INTERVIEW: Young The Giant (Bonnaroo 2012)

There’s always been something special about YOUNG THE GIANT. From being an opening act at The Opera House in our city of Toronto to erupting with passion inside of a studio space at South By Southwest to even headlining sold-out gigs across the continent, the California group have never run into an obstacle into being passionate, intimate or invigorating. It reverberates throughout their sun-soaked alternative debut and their live performances that echo steadfast maturity (one of our colleagues said in 2010 they were “The Killers bravado meets The Strokes authenticity”). In the deep end of Bonnaroo, we sat down with guitarists Eric Cannata and Jacob Tilley to tap into their experiences on the road, their expansive sound and how they’re ready to kick out a new vibe for a fresh start.

As you’re no stranger to performing at festivals, how does it feel to be a part of Bonnaroo this year?

ERIC CANNATA: It’s been incredible so far. We were actually thinking about booking a few shows for yesterday and today, but we then preferred to just be at Bonnaroo to make it our final “big thing” before we go into the studio. It’s just been a blast; we saw a bunch of music yesterday and got to see artists like Little Dragon, Feist and Radiohead perform. It really is just too much music.

JACOB TILLEY: It’s been fantastic and a really great way to end off touring. It’s just crazy because one of my favourite live videos ever is Kings Of Leon playing “Trani” here at Bonnaroo in 2004 when they were just starting out. From that you can obviously tell what the intensity is like, how hot it is here and what a tremendous privilege it is to play here. Looking at everyone else performing, you know you have to “bring it” when it’s your time to go on stage.
You guys are set to perform tomorrow at the same time of a few big acts – did you guys anticipate that?

JACOB: No, not at all. As you can see, a lot of people got that spot to close out the festival before Phish and we’re just going to play our hearts out. But yeah, you’ve got The Shins playing at the same time and fun. and Bon Iver.

ERIC: Bon Iver is incredible. Just incredible.
A lot of artists seem to just sound more incredible in a festival atmosphere than a normal large venue. Do you think your performance differs between the two?

JACOB: I don’t know if it varies to tell you the truth. The one thing we do take into consideration is when you’re playing a headlining show, people are there to see you, and at festival, they have other options and may just be there to take you in for a bit and move on. For us, we focus on bringing more energy to keep people listening.

ERIC: I think festivals have their own unique type of energy because every artist is different and so is every person in the crowd. For example, we played Austin City Limits last year and at our soundcheck there was almost a 1,000 people just there. We were scheduled to open the main stage and were told that 30,000 people had came out to see us and as we left our bus, it started raining – after being hot for months – and every single person seemed to love that. An experience like that for us… we were just like… taken back. It was incredible. To us… that was a real show.

Since your debut, you’ve been known for the two hits “Cough Syrup” and “My Body”, but from a different perspective, there’s still a lot more that reflects who you guys are and what your sound is like. Do you think the singles have hindered you from reaching out to new audiences or is it the opposite?

ERIC: It’s brought people and it keeps introducing us to new people as well. You’re lucky to get that kind of exposure and for us it’s been a blast and we owe it to that exposure. Even if some people are coming out for those two songs, the reason they like us can change. During the middle of a set to the end of a set, we haven’t really noticed anyone leave at a show as they’re still bobbing their heads. I think the type of exposure has been diverse, really. Sometimes we’ll have a 4-year-old watching us at the front of the crowd and then have an 80-year-old at the back and that’s sort of the point of music – to bring people in and bring them together.

JACOB: People may just come for the songs but they do sit through the whole thing. It’s been a learning experience for us because when we were making the record, we knew this type of exposure would probably happen. And you’re right, when you listen to the rest of the record, it’s pretty diverse when compared to those two songs. I think people have given us a chance and I’ve heard some people grow on to other songs when they listen to the record, which is great because that means they’re actually checking out the whole catalogue.

ERIC: I hope people do grow with us. A lot of people do ask who our influences are and what we think we sound like and I feel like we’re just starting and can’t really answer those questions. One record in, you can’t really say where you’re going to go because you have no idea and things can change in one day. Like we could be doing this now and then tomorrow we could end up writing a two-hour jam session (laughs). Everything’s changing for us so fast and you never really know what you’ve got until it’s in your hands and then it’s already gone because there’s something else coming up (laughs).

JACOB: As I’ve said, it’s really just all been a learning experience. The radio hits kind of defined what we’ve done over the years but don’t really represent where we’re at now so we know it’s time for us to go home and kind of figure out what describes us now. After doing that, we’ll be able to come back next year and have a fresh start.

ERIC: It’s always a constant circle – getting sick of things and revitalizing a sound that’s old. Going on the road with new songs is really encouraging and I would like to do that with a new record. We’ve been working out a new vibe with some new material we have by playing them every night and keeping them a secret to ourselves.

Before you stated the new material you’ve been working on is basically an amalgamation of your experiences as a group over the past two years. It is a bit of secret at this stage, but in what ways are its vibes different?

JACOB: There is a song called “What You Get” – which is the first new song we’ll probably play during our set – and to us it’s about branching out as musicians. It’s still super-catchy and more tailored to what we want to do but instead of being like songs on the last record which were dependent on Sameer, it puts all of our individual attributes on display. Lyrically it’s about what happens when you get what you love and it sums up our career and experiences we’ve all gone through.

ERIC: Yeah, the thing about that song is when I play it on stage, I become really happy about what it stands for. There’s also another song called “Camera” which is a really, really beautiful song I think as Sameer also plays keys on it. I think with the new record there will be a lot more experimenting as we’ll probably try to use weird instruments and come back next year with a more tuned sound.

JACOB: We’re very much guitar driven and that’s more to the fact we didn’t really have money for more instruments.
What kind of gear do you guys hope to become more comfortable with?

JACOB: Just different guitars and percussion and other instruments we never really had the chance to play around with. We’re all really into our own gear but as we’ve traveled and met new people and discovered new instruments, we want to put our own spin on a few things.

ERIC: I really like the idea of making a guitar sound like a harp but I don’t know how to do that just yet. It’s things like that we’ll be putting time into.
As you’ve been pushing your personal limits for the past three years and now have new experiences on your horizon, what would you say is the one thing that keeps you pushing forward?

ERIC: I think the love that we have for being able to do this – performing, traveling and meeting new people.

JACOB: We’re really lucky. The fact that we’ve gotten this opportunity… when we were younger it was such a dream and we didn’t know how to author it but it happened. At first, we weren’t really ready for all of this but we’ve grown into that as we’ve become a strong live band and have gained a large following. We’ve been touring since we were 17-years-old and we’ve spent a lot of time in vans and played a lot of shows to not that many people so we haven’t really skipped any of the hard stuff. But with that, we’re still learning who we are and what we’re going to become.

[Check out Young The Giant’s debut and other releases at iTunes + Insound]


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