Trying to Make Sense of Joji Malani’s Departure from Gang of Youths

Anyone else feeling a mix of emotions since the news that Joji is leaving Gang of Youths?

Anyone else find yourself with some questions, too, as you work through those emotions?

It was soooooo freaking unexpected. I’ve seen fans reacting with great anger and others reacting with great empathy, and I think both are perfectly understandable.

Me? I’m a jumble of thoughts, questions and feelings. And when I get like this, I tend to want to sort out my thoughts in writing. So here’s some stream-of-consciousness ramblings about Joji’s departure and what it might mean for the future.


This is the most obvious question, right? The band’s announcement doesn’t explain why he’s leaving. It just says Joji “made the tough decision to leave GOY and move on into the next phase of his professional life.”

Let me make this clear before I go any further: The “why” is none of our business. If Joji or the band want to explain more, great. If not, we have to respect that decision. We’re not entitled to know anything beyond what they’re willing to share.

At the same time, if no one ever addresses the “why,” then the band and Joji have to be aware that they’re opening the door for speculation. People will wonder why. We’ll ask questions. Was there some kind of clash or argument that led to Joji’s departure? Did Joji not want to go with the band into this next stage of visibility with the new international record deal? Did he feel unappreciated or under-utilized? Has he lost his passion for music? Something else? Humans have an itch to fill in the blanks when we’re missing information; that’s the Information Gap Theory at work.

Why now?

That’s the other seemingly odd thing. With that international record contract, Gang of Youths is potentially on the verge of entirely new levels of success. Why would someone walk away now? The pressure that comes along with going from a scrappy, hustling, mostly-unknown band to having an international record deal and all of its commitments has destroyed plenty of artists. So I can’t help but wonder if Joji decided he doesn’t want all that at this point in his life. If so, full respect — lesser artists would stick around, be unhappy, and put up with it just for the money.

Without knowing the “why,” we’ll never understand the “why now,” either.

Will Gang of Youths find a new guitarist?

They have to, right? I mean, they’re a 5-piece and most of the band’s songs already have everyone contributing in some way. Maybe there are a few songs where Dave doesn’t play rhythm guitar, and he could potentially play lead on those songs while also singing … but that seems sub-optimal. Most of the band’s catalog is written for a 5-piece, so they’ll probably need to remain a 5-piece.

One interesting thought: Could Jung take over as lead guitarist? He played more guitar than keyboards (seven songs vs. six) on The Positions, and in at least a couple early (2014-2015) interviews, he mentioned that guitar is his favorite instrument. For example, see the :40 mark in this interview where he says he prefers the songs where he gets to play guitar. There’s another one from that era where he specifically says that he prefers guitar over keyboards, but I can’t find it right now.

If he still feels that way, maybe one option is for Jung to take over on lead guitar. That would leave the band to find a new keyboardist/everything-else-ist … i.e., the role that Jung has been playing lately. Or I suppose they could try to pre-program all the keyboard parts? As a fan, I sure hope not. The music was written for five, so I trust they’re going to remain five.

Joji Malani on stage at The Roxy, Los Angeles, Sept. 20, 2019

How does this impact the new album?

I doubt that anyone outside the band’s immediate circle knows. They’ve been in the studio at least as long ago as July 1. That’s the day race car driver Daniel Ricciardo posted 30 seconds of video on Instagram of Gang of Youths working on new material.

Presumably, Joji was there and recording with the band. But I’ll say this: I downloaded and kept those video clips, and as I watch again tonight I don’t see Joji in either one, nor do I hear a lead guitar in either one. To my ears, both 15-second clips seem to only have Dave playing rhythm guitar. So maybe we shouldn’t presume anything where the new album is concerned.

The band’s announcement says Joji made his decision “a few months ago.” Is it possible he decided before July 1 and wasn’t in the studio that day because he’s not gonna be on the new album? Crazy as it sounds, I think that’s a possibility. But if you want to argue that Joji might’ve been somewhere else in the studio and just not playing guitar during the time Ricciardo was recording, yep … that’s possible, too.

How does this impact the band’s contract with Warner Music?

Probably not at all. I’m no expert on stuff like this, but I don’t think record contracts are dependent on a band’s lineup. In a typical contract, Gang of Youths would be committed to delivering X number of albums (probably over X number of years) to Warner Music, and whether they have Joji Malani on guitar, Eddie Van Halen on guitar, or someone else … I doubt it matters as long as the music gets delivered on deadline. Most bands go through lineup changes, so as shocking as the news was to all of us … in the big picture of the music business, it’s probably not a big deal.

Final Thoughts

If you hate speculation, sorry. I know there’s a lot of it above — hopefully written in a responsible, respectful manner. Like I said, this is how I sort through things when I’m a jumble of questions and emotions.

In the end, I just hope…

… that Joji knows how much the fans love and respect him. I’ve read a bunch of commentary on social media in the past 24 hours, and everyone has wonderful stories about meeting him and chatting with him, and it’s been really heartwarming.

… that if there was some disagreement or issue that led to this, that Joji and Dave (or whomever is involved) still love each other like brothers and their friendship continues forever.

… that Joji made the right decision for himself, his family, his future, his happiness, etc. It can’t have been easy to say goodbye to your mates, especially at a time like this.

… that Gang of Youths gets through this in good stead, and continues to make wonderful music that’s real and human and touches us as deeply as ever.

Thanks, Joji, for being part of a band that saved me last year. I’ll be eternally grateful for your role in Gang of Youths. God bless and Godspeed.

(Top photo by Bruce, used via Creative Commons.)