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American Bollywood, Young the Giant’s fifth studio album and first since 2018’s Mirror Master, is structured after the ancient Sanskrit Hindu text of The Mahabharata (part of the Bhagavad Gita). The band’s front man and creative force Sameer Gadhia learned about those tales by way of the Mumbai-based Amar Chitra Katha comic books/graphic novels with their serialized depiction of religious legends, folklore and epic poems. That nexus of the ancient/classical and modern/art-pop culture is at the heart of American Bollywood’s various threads and subtexts.
Separated into four acts of four songs apiece (I. Origins, II. Exile, III. Battle, IV. Denouement), American Bollywood is a musical meditation, a song suite, a cinematic blend of modern indie-rock and ancient Indian instrumentation, including sitar and tablas (Gadhia’s father played the latter, while his grandmother was a professional singer). The album recounts the true-life journey of Young the Giant’s front man Sameer Gadhia’s parents, who emigrated in 1984 from India to America, where he was born, tracing his own internal struggle to preserve a cultural identity while assimilating into the melting pot of Southern California’s Orange County.
Co-produced by John Hill [Santigold, M.I.A., Phantogram, Khalid] with the band, the album represents the perfect storm in Young the Giant’s professional and personal lives – the isolation brought on by Covid, starting families of their own and breaking away from the major label system with their own label, Jungle Youth Records through AWAL. And while the narrative follows the particular journey of Gadhia’s family, the songs are expansive enough to apply to anyone who has relocated from their homeland to another country. Every last one of us in America is an immigrant or descended from one.
In essence, American Bollywood is about the journey, not necessarily the destination, with nods to family, companionship, sacrifice and romantic love along the way, between parents and children, man and wife, in fact, all of us “Same Folk,” the final song on the record. And just as that odyssey moves from India to the United States, so does the music, going from traditional Indian sounds to more western rock and pop in Act III: Battle, with the funky “Dollar Store” and the Bowiesque “Cult of Personality.”
Although the album’s subject was highly personal, Gadhia’s bandmates – guitarists Jacob Tilley and Eric Cannata, bassist Payam Doostzadeh and drummer Francois Comtois – were enthusiastic participants in making American Bollywood a Young the Giant project. The band’s backgrounds include Persian (Doostzadeh), Italian-Jewish (Cannata), French-Canadian (Comtois) and British (Tilley).
Gadhia’s family odyssey began back in the ‘40s with the Partition of India, which established India’s independence from Britain, but also set up the neighboring Pakistan, setting off conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims that displaced tens of millions. His own parents defied the country’s strict caste system by being from two different classes and cultures.
“American Bollywood expresses a paradox, a yin-yang,” says Sameer. “It’s who I am, not quite American, but not completely Indian, either. I don’t particularly fit in with the way South Asians are depicted in popular culture, even though it’s starting to change for the better,” citing the visibility of emerging auteurs like Ramy Youssef, Aziz Ansari, and Kumail Nanjiani, adding, “Hopefully this album will help in that regard.”
The ambitious project – Sameer uses the phrase “mystical punk” to refer to their DIY, experimental approach — includes a succession of home-made videos which capture the essence of dislocation, combining home movies with choreographed scenes in a surreal, dream-like depiction of the album’s cultural themes. The Mahabharata, a tale of five brothers cast out of the kingdom into the forest, could be equated to the five members of Young the Giant set loose to fulfill their own destiny. The four individual sections represent Sameer’s grandparents in the old world (Origins), his parents finding themselves strangers in a new world (Exile), his fight to maintain his culture while also trying to fit in (Battle) and finally, reconciliation and transcendence for future generations (Denouement). Gadhia points out the individual categories could also refer to the creative and career progression represented by the band’s first four albums.
Young the Giant have been streaming each of the individual American Bollywood acts once a month – emulating, per Gadhia, the cliff-hanging nature of the original episodic graphic novels – culminating in the release of the full version of American Bollywood, eventually as a double-vinyl set. A series of fall and winter dates, including dates at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado and L.A.’s YouTube Theater will feature a mix of American Bollywood material interspersed with fan favorites from the catalog and “songs that fit that story line,” according to Gadhia.
Starting out calling themselves The Jakes (after the first-name initials of the band’s original five members, who first met in high school), Young the Giant was initially signed by Roadrunner Records, releasing their self-titled debut in 2010, spawning three hit alternative singles, “My Body,” “Cough Syrup” and “Apartment.” A prominent performance on the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards and a subsequent tour with Incubus found the debut album climbing to #42 on the Billboard 200. Released on Fueled by Ramen/Atlantic, Mind Over Matter (2014) reached #7 on the Billboard 200, while Home of the Strange (2016), which hinted at some of the immigration themes explored in American Bollywood, peaked at #12.
“We’ve carved our own path, which is pretty amazing,” says Sameer. “We don’t fit into the structure of American pop music. We check ‘other’ on the box. I was in denial of that for a while. Hopefully, we can bring a little brown to the white world of indie-rock. This album is a litmus test for whether we can make that a reality. I believe music has the ability to bring people together without being pedantic or preaching.”
Continuing to live up to his band’s unique name, Gadhia says, “We still believe in the power of being young, naive, innocent and optimistic. We always try to find the beauty in things.”
American Bollywood does just that, turning his family history and memories into a work of exquisite high art and popular appeal.
Before it can burst into flame, every re needs an initial spark. For Milky Chance, that flickering introduction came a little over three years ago when they released their now infamous debut track “Stolen Dance”. After its re- lease, Milky Chance ascended to the coveted number one spot in several countries, became the “most blogged about act” on the Hype Machine, and released the successful follow-up singles “Down By The River” and “Flashed Junk Mind” off of their self-produced album ‘Sadnecessary.’
As a result, the duo left their small hometown for multiple tours that took them across several continents, to the elds of Glastonbury, the desert of Coachella, and the stage of Lollapalooza. It’s this journey, replete with the push and pull of emotion that comes from being uprooted that forms the ba- sis of their new album ‘Blossom’.
Like their previous album ‘Sadnecessary’, there’s no doubt that ‘Blossom’ will enter the ears of the music world with an unrelenting force – and their hearts. Ultimately though, this is a record that belongs to Milky Chance. If we think of music as a learning experience, something to help us make sense of our life, then this is a record that’s helped Milky Chance to do that. It is a process, an experience, a chapter in life – and it’s all burnt onto one record that captures those feelings in detail.