Gang of Youths with Hannah Wicklund & the Steppin Stones. Saturday, May 26, the Fox Cabaret, 8 p.m. Sold out.
“Atlas Drowned” may be the best song about Ayn Rand you’ll hear all year.
Singer David Le’aupepe, frontman for Australian rock band Gang of Youths, wrote the song – dismissing the world’s current political state and defying the neoconservative-influencing individualism that Rand pioneered with Atlas Shrugged in 1957 – for the group’s new record.
He apologizes for the length of said record, the band’s second, called Go Farther in Lightness, which came out last year.
“I wanted to give people bang for their buck, didn’t I?” he says with a laugh while talking to the North Shore News over the phone from the U.K., where the band now resides.
But there was also a more artistically liberating goal in mind: “I wanted the songs to be able to breathe and feel like they reached their climaxes when we decided they would be reached,” he says about the 77-minute, 16-track record – an album that stands in direct defiance to market forces that might dictate a single caps out at the three-minute mark and doesn’t mine Ayn Rand for lyrical content.
“It was an indulgent, long-winded record for the most part. But I think people gravitated toward the themes and the melodies, and I think that for me that was a big indication that maybe what we’re trying to do with our life isn’t completely pointless,” Le’aupepe says.
With song titles like “Say Yes to Life” and “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” – all infused with stadium rock-levels of grandeur à la U2 and Bruce Springsteen – Le’aupepe would be correct in assuming people have connected with the new material and the band’s life affirming anthems. The album went to No. 1 in the Australian music charts, building upon their previous successes with debut The Positions, which peaked at No. 5, and a 2016 EP that climbed to the second spot.
The band has been doing “basically around the clock touring” on the new record. They recently kicked off the North American leg of their tour, a musical excursion that’s poised to surpass the band’s last romp here several years back – when barely anyone showed up, Le’aupepe explains.
“I feel like a bit of a dinosaur because I am like one of those morons who laments the f!%? g death of rock ’n’ roll – whatever – but is sort of resigned to the fact that it probably won’t ever rear its rollicking head for quite some time, if at all,” he says. “It was nice to feel a sense of resurgence with my own career in that way.”
Gang of Youths debuted in 2012 when Le’aupepe, guitarist Joji Malani, keyboardist Jung Kim, bassist Max Dunn, and drummer Sam O’Donnell (who’s now replaced by Donnie Borzestowski) were fresh out of a high school in Sydney, Australia.
The band found early success with the single “Evangelists” in 2013, quickly getting to work starting their own record label and snatching up support spots for huge international indie bands like Vampire Weekend and Foster The People.
But soon after their initial run, Le’aupepe was greeted by the worst period of his life.
His soon-to-be wife was diagnosed with lung cancer, which caused him and the band to work tirelessly to write the songs that would eventually become their debut record in an attempt to give his fiancé something to listen to while she was in the hospital.
Le’aupepe’s wife survived, but he still headed for the ditch, dragged down by feelings of unworthiness and myriad self-destructive habits. He bottomed out and his marriage eventually broke down. He attempted suicide.
“I wasn’t in a good place,” he admits. But just when he was at his lowest point his band was there to pull him back up again.
“Being in a band is like friendship on steroids because you’re in a business, you’re in each other’s space, you’re in each other’s lives constantly. You see the best and the very f#%! worst,” he says. “I needed them desperately and then they came through for me.”
These days, Le’aupepe, now 26 years old, strives to make music that genuinely helps people and “enriches their life.” He knows that it can be a hard cross to bear.
“It makes me feel like I have an enormous responsibility and I’m afraid of that,” he says. “The way that I look at it is like I want to live a life that’s worthy of the respect that I’m given from people.”
Perhaps most notable about Le’aupepe’s songwriting is the way he blends his love of literature with lyrics that evoke pop and indie rocks most joyous moments. The album’s title, for example, is a reference to a classic novel by Czech writer Milan Kundera, and, in an interview with an Australian publication last year, Le’aupepe noted the album was also influenced by the works of Nietzsche and Heidegger, among others.
“I think my love of books and philosophy and literature is kind of like something that’s followed me throughout my life and I always want to help impart some of these big, sometimes quite difficult to apply truths, to songs that will get stuck in people’s heads,” he says.
Le’aupepe adds that he’s excited to play Vancouver for the first time, noting an outpouring of enthusiasm for one of the band’s only Canadian dates on the current tour. And while he expresses gratitude for the privilege he feels in being able to provide catharsis for people, he admits he’s uncomfortable with the idea of being the spokesperson for those looking to lead better, happier lives. It’s something he’s still working out for himself too, he admits.
“I think the best that I can do is be completely honest about it and say that, for the most part, I think I’m on struggle street, like many people,” he says. But, he adds: “I think, for me, being able to be expressive and honest in a way that people wouldn’t look down on me, in a way, is pretty amazing.”