It’s a few short weeks before the October 12th release of Young The Giant’s fourth LP, Mirror Master — their strongest set to date — and frontman Sameer Gadhia is dishing on the beginning of this new era from the other end of the phone in California. “We’re excited to bring these songs out into the light,” he says. “We wrote about 50 songs for this record, but more than anything the emphasis was on writing songs that connected and were honest. It’s kind of a comment on who we are as a band as well.”
Gadhia and his bandmates have been at it for over ten years now, touring the world and crafting unforgettable records. Their 2011 self-titled debut was a hit, charting in the Top 50 of the Billboard 200 and number six on the Top Alternative Albums, while singles from the record “My Body” and “Cough Syrup” peaked at number 5 and 3 respectively on the Billboard Alternative charts. Both are now staples at shows and easily get an entire room singing along. “When we first started, we didn’t even have any concept of who our audience was,” Gadhia said about the early years. “If anything, with ‘My Body’ and ‘Cough Syrup’ we had the least expectations. We didn’t know what was going to happen. ‘My Body’ we wrote in 15 minutes. I think it’s only been with time that we’ve really realized how grateful we were for that moment. I do think they’re good songs and they stand the test of time. It was also just great timing. It just happened to come out at the right time on alternative radio and having that platform was something that was very important for our career’s. Every year we play those songs we grow more and more grateful for them and also more in awe of how the fans have turned it into something entirely different.”
The group has gone on to produce two other records, 2014’s Mind Over Matter and 2016’s Home Of The Strange, each time refusing to play it safe, even when it would have been much easier to do so. Mind Over Matter saw the group shifting from indie darling to full-blown arena rock band status. It was a shift they made effortlessly. “I’m actually very proud of Mind Over Matter as a record in particular,” Gadhia said. “It was such a stylistic shift for us. It took guts to change it up like that and it’s been one of the long form payoffs. Everyone at radio would be like ‘Why didn’t you write ‘Cough Syrup 2.0?’ but at the time we were like ‘No, we want to evolve.’” That gamble clearly paid off as Mind Over Matter charted even higher than their first LP, landing the number 7 spot on the Billboard 200 and number 2 on the US Top Rock Album’s chart.
2016’s Home of the Strange came smack-dab in the middle of the presidential campaign, and the material reflected the time. The record put the American identity of immigrants in the forefront and examined the American way as we know it — and Gadhia being a first generation Indian-American only lent itself to the authenticity of the records message. “It’s so interesting. Home of the Strange, when I think about it, it was such a different time,” he says. “It was pre-election. And regardless of where people swung, they had a different concept, a different idea of what America was. Everyone’s idea was very skewed between what they saw and what they read online and what their friends were talking about versus what was actually happening. I think there’s a lot of internal struggle that happens at that point. There’s this sense almost of desperation, a lot of instances of depression.”
Internal struggle became the basis for Mirror Master, the product being a deeply introspective record about dealing with the anxiety that comes with having to see yourself for who you really are, but also taking back the narrative. It’s about being honest with the ones we love. It’s about questioning the world around you and the meaning of your very existence. On “Tightrope” Gadhia notes “I found a preacher man / To help me understand / What we are doing here? / What comes after life?” but that “All I realized? / No one knows a thing.” It’s an honesty that makes the listener uncomfortable, and that’s the point. The group has dealt with internal struggle before, but never this in-depth. The record comes across as fresh and needed.
“We wanted to be able to tackle those issues, that universal idea of suppression and anxiety and tell people they aren’t alone. They don’t have to feel that way by themselves,” Gadhia says. “Mirror Master, in of itself, is the idea of seeing yourself for who you really are in the mirror. You have complete authorship of who you are and the way you are reflected into the world. I think for the world, thanks to the internet, has been able to see itself more clearly than before. There are a lot of good things that come with that. For the first time I feel like we’re starting to realize our global community, but on the bad side of it, we’re losing sight of personal connections with our neighbors and intimate relationships.”
For Mirror Master, the group also wanted to shake things up in the studio by working with new producers and employing new writing methods. “We tend to be a band that doesn’t like sticking to any given sound or formula,” Gadhia mentions. “We always want to be uncomfortable and just get rid of all of the security blankets for ourselves. We wanted to be able to show a record that was diverse — even down to the way we write the songs. We try our best to get outside our comfort zones as much as possible and work differently amongst ourselves.”
One method, in particular, that was effective in getting out of that comfort zone was what he called the “song-a-day” method. “Historically in the past, we would get in a room together, but this was something we hadn’t ever quite done before,” he said. “It was kind of like the postal service. On Monday we would all start an idea and by the end of the day, we had to be done. On Tuesday we would send that idea to the next person, and so on. By the end of the week, we’d have five songs. It allowed everyone to add a personal touch to the song.”
Mirror Master’s eighth track “Glory” was a product of this process. It stands as an emotional tentpole for the record as a whole and as one of the groups deepest cuts to date. It’s also Gadhia’s personal favorite moment on the album. “All the things that make me hostage / Takes a lifetime to break / All the chains that cut the hardest / But the world is yours to make,” Gadhia urges on the track.
“For me, it’s a very personal moment,” he said about the song. “I remember I had been talking with my wife a little bit and she said ‘I love all of these new songs, but sometimes it feels like you’re not being honest enough. You’re the one who wants to be honest.’ I kind of got angry at her actually, at first. I got kind of defensive. But then I realized — no, she’s right. I think there’s more I can be vulnerable about, and the lyrics for ‘Glory’ really came from that moment. Then I sent it off to the others and it really bloomed into this full concept and I think it’s one of the most successful examples of our song-a-day project.”
Young The Giant’s path is one they’ve worked hard to craft for themselves and Mirror Master is a testament to their growth as a group — sonically and lyrically. They’re also proud of the following they’ve cultivated. It’s something that feeds their music. “There are so many things you can go back to in your career and wonder ‘What if we did this, what if we did that,’” Gadhia says. “At the end of the day, we’re happy where we are right now and grateful that we have a group of real fans. Fans who don’t care about the trends, it’s just about the music for them. There’s a sense of open-mindedness with our fans that’s a product of how we’ve created our music.”
Mirror Masteris available now.