....the culmination of a year and a half’s worth of internal and external exploration, both a labor of love and humility. If nothing else, we have learned a lot about ourselves as writers, and human beings, and if I am fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to live long and look lazily upon my life, I will remember “Home of the Strange” as our modest coming of age story; a moment that will cast long, happy, shadows in the dog days.
The writing process began on the road in the fall of 2014, as we found ourselves on tour with Kings of Leon at the twilight of the “Mind Over Matter” album release. For us, the tour was a victory lap after several years of sprinting through life. Gratitude is a difficult concept for the human animal; us, who are often fickle, unimpressed, bored. This disquiet is what propels us all to do scary, beautiful, impactful things, but it also plots our depression, our manias, our great undoing. On that tour we felt gratitude; this magnificent calmness, that made everything in the world full of possibility and wonder; we felt comfortable in our skin, and that openness made us ripe for exploration.
As young kids, we had no idea so many adventures awaited us. Tours in places we had only dreamed of visiting, TV performances we only used to watch together, festival slots alongside our favorite bands. At that time, we were just contented playing with one another in a garage, crafting songs for ourselves, only to play shows no one came to: it was a beautiful time, before expectation, without any thought or care of success. On that tour with Kings of Leon, I felt like a little kid living my impossible dreams once again, merely contented doing what I loved. Young the Giant is the power of youth, the potency of a collective bravery and naivety, where all the noise ceases to exist outside our door, where we are left to create with the force of our will, and only that. We channeled that childish excitement for this album, once more, without trying, just by doing. We wanted to tell our story and our families’ stories of immigration to a new home. No matter if you are a first generation, Native or Mayflower American, the narrative of this country is wild discovery: there is bloodshed, sadness, but beauty and goodness as well, like all stories worth telling. No matter if you’re not American either! The stories of all our ancestors are written in our blood and explain who we are and what we still desire from the miracle of life. Home of the Strange is our ode to that wonder and awe in the world, where we find ourselves looking beyond the proverbial window shade to trudge forward and build tenements on the nomadic journey of life, discovering the world in all its bizarre beauty and dirty glory, find our place within it, and create a new home for ourselves Elsewhere between past and future.
What once began as a cluster of sound experiments on days off in far-flung studios quickly distilled themselves into a collective and lucid set of demos in our home studios and at Seahorse Studios in Downtown Los Angeles. The first song written for the album was “Titus was Born,” and was initially recorded in Denver before performing at Red Rocks.
Here, magical realism became the lyrical aesthetic, being the most effective narrative tool to describe wonder. Magical realism is the use of human logic and rationale when faced with unreal, fantastical circumstances. This almost contradictory device best explains the way we all function in our world, one that is filled with so much opposition—love and hate, altruism and greed, beauty and putrefaction, miracles and the mundane. Soon after completing “Titus was Born,” the character identified himself as the protagonist of the story we had set to write: a boy born from the womb of the ocean, on a life-long journey through storm and flood to find a new world; naïve, and giant in his capacity for wonder and optimism.
“Amerika,” was written shortly after, and in stark contrast to the buoyancy of “Titus,” drips with disdain. It was initially inspired by Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel of the same name where a young boy is forced to flea from his native Germany, becomes a stowaway on a steamer to America, and is then beset by a string of bizarre and seemingly random circumstances that take him a step back, then forward, then back, from his illusive dreams of stability and comfort. Through this never-ending fantasy, we soon saw Amerika materialize: lady liberty, the truest symbol of the American Dream, who became Titus’ illusory temptation, his awakening, and his downfall. In the final title track, “Home of the Strange,” Titus wrestles with Amerika, begging for mercy: for freedom. Both characters sow themselves in and out of the record, with notable breaks and shifts in narrative and character such as “Mr. Know-it-all,” a sarcastic but vulnerable song about cell phone addiction. Moods shift even more drastically: “Jungle Youth” to “Titus,” “Silvertongue” to ‘’’Art Exhibit.” Even during these conscious breaks, our quest for love, freedom, and acceptance rings true till the last downbeat.
The transition from intent to music was smooth, almost unconscious, and we continued to write at a blistering pace, trimming the fat off our sonic landscape and artistic intent with a chainsaw rather than a butter knife. Our writing and recording processes, once confined to separate pre-conjugal beds, began to furiously make love, knotting themselves in thick rungs, until they became indiscernible from one another. We began switching instruments from song to song, changing roles, and embracing the uncomfortable dawns of those alien experiences. We wanted the sonics to match the sense of discovery and awe set in the lyrics, and began moving towards strong musical themes that repeat themselves throughout the album; these trading posts became the piano, vibes, and organ.
Soon after, we met our producer, Alex Salibian, at Gjusta in Venice Beach, and became extremely close in a short period of time. Alex is an amazing multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and listener, and immediately understood the stories we were trying to tell through our music. Throughout the next year, he became our sixth band member, and our wordless communication became eerily exact.
We paid tribute to traditional recording techniques but threw it all in the trash at the same time. We wanted that contradiction to be always present: homage and irreverence. We wrote and recorded everything separately, constantly milking the technology of our age to write, sometimes even using crappy iPhone recordings, but ran all of it to celluloid tape in the Los Angeles studios of yore: Sunset Sound, and Electro Vox Studios in Hollywood, used vibraphone played on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, and scored our own string arrangements. We wanted the album to feel like a mixture of an old vinyl and a crisp hip-hop record, to be elegant but not over-rehearsed and stale, still spontaneous and raw. Some of the guitar, organ, and vocal tracks you hear are from the original demos. Some songs, on the other hand, had over twenty versions before landing on the final one. We made percussion out of water canteens, screamed through guitar pick-ups, wrote songs underwater, took turns just shouting throughout the entirety of a track, recorded piss drunk, or without any sleep (most days), ran the tape backwards and warped them in extreme heat, and most notably, utilized field recordings to create our own samples.
If you listen carefully, you will hear certain easter eggs throughout the album. These were all sounds we found and recorded on our phones touring and traveling the last two years. The caws of shrieking birds in the trees in St. Louis, sheep running through the hillside, bells a jingle in Lucerne, Switzerland, the hypnotic call of an Acai beach vendor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, gentle rainfall in London—A laugh, “hey’s”, shrieks, and secret conversations. All those sounds you hear are original, not from a bank of stock samples. But, I digress. Songs are songs, and tricks are tricks. We strive to write great songs.
Yes, despite some apprehension, I would quite enjoy a long life. During slow walks around the harbor, I would meditate on the labor of love and humility, and feel gratitude for the things that I possess; family, friends, a mind to think, and senses to experience; country, patriotism, freedom, liberty, justice, unalienable rights, and the corruption, greed, xenophobia, racism, that has infected these paradigms since the dawn of man, in a feedback loop: yin and yang. We must always make sure love overcomes hate, gratitude overcomes pettiness, and altruism overcomes greed. That is our lot in life—our responsibility, because our love for humanity is unconditional. History will always repeat itself, and it is greater than our individual parts. That doesn’t mean we are inconsequential, though. No, it just serves to raise the stakes, making what we do now more important than ever before. To end, I will quote the beginning of our seventh track, “Repeat:”
“Somewhere in the forest
Where the waters meet
Lie the days before us
Spinning on repeat.
There’s darkness through the doorway, silence in the streets.
There’s something in the stillness, a distant memory.
Show me love! Fill my cup! The world’s not empty—it’s how you want it to be!
Push and pull, the glass is full!
Float on an ocean.
We’re caught up in the motion so we move.”