Gang of Youths: Old Stories Told For the First Time 

David Le’aupepe lives life unfiltered. He’s an honest storyteller with a talent for weaving narratives into wildly unique soundscapes. And as the principal songwriter and lead vocalist for the Australian band Gang of Youths, he isn’t afraid to bare his soul.

In February of this year, Gang of Youths released their third album titled angel in realtime. Decorated in Le’aupepe’s candid lyricism and profound poetics, the band—​Max Dunn (bass), Jung Kim (guitar, keyboards), Donnie Borzestowski (drums), and Tom Hobden (keyboards, guitar, violin)—pulled together a 13-track album that is their most evolved record yet.

Contextually, angel in realtime was inspired by the passing of Le’aupepe’s father, who was known as Tattersall. “It’s about my dad dying and about all the shit I found out about him afterward,” Le’aupepe tells American Songwriter. “[And] a lot of stuff related to my ethnic identity.”

Le’aupepe’s father was Samoan—from the island of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean—and after his death in 2018, Le’aupepe discovered that his father had another family in Samoa. Now, all of a sudden, the songwriter gained two brothers and a myriad of questions. How much did he really know about his father? How much did he really know about himself? What is he supposed to do with this information?

So, as he has done for the majority of his life, Le’aupe turned to music. “[Music] gave me a desire to want to understand others a bit better and not be so quick to pass judgment or be so jealous or try to gatekeep or any of that bullshit,” Le’aupepe says. “It has given me a language to explain why people do the things that I do.”

By leaning into songwriting to work through questions of identity, Le’aupepe added another dimension, another layer of meaning to his craft. Everything was more personal now. “I always considered Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell in terms of [inspiring] my songwriting ideology,” he says of his early musical influences. “I admired the way that they’re able to take complex, complicated human drama and distill it down into conversational exchanges with the audience.”

Le’aupepe also pointed to Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly and rap music as foundational elements of his music. All of these facets of Le’aupepe’s art were then transformed as he added elements of his and his father’s Samoan heritage. For instance, mesmerizing performances and recordings of the indigenous Pacific Island languages ​​were included on the record—like the Māori spoken verse in the song “spirit boy.”

Gang of Youths worked with English composer and explorer David Fanshawe’s estate to use samples of Fanshawe’s recordings of indigenous people in the Polynesian islands and the wider South Pacific. The band also worked with Taonga Pūoro instrumentalist and facilitator Shane McLean to write and perform in the Māori language. “[These traditional elements] give it an essence of being shrouded in the voices of my ancestors or people of my disposition and heritage,” Le’aupepe says.

With this in mind, “you in everything” sets the scene as Le’aupepe searched for his newfound brothers. The opening track also serves as a sonic microcosm of the larger album. “returner” speaks to the low points of self-discovery with unabashed courage, and “unison” is a sweeter moment of bliss. “tend the garden” and “the kingdom within you” are soaring tracks written from the perspective of Le’aupepe’s father.

The closing track, “goal of the century,” holds a special place on the album for Le’aupepe. “I remember finishing it and then hearing it and then the whole fucking thing was finally over,” he explains. “It felt like two, three minutes of me in a bit of relief and happy that we’ve done it, and then it was 20 minutes of us crying… it was a really important moment for me. I found that sense of finality in it.”

In addition to Le’aupepe’s soul-searching lyrics and new sonic influences, Le’aupepe explains that this record wouldn’t have come to life in the way that it did without his bandmates and producers. “I make jokes about carrying the band, but really, they’ve been carrying me for fucking years,” he says warmly. “I’m around the most world-class people who are world-class musicians and world-class producers… I’ve made it out of the bank with all the cash, and that’s what it feels like being in a band with these guys .”

Overall, angel in realtime sounds like the most authentic version of Le’aupepe. Each song on the record tells a different side of the singer’s story while the band fills in the in-between moments with phenomenal instrumentation.

“At the heart of everything, the album is about missing my dad,” Le’aupepe concludes in a statement. “But it all goes on and on, and in time, I hope the record stands as a bit of a monument to the man he was and is long after I’m gone myself. He deserved it.”

Photo Credit: Ed Cooke/Warner Records

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