TST Interview: Young The Giant’s Eric Cannata

Eric Cannata, guitarist for Young the Giant, talks to TST on running down a dream, getting trashed by Pitchfork and doing it all in good spirits with the company of best friends.

TST: Eric, first off, I just want to say thank you very much for taking the time out of your afternoon to do this for a few minutes.

EC: Oh no, thank you. I’m just hanging out at home.

TST: I guess I’ll start by being a bit vulnerable by saying I was a little late coming around to you guys. I never saw the VMAs until recently and must have been in a radio black hole for a time, but I can tell you the moment you guys stuck me for good was at Austin City Limits Festival last year. Now, I’ve read a bit about how the band has fond feelings of that set with the 100+ temperature and the rain that seemed to come down miraculously during your set. I understand regards that set well? Do you remember that show at all?

EC: (Laughs) Yeah, honestly that was probably the best show. We love Austin. We love a lot of cities, LA, New York, but that one was special.

TST: I actually wasn’t at your stage. I was over on the small center stage in the center, but I remember you guys coming out and hearing your energy and the crowd’s energy, and at that moment I looked to see who was over there. I looked at the schedule and saw Young the Giant, a name I recognized but didn’t know, and I said I “alright, that’s them. I need to check them out.”

EC: “Yeah, we came out at soundcheck and there were maybe a hundred people in the field. And we tooled around for a minute and went backstage for awhile to get ready.”

TST: You played at about 2:00 or so, right?

EC: Yeah. We were the first band on that stage and there were maybe a hundred people, and then we came out and there 30, maybe, 40,000 people out there and we couldn’t believe it. Seeing all those people and having them there to hear our music was a really great experience. You just get up there and realize how lucky you are to be doing it.

TST: You guys and your on-stage energy seem born for festivals. You’re getting ready to play a litany of them again this summer. You’ve got Party in the Park in Atlanta on Saturday, Hangout in Gulf Shores on Sunday, not to mention Bonnaroo and a sold out Central Park Summerstage. What do you think it is that makes you guys such a perfect band for festivals?

EC: We love playing festivals. I think it’s because we find importance in playing live together. We’re young, and when we recorded the record we did it live, and we just go out and try and emulate that sound from the record. But we were really young when we put it out. Our live performance has gotten better as time has gone on and we play more and more. When we’re up there, I think people notice how much we love playing live and how much better we’ve become as live players. We try to bring more energy with every show, because we’re lucky to be doing this for a living and have people come see us.

TST: Speaking of the live show and people coming to see you, in the winter, I believe, you guys sold out 46 straight dates on your last tour at some impressive venues with a thousand, two thousand or three thousand capacity. What does that mean to you?

EC: It was a blast. That tour was before that. It was our first ever headlining tour and we didn’t know what to expect and just feel very, very lucky. We started doing this at a young age, because we all love music and wanna have a good time playing songs together and being on stage.

TST: I read recently about your band, as far as social media goes, that Paste Magazine, I believe it was a week or two ago, voted Young the Giant the #1 band to follow on Instagram. I was looking through some of your shots on the European tour you did recently, and some of them are truly astounding. There are probably a dozen in a row where you’re playing live in theatres and there are three tiers and just thousands of hands raised with great energy. And then you have shots on the bus, and I think that you guys more than other bands seem to give people a true glimpse into your lives and that you’re just normal guys that love playing music. Is that accurate?

EC: Yeah, we realize more than anything how important it is to love what we’re doing. You get up on stage, and you have a problem beforehand or whatever goes on in your daily life. We have fights just like anybody else but we’re great friends and we know how to let things slide, but then you go on stage and see the crowd and see how so many people are there to see you. You can’t help but feel lucky. How can you have one negative thought when you get up there and see that? You just let it slide and remember that all these people paid money and are happy to be having a good time. We’re just very lucky.

TST: Speaking of paying money to see you guys, with the recession and lack of discretionary income in today’s environment, I would imagine you feel blessed getting the crowds that you do and people coming night after night.

EC: Oh with the recession for sure, we realize that we are extremely, extremely, extremely lucky to get to play to make a living. We know people hit by the recession. We have friends that struggle to make it work who can’t pay for gas and just try to live and get by. I have friends over in Italy where it’s maybe even worse. We played a show over there on Labor Day in a courtyard in Rome, and you realize it’s worse over there and all these people are paying 20 bucks to see you.

I grew up in an era when people are downloading music. I understand it to a degree. I see a little of the benefit and using it to discover new bands and artists. I get that. It’s a tough time. That’s why we try and make our show worthwhile for the money. You see these bands that have a hit on the radio. People come to their shows and then they play that one song that everybody knows and you see people leaving. Our goal is to bring an energy and love of playing that the audience gets. We want to be able to keep getting better live for them. We love seeing our fans. They come to have a good time, stay for the whole thing and know every word of every song. We want to make it worthwhile for them. I love hearing about people who say they saw Young the Giant at a small club years ago, and then they see us at The Wiltern or whichever venue we played last night, and they love the show now even more than they did the first time they saw us at the small club.

TST: Hearing you talk about that stuff I just want to address something before I forget. Something that comes across from every member in the band in every interview I’ve read or stuff I’ve seen about you guys is how transparent your modesty is, how immediately likeable you guys are in print, and that’s a testament to you guys. Do you think that is because you guys have been friends since high school and before and have lived together for your years now?

EC: Well, it works for us to live together. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for every band. I know there are plenty of bands where that just wouldn’t work. But, we’re constantly trying to write when we’re at home. We’ve been living together for the last three or four years on and off the road. By now, we know exactly what ticks each other off. I mean we’re all best friends, brothers. We know how to look at something and let it slide. We’ve spent so much of the past couple years on the road, and we’re looking to record a new album soon.

