ROCK AND RAW FEELING
Gang of Youths’ frontman Dave Le’aupepe bares his soul in the songs on their new album – it’s his reflection on the cancer fight from hell
It may be music’s last remaining taboo: cancer. Country star Adam Harvey had a crack at the difficult topic last year in She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful, while hardcore band Confession provoked attention with their emphatic F--Cancer.
Gang Of Youths’ album The Positions, which debuted at No.5 ahead of their sold-out national tour, is an entire album on the theme.
Frontman Dave Le’aupepe was only 19 when his partner was diagnosed with melanoma, which then spread to her lymph nodes and attacked her lungs.
For the next few years, the pair went through endless hospital visits, the expense of treatment and long distances when he relocated to America.
His partner survived, their relationship didn’t.
The Positions chronicles these battles against a bold rock soundtrack recalling stadium kings from Springsteen to Bono.
“It affects one in two people, 50 per cent of the population. And no one wants to talk about it because it’s awkward,” 23year-old Le’aupepe says.
“We wanted all the sides of living with cancer represented on the album; the defiance and hopefulness that are intrinsic to fighting the disease and the anger and resignation because you don’t have any choice in it.”
Writing songs including Vital Signs, Kansas, Radioface and Knuckles White Dry was therapy for Le’aupepe; he didn’t intend for them to become part of the band’s first album.
His band mates challenged him to think differently. In the end, a desire to say something important with Gang Of Youths made his decision.
“These songs are vulnerable, too confessional, harrowing and before them, I was writing totally superficial, facile music,” he says.
“Now I understand what the truly cathartic elements of music are; you are slitting your wrists and painting with blood. It’s ugly and it’s clumpy and it’s got your DNA all over it.
“And someone is going to find some poetry in that.”
The Top 5 chart debut is testament to that, though it shocked the band.
Le’aupepe and his band are defying radio trends with epic stadium rock songs busting the five and six-minute mark.
“Ambition is intoxicating and the sound of huge music is important to us,” he says.
“Born To Run, Joshua Tree, Daydream Nation are the three records I want to beat in my lifetime. Time-honoured classics with long structures.”
But he admits Gang Of Youths have an uphill battle to go U2-sized.
“Rock music stopped being seen as rebellious when it became part of the mainstream,” he says. “Hip hop and dance music are being seen as the rebels. And a lot of that has to do with drugs.
“Look at the last rock movement with The Strokes and those guys – it ushered in skinny jeans. Hardly rebellious.
“And there’s no tribalism because hip hop kids will love Bon Iver. As someone who is passionate about heavy music, I don’t want to be called a poser because I like Kendrick Lamar. But I think rock’n’roll needs to adapt before it can be saved.”
Gang of Youths’ album
a deeply personal reflection on cancer, has debuted at No.5.