Band make an album about cancer

May 13, 2015 5:23 pm 2 comments Views: 10
‘Rock’n’roll needs to adapt before it can be saved’ ... Gang of Youths. Picture: Supplied

‘Rock’n’roll needs to adapt before it can be saved’ … Gang of Youths. Picture: Supplied
Source: Supplied

IT may be music’s last remaining taboo. After decades of songs about life and death, love and heartbreak, drugs, alcohol and waving your arms in the air like you just don’t care, cancer is on the lyrical menu.

Country star Adam Harvey had a crack at this difficult subject last year in his single She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful and Melbourne hardcore band Confession provoked attention with their emphatic musical statement F!@# Cancer, inspired by the health battles of the parents of their frontman.

Gang Of Youths’ debut record The Positions, which debuted at No. 5 ahead of their sold-out national tour, is an entire album on the theme.

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Youthful gang ... Gang of Youths is bravely tackling the taboo subject of cancer on their

Youthful gang … Gang of Youths is bravely tackling the taboo subject of cancer on their debut record. Picture: Supplied.
Source: Supplied

Frontman Dave Le’aupepe was only 19 when his partner was diagnosed with melanoma, which then spread to her lymph nodes before attacking her lungs.

For the next few years, the pair went through hell together as they struggled to maintain their relationship, sanity and more importantly health, through endless hospital visits, the expense of treatment and long distances when he relocated to America.

His partner survived, their relationship didn’t and The Positions chronicles their battles against a bold rock soundtrack which recalls stadium kings from Bruce Springsteen to Bono.

“It affects one in two people, 50 per cent of the population. And no one wants to talk about it because it’s awkward,” the 23-year-old songwriter says.

“We wanted all the sides of living with cancer represented on the album; the defiance and hopefulness that are intrinsic to fighting the disease and the anger and resignation because you don’t have any choice in it.”

What’s cool? ... Gang Of Youths’ harbour ambitions to be stadium-sized rockers. Picture:

What’s cool? … Gang Of Youths’ harbour ambitions to be stadium-sized rockers. Picture: Supplied
Source: Supplied

When Le’aupepe wrote songs including Vital Signs, Kansas, Radioface and Knuckles White Dry, it was therapy and he didn’t intend for them to become part of the band’s first album.

His band mates challenged him to think differently. In the end, an overarching desire to say something important with Gang Of Youths made his decision.

It was a tough call and one the frontman has been reticent to discuss before now out of respect for his former partner.

“These songs are vulnerable, too confessional, harrowing and before them, I was writing totally superficial, facile music, things that didn’t mean anything,” he says.

“Now I understand what the truly cathartic elements of music are; you are slitting your wrists and painting with blood. And it’s ugly and it’s clumpy and it’s got your DNA all over it.

“You look at that and it’s a reflection of everything that is inside you. And someone is going to find some poetry in that.”

Getting noticed ... Gang Of Youths debuted at No. 5 with The Positions and have sold out

Getting noticed … Gang Of Youths debuted at No. 5 with The Positions and have sold out their national tour. Picture: Supplied
Source: Supplied

He is right. Thousands of people have found poetry, and maybe their own dose of therapy, listening to The Positions.

Their top 5 chart debut came as a shock to everyone, including the band. It seemed that while they had generated plenty of buzz both here and overseas in the past two years, there wasn’t a big push behind the debut record.

But it is now on everyone’s radar and their national run of shows to launch The Positions have sold out.

Le’aupepe and his band are defying the doomsayers who claim rock is dead not only with incendiary shows but epic, ambitious, stadium rock songs busting the five and six-minute mark, which are hardly radio fare these days.

Gang Of Youths, Radioface

“Ambition is intoxicating and the sound of huge music is important to us,” he says.

Born To Run, Joshua Tree, Daydream Nationare the three records I want to beat in my lifetime. Time-honoured classics with long song structures. I like the trajectory of the long song.”

But he admits his band have an uphill battle to match the fortunes of the stadium rockers as dance and hip hop continue to dominate the mainstream.

It’s time for another rock’n’roll revolution.

“Rock music stopped being seen as rebellious when it became part of the mainstream. Hip hop and dance music are being seen as the rebels. And a lot of that has to do with the drugs,” he says.

“You look at the last rock movement with The Strokes and all those guys; that ushered in skinny jeans. It’s hardly rebellious.

“And there’s no tribalism anymore because hip hop kids will love Bon Iver. As someone who is passionate about heavy music, I don’t want to be called a poser because I like Kendrick Lamar and I don’t have to deal with that anymore.

“But I think rock’n’roll needs to adapt before it can be saved.”

HEAR The Positions (Sony) out now.

SEE Gang Of Youths, Oxford Art Factory, Sydney tomorrow and June 2; Woolly Mammoth Alehouse, Brisbane, Saturday; and Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, May 19, 20 and 22.

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