TST: Did I read September? I know you’re touring a lot up until then, but a second record around then?

EC: We’re playing off and on until then. Not consistently, but a lot of one-off shows and festivals. No, we’re looking to start recording in September and then a new release next year, probably in spring. In August, we’re planning to move into a new house together in L.A. We’re really eager to get started writing and recording. On the last one, we recorded it live and would like to do it again. We write and put it altogether as a group, each of us contributing equally. For this second record, we’re definitely gonna get a place and just be with each other all the time constantly writing and playing.

TST: So I want to ask you this, but I want to make it clear up front that I’m not coming at it from a negative angle. I just want to present something to you that I haven’t seen any of you guys really touch on in an interview, and I’m curious your feelings on it. I wanted to talk about Pitchfork and your band’s popularity in the time since the record came out. I read in an interview you gave recently about your love of Paul Simon. I was thinking about Paul Simon and Graceland in particular, and then I read Pitchfork‘s review of your album which it gave (pauses) which was pretty negative (2.7/10). I noticed they reviewed your album in February of 2011 and less than two months before, they named Vampire Weekend‘s album the best album of 2010. See, I don’t think you guys are so far removed from them as far as sounds and genre and influence go. I think about Paul Simon and the Graceland feel of their albums and their fans and I think of it with you guys too. Were you concerned releasing your first record and seeing a tastemaker of that size – the tastemaker, really- giving you a bad review right at the start. Does it give you guys some David versus Goliath sort of satisfaction to see how well everybody else has responded to you in the time since?

EC: I’ll admit I’ve read Pitchfork plenty, just like anybody else. I read that review when it came out, and I’ll say this: yeah it was negative, and yes they trashed it in ways that I found (pauses) I’ll say they tore a lot apart, but I do have to say I understand some of the points. It was our major label debut, and I definitely liked it and am proud of it. The thing about Pitchfork is this though:  people use Pitchfork as a tool to find out about new bands. They (Pitchfork) try to keep people interested, you know, get the shock factor. But I saw reviews where they knocked bands if they thought they might be popular, and they’d say it’s not any good because it’s trying to make money or make a commercial. They have given some really good reviews to a lot of (pauses.) They have trashed a lot of bands and music that I really enjoy. With that said, they’ve also said some good things about people I really like, but for a lot of music they rave about it just doesn’t seem to matter for long. People like it because Pitchfork said to like it, and then they move on to the next thing Pitchfork says is good.

EC: I love that record and when I look back on it, and I’m sure they have a point here and there. You can’t let it get to you though. It bothered some of the guys, but you really can’t worry about it. You can read it and you’re like, “Fuck Pitchfork!” I could go “I wish I did this, I wish I did that,” but we were really young. Even the way we play now, with far more confidence and energy, and we’re still young. When we made the record, we had never gone on a full national tour. We had just done our first tour with Minus the Bear, and we were still very much learning. We’ll have maturity and growth this time around. So when I think about Pitchfork now, I really don’t care. We get a lot of pretty great reviews; Pitchfork wasn’t one of those great reviews. So what. Honestly, if we got a great review in Pitchfork, we’d probably be completely broke right now and having less fun doing what we’re doing.

TST: I was reading an interview with Francois, I believe, where he talked about you guys all having families that are still together, girlfriends and fostering deep-seated, nurturing relationships. When you spend between a hundred and two hundred days on the road and are living together writing and recording other than that, how do you keep those deep-seated relationships strong? Do you mainly get that from your time around each other and having a strong bond with the band?

EC: We do place a lot of importance on our family and friends and girlfriends. We’re lucky though, because we do spend a lot of time at home around Los Angeles. A lot of our friends are in Los Angeles. All of our families are in Orange County, which is about an hour south of L.A. We see them all the time when we are here, and when we’re on tour, with technology how it is now, you can still be able to interact and keep in touch with your family and friends through Skype or phones or whatever. We grew up in Orange County, and we’re very lucky for that. When he come home from touring, we know we have people here. That never changes. So to us, yeah, family is very important and keeps us sane.

TST: Before I let you go, I just wanted to get one more thought out of you. I was reading an interview you did where when you were asked about your dream collaboration, and you answered you would like to play with Tom Petty, The Band or Fleetwood Mac. I’m a Midwestern kid from Indiana, and I loved hearing those influences. Those are the bands I was talking about when I said listening to their music for twenty years down the road. I think you guys have the kind of fans where you could be that sort of band to them. I wanted to pick one of those bands, so I picked Tom Petty, because I’m a young guy from Indiana that he just speaks to. I was looking for a fitting song, and I landed on “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” That song has the line “It felt so good like anything was possible. Workin’ on a mystery wherever it leads.”

Do you feel like that could be a fitting description of your whirlwind last year or two with Young the Giant?

EC: Yeah, definitely. Tom Petty is one of my favorites. He’s one of my dad’s favorites. We’d listen to him together. My dad is a huge fan of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, all those guys. Yeah, it does feel like a mystery in this lifestyle. We really have no idea what’s going to happen next. We’ve put out one album and toured. A lot of it was a mystery to us with how to go about doing it all. We were kids and doing it because we love playing together. You’d show up at soundcheck, and you didn’t know if people were going to show. You tried to book a show, and you’d find out you’d already booked that date. It’s still a mystery to us, because we’re getting ready to make a second album, and we don’t know how people will react to it. We’re
excited and lucky to be doing it though. It’s definitely a dream of ours, and we’ll do it until we can’t do it any longer. And then we’ll probably still keep making music, because it’s what we love.

TST: Thank you again so much, Eric. I can’t wait to see you guys- well, officially see you guys- when stop here in Indianapolis in July.

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