This story is featured in CityBeat's June 14 print edition.
Young the Giant head out on tour this summer in support of American Bollywood, an album that is easily the most ambitious and complex work to date from the band.
Written primarily by singer Sameer Gadhia, whose parents moved from India to the United States in 1984 shortly before he was born, American Bollywood tells a multi-layered, multi-generational story of the journey to reconcile the very different cultures of an immigrant’s Indian heritage and his new home in America and reach a place where he feels he belongs and is centered within his own unique background and experiences.
American Bollywood is divided into four acts with four songs each that were first individually released as EPs to help make the project, with its multiple threads and subtexts, more digestible for fans. The four EPs are now assembled as a full 16-song album.
As the band’s bio for American Bollywood describes it, the four acts represent Gadhia’s “grandparents in the old world (‘Origins’), his parents finding themselves strangers in a new world (‘Exile’), his fight to maintain his culture while also trying to fit in (‘Battle’) and finally, reconciliation and transcendence for future generations (‘Denouement’).”
Gadhia said the idea behind the American Bollywood story had been percolating in his thoughts for some time, but it was during the pandemic — when Young the Giant couldn’t tour and there was time to think and create — that both a musical and lyrical structure for the album came into focus.
“I think, in part, it was a story I had been always around and I just didn’t really know how to best tell it sonically and live in it,” Gadhia told CityBeat. “I think it was the self-titled song, ‘American Bollywood,’ that really opened the floodgates for me. I was trying to find a way to like meld things sonically that didn’t feel overly like fusion or anything and felt contemporary on either side of the coin of Eastern traditional and Western pop music. And I’d been wanting to tell the story of how I got here. In a fundamental way, I believe that us as a band, we’re all children of immigrants, and ending up in suburbia through the lens of maybe an American perspective, it’s like oh, that’s the beginning of this story of suburbia. But for us, it’s the end of a lot of trials and tribulations that may be generations long for our families to find (an identity) and arrive in a place like this. So I always was excited about telling a multi-generational story.”
American Bollywood stands as an impressive achievement for a band that started out with seemingly modest intentions. Originally formed in 2004 under the band name The Jakes (which was spelled from the first-name initials of the five original band members) while the band members were still in high school, their first music and image was light-hearted and even humorous at times.
The Jakes evolved into Young the Giant in 2009 after a shift in the lineup rendered the Jakes’ name inapplicable. The revamped lineup of Gadhia, guitarists Eric Cannata and Jacob Tilley, drummer François Comtois and bassist Payam Doostzadeh was signed by Roadrunner Records that year and in 2010 emerged with the eponymous Young the Giant album and an expansive guitar pop/rock sound.
By the time the debut album finished its run, it had established Young the Giant as a band to watch and yielded a pair of top-five alternative rock hits on the Billboard charts in “My Body” and “Cough Syrup.” The band members then began to broaden their sound on the 2014 album Mind Over Matter, working synthesizers and other new textures into their guitar-centered sound. The sophomore outing included a top-five alt-rock single, “It’s About Time,” while the title track peaked at No. 17.
The band’s next two albums each produced an additional top 10 alt-rock single — “Something To Believe In” from 2016’s Home of the Strange and “Superposition” from 2018’s Mirror Master — while adding new dimensions to Young the Giant’s sound and broaching a few of the immigrant themes that are now explored with depth and grace on American Bollywood.
The new album not only represents a lyrical triumph, it takes Young the Giant’s music to a new level as well. Especially over the first half of American Bollywood, the band finds ways to cohesively weave Eastern instrumental sounds into several of the songs. (Gadhia’s father even plays tablas on the album). This blend is especially effective on songs like the hooky rocker “Wake Up,” which takes on a mystical musical quality with its droning tones, and “Insomnia,” whose dreamy effect is enhanced by the blended instrumentation. The Indian elements, though, don’t diminish the band’s established sound; American Bollywood is still an album of accessible, frequently epic pop-rock.
Young the Giant are touring to promote American Bollywood for much of the remainder of 2023, and the presentation figures to match the scale of the album and help enhance the narrative of the new songs.
“We wanted this to feel like you’re out to see a play,” Gadhia said, noting the band is picking their spots to use the video screens that are so common at concerts. “We will have moments, because there is a strong filmic element to American Bollywood. We kind of made a contiguous short song list of all of the videos we created. We’re working to re-edit those a little bit and tell this act structure. So we will have these moments of video, where people can kind of take themselves out for a second in a way. But we do want people to just kind of see what’s happening on stage. I can’t give all of it away, but I’m just really excited for all of it.”
As for the set list itself, older songs will be woven within the structure of the American Bollywood material in a way Gadhia hopes will please fans new and old.
“It’s a fine balance of stuff for ourselves and stuff for the fans at the shows,” he said. “I think in a lot of ways, American Bollywood, the way it was structured, is kind of a culmination of our full discography. There’s a way songs from each record fit into the narrative of this four-act structure.”
While Gadhia explored a wide range of issues that relate to his life experience on American Bollywood, there remain issues to explore and resolve. He noted he still feels like, as he puts it in the song “My Way,” “a kid from nowhere looking for a place to find.”
“I think that’s still a feeling that I have. I think a lot of immigrants and first-generation Americans, and even people who just feel like they don’t really fit into their hometowns or they don’t fit into what is prescribed for them by society, there are some of us who are misfits and will always see themselves as that,” Gadhia said. “And I think in part, it was just I was a guinea pig for this family culture. I didn’t have a pre-set idea for how things were going to be. It’s not like I could ask my parents like, ‘OK, like what was your prom like?’ That was part of navigating through a new world. And then also, it’s still about feeling just not quite understood in India. I was not born and raised there. Indian-American culture has its own feeling and its own nuance that I think is obviously just different from being from India. So I still feel that.”
Young the Giant plays the Andrew J Brady Music Center at 7 p.m. June 20. Info: bradymusiccenter.com.
Follow us: Apple News | Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Or sign up for our RSS Feed