“It’s A Pretty Big Moment”: Gang Of Youths Talk Christening ‘MTV Unplugged’ In Australia

It’s time to party like it’s 1999! MTV’s iconic Unplugged series is back and set to make its Australian debut this year. So, it’s only fair that Aussie indie rock kings Gang of Youths are the first band to christen the MTV Unplugged Melbourne stage.

The Sydney quintet will join a long list of legendary Unplugged alumni including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, Adele and of course, Nirvana. The show will see the band perform stripped-back, acoustic versions of songs from their 2017 album Go Farther In Lightness as well as other GoY bangers.

The boys will take to the MTV Unplugged stage on 25 July in front of an intimate, live audience at Melbourne’s Cobblestone Pavilion. The broadcast date is yet to be announced, but you’ll have the chance to catch the first episode of MTV Unplugged Melbourne via Foxtel, Foxtel Now, Fetch and across a bunch of streaming services if you’re not one of the lucky fans who can make the gig in person.

Even outside of Unplugged, 2018 is shaping up to be another massive year for the ‘Magnolia’ rockers. Just a few highlights in their calendar include a spot on the monster Splendour in the Grass line-up, a huge national tour and run of shows with rock royalty Foo Fighters.

We had a chat with Gang of Youths bassist Max Dunn about their upcoming MTV Unplugged milestone, the pressures of performing on live TV and what you can expect from their massive Australian tour later this year.

Music Feeds: You guys are kicking off Australia’s first ever MTV Unplugged. How excited are you for that?

Max Dunn: Yeah, we’re stoked! It’s obviously an awesome and pretty important moment for us. It’s a cool chance to do something a little different and stretch ourselves and give the fans a little more experience of the songs. That’s kind of the main thing. In terms of MTV Unplugged, it’s an important thing from back in the day and it’s cool that it’s happening and we get to be a part of it.

MF: Yeah, you’ll be joining some legendary names in the MTV Unplugged hall of fame including Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Jay Z. Do you have any favourite Unplugged moments?

MD: Well, I was such a lame kid (laughs). In the 90’s I literally climbed trees and played cricket. That’s all I did. People talk to Dave (Le’aupepe) or Joji (Malani) and they tell stories of when they were three years old and they snuck out of bed and watched RAGE. Whereas I was just asleep, you know? (laughs).

But obviously for me, my entire high school was based around playing Nirvana and MTV Unplugged was a really big moment in music. Not just in television music or for MTV, just for music. For a band of that cred, that was a big part of their career. So, that’s the one that obviously comes to mind.

But at the same time, maybe we should just play Bruce Springsteen songs for the whole thing (laughs). He’s probably the biggest influence on our music and certainly for Dave and the way he tries to carry himself and the way he likes to write music.

So yeah, it’s a pretty big moment for us. We’re nervous and excited and all of those emotions. We’re very excited to make music in a more tasteful, more naked way that’s less a wall of sound and more about how can we make this song better? How can we make the melody pop more?

MF: And how do you do that? A Gang of Youths show is usually a pretty loud, high-energy affair. So how do you plan to bring the songs to life in an acoustic setting?

MD: It’s exciting because most of these songs, I hear in their first incarnation is Dave playing it to me on an acoustic guitar or piano. Probably my favourite memory of being in the band and when we started was hearing Dave play the songs on an acoustic, hearing Dave play ‘Radioface’ for the first time in a garage. It sounds like I made that up because it’s so classic starting in a garage but we literally did. So that’s kind of my favourite way to hear the songs.

So I guess for me as a fan of Dave’s songs, I’m excited to be a part of creating them in a different light. Half of the music I listen to is probably stripped back more, so that’s exciting to me. I don’t think it’s less energy, I just think it’s different and there’s different ways to make massive moments. There’s different instruments as well. Less guitar pedals, less cymbals but you can still have a lot of energy. I don’t think it’s going to be a boring bunch of dudes sitting around on stools looking like they’re bored out of their minds (laughs). It’ll be very engaging or certainly that’s what we’re going to be aiming for.

MF: I’m sure a lot of fans will be excited to hear your music a little more raw and stripped-back as well.

MD: Yeah, for sure! If I’m honest, sometimes I prefer hearing them like that. Sometimes Dave does songs acoustic in the middle of a set. In a Gang of Youths set we try to take you on a bit of a journey. There’s usually a bit of a dynamic shift to a more ‘Storytime With Dave’ moment. A lot of the songs that sound like that come out real beautiful. So I think this is the band’s opportunity to see what we can do to add emotion to that experience.

I think we’re excited about the challenge. We’re going to have to prepare pretty well though (laughs). It’s definitely harder than just playing a rock show, which we’ve done a thousand times. It’s kind of in our blood for it to be more of a deliberate thing.

