Just over a year on from the release of their EP Godspeed – which includes “Hum”, their feel-good song about the joys of being in love – Albany trio Young Culture are back with a brand new album, You Had To Be There. Although similarly dramatic and catchy surges of unabashed emotion, the two songs that announced the record – “Tattoo” and “Good Karma”, whose melancholy rush of high-octane energy they worked on with Paul Marc Rousseau from Silverstein – contrasted that happy-go-lovestruck tune with the shadows that were lurking within their foundations. The other eight songs on the album follow suit. Recorded with Anton DeLost (State Champs, Silverstein, Mayday Parade) at his studio in Toronto, it feels like the trio – vocalist Alex Magnan and guitarists Gabe Pietrafesa, two close friends who have been making music together for a decade, as well as guitarist Troy Burchett – are coming down from that lovestruck high of a year ago, especially on the aforementioned “Tattoo”. ‘Never thought it would hurt forever when I asked you for your name,’ sings Magnan over a chugging guitar-line that soon travels into the past, pitting the optimism of back then against the reality of a relationship gone wrong. The distance between those two things is played out over an infectiously catchy pop-punk tune that is nevertheless carried by a sense of hope.
“It’s a song about anybody that scarred you in a permanent way,” explains Magnan. “People can make impressions on your life and it can be permanent, whether that’s someone you’re in love with or a friend or something. We wrote it in the studio, and I think it really showcases our roots – and it’s so Young Culture!”
“Godspeed was kind of a love EP,” adds Pietrafesa, “This isn’t, but thankfully there was no real emotional turmoil as far as our relationships went or anything like that. And musically, like Alex said, this record really captures who we are.”
Interestingly, You Had To Be There is the first time the band haven’t worked with State Champs’ Derek DiScanio, but its songs nevertheless build on the foundation that he’s helped them lay down since the band formed in 2016. What’s more, it’s an album that defies the classic (and often true) notion of the difficult second record. This was anything but. What’s more, you can hear just how much freedom, joy, exuberance and fun was involved in the process of putting it all together.
“It was kind of scary going in,” admits Magnan, “but it felt so natural making it. I feel like it’s the sound of us coming into our own and making a record that is the most Young Culture thing ever. We were the most excited we’ve ever been to make music.”
“Once we got into the studio, it became this really organic process,” confirms Pietrafesa. “We knew exactly what we wanted to do and there wasn’t any fear or difficulties at that point. We were just like, ‘Wow! We’re making some of the best music we’ve ever made!’ Because of the pandemic – because we didn’t really get a fair go at putting out and touring first album – it almost felt like we’d been given another shot at doing the first album again. It very much feels like a true stamp of Young Culture, both in terms of where we’re at now and what we want for the future.”
In other words, this is the sound of the Young Culture engines revving up to full throttle. From the smooth and polished pop of opener “Not In Love” and the hybrid pop-punk of “Kind Over It” – both songs about finding solace in the company of someone else, if only for one night – to the joyous, emphatic and triumphant strains of “We’re On Fire” and the forlorn but still defiant of “Know Better”, this is a record about making the most of now, of living in the present and having as much fun as possible, whatever you or the world are going through. Musically, it’s also an unashamed nod to all the genres and bands that the trio love. On “Tattoo”, for example, the band reference listening to Backstreet Boys the same way they mentioned listening to Britney Spears on “Hum”. There are no concerns whatsoever that that might not be cool within the pop-punk scene the band are a part of, and nor should there be. In fact, it’s precisely that unbridled passion and unfiltered enthusiasm that makes You Had To Be There stand out.
“One thing we really wanted to do with this album,” says Magnan, “is showcase our love for the music we grew up on. Like, we’re kind of a pop-punk band and a pop band and an alternative rock band – whatever you want to call us – and thought it would be awesome, you know, just incorporate and showcase our roots and the kind of music we grew up on.”
It’s done in such a way, however, that the band are also looking forward to what’s next – both in the near future and the grand scheme of things – and are doing so with extra confidence. That’s something wholeheartedly reflected throughout the entire album, musically and lyrically, from the very first note to the very last.
“Our like ambition and work ethic and overall drive has never been higher,” says Pietrafesa. “Even if you’re coming at this as a first time listener, I think you’re going to be excited to join the family that is Young Culture.”
“I really think this is something that you don’t want to miss out on,” adds Magnan, “so now’s the opportunity to tap into it. We don’t want Young Culture to be a moment. We want it to be a movement. And this album is a party. Come join it, so you can say ‘You had to be there.’”