(December 27, 2022) In 2019, Young the Giant gave its first performance at the hallowed Forum in Los Angeles. After the show, frontman Sameer Gadhia was asked, by a good friend and mento, Dr Varun Soni, “You do realise that you’re probably the first Indian-American lead singer in an American rock band to headline the Forum, right? Why is no one covering that?” Gadhia, now 33, had grappled with those questions himself, not really finding an answer. He realised then that his performance at the Forum wasn’t covered because people simply assumed he was white – it’s true. I first heard Cough Syrup one of their biggest hits to date, over a decade ago and it’s still on my list of Spotify favourites but even I was surprised to learn, as recently as a couple of months ago, that Young the Giant had a frontman named Sameer.
That fateful night brought with it an epiphany, however. He writes, “I am part of a genre whose diverse stories and songs have historically been white-washed. Why else would Jean Dawson and Simpson, just two of the many amazing black artists who sound like the future of indie rock, be called ‘trap music’ in the press and not get their single on alternative radio? Genre doesn’t classify the style of music we listen to – it segregates the artists who make it. Our problem is that we’ve conflated these two to mean the same thing.” The media makes a misguided attempt to berate what it deems the ‘whiteness’ of indie rock, a namesake call for diversity that in fact ignores the abundance of talent that already exists.
The Global Indian might acknowledge that “music in a vacuum is faceless,” but asserts that his immigrant background played a crucial role in shaping his life and his music. The band’s 2022 album, American Bollywood, takes its inspiration from the Mahabharata – made in four parts – ‘Origins, Exile, Battle and Denouement’. “I was inspired to do it because I really learned a lot of this mythology through comic books,” he said – Amar Chitra Katha, mainly. “I love the idea of serialising the stuff and really wanting to know what’s gonna happen next.”
A first-generation American, Sameer’s family remained with its Indian roots as he grew up. “We have a lot of ties to India and that heritage and the tradition and the philosophy, cultural practices.” His parents, however, wanted him to chase “that elusive American dream,” and Sameer grew up equally immersed in this new world. Still, like most Indian kids, no matter where they grow up, he was expected to find a traditional career. He made a gamely attempt, choosing medicine and becoming an undergrad at Stanford University.”
Sameer’s parents were both musically trained but were surprised, regardless, when he announced that he was quitting college to be a rockstar. As most Asian parents would be, they were “sad and worried – they didn’t want me to fail. I think they didn’t want me to feel dejected.”
In 2008, Sameer Gadhia joined The Jakes as their lead vocalist. They struggled to make it work – two band members were still in high school at the time and coordination was a struggle. They were, Sameer recalls, “the quintessential high school rock band, trying to make it big in a small town in California. We’d just spotted each other in the local scene, decided to get into a room and jam.” In 2009, were signed by Roadrunner Records and in December that year, announced they had changed their name to Young the Giant. A year later, they released their eponymous debut album. Their first three singles, My Body, Cough Syrup and Apartment were all instant hits.
Their second album, Mind Over Matter, came in January 2014, after two singles, It’s About time and Crystallized, were released a year prior. Then came Home of the Strange, Mirror Master and in 2022, American Bollywood, in which Gadhia seems determined to reclaim his heritage and be a proud poster boy for immigrant kids in indie rock.
The process was an important one for his bandmates too – as one of them remarked, “I’ve known Sameer and his family for about half my life, but it wasn’t until we started working on this concept that I got more insight into the history that shaped the Gadhia immigrant journey. It’s one thing to learn about Partition and its devastating effects in a classroom. It’s a much more visceral experience hearing stories you can put a face to.”