Keeping it real in the face of fame

GAME CHANGER: Gang of Youths frontman David Le’aupepe at Splendour in the Grass this year. Picture: Jess Gleeson

GAME CHANGER: Gang of Youths frontman David Le’aupepe at Splendour in the Grass this year. Picture: Jess Gleeson

THERE is a photograph of Gang of Youths on stage at this year’s Splendour In The Grass performing to a sea of people. It was a seminal moment for the knockabout Sydney band. 

ON A ROLL: The Gang of Youths train is seemingly unstoppable, with headline gigs, award nominations and a fan base that grows by the day.

ON A ROLL: The Gang of Youths train is seemingly unstoppable, with headline gigs, award nominations and a fan base that grows by the day.

Had they finally “made it”?

Their subsequent headline status on the sold-out 2016 Festival of the Sun line-up seems to suggest just that. And it is something frontman David Le’aupepe is still coming to terms with.

“I never used to consider us a headline act, but since we’re doing so much headlining this summer it’s an inescapable reality,” he tells Weekender. 

“So much of it is probably steeped in a dire self-loathing, and an honest belief that I don’t deserve to be at the top of a poster, but maybe that’s part of the growing up I have to do now.”

Le’aupepe is a heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy who says what he thinks, when he thinks it, even if that is mid-performance. And his intelligence shines through at any given moment. He is articulate and a thinker – and the first to admit that being a thinker has messed with his head at times. 

As the opening act for Chris Cornell on his 2015 Australian solo tour, Le’aupepe won over an audience who had bought their ticket to see one talented singer and musician. We left feeling privileged to have seen two.

He gave a lot to the audience, musically and personally. Nothing was taboo. Dressed in black (on black) and whipping his already wild hair into a frenzy, he spoke disarmingly about the dark times when his ex-wife was battling cancer and how it skewed his perception of the world and his place in it.  The lyrics reveal his inner turmoil.

“That was one of the most intensely enjoyable tours I’ve ever done,” he says.

“I guess I have to be in a different headspace now, because I can’t remain in that rut any more, two years on from my divorce. I’m always susceptible to new eras of trauma and tragedy though, so I feel like creatively and personally I’ll always identify closely with that ‘headspace’.”  

I suggest that he seems unafraid to reveal personal details or emotions publicly, and ask him if anything is taboo for him on stage?

“I believe that humour and irreverence and honesty have the power to open up conversations where there previously may have not been any. I’m not sure if I believe that taboos are healthy for humanity or conducive to an honest and meaningful discourse with others in society,” Le’aupepe explains.

“I suppose in my own life, there are many things I keep out of public discussion but they’re usually things that could have an adverse affect on people I care for, or people from my past.

“Furthermore, the things I joke about are things that are part of my story and my life, and I feel that I’m dealing with them in a way that truly helps me and humanises or removes the taboo nature of them for other people.”

Le’aupepe’s interest in the human condition is evident on social media, where he asks fans for their opinions or anecdotes on any given topic, from taking a bath to his love of “hair metal” bands. He also invites them to ask him “anything” and he’ll answer.

“I’m pretty active on Facebook these days because when we first started out I never was. It’s a way of making the necessary process of social media engagement funny and interesting for me, and I feel like I’m way more interesting on paper anyways.” 

The spike in the band’s popularity over the past 12 months, and the ongoing critical acclaim of their work,  prompts the question as to whether Gang of Youths are ready for “fame”. 

“I’m not ready for ‘fame’ because I am by nature, self sabotaging. But it’s part of what I have chosen to do with my life. The idea makes me sad and nauseous, but it’s necessary and self-inflicted,” Le’aupepe explains.

“Perhaps the best thing I can do is try and retain as much about what I liked about pre-success me and reconcile it with successful me. I’ll keep trying to figure it out.”

​Port Macquarie’s Festival of the Sun (December 9 and 10) has officially sold out and festival director Simon Luke couldn’t be happier.  This has been the festival’s “fastest sell-out” in its 12-year history.

This year’s line-up is: Gang Of Youths, Seth Sentry, The Smith Street Band, Urthboy, Dune Rats, Montaigne, Boo Seeka, Luca Brasi, Tash Sultana, L-Fresh The Lion, Sahara Beck, The Lulu Raes, Patrick James, Middle Kids, Bec Sandridge, Good Boy, West Thebarton Brothel Party, Dumb Punts, Gold Member, Planet, The Creases, Hey Geronimo, Mallrat, World Champion, Ayla, Rackett, Hot Spoke, Korzdahavoc and a triple j Unearthed winner.

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