Track by Track: Gang Of Youths – ‘The Positions’
Sydney’s Gang of Youths release their debut record The Positions today. Inspired by a four-year relationship that frontman David Leaupepe had with a girl who was diagnosed with stage four cancer, as he explains to FL, each track on the LP details a period of love and turmoil in the couple’s time together.
Bewildered and terrified but altogether defiant against a torrent of bad news and even worse timing, the girl I was with and I decided that we were going to continue our two-year-old relationship long distance due to limited treatment options for her in Sydney. I was broke, tired and pissed off but altogether furious with determination to defeat our circumstance with a bit of dreaming, a lot of working and a holy fuck tonne of hoping and praying and promising. It was around this time that I decided I was going to relocate to Nashville, TN. A year later I did.
Growing up as an loner in the evangelical church made for strange subject matter and an even stranger impetus for this track. I felt duped and unsupported by this community of “believers”, most of them middle-class and pleasantly unaffected by my circumstance. I came from lesser means socio-economically and I was just the dude dating the “sick girl”, so I thought that I saw a harsh disconnect. ‘Poison Drum’ serves as my rage against that holy machine, as both a petition for help and a godforsaken fuck-you-and-thanks-for-nothing. In reality, I absolutely ignored so much of the kindness extended to us by well-intentioned folks of this ilk because, as a bitter, lonely and angry 19-year-old, I had to look for people to blame – and there was never an easier target than the God Squad.
The Diving Bell
Long distance and a lot of time between visitations was the watermark of an already difficult relationship. Missing home, missing the significant other and finding glory in the most banal of discourse informed much of who and what Gang of Youths became. Also Peter Gabriel.
Restraint & Release
This track was the last one I wrote for The Positions. The last few months of my relationship were characterised by a long and excruciating cycle of hurt feelings and stagnation and conflict. For a year we’d been barely functioning – I had to be away from home and I felt incapacitated and unable to cope with the realisation that I felt like the person with whom I was going to spend my life had changed so dramatically. The chasm was more than a literal one spanning sea and sky between Sydney and Nashville – at the heart of our union there was a dysfunction that we just couldn’t seem to repair. I said terrible shit, she did terrible shit and we were both just so terribly shit; but still and even so, I was willing to run a goddamned marathon gagged, bound and naked across an eternity of hot coals for this human being because maybe, just maybe we were meant to defy the odds stacked against us.
I had my heart broken and I began my slow and agonising descent into this sort of weird and dreadful personal anarchy that would harken the true end of my relationship with this girl. ‘Magnolia’ is about hitting rock bottom, the strange calm and intoxicating freedom of stumbling toward what may be the end with a belly full of booze and lungs filled with smoke and laughing at your predicament like the saddest and freest asshole in the cosmos. I think I wrote this song as an apologetic gesture to everybody in my life that I’d hurt – I think I probably still hope that it’s helped make up for it a little. I felt outnumbered. I felt wretched and wild. All glory. All trash.
Let’s just say that I’m not the biggest fan of musicals unless they’ve got Mormons or a bunch of swearing puppets. However, I’ve always had a certain private fascination with many of the tropes and much of the imagery in The Wizard Of Oz. When I moved to Nashville in late 2013 (around about the time we started the new recording sessions for the LP) I began to consciously engage with the reality that no, we were certainly not in flat, benign, predictable Kansas anymore. Cancer was real, bills were real, immigration issues were real and adulthood was imminent. In trying to deal with all of these stark truths I never wanted to lose the sense of defiance and wonderment that had kept our spirits warm and our insides fuzzy for the years prior.
Knuckles White Dry
Cancer is fucking horrible – not just the disease itself but the emotional ramifications of living with it. Me and my girlfriend spent a lot of time in hospitals over our four year relationship and ‘Knuckles White Dry’ is about being brave long enough to keep our shit together in the ward before allowing ourselves to fall apart in the car on the way home. Where the fuck is God in all of this bullshit? What the fuck are these people putting in this poor girl’s body? What the fuck am I going to do if she dies? Maybe in retrospect there was some profundity or beauty or poetry in this – I don’t know, but at that stage the only violent challenge to our fear of the uncertain was just being silent together in the car, breathing and praying and being.
We needed money, security, assurance, and some faded white hope for a future beyond sitting through more years of invasive cancer treatments in a city we didn’t like. Things that had evaded us for so long were the things that were supposed to hold everything together, and here I am making promises that we’re going to find them. In the words of the great American philosopher and poet Jeff Tweedy, “We’ll find a way regardless”.
I was stuck on the other side of the planet waiting for my US visa to be approved, working a couple of jobs and trying to make this record a reality. I was acting like an asshole to my best friends who had stuck by me throughout all of this and had allowed myself to be sucked into a shitty and self-concerned vacuum of sorts. I missed my new home and realised how the many trivial and innocuous fuck ups I had made contributed to this sick and overarching sense of yearning and failure. I was trying to be a good spouse from 16,000km away to someone with whom I was losing touch emotionally and all I wanted to do was quit the band, quit my jobs and fly one way to BNA, take the girl, the dog and our car straight to California and spend my days getting fat and old and full of pleasant banality, unmoved by the clusterfuck of mortality and the limitations of currency and time.
And here we are back at the beginning of everything and there we stood quite literally underneath an overpass in Harlem broke and tired, hungry and terrified. We were no longer ahead of the game in our former life but just barely managing to brave the yoke of this new one – the scary life where cancer kills whomever the fuck it wants; and people in Queens will break into our car and take the stereo and the goddamned air conditioning unit; and where medicine costs money we don’t have. Still, with the shit careening from each blade of the fan, flinging detritus and horrible muck every which way, there we were together, poised at this part of our lives where everything was terrifying but everything was possible. And for that time that we were still together, still burning with hope and with fury and with our eyes bright and naive and looking for that golden factory of light, there were those brief and important moments. Ones where you are just young and nuts and desirous of every little thing, gazing off into the black thinking, “Hey, We’re going to win.” After all of this, I still in some way think that was the real victory.
Gang of Youths The Position is out today through Sony