Students gathered at Bovard Auditorium Tuesday to see members from rock band Young the Giant speak about their most recent album, Home of the Strange, as well as their opinions on current immigration issues.
The talk was organized by USC Speakers Committee, USC Service Student Assembly, USC International Student Assembly and USC Political Student Assembly. The event featured lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia, guitarist Jacob Tilley and bass guitarist Payam Doostzadeh of Young the Giant, and was moderated by USC Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni.
Soni began the event by discussing current social issues, particularly racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and transphobia, which have been “grappled with very publicly over the last two years.”
“From the persecution [of] undocumented immigrants and refugees to the increase in civil rights challenges for LGBTQ … it has been a very challenging time for all of us who aspire to live up to our ideals of diversity, inclusion, equity and justice,” Soni said.
As the Dean of Religious Life, Soni said he has witnessed the impact these political issues have had on campus. According to Soni, government decisions have caused DACA students and staff to worry about their futures, and international students have been affected by the travel bans.
“We need musicians … who are politically engaged, spiritually astute, socially active,” Soni said. “Musicians who are voices for peace, reconciliation and justice … So we are very fortunate to spend this evening with Young the Giant.”
During the event, Young the Giant members discussed their 2016 song “Amerika.” Unlike previous songs, “Amerika” delves into political issues and addresses themes like displacement. Band members discussed this shift in terms of the types of music the group has produced over time.
“We’ve been doing this for almost 10 years now, which is crazy,” Gadhia said. “And the first two albums, we were trying to establish ourselves. For this third record, we wanted to show a little more of who we were and pay homage to our parents because we wouldn’t have been here without them.”
According to Gadhia, the group noticed the “undercurrent” of anger and division throughout the nation, which continued to grow following the 2016 presidential election. Gadhia said the group became more exposed to these social issues, and by creating music that touches on these topics, they hope to generate more conversation.
“I don’t necessarily think we are a political band,” Gadhia said. “I think all art, even if it’s not conscious, can give a political or social snapshot of that time. So this record for us I guess it could be considered as a political record, but in a lot of ways we’re just talking about what we want to talk about.”
Doostzadeh said that “Amerika” was inspired by Franz Kafka’s incomplete first novel, regarding the current discussion on immigration. According to Doostzadeh, the novel is about a German child who sneaks into America to pursue the American Dream.
“And every time he feels like he’s feeling comfortable, there is this strange feeling where everything also feels like it’s falling beneath him,” Doostzadeh said. “[It’s this] idea of the ‘in between,’ the place that doesn’t exist between where your family came from, where you might have come from, where you are now and the different cultural expectations and ideas of the American Dream.”
Tilley ended the conversation with closing remarks about how he ultimately finds the motivation to pursue his passions and his aspirations for the band.
“We’re striving to be the band that we can be,” Tilley said. “We want to find passion projects and I think all of us are trying to find what the next 10 years look like in our careers and personal lives. What gives me hope is you guys. Sometimes I struggle to find it from within, but I just see you guys to find motivation.”