MF: And what goes in to preparing for a gig like Unplugged? How does it differ from a regular GoY show?

MD: Well, you don’t want to play exactly what you would play in a regular show. It’s about what do we feature in each song? What sounds and what parts that are on the record do we use? I don’t think Joji has ever played a Gang of Youths show the same twice. He’s so creative, even in a rock show setting. He kinda plays however he wants, which is a key part of how we sound. So I think it’ll be that same level of creativity, but using different instruments.

Dave’s vocals will feature even more than normal and they’re easily the best part of the band. So I guess that’s what I mean, you just have to be deliberate about it and make sure it’s a moment for people.

MF: What can we expect from the set list? A lot of tunes from Go Farther In Lightness or will it be a mix?

MD: I told you, we’re just going to cover Springsteen (laughs). Nah, I don’t know what’s going to happen for sure but you’ll be hearing things we’ve never attempted before and it’s on TV so there’s that added risk that you make a dick out of yourself. I think it’ll be an interesting watch. Like, what will Joji wear? These are the issues we’re facing (laughs).

MF: If he doesn’t wear his iconic silky-looking Mona Lisa shirt, I’ll be disappointed.

MD: He’s kind of phased out Mona Lisa! He bought that from a convenience store in Redfern. I think they were like $12 and he bought heaps of them. And then he got a shipment of them into the convenience store. I was there with him in the car when he got the call from the convenience store being like “Uh, your shipment of Mona Lisa shirts is here”. And I was just like “Are you a real person? Are you a cartoon?” (Laughs). He’s a weird guy. He’s epic.

MF: Is there an extra layer of pressure in how you present yourself and perform because it’s being recorded for TV?

MD: Yeah, there definitely is. Any time we’ve done something on TV, there’s a different kind of pressure. We did our first American late night and it’s a different pressure because you’re like “Everyone is going to see this”. There’s a lot of stuff that you do when you’re a band that your Mum’s not gonna see. Whereas there are other things where people know it and will see it. So you’re like “Man, everyone’s gonna see this. I hope I don’t screw up.” I think you can overthink it. But some people do this kind of thing all the time and I don’t know how they do it!

Luckily I’m just playing bass so it’ll more be on Dave not to look like an asshole, but you also don’t want to be the guy that screws it up. So I guess you just prepare and just try to think about playing music.

Seeing yourself on TV is a lot different to seeing yourself on a laptop. It’s just like hearing yourself on the radio is really different to hearing yourself on iTunes. It’s a bit like “Wow, I had no control over this going out.” There’s something about it that’s a bit more special.

MF: You guys are also returning to Oz to play Splendour in the Grass in July and a then massive national tour in November. The latter includes 6 shows at the Enmore and 7 shows at the Forum. Is that surreal?!

MD: We were really blown away! That sounds like bullshit but I was honestly thinking “Oh, yeah. We’ll probably do two Enmore shows”. We were really surprised by how much people cared and wanted to support us. So we’re really grateful.

I look forward to it being this weird week-long day job where I commute to Newtown and play a show and then go back to the Airbnb or whatever and get up the next day and have to do 6 in a row. It’s just going to be weird experience! Like I wonder what I’ll feel like after the 3rd one, you know what I mean? Will I want to get a drink? Or will I want to go home and read a book? There will be a normalcy to playing the Enmore, which there probably should never be (laughs). That’s what’s weird to me.

But I’m excited to be in Sydney to be honest! From when I was 17 til a couple of years ago, I was pretty much always there. So it’ll be fun to be home. I can go for a swim at the North Sydney pool. I’ll probably have a few late nights, that’s the honest answer. Probably just go to Frankies (laughs).

But we’re going to give our all to this and I think they’ll be really special shows. Dave was born like a kilometre away from that venue and most of us have gone to shows there. It’s the kind of venue that when you start, people are like “One day you’ll play the Enmore” and you’re like “Bullshit! No way!”. So it’s a trip to come back and do 6 shows.

MF: If you thought playing the Enmore Theatre was out of reach when you first started out, I can only imagine your reaction if someone told you would be playing the inaugural MTV Unplugged Melbourne!

MD: Yeah, for sure! It’s all very weird. Doing what we do is a weird combination of job and dream. It’s kind of what you do and you miss your girlfriend and you miss home when you’re on the road. But then you stop and think “Wow, I’m getting to play here”. It’s those little moments. And MTV will be one of those moments because it’s so iconic for us.

Even if you go to a city you’ve never been before and people know your songs, it’s a super weird feeling. The whole journey has been like that and the November tour will be a part of that and MTV will be a part of that. It’s all good stuff. It’s all an honour.

Gang Of Youths will perform live at MTV Unplugged stage on 25th July in front of an intimate, live audience at Cobblestone Pavilion, before embarking on a huge national tour and a run of shows with Foo Fighters later this year.

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