Back in the 1990s, Gadhia’s father, Tushar Gadhia, moved his family from Ahmedabad, India, to work in the Detroit-area auto industry. Most of the family, though, still lives back in India, some in Ahmedabad and some in Mumbai. Distant relatives are in Gujarat and Bengal, which gives Sameer Gadhia his “half-Gujarati and half-Bengali” makeup. He’s “definitely the first one in the family to go through what it is to be an American.” The area of Michigan where Gadhia comes from was intensely diverse itself, and when the family later relocated to Southern California, he became friends with the other immigrant kids who, though their families arrived from different countries, shared his first-generation American story. During the last year or so, the Netflix series Master of None shined a light on the experience of first-generation Americans. In many ways, the semi-fictional life of Aziz Ansari’s character resonates with Gadhia. Both experienced firsthand the immigrant life of an Indian family in America, along with the tension of trying to fit into two cultures at one time. Unlike the Ansari family, however, the Gadhias aren’t Muslim. They come from a more traditional Hindu background. “Hinduism is interesting because a lot of it is philosophy and way of life,” Gadhia says. “So from a young age that was a big part of my understanding of how to be a good person and how a lot of things are intertwined; I feel like in some ways belief is intertwined. That was a big part of my growing up. I think I find myself somewhere in the ether of being understanding of everything or trying to be open to everything.” If his family grew up with an Americanized Hinduism, those around him in Southern California were something, everything, different. “We delighted in the fact that we were able to be around so many different cultures and people and just understanding,” he says. Gadhia isn’t an outlier within Young the Giant. In fact, each member of the band shares this experience. Francois Comtois’s family immigrated from French Canada, Jacob Tilley’s from Britain, Eric Cannata’s parents came from Italy and Payam Doostzadeh’s from Persia. And as first-gen Americans—actually,
I T H I N K W E W E R E R E A L LY WA N T I N G TO FI N D O U R VO I CE A N D O U R S O U N D N A R R AT I V E LY AND I THINK WE GOT THERE. THERE’S A LOT OF DIVERSITY IN THIS ALBUM.
Tilley and Comtois are residents, not citizens—that means they come from homes filled with music native to their parents’ homelands. Necessarily—and detectably—this influenced the future music of Young the Giant. While Gadhia shies away from an “ethnic music” label, he admits the flavorings of the band’s own diversity is inevitable. “Everyone brings these little things in their stories to the table,” Gadhia says. “And that’s kind of how we joined. There wasn’t much to do in Irvine [California], but we met each other at a very young age (I met Payam when I was like 10 years old), and we all started picking up instruments separately from one another. “I think we wanted to do something a little bit different.” The first single from Home of the Strange is called “Amerika,” an allusion to the incomplete first novel by literary giant Franz Kafka. It’s a story about the wanderings a young, European immigrant named Karl Roßmann. The reference isn’t haphazard; this entire album maintains a literary quality throughout, crafting stories in allegory and metaphor. Gadhia even says they built each song around a set of characters. Nowhere is this novelized storytelling more clear than in “Amerika.” The song, which Gadhia calls a “weird, offkilter, surreal romance story,” tells about a Roßmann-esque guy walking into a
house party. It’s a dangerous, even deadly house, broken chandeliers on the floor and clear signs of distress. At the party, the song’s persona searches for this girl. That girl, Gadhia explains, is freedom or “some sort of liberation.” She’s compelling, but elusive. “That song broke some of the ideas of where we wanted to go with the album,” Gadhia says. “We wrote the song before this election thing was getting super heated, but I think it was just this idea— going back to the fact that we are all immigrants or sons of immigrants—that we’re all in this in-between place.” But don’t overthink these narrative aspects. Gadhia doesn’t. “There are some breaks in that narrative. I think it’s a wider space than just trying to get any agenda,” he says. “We’re not being cynical; we’re not being optimistic. There’s just something beautifully strange and human about America—or where I think we are in it.” Because Home of the Strange isn’t preaching some kind of message. You’re not listening to politics, and Gadhia isn’t merely observing the world then commenting on it. This album really represents a confession, a real-life meditation from real humans. Home of the Strange isn’t about the 21st century American experience; it embodies it. A ARON CLINE HANBURY is the editorial director for RELEVANT. He’s on Twitter at @achanbury.
10/6/16 10:41 AM
Published on Oct 26, 2016