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Gang of Youths frontman on new album 'angel in realtime'


The new album from the band Gang of Youths begins at the bedside of a dying man.


GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) I prayed the day you passed, but the heavens didn't listen, so we held you till your dark skin dulled to fair.

SHAPIRO: The man who passed was the father of lead singer Dave Le'aupepe. He died of cancer in 2018. And only after that did Dave uncover the life story his father had always told wasn't his real family history. The new album "Angel In Real Time" documents what he learned.

DAVE LE'AUPEPE: Growing up, my dad was pretty, I want to say, reticent to say anything about his own family, his own context, where he was born.

SHAPIRO: There were a few vague details. His father claimed to have been born in New Zealand and immigrated to Australia. He said he was 1 of 8 siblings with a Samoan father and a white mother. Near the end of his father's life, Dave Le'aupepe probed for more.

LE'AUPEPE: I started asking questions and trying to sort of catch him out, maybe a bit exploitatively because he was (unintelligible) at that point, hoping that he might let something slip, and he never did. But he did mention some locales in Samoa that sounded like they might be worth checking out.

SHAPIRO: There were clues in an immigration case file. A fan sent him a tip on Instagram. And ultimately, Dave found the truth.

You lay out pretty specifically what you learned in the song "Brothers," which is maybe the most literal track on the album. Let's listen to part of this.


GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) Thought he was born in 1948, but was born a whole decade before. Thought he was brought up in New Zealand, but he was born and brought up in Samoa. We thought that he was only half Samoan, that his mother was a German Jew. But I went and found his birth certificate, and he lied about that, too.

SHAPIRO: Lied is a strong word. But then you go on to say that maybe he pretended he was half white to give his kids a better chance. So how do you reconcile those two ideas, that he lied to you, but maybe it was because he thought that that was for the best?

LE'AUPEPE: I think that in my father's generation, especially with his sort of lack of wealth and status in a colonial society like New Zealand or Australia, felt it necessary to protect us from maybe a past that he had to leave behind, some that he felt was necessary to abandon for the sake of the future. And I think in terms of protecting us from a racism element or even a class element that he struggled with when he was a young man, he wanted to conceal us from that reality. Unfortunately, that concealment just led to one of more issues of my own identity and the way that I relate to my own culture.

SHAPIRO: There are a lot of tracks on this album where we hear the voices of Pacific Islanders, like in the opening of the man himself.


SHAPIRO: Does this reflect something about the way that you are relating to your Samoan heritage or your father's Samoan identity?

LE'AUPEPE: Yeah. I think it has a really poignant impact on my own life even listening to some of that stuff. It was reported by going to David Fanshawe, who's a composer who dedicated a lot of his life to preserving Indigenous music for posterity, protecting it from...

SHAPIRO: This is an archival recording. There are other new recordings of Pacific Islander voices on this album, but this one is an old one.

LE'AUPEPE: This one's an old one. Yeah, it's from Mangaia, which is an island in what's known as the Cook Islands in the Pacific. And I think for me, it's not necessarily just about belonging to a Samoan identity. I think one of the things that my father did instill in me especially was that as Pacific and Maori people, we share a common bond that makes us closer than cousins, that we're siblings in this overarching Indigenous story. And I think using some of these recordings as a way of connecting me back to that original place, that Eden-like Pacifica moment, and that helped me attach myself to, I guess, the new reality of who I am.

SHAPIRO: Well, there's also this act of adding your voice literally to the chorus.


GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) Hey now. I don't know what to feel. I don't know how to feel right. But I want to become my own man, I guess.

LE'AUPEPE: That was part of the intention. I wanted to sing along with my ancestors and people who lived 40, 50 years ago. And I think there's a bit of poetry in that, considering I'm singing to a man who's dead and can't hear it. Maybe there's something of the ethers, you know, the shema (ph), as they say in Judaism, you know, like something of the spirit going upwards.


GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) Out of the way. Out of the way and everything's fine.

SHAPIRO: You talk about singing with your ancestors and the idea of everybody being interconnected as siblings. You connected with real siblings, two half-brothers who you didn't know you had until after your father died. Can you tell us about what that first meeting was like?

LE'AUPEPE: It was strange because I think even as a kid, I suspected he had other ones because my parents were a little bit older when they had us. So eventually, when I met them, I think they were more shocked to have met me. Matthew (ph) and Leslie (ph), their names are. And they thought our dad had died in the '70s.

SHAPIRO: Oh, wow.

LE'AUPEPE: I suppose for them it was probably harder because my arrival in their lives signifies something deeper and more profoundly awful, that it is a potential that they were abandoned. They had the same mother, but they were both adopted out to different families.


GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) There's angels in silence. It's warm in the islands. And Indy is growing. My brothers are calling.

LE'AUPEPE: It wasn't hugely emotional weighty. It was unbelievably gratifying and natural. And we've become really close as a result. I think it might be the best thing in my life now.



GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) In a way, it'll feel like you were an angel in real time.

SHAPIRO: A lot of this album is you wrestling with your father's past, but the song "Tend The Garden" is written from his perspective.


GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) I was young. It was the '60s, you see. I never wanted to be the chief of anything.

SHAPIRO: What did you learn from writing in his voice like that?

LE'AUPEPE: I think it made me appreciate my own arrival in his life, that maybe he felt a chance to do it over. And he did it, for the most part, the right way. It sort of gave me a bit more perspective on what it is to be - what it would have been to be him, to keep all this stuff hidden.


GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) Lord knows if they would ever forgive me. I won't forgive myself at least.

LE'AUPEPE: To have to live with the guilt and shame and the regret of the past and still be a dazzling and charming, wonderful father. Does that make sense?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I'm struck that you describe him as dazzling and charming and wonderful even as you recount all of these things that he kept from you his whole life.

LE'AUPEPE: I think there's a point where you can look at somebody and say, well, they've done this, they've done that, they've withheld this from me, so they need to be punished for it. But that's not really the mindset that I had with anybody, let alone the man who raised me. I think he was charming and dazzling and wonderful, and all this stuff just enhances his mythos to me. It gives more of him to me than if he just told me everything. It's an unfolding story of discovery with him as well, and that will affect me the rest of my life. And I hope it continues to do so because I don't want to wake up and forget.


GANG OF YOUTHS: (Singing) And I will hold it till my dying breath.

SHAPIRO: Dave Le'aupepe of Gang of Youths. Their new album is "Angel In Real Time." Thanks so much for telling us about it.

LE'AUPEPE: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you so much for having me on the show. I really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF GANG OF YOUTHS SONG, "TEND THE GARDEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.