When “London via Sydney” anthemic indie rock group Gang of Youths played a sold-out Basement East show in early May 2022, three-fifths of the band spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon inside WNXP’s Sonic Cathedral, shooting the breeze, recounting tour memories thus far, and giving me recommendations for English haunts when I visit London in July. Although it’s been out for a few months, we have made the band’s newest LP — angel in realtime., their third — our #RecordoftheWeek, so charmed were we by the sparse arrangements of three songs from the record as played in our performance space.
The band members who visited were songwriter-frontman Dave Le’aupepe, guitarist Jung Kim, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Hobden, who is a recent addition to the band, fleshing out since 2020 the already lush sounds made by the four-piece. Recorded in London over the pandemic and a welcomed two years off the road, angel in realtime. may be “overblown or too much,” couches Le’aupepe, pre-judging the work before anyone else could or did.
But the band didn’t much care what people think of it now, because the songs simply had to be made that way, in a more collaborative and additive process than ever before. Layering sounds was the name of the game, yet not in sacrifice of the lyrics, which are always heard (and felt) above the swells and hums. The result is an album that is pop-sensible but laced with profanity, catchy but sometimes brutally confessional. angel in realtime. features swollen-hearted stories of death, rebirth, growth and redemption arranged for whomever might connect with them later — for future listeners who will “get it.”
Get it now or later by streaming the full record below, and hear selections from this #RecordoftheWeek when you listen to 91.ONE WNXP.
On the Record: A Q&A With Gang of Youths
Celia Gregory: Celia here in the Sonic Cathedral of WNXP where we hosted a lovely stripped-down performance with Gang of Youths, in town for tour tonight. Welcome, guys. Thank you so much for those beautiful tunes.
Tom Hobden: Thanks for having us.
Jung Kim: Thank you.
Dave Le’aupepe: Love to be here.
CG: I really love that I’ll get to see you full band, but this was so nice to hear these songs that we’ve been playing in this way. How’s the tour been going?
DL: I usually hate touring, but this has been one of the best. I’m very reticent about touring because of the strain on my voice and our bodies. And I think we’re kind of at that age with, you know, having kids and married and boring with touring is more of a burden than it is like a blessing. I think we’ve been together — Jung has been in the band for 11 years — we’ve done America so many times to very little fanfare, which kind of suited our personalities. And the other thing sort of starting to happen a bit more so. But it has been really amazing for us, especially driving around the south. That’s pretty.
TH: We had a great day off driving Louisville [Kentucky]. What was that town with all the distilleries and stuff?
CG: Bardstown — my dad lives there!
DL : Oh, no way! You tell Dad next time we’re at Preservation, you got to come and get a drink with us!
TH: Such high-quality, Preservation especially.
DL Really good. We went to Willett. I’m a bourbon nut and so I made the boys drive me. The American South — my wife’s from North Carolina and I’ve had a lot of experience in the South, but all of us just really enjoy the iconography and the just the vision of a beautiful America. And then also there’s all the weird stuff, but, you know, it’s sort of like making your way through the weird stuff and finding all the nice.
TH: The town with the massive furniture.
DL: Yeah. Oh, we went to this weird town with a giant fucking chest of drawers with six-foot socks hanging out, almost as tall as me.
CG: We just want health care, you know what I mean?.
DL: So this whole town was furniture, it’s called High Point, North Carolina, and it’s one of the most bizarre things. And then you go to a fake German town, [Tom], yeah?
TH: Yeah, we went to Helen, Georgia. We set out for some wholesome trail walking and stuff, jumpin’ and rivers and that. And on the way by there, we just came over the brow of this hill and then suddenly we were greeted by this seemingly Bavarian town laid out before us. We had sort of looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.
DL: [Fake Southern accent] You’re in Germany now, brother.
TH: We made a point of going to it when we came back for a stein of beer.
CG Yeah, I’m not getting from you guys a “touring is hard” vibe right now. This seems really fun and great. So welcome back.
I did want to ask you about place, though, because I guess before this most recent record, you’d been settled in London for a minute, right? I was thinking about when Yola, who’s a now local artist here, talked about her transition, changing continents.
DL: She’s a good singer, by the way.
CG: Oh yes, quite good. You should watch her session and then she’ll watch yours, perhaps. But yeah, what was that transition like? Now that you’ve been settled there for a minute, but so much crazy stuff’s happened in the world, how has relocating from Australia to Europe changed your songwriting, or has it? If and how?
DL: For me personally, it’s sort of a weird thing because I was in New York on and off and I’d lived in America before that. So it was less weird to transition from Australia. I feel like I could kind of bring Australia with me. But leaving for the UK just gave me more perspective on what it was to be a settled person, maybe a happier and healthy person. Not so corrupted by all that self-indulgent, melancholic bullshit that I kind of project onto the world through the music. And, you know, I think Jung is the same — born and raised in Chicago, but he’s lived elsewhere. So for us, like being itinerant and moving different places isn’t weird. But London’s given us a real settlement and security and a sense of belonging. And Tommy was born there, so we have a really good base there.
And in terms of how it affects the songwriting, I mean, just being exposed to London sounds and London visions, you know, like a like a beautiful vision of London was able to be injected straight into the music. We had a studio in East London. The actual record is named after our old neighborhood Angel — angel in realtime was named after Angel in Islington in North London. And so it’s sort of permeated every fuckin’ angle of where we were going with the record. We wanted it to feel like — you know, we’re an Australian band, you can tell I’m Aussie as shit — but we wanted it to feel like a uniquely London album. Does that make sense?
