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Don't Stay in School 

Young the Giant achieves the dream of high school bands everywhere

After writing and rehearsing for seven months in a shared beach house, and another nine months crammed together in a West Hollywood apartment, Young the Giant had the sound and the songs they wanted.

Saddling up with famed producer Joe Chiccarelli, the band put together a debut album straining with youthful energy, reflecting both the classic Southern California laid-back attitude and the seize-every-moment intensity of early 20-somethings.

Having played together as the Jakes in Orange County band showcases and around the dive-bar circuit since the middle of high school, the band members started going their separate ways to start college, says singer Sameer Gadhia, who headed from Newport Beach to Stanford.

"We thought it would be a hobby and maybe just something we'd do on the breaks, every few months," Gadhia says. "All of us were in garage bands, even in middle school, but we really learned together how to actually perform live. We're really close when we play onstage, because we've played together so long."

The pull to keep the band together was so strong—and the playing and songwriting were improving so much—that they took time off from college to regroup, changing the band name to Young the Giant to reflect the beginning of a new era.

The band—Gadhia, Jacob Tilley (guitar), Eric Cannata (guitar/vocals), Payam Doostzadeh (bass) and Francois Comtois (drums/vocals)—released an EP, Shake My Hand, that got some play on Southern California's KROQ. Young the Giant signed with Roadrunner Records in the fall of 2009.

Then came the beach house, which wasn't necessarily a time of focused songwriting, but certainly a time of highly focused living for the bandmates, who were all roughly a year on either side of 20 at the time.

"We were living the dream in a beach house, and that mentality is really what shaped our writing—just that idea of seizing every moment," says Gadhia in a phone interview from a tour stop in Denver.

Some of the songs that came out of those months have a sort of Best Summer Ever celebratory glee, while others are about fighting through the muck and frustration that comes when the Best Summer Ever doesn't actually turn out that way.

"A lot of it is really joyous, but at parts, it can be dark, just realizing that youth can end, and it's up to you to keep the ball rolling and keep yourself alive and enjoying life," Gadhia says.

The music is grounded in their garage-band roots, but branches out to explore some different territories—power-pop, laden with sunny California melodies; post-garage swagger like the Strokes; and even throwbacks to 1980s alternative, sometimes toward the glammier end of things like the Killers, and sometimes just celebrating the sound of big, bold guitars.

"There has been a difference in writing, and our stuff is a little more mature, but it's still in the same vein," Gadhia says. "We started as a garage band, and we always felt more comfortable when we were just jamming all together. It wasn't a question of having one writer or two writers; it's all of us. It feels really important to play all together."

From Newport Beach, the band moved into an apartment off Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Their gear fit into an upstairs loft, but a lack of space elsewhere forced two band members to bunk down next to the amps and other equipment.

Always younger than the other Irvine and Orange County bands they've played with—and too new to Los Angeles to fit in there—Young the Giant have found themselves on the periphery of two musical scenes, but not really a part of either. But that just turned them inward and made them more focused, practicing and writing more and more.

When it came time to record, the band came up with a wish list of producers and managed to land their top choice, Chiccarelli, who has recorded the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, My Morning Jacket and, early in his career, Frank Zappa. ("He's met pretty much every music hero of mine," Gadhia says.) On the first day of pre-production, Chiccarelli told the band they'd be tracking everything live, in the same Studio 1 at Sunset Sound that hosted famed recording sessions by The Doors and the Rolling Stones.

"He had a vision for where he wanted the album to go, and it made sense," Gadhia says. "The way we've always written has been to jam it out, and we'd have a show that night and try it out live, and if people had a good time, we'd keep it in the repertoire—and if they didn't, we'd drop it immediately."

Aside from the recording and mixing time, the band spent most of 2010 on the road. They've played with bands like Minus the Bear, The Whigs and Kings of Leon, and visit Tucson next week as part of the second leg of their first headlining tour, which included a string of four London shows.

"A lot of people are affected more by our live show, and that's what we've always wanted to have. In context of the live show, the album makes more sense," Gadhia says.

The 12-song self-titled debut album was released on Jan. 25 (digitally in October 2010). Young the Giant has already been featured as an iTunes single of the week and performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Gadhia estimates that the band might spend three weeks at home all year, but says it welcomes this constant touring.

"It's what makes everything worth it, playing those shows every night. It's essential for us to be playing everything we can right now to get it all out there," he says. "We feel the most alive when we're onstage. We really love playing live, and hopefully, people can see that."

More by Eric Swedlund

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