours is tweeting about them incessantly (it me!) and you’ve decided it’s time to check them out.
But, but … where to begin???
Relax. You’re in the right place. Get comfortable. The Deepest Sighs crew has been in your shoes very recently, and we feel like our newness to Gang of Youths fandom positions us to help others walk down the path we’ve already walked down. Plus, we have experience. To wit, a few responses to my incessant tweeting:
So let’s go farther into Gang of Youths.
A Few Things You Should Know First
I know, I know. You want to listen to some songs, read some lyrics and watch some videos; we’ll get to that. But first, there are a couple things you need to know about Gang of Youths.
They’re not “cool.” They’re real.
If you’re gonna listen to this band, check your snark and cynicism at the door. Gang of Youths has no time for that. They don’t do sarcasm. They don’t do cool. They don’t do phoniness. There’s blood and guts in every song that singer/songwriter Dave Le’aupepe writes. The pain is out in the open for everyone to see. He writes about finding meaning in life, about empathy, dignity and kindness. It sounds on the surface like typical millennial stuff, right? But it’s not. As a Gen Xer old enough to be their dad, I can tell you that this band’s music makes me feel alive. It’s human. It’s real.
They write songs with cheesy names like “Say Yes To Life” and “The Heart Is A Muscle,” and it sounds (to those of us of a certain age) like something straight out of Up With People. But then you listen to the songs and you feel everything.
Too uncool for you? Oh, well. “Sometimes I worry that this shit sounds too twee or cliché,” Dave recently told Stereogum. “If Gang Of Youths are tacky, I don’t give a shit anymore.”
Be all in.
Gang of Youths doesn’t make background music. The songs demand attention and a response. You have to be willing to feel something — maybe joy, maybe sorrow, maybe anger. But it will be something. Here’s how Kate Hennessy put it in The Guardian not long ago:
Saying yes is the only way to do Gang of Youths, a band that offers no hiding places or half measures. On record, the dictatorial nature of Go Farther in Lightness‘s songs — epic rock that insists on you being relentlessly roused — can wear you right out. But experienced with other people, together, heart wrenched open, it works a charm.
Sure, you can be a casual fan; it’s a free world and all that. But Gang of Youths rewards those who are all in — the ones who are committed, not just interested.
It’s heavy stuff.
Dave is the songwriter in the band and the first two albums (and EP) are based off his often tragic young-life experiences. The first album, The Positions, is mostly about his time dating and eventually marrying a young woman dealing with cancer. It covers their relationship, mental and emotional challenges, financial struggles, separation and even Dave’s eventual suicide attempt. This short interview goes into the story you’ll hear in many of the songs.
The second album, Go Farther In Lightness, is just as heavy but with a much more optimistic outlook. For me, it’s Dave saying “Hey, I’m getting through this; whatever you’re going through, it’s okay and you’ll get through it, too.” (Again, if you’re looking for hip/cool, wrong band.)
They sound like ________ (fill in the blank).
As you listen to Gang of Youths, you’re probably gonna hear things that remind you of other well-known bands. And you’ll probably read comparisons in every article you come across. To the music press, GOY sounds like Springsteen, U2, The National, Arcade Fire, The Killers and probably a dozen other bands. Whatever! They sound like Gang of Youths to me. (For the record, Dave has cited some of those artists as influences, along with Leonard Cohen and many others.)
There are a lot of university-level references and vocab words.
I had to look up “solipsism” the first time I heard “Let Me Down Easy.” You’ll find words like “ephemera,” “simpatico” and “emulsified” in other songs. When you read or watch interviews, don’t be surprised if Dave starts talking about Albert Camus, Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger or some other philosopher. In song lyrics, he references Kierkegaard, Bukowski, Shakespeare and others. It’s not your every day “Hey baby, you look hot tonight” type of rock music.
(That said, there are also silly bits like the verse in “Let Me Down Easy” where Dave says if you’re drunk and need a reason to live, “Just put on some Whitesnake.”)
Some of it’s NSFW or NSFK.
One glance at the track lists on iTunes or Spotify will tell you that Dave can be a pottymouth. Several songs are not safe for work and not safe for kids. If foul language bothers you, well … good luck.
Remember that stuff above about not being cool and not being ashamed? Dave lives that on stage, especially during “Let Me Down Easy” — but not only that song. Dave’s become so well-known for his dancing that he/it became a meme late last year.
Okay, now that we have all that out in the open, who’s ready to start listening to some music and watching some videos?
Gang of Youths has two albums and an EP, plus a live album and a handful of singles that didn’t appear anywhere else. So once you get started, it won’t take you too long if you choose to go through their entire catalog.
As you listen, I recommend you have the lyrics handy. On a practical level, Dave mumbles some lyrics here and there, so having the words handy will help. Beyond that, the bigger reason is that he’s a brilliant lyricist. So we’ll link to Genius.com for each song below — some of the fan-added notes are very helpful to understand the songs’ backgrounds.
When I decided to investigate GOY, I began with their most popular tracks on Spotify and whatever videos came up first when I searched their name on YouTube. Here’s what I heard, and I’ll rely on YouTube embeds since not everyone will have a Spotify account:
“Let Me Down Easy” (lyrics)
“The Heart Is A Muscle” (lyrics)
“The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows” (lyrics)
“What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out?” (lyrics)
Those were some of the first songs I discovered, and I think they give a good introduction to the band. But for a complete introduction, I think you’d be served well to hear the band’s mellower side, too. So give these a try:
“Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” (lyrics)
“Still Unbeaten Life” (lyrics)
You might be wondering … are these guys any good live? This ACL Festival performance should help you answer that question:
In addition to the Dave interview above from The Feed, these interviews also make for a pretty good intro to the band.
On this next one, the interview can’t be embedded, but it’s a great conversation from Minnesota public radio. The host asks great questions and Dave is in a really fun mood. Look for the audio Play button for “full session and interview.”
So much to choose from for this section. The first few are written for an audience that’s not already familiar with the band, so they’re an especially great place to start.
How Gang of Youths Are Living Their Dream of Being the Next U2 (RollingStone.com) – this article was my first experience with Gang of Youths and compelled me to start listening
Are Gang Of Youths Too Earnest For America? (Stereogum)
Magnolia (Sarah Hutt) – you won’t read a better essay about the events that inspired The Positions album, the song “Magnolia,” and led to Dave’s suicide attempt in 2014
Gang Of Youths’ David Le’aupepe on bringing philosophy to pop music and putting their lives on the line (The Brag) – great interview just as Go Farther In Lightness was released
GOY was on the September 2017 cover of Rolling Stone Australia and I once accessed the interview via Archive.org, but now I can’t find the original URL. Ugh. It was good.
Lastly, there are some links to other old interviews in our forum.
And speaking of our forum, I recently started a thread that mirrors this article:
If you have thoughts on that, whether or not they’re in agreement with my ideas in this article, please chime in. There’s more than one way to bring a new fan on board, so share how you’d do it (or have done it) so we can all try different ideas in the future.
On behalf of the DS crew, I hope you keep exploring Gang of Youths and eventually come to love their music like we do!