Young the Giant: bassist Payam Doostzadeh, guitarist Jacob Tilley, singer Sameer Gadhia, drummer Francois Comtois and guitarist Eric Cannata

From Irvine schools to rock stars


Lead singer Sameer Gadhia graduated from Irvine High School in 2007.

Young the Giant, the alt-rock band formed by five former Irvine high school students, is performing in Irvine on Aug. 19, near the end of a world tour that’s just the latest of its supersized achievements.

The band, which has sold more than 9 million records, will play from its latest, most focused collection, “American Bollywood.” A sitar and kettle drums evoke the cultural roots of Asian immigrants to the United States – including the parents of lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia, who left India shortly before he was born.

The five artists, who graduated in 2007 from Irvine high schools and first played local venues as The Jakes, are remarkable for their diversity. Drummer Francois Comtois is from Montreal; bassist Payam Doostzadeh is Persian American; guitarist Jacob Tilley is British, and guitarist Eric Cannata is Italian and Jewish.

“As I’ve gotten older, I realize we were so lucky because we grew up in a community that really embraced diversity.” – Young the Giant drummer Francois Comtois

The themes of immigration and nostalgia in “American Bollywood” are resonating with audiences, says Comtois, a Northwood High graduate who spoke on the phone from the road in Richmond, Virginia. “We have these VIP question-and-answer sessions sometimes before the concerts, and so many people have prefaced their questions by saying ‘This story means so much to me,’ ” he says. “It’s such a common theme for people who have roots in different places and feel caught between home and where they’re at.”

A support system for the arts

Growing up in Irvine helped Young the Giant develop its unique sound, says Tyler Alessi, a professional opera singer and incoming choir director at Northwood High, where as a student he was friends with Comtois and other Young the Giant musicians.

“Music was such a big part of our upbringing,” he says. “Part of the reason I wanted to take this job is because there’s so much support for the arts here, and you see that in terms of things students go off and do.”

Cannata, the guitarist, remembers looking up to Thrice, another successful Irvine rock band formed by friends in high school, in 1998.

For Comtois, the drummer, who moved to Irvine with his family at 15, the city offered both a solid foundation and an incentive to seek new experiences. “We called it ‘the bubble’ when I was a kid, and it made me want to go out and see the rest of the world,” he says. “But as I’ve gotten older, I realize we were so lucky because we grew up in a community that really embraced diversity.”

Young the Giant, whose members all attended Irvine high schools, will perform Aug. 19 at FivePoint Amphitheatre during a summer tour of about 60 cities.

The band’s return to Irvine this summer feels “like a full-circle moment” says Cannata, who says his 3-year-old nephew, Luca, will be among family and friends in attendance. “This will be his first concert,” he says. “I’m really excited to see him. He loves the band and knows all the songs.”

The tour of roughly 60 cities began in June in Montreal and will end in February in Miami and include appearances by the rock band Milky Chance. For Comtois, it really does mean coming full circle, since he recently moved back to Irvine from Los Angeles, as a new father.

“I’m 35 and I’m slowing down a bit,” he says. “I love being able to walk down the street, go to the pool, and have a barbecue with my family. It’s just a great feeling of community.”

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