After recently landing back on Australian soil after a huge international tour and in anticipation of the release of their upcoming EP Let Me Be Clear, we had a chat to Gang of Youths front man David Le’aupepe.
Firstly, you’ve just come back from a pretty huge European and American tour. How was it?
It was interesting. Los Angeles and all their music industry shit makes me really fucking jaded. I’m not built to deal with the total onslaught and bullshit of those people. I’m just incapable of dealing with any of that, I hate all the culture, the Los Angeles music scene is really debilitating, and I feel like it’s just a total disingenuous presentation of how art is supposed to be. But at the same time, if New York forced me to live, then LA forces me to reflect, and I think that’s a really weird philosophical glut there that makes you want to think and reflect, so I understand why so many creatives want to go to Los Angeles.
How about Europe, how was that?
Europe was tremendous. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun travelling I have as I’ve had in Europe. The language barriers were a bit of a struggle, because I can only really speak French, I can’t speak Dutch or Catalan or anything. It seems like it would be fun if we did more of it, so I’d love to do more. Predominantly because I get to drag the guys to old buildings and museums and that’s what I like to do.
How does it compare playing to an international audience?
I like it predominantly because it’s not Australia so it’s totally unfamiliar. I think there’s a real mystique behind playing overseas and anywhere else from where I grew up, it really appeals to me.
I want to talk about the new EP. The Positions came from a pretty dark place in your life, anyone who knows the band will know the story behind the album. what were the inspirations behind Let Me Be Clear?
They’re basically songs that were written around the same time as The Positions, they’re still the same subject matter. The whole idea came about because we wanted a way to bridge album one and album two with something that was still pretty powerful and that was still our best work, but signified a sonic change or a sonic transition, but was still reflective of the themes that people connected with on The Positions.
Do you see this theme leading to you to a new album, or after this will you move on to another theme?
It will be different, because it has to be. The art that we make and the art that I write is a pure reflection of the things that are going on inside me. I’m not a particularly ephemeral person, but my need to sort of constantly progress and move on, and move on, is overwhelming, there’s a drive inside me, as it is in everyone else. So the new album is going to be entirely different.
Sonically it will reflect what’s going on in Let Me Be Clear more so than The Positions, because you’ve got to change. Like a shark, if you stop swimming you’ll fucking die. If you never change, you’ll wither away.
The lyrics you write create a very vivid sense of imagery, is that something that’s important to you when writing?
Lyrics are the most vital and important thing to me. Good lyrics are provocative and bad lyrics are destructive and incriminating. So The Positions was poetic in a grandeous way, because I was trying to appropriate a really rare and singular occurrence in my life… I’m in love with a girl with cancer, we’re young and she’s dying and I’m writing an album about it. That’s not a universal thing, singularly love is universal and cancer is universal, but the two combined, within my life especially, not a whole lot of people can connect with that on the same level. They can connect with me and they can connect with the emotion, and I tried to build a real lyrical world around that.
I’m not dealing with that now, I’m dealing with other shit now and these are things that are so much more about mortality, about suicidal mortality and spiritual mortality, and I’m trying to take really universal themes that everyone is dealing with, that I have especially come into contact with right now, and I’m trying to individualise them and write more conversationally. The first record, it had big poetic imagery with moments of conversational dialogue in the songs. Let Me Be Clear, it sounds really conversational, so lyrically the next record will be totally conversational. That was a really long winded, pretentious way to answer that.
The thing is, I need to talk about what’s going on in me and be reflective, honest and 100% transparent and the way I find myself doing that is with conversation with close friends. I have songs about things that are totally vulnerable and human. They are things that provoke something in the listener and to encourage them to think or reflect or cry or laugh. I’m trying to compartmentalise all these existential ideas that I have about life and turning them into lyrics about everyday life using big words like I would in a regular conversation.
It also encourages an element of listening on my behalf. Hearing what other people have to say to me, I’ve discovered how much I love listening in my personal life, and taking all that shit, injecting it and giving my music a god damned enema.
Did you feel any pressure when you were writing Let Me Be Clear to try and emulate the success of the first album?
Always. The pressure to make it sound as evocative or to make it sound as good was tremendous. And it’s not just pressure from everyone else, it’s pressure from myself. The whole thing for me is just a total mind-fuck, and my sense of self isn’t subject to anything external, it’s all internal. So all the pressure I apply to myself comes from some fucked up part of me that just wants to be loved or approved or accepted. Any artist that says they don’t care what anyone thinks of them is a total dishonest fucking liar. So the expectations there built up so much pressure. My god, there’s always going to be pressure, and if I quit applying that pressure I don’t think the music I make will be any good.
The success you have seen in the past couple years has been huge and you seem to be pretty unstoppable. did you ever expect to be where you are now?
No, I didn’t really want to be in a band to be honest, I just wanted to be a married kid. I mean, I didn’t believe in marriage to begin with. I think marriage is so fucking stupid, and I got married in spite of my belief. The institution is a total failure. So anything above that was pretty cool. But I’m not the kind of person who is motivated by achievement. I think to be motivated by achievement is the one thing that’s destroying western youth, I think it brings on a really contempt of self and can bring a real contempt of others. The real achievement in life is to be a superior version of yourself. Did I ever think I would be here? No. Do I care? Not really, I just want to keep doing good shit. It’s fine, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing at any given time. I make money doing exactly what I want and saying exactly what I want. I put myself through these horrible life experiences and I write about them and people actually want to listen to them, so in that sense I never thought I would be at that stage.
So in saying that, where do you see yourself in five years?
At the business end of a shotgun in a trailer park somewhere, lamenting how my career took a turn because I don’t care about achievement (laughs). I actually think in five years I have no idea where I’ll be. I’d like to be somewhere I’m wanting to be. I don’t want to be relegated or stuck anywhere. I want to be doing exactly what I want to be doing without reservation or relent.
You guys are playing Splendour In The Grass in a few days, will be hearing any new tracks in the set?
You will be hearing one new track, not from the EP but from the album. We’ve played it and it’s been pretty good. I like to think that the new music is more universal than The Positions music so I think it goes down well.
Anything in particular you’re looking forward to at Splendour?
Not really. I just want to play, it’s the best feeling. Playing to people who sing your songs back to you, that’s all I need, that’s what I’m excited about. Like I said, that’s the victory, I’m getting to do what I love.