Young the Giant – “Strings”

Three minutes on stage may have made the difference between emerging success and national attention, or a career as another relatively unknown alt-rock band for the members of Irvine’s Young the Giant.

Or, as guitarist Jacob Tilley recalls, it could have meant the end of the band itself, had Young the Giant not wowed national television viewers at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards with an electric performance of “My Body.”

“We were kind of getting to the point where we were trying to figure out if … we were going to do a second record or if it would be back to school for us,” said Tilley in a recent phone chat. “We got such a large fan base from three minutes on TV. It really changed the ball game for us.”

Propelled by that success, Young the Giant continue their tour in support of their eponymous debut album at two sold-out shows at The Fillmore Wednesday and Thursday. The quintet is now also working on a follow-up, which Tilley said should be finished next winter.

Tilley met vocalist Sameer Gadhia when his family moved to the States from England when he was 12. “He invited me to a soccer practice; I found out he played the guitar,” said Tilley, who went on to study at UC Santa Cruz. “Sameer was already friends with (bassist) Payam (Doostzadeh), and Payam played in a band when they were younger.”

Gadhia and Tilley started the earliest incarnation of the band, The Jakes, in 2004, along with a couple of other friends. Doostzadeh, guitarist Eric Cannata and drummer François Comtois joined within the next couple of years. The band members, now in their early 20s, were high school seniors at the time. Young the Giant might be a Southern California band, but only Doostzadeh is a native of the Golden State. Gadhia was born in Michigan, Cannata in New Jersey, and Comtois in Quebec, Canada.

After recording an EP, Shake My Hand, the band members put their education on hold to focus on music. That EP contained an early version of “Cough Syrup,” the buoyant second single on the debut album. The song gained traction on Los Angeles radio and earned the band opening spots for the likes of Minus the Bear. Debut album closer “Guns Out,” originally named “Guns of Normandy,” was also written around the same time, Tilley said.

In 2009 they changed their name, signed to Roadrunner Records, and retreated to an ocean-side house in Newport Beach to live together and record. Much of the album, released in January 2011, is influenced by the carefree lives of five teens.

“A lot of the songs were about summer and being young, having fun and not being too heavy,” Tilley said. “Nothing in our lives at the time had been too trying. We are lucky to have such a blessed life. We all went to university for two or three years. We had a chance to pursue it with the help of our parents.”

The majority of the songs on the album are smooth, melodic and punctuated by Gadhia’s distinct falsetto and vibrato. Songs like “Cough Syrup,” “12 Fingers” and “Strings” emote the bliss of swinging in a hammock and watching waves crash.

Then there’s “My Body,” the album’s one true rocker, and terrific workout song. Tilley said it was not written as a battle cry against a physical force, but rather a mental one. “It came from this kind of frustrated writing; we had hit a brick wall,” he said.

The musicians had a couple of drinks, climbed the stairs of their beach house and banged their first hit out in 15 minutes. Since the album’s release, “My Body” peaked at No. 5 4 on Billboard’s alternative chart, (and “Cough Syrup” is currently at #3 — ed.) Young the Giant played the main stage at Lollapalooza, had the aforementioned breakout performance on the Video Music Awards and toured with Incubus. The album also reached No. 42 on the Billboard 200 chart.

The award show exposed Young the Giant to a much larger audience. “All of a sudden (we were) in the international spotlight, in front of the industry’s biggest names,” Tilley said. “It has honestly changed the landscape of our career, and we’re very, very grateful for that.

Don’t expect the same breezy subject matter from Young the Giant next year, however. The experiences of touring nonstop, missing their families, and seeing firsthand that life is not a beach for everyone, has led to more depth in the band’s songwriting, Tilley said.

“We’re not at a point where we can just cover up our aggression,” he said. “We’re not as timid as we (were) on the first record. We have more to draw from this time.”

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