Dave Le’aupepe from Gang Of Youths: on books, existentialism & ‘Let Me Be Clear’

Gang Of Youths have sort of wrapped the era of The Positions, the mindblowing album they put out last year, with a six-track EP called Let Me Be Clear. Before hearing it, Rosie had some questions about it. She has asked Dave Le’aupepe those over email and he sent back some ridiculously good, thought-out answers. You will learn something.

Hello Dave. What are you reading at the moment?

I’m re-reading Fear And Trembling by Kierkegaard and reading A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers for the first time after many years of avoiding it due to the subject matter’s intensity and closeness-to-home. I’m reinvesting a lot of time into the books that initiated my interest in existentialism so for utility’s sake, but also because I’ve found myself sort of bereft since the band thing took off in a way none of us were expecting — I’m probably just trying to remind myself that it’s all relatively meaningless and frivolous and to keep calm, carry on etc.

If you had to rename the band after a literary work, what would you choose? 

Excellent question. “You Bright And Risen Angels” by William T. Vollman has a Godspeed You! Black Emperor kind of ring to it. Otherwise, I like “The Sound And The Fury” by Faulkner. There’s another, more well known group named after Faulkner’s most famous work and they’ve got bad juju though.

Your EP was originally supposed to be titled All This Motherfucking Fire, but soon changed to Let Me Be Clear. How do you balance between what is commercially viable and what is sincere to yourself and the band? 

I think with that example the reality that a 10-year-old kid from a conservative or religious family would have parents that would outright refuse to buy them the record because of the title was a big reason as to why it was changed. That is in and of itself, more a sincere demonstration of the heart beating beneath the project than a provocative title. We can be iconoclastic and express ourselves freely without sacrificing the potential influencing power that goes along with it. I like to think that Let Me Be Clear is in many ways, more in-keeping with the themes of the EP than All This Motherfucking Fire. In a broader sense, I’ve been through a period of genuinely trying to rectify both sides, and realised how deeply unhappy and ineffective it is, attempting to pander and more commercially viable. What I’ve found is that when we just behave as we usually would, there’s probably commercial viability in the result, because commercial viability is indicative of a “market”, and our “market” just wants something honest, vulnerable, human and fun. So that’s what we’ll do.

What themes can we expect from Let Me Be Clear, which didn’t necessarily fit within The Positions?

The EP is about being in love, rather than fighting some war. Instead of writing about facing the difficulties of life with the one I love, these songs are focused on the difficulties of being in love while facing life. The arguing, the anxieties, the sex, the attachments, the frailty, the trauma, the sweetness, the revelry. These are things that are universal human issues, and not just ones central to my unique circumstance, living with someone fighting a terminal illness.

What’s the significance of the Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell cover on this EP?

That song embodies the duality I am experiencing now, approaching proper adulthood regarding love. How strange and sad and weird it is, how totally aware of its difficulty i am now as opposed to what I thought it was. I thought I knew love, I thought I knew clouds, I thought I knew all that shit, but I didn’t have a fucking clue. Still don’t. How odd and also un-odd.

You come from a Christian background but you’ve sustained an avid interest in philosophy, literature, and the like, which obviously introduces differing ideologies. Do you find your established beliefs are confronted or reaffirmed by new ideas? And how do you negotiate these with the trajectory Gang of Youths’ success and hence your personal life changes? 

Another excellent question, fuck, I have no idea how to answer it. For the most part, my journey of faith was passive and decidedly the result of a perpetuating culmination of osmosis from the age of 0 – 18, meaning I was surrounded by Judeo-Christian spirituality, but was totally uninvested and probably contemptuous of the shit until I became a sort-of adult. To be honest, my interest in existentialism predates my adult “faith”, so I often find it difficult when I’m having to approach matters of the soul and the life thereafter death as specified by conventional Christianity when I find the precepts of Nietzsche’s writings on the subject of eternal recurrence so much more comforting than Biblical heaven. I’m infinitely less stable in my approach to Jesus than I am in my approach to, say, Sisyphus, because in me there is still a suspicion that I’m committing the kind of philosophical suicide about which Camus lamented on days I consider myself theistic (it changes day to day for me). I think for me, I am drawn to existentialism because there are rational and objective empirical things that can explain to you and I how we got here, why we fuck, how sickness affects the body and what gives objects mass in the universe, but there are none to explain why we are all in search for meaning. These are subjective, deeply personal and in every soul there is this desire for meaning. I identify with Jesus because something in my soul resonates with this, I suppose “non-answer” than any other non-answer. This is why I turned to Kierkegaard, and his approach to meaning, to Jesus, to life, to love in many ways inspired me to look at my own relationship to these things the same way. He talks of “losing one’s mind to win God”, the leap of faith etc.

Dostoevsky, Shestov, Jaspers are some other “Christian Existentialists” I admire. I don’t live the posterboy evangelical Best Life Now, because fuck that, I’ll do whatever I want with my penis, heart, body, tongue, mind and voting slip thank you very much Church, but I’m not trying for consistency here. I’m just trying for authenticity, whatever the fuck that means.

Gang Of Youths will always be, for better or for worse, a pretty tacit and faithful rendition of the tumultuous shit going on inside me — so as my personal life changes, so will Gang Of Youths. That’s probably the best way I can answer that.

Would you ever attempt a Swans-esque length album? 

Yes. Double Yes. It was what I wanted The Positions to be — our co-producer on that project, Kevin McMahon is known for his work with Gira too. It would have been something.

You did guest vocals for In Loving Memory of Szymon at Splendour this weekend. What have you learned from Szymon’s music, and from supporting your bandmate Dom, alongside his family and friends, in this tribute for Szymon? 

That I’m filled with more questions about life than answers, more prejudices and more jealousy than I’d like to admit. That I have love for Dom I didn’t realise I had inside me, it’s intense and inexplicably strong, and that empathy is the greatest musical gift, not ability. I learned that somebody’s genius can truly transcend their life, and that Szymon did more artistically in 2 years than many established “artists” will ever do in the entirety of their careers. I learned that you can choose your family without forsaking the one you’re born with. I learned that you can have true, unabashed, unpolluted love for those around you without understanding how to love yourself.

Your fan base is built upon a strong connection to your lyrics, intricate musicality, and persona. How does your music translate to festival sets such as Splendour? I’d imagine that, compared to your own shows, you have to bring something different to the table, as festival audiences mightn’t be familiar with your music. 

Treating Splendour like something other than a normal show would have been a mistake, because when we’ve tried to do that before we’ve become over self-conscious, tried too hard, made stupid mistakes and fucked up pretty bad. Festivals are a chance to win people over by being what we are and nothing more I think.

Finally, and I’m going to take your word on this – where are the best places to eat in the Inner West? I’ve recently moved to Sydney and have found myself existing exclusively on Manoosh and Oporto out of lack of money and sticking to what I know. I need a local’s insight. 

Excellent question! I’m a vegetarian, so I like Fatimas in Redfern, Bangkok Bites in Newtown and in my home suburb of Strathfield, there’s a fuck tonne of excellent Korean BBQ places. I love Strathfield — I’m sad I don’t spend much time with my parents there anymore.

Let Me Be Clear is out now & if you’re in Sydney there’s a pop-up show at Newtown Social Club tonight.

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