CG: Yeah, it does feel that way.
DL: We tried to, I guess, inflict as much English iconography as possible.
TH: Definitely, yeah. But also interspersed with all the other sounds and all the other samples that we’ve integrated into the new record.
JK: I think when we moved to England, it was just before Brexit had actually kicked in. And so I kind of took advantage of that to be able to go visit a whole bunch of places in Europe on my own. And just even going to a place like Berlin, for instance, and experiencing the underground scene there and how that kind of influences in a way. And the parallels between, say, the music scene in Manchester, which we were super influenced by, you know, and how dance culture kind of found its influence into their record as well was really cool, too.
TH: For the record, if we get to that, how we made the record, it would take another hour —
CG: Oh yes, the Cliff’s Notes version, how was it different recording this one in these times?
DL: I mean, we are always begging for two years off because we’ve been touring relentlessly. I was really happy when all that shit got called off, if I’m honest. The world was suffering and people were suffering, and I think all we could do is just rent that old spot and just record. It was a more densely collaborative process, I think, for all of us. I tend to be the mouthpiece of the thing because all the bullshit comes from the nog[gin]. But we were able to kind of integrate so much of each other’s personalities and skill sets into the studio environment, so to speak. I think also it was it was more like a patchwork assortment of things that we would put in the music.
So I’d hear a beautiful sample recorded by David Fanshawe from the Pacific — you know, my ancestral home — and I’d lay it down. And then six weeks later, we’d go back to it. And then Donny, our drummer, and our wonderful bass player, just put loads and loads of shit down. And that was the way that we did it on this record. Whereas before we usually just record live, you know, before Tommy joined the band it was like “we have to be a live band. This is what every fucking cool indie rock band does.” And then we realized that’s a load shit, it’s all aesthetically driven nonsense as opposed to what is the way that we want to work. And so, yeah, this is very collaborative. Like I said, patchwork assortment of sounds was assembled and layered. And then it’s kind of become this gargantuan thing, you know?
CG: Oh, I love that. Well, speaking of what’s in your “nog” and then coming out, you did say [in this session] “I’ll try to have an intro less self-effacing.” But I get a lot of talking to your past self on this newest record, and I wonder if talking to your past self through song is helping you heal that person or forgive him, possibly? This is heavy — this just turned into talk therapy, but here it is.
DL: Jung has known me for the longest and he would probably argue that I’m a bit hard on myself. I wouldn’t. But I think I believe that if you want to make good work, like anything good, you got to turn the gun on yourself, so to speak, and be really brutally honest about all the things about you that are repulsive. And you can make good work with that and I kind of like that. I don’t like the idea that somehow, like, music can be a redemptive process because it’s not like your life is a redemptive process and your music is an extension of humanity, which is why I believe that, you know, you can separate me from the art because I am a fucked up, damaged, stupid person.
CG: There he goes again.
DL: Ha, no, I think all of us are to some extent. But the actual art itself, I believe that there’s something neutral about that because there’s a process of humanity that goes into creating this thing. And then it leaves me by extension, it becomes all yours.
And I think I think you can describe meaning [of] the things yourself. You don’t have to rely on the context of it. I think the way of speaking to my past self has been deepening my relationships with my friends, like having fucking ten years worth of therapy and shit. Reconnecting with my family and like just being a good husband and trying to be a good bloke. But the work itself, I think art has a place for me that feels independent of judgment. It should be encouraging to us that broken, fucked people like me can make beautiful things. Like all of us are capable of it. It doesn’t really matter who you are. You can be a scumbag and still produce something worth listening to and I think that’s actually important, more important than this kind of neoliberal way of looking at, you know, pieces of art like this, somehow supposed to be redemptive gestures for people. That’s fucking stupid, but that’s just me.
JK: But you didn’t have to necessarily release a record about these kinds of things. If you’ve known Dave as long as I have — he can write songs, he just turns them out if he really wanted to. But he just had to write about all these personal things that he’s been experiencing in the last three years. [Looks at Dave] Like, you didn’t have to do that, but you chose to do that. And I think there’s something important to say about choosing to take the harder route, going through it, investigating all these deeper sides of you that you didn’t maybe necessarily know so much about. And not only just writing about about it, releasing it, sharing it with the world and hoping that maybe there’s someone else out there that you have reached out to in a way.
DL: That’s such a big part of it. There the hope that maybe there’s like a 14-year-old Islander girl in Sydney, a Pacific Islander girl who wants to make fuckin’ hip hop and hears our shit and is like, “Oh, I can draw on my heritage and my family history.”
But also, you said something really interesting for me — it’s about speaking to my future self. Like, when we released this album, we’re like, “People aren’t going to get this.” We understood that they’re not going to understand the production. They’re not going to get the fuckin’ neurosis that me and Tom especially had gone through to make this thing. They’re going to think that it’s overblown or too much, but it was more of an investment. You’re quite not ready for it, but your kids are going to love it. It’s a Marty McFly vibe. That’s (drummer) Max’s favorite movie so I had to reference it.
CG: Thank you for present tense and for the future folks that will appreciate it. And blessings to your past self that brought you here. All your past selves. Thank you guys for being in Nashville and coming to our Sonic Cathedral. Can’t wait to see the show and have you back here next go around.
DL: Thank you. You’re cool as shit. We really appreciate it.