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Young The Giant Touches On Immigrant Background In 'Home Of The Strange'


The members of the rock band Young The Giant met as kids in Irvine, Calif. Most of them are either immigrants or children of immigrants. Here's Sameer Gadhia, the band's vocalist.

SAMEER GADHIA: My parents are Indian. Francois, our drummer, is from Montreal. Jacob I met the first time he ever came to America, the first day of middle school. He's British. Payam is of Persian descent, and Eric is Italian and Jewish.

CHANG: Young The Giant's new album is called "Home Of The Strange," and it centers around the question of American and immigrant identity.


YOUNG THE GIANT: (Singing) Land of the free, home of the strange from shining sea to mountains grey.

CHANG: When I spoke with Sameer Gadhia about the new album, I asked him - who is strange in home of the strange, whether it was immigrants like his parents or first-generation Americans like him?

GADHIA: Most directly, I think it's maybe my narrative as a first-generation American. We have a lot of ties to India and that heritage and the tradition and the philosophy, cultural practices. But then, you know, we grew up here. And my parents, more than anyone, wanted me to find success and chase that American - elusive American dream. And so home of the strange, I think, is the place in between those two places.


YOUNG THE GIANT: (Singing) Do what you want to, take what you need. Let me live in the moment, let freedom be.

CHANG: There's another song on the album called "Something To Believe In." It's about finding your own path in life. Let's take a listen to it.


YOUNG THE GIANT: (Singing) I'll give you something to believe in. Burn up a basement full of demons. Realize you're a slave to your mind. Break free. Now give me something to believe in.

CHANG: Sameer, you personally had to defy expectations and find your own path in life, too. You were an undergrad at Stanford studying to be a doctor, and then you scratched all those plans to focus totally on music. So I'm assuming that there was this moment when you had to tell your parents, you know, forget the whole pre-med thing. I'm just going to drop out of college to be a rock star.

GADHIA: (Laughter) Obviously, you know, gut reaction from my parents was are you crazy, you know? But, you know, my parents come both from musical backgrounds. My dad's mom was a classical Indian music singer, and my mom was a singer. And there was always music around the household when I was young. And it was not - it wasn't like a secret affair by any means, you know? I think they came to shows at a very young age.

But when it did happen - it's funny because my dad is a very logical, rational person. And so I kind of played to that and almost, like, went in as if I was, like, an attorney or something. And I think we had some bogus paperwork, numbers and all that stuff. This is, you know, how many people come to our shows and, you know, if we can extrapolate blah blah blah (ph). And that was kind of not necessarily what won him over. I think it was just the tenacity or the real drive, I think, that all of us had to really want to pursue this.


YOUNG THE GIANT: (Singing) And I said you've got to listen. I'm a songbird with a brand-new track. You underestimate.

CHANG: God, there's so much about that that I relate to. I quit being a lawyer in 2006, and my parents were really disappointed because they had thought, you know, like, all my life had led up to that moment, being this successful lawyer. And I said, no, I think I want to try this public radio thing. And they didn't quite get it. At least your parents - you say they were musicians, so they could kind of at some level relate to your passion, right? But were they very disappointed?

GADHIA: You know, I think they were. And my parents are very emotional people. And I think traditionally, with immigrant families you find that the stereotype is that it's hard to relate or transmit emotion across generations. But my parents are the exact opposite. Yeah, I think it just made them sad and made them worried that - they didn't want me to fail. I think they didn't want me to feel dejected.

CHANG: Let's listen to another track on the album. This one is called "Amerika." Now, that's America spelled with a K. You said you were inspired by Franz Kafka's unfinished book by the same name.


YOUNG THE GIANT: (Singing) And so I've arrived with gold in my eyes. Are you paying attention?

CHANG: How does this song interact with Kafka's unfinished story?

GADHIA: The book - it wasn't published at the time of his death. And he actually told his friend who he gave all of his copies to - he said just under no circumstances will you ever publish this. And his friend realized that, you know, it was - it'd be a travesty if he didn't. And so it's just a very strange, elusive story of this kid who is forced to leave Germany. And he becomes a stowaway on a boat and finds himself going to America and just has all these really, really bizarre, dreamlike things that happen to him where he's really just at the end the day trying to belong or find some sort of grounding where he can feel like he knows what's going on.


YOUNG THE GIANT: (Singing) Always talking about one day in America. Same old story. You want glory, son. I've been looking for so long.

GADHIA: And the second that you think that that's about to happen, it just completely gets pulled under his feet. I think in a lot of ways, that speaks to me in terms of the immigrant experience in America. And...

CHANG: ...What do you mean by that?

GADHIA: I think, you know, the second that you feel like you may or may not belong to the place that you call home, the rug gets pulled under you and you realize that you're different. And I think a lot of young people have their issues with this and, you know, they want to whitewash themselves or they feel insecure or embarrassed by their heritage. But, you know, I think when people look back - when America eventually, hopefully becomes completely, again, renewed by this mixing and meshing of different cultures that these first-generation Americans is - was a very unique time in American history because we have that duality. And it's so conscious within us that it's up to us to really tell the story and figure out where we go next.

CHANG: Sameer Gadhia of the band Young The Giant. Their new album is "Home Of The Strange." It was such a pleasure talking to you, Sameer. Thank you so much.

GADHIA: Thank you very much.


YOUNG THE GIANT: (Singing) I saw a picture of you today.

CHANG: Our theme music is written by BJ Leiderman. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ailsa Chang, and Rachel Martin will return next week.


YOUNG THE GIANT: (Singing) You wore those bells we found on Champs-Elysees framed like the golden masters forgotten all these years (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.