Gang of Youths bassist Max Dunn talks about the sounds that created ‘angel in realtime.’

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The fact that angel in realtime., the fantastic third album from Gang of Youths that’s out today via Warner Brothers, exists is a minor miracle. It’s hard to remember the last time a grandiose rock record entered the world with as much hype; the advance singles have showcased the familiar heartland rock that the Australian band perfected on 2017’s Go Farther in Lightness, but with a new, expansive vision that incorporates 90s breakbeats, field recordings of indigenous Pacific islanders provided by the late David Fanshawe, and the signature ambitious, swing-for-the-fences strings that propel each of these songs to an incredibly satisfying conclusion. Lyrically, lead singer David Le’aupepe dives into a deep, tender family history surrounding his father’s death from cancer in 2018 and the mysterious secrets that he left behind. At times, like the stunning centerpiece “brothers”, which is a lullaby-like song that details the discovery of his father’s secret family, it feels mildly intrusive to hear Le’aupepe bare his soul and experience. “spirit boy”, the final single of the album, has the saddest moment on the record in the first line — “God died today / He left me in the cold” — but the song, like the rest of the record, has an anthemic push that’s equal parts U2 and Springsteen. This period of pain has been translated to some of the most powerful rock music in recent memory; “the man himself” marries Le’aupepe’s soaring vocals with indigenous recordings to create a euphoric headrush as he sings of the fear he feels of bringing his children into a world without his father. “tend the garden” sounds like POP-era U2 that adds nuance to their sound where they’re actually restrained…until the end when the song explodes with saxophones, strings, and Le’aupepe’s soothing voice. The last two songs, “hand of god” and “goal of the century” is better described as a whole movement of music rather than two separate songs — over the course of nearly ten minutes, the song builds from a soft, tender reflection between Le’aupepe and a piano into a full-on stadium anthem that’s designed for thousands to sing along. Gang of Youths is always going for it, and with angel in realtime., they’ve crafted one of my most-listened-to records of the year.

A month before the record’s release, I called bassist Max Dunn for a quick chat to talk about the record and the specific influences that helped angel in realtime. become the achievement that it is —

 

 

What was your general timeline for making this album?
Oh man, this record took ages. I think it stretched over two and a half years — maybe even longer than that from when Dave was sketching out the tracks in the old house that we shared. We eventually moved it from the demo stage and just took it from studio to studio and kind of made the thing two or three times. We’re famously an inefficient band – it’s our fuckin’ third album in nine years or something. It was just an endless journey of trying to figure out how we wanted to sound, and we wound up self-producing a lot of it in our studio in Hackney — literally 500 meters from my house.

Dave took a lot of influence from minimalist classics — you know, Philip Glass and Steve Reich and the like. Very string-heavy, meaningful music; we recorded with a full orchestra in Hungary because we couldn’t afford to do it in London, and obviously that carried through in a big way on the record. Dave’s story about his father was the thing we treated with the most care — it was our job as the rest of the band to accompany his words with a sonic palette that gave it the weight it deserved. I’d describe it as five dudes that have very different backgrounds fighting for the same version every time you’re working on the track. There’s so much intentionality in this band, and this record is a great example of that.

The indigenous samples on this record are perfectly placed and really add to this new sound that you’re going for. How did that come to be with David Fanshawe’s estate?
That’s crazy how it happened — I actually learned after the fact that my mother-in-law worked with him and actually knew the guy! He went to the Pacific islands on an exploration and took his field recorder to capture the indigenous singing. It’s so rhythmic and beautiful, and there’s really nothing else in this world that sounds like it. So, we used it and if the estate hadn’t have given us permission, we would’ve been fucked (laughs). We built so much of the album around these samples because of the obvious tie to Dave’s history; we also utilized samples from our own travels to Auckland, New Zealand, which not many people know is effectively the capital of Polynesia. That’s where the samples in “the man himself” came from that sounds like a weird, subby synth — that’s a dude with a piece of bone, spinning it as fast as he could.

 

 

I’m glad you bring up that song because I feel like it’s the real crowning achievement on the record as it relates to these samples. They come together in this really euphoric way where it sounds completely natural for you guys.

With that song, it’s interesting, because we had it going in a totally different direction with a turnaround led by these samples. We realized quickly that it was better served as a Sigur Ros-rock banger — Dave fuckin’ hated the first one. (laughs) We were hanging out with Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, and he showed Dave this record that had, like, UK garage style breakbeats that we all became obsessed with—

Wait — Kevin Drew is responsible for the garage influence on this record?
Yeah, man. (laughs) We loved it, so it kind of bled through to everything we did after we pieced that song together. It was those moments where we were like “fuck it, man” — if Dave wasn’t happy with it, we just got weirder with it. “the man himself” was a big identity moment for the record; “in the wake of your leave”, for instance, was one of the more leaner moments we’ve ever had as a band, but the final songs really bring that UK garage sound into it. I think it’s very compelling, and I think it gave the record a glide that we were all searching for.

 

 

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