Young the Giant’s Eric Cannata on touring, meeting his idol, college
October 21, 2019
Alternative rock band Young the Giant started out in 2004 as a group of high school friends from Irvine, California. Now, hit songs like My Body, Cough Syrup, It’s About Time and Superposition have all peaked within the top five on the Billboard Hot 100. The band released its fourth and latest album, Mirror Master, in 2018, and the group will be performing at the State Farm Center on Thursday.
One can only imagine my excitement when I realized I would be interviewing one of the band’s guitarists, Eric Cannata. After all, I’m nearly positive I used the lyrics to Cough Syrup as a caption for an Instagram post or two back in middle school. He sat down with me to talk about breaking bad habits, why he started playing guitar and pursuing your passion.
The Daily Illini: You joined Young the Giant in 2007, which means you’ve been touring on and off for over a decade now. What has that experience been like?
Eric Cannata: It’s been a lot of fun. A long but very inspirational decade, I guess. It’s changed a lot over the years, in terms of how we tour, and our mental health on tour, and going from being 19 years old to 29 years old is a big mental shift.
DI: Can you elaborate on how your mental health has been impacted while on tour? Have you had struggles?
EC: I think that with what you’re around while touring when you’re young, it’s easy to fall into bad habits, anything from drinking to just staying up late. That can lead to anxiety and feelings of exhaustion. As you get older I think that there’s a shift of your priorities, and staying healthy is a big priority for us and for a lot of artists who continue to tour as they get older. It’s changed for the better in regards to making a lot more healthy choices. We conserve our energy more, and we just don’t go out to the bar every single night. We’re pretty low key on tour now, so it’s actually very nice.
DI: College students know all about too much partying and staying up late, but was there an inciting incident, a lightbulb moment that made you want to change your behavior?
EC: I think it came with time, naturally. I think that when you’re in college, and granted I only went to college for two months, you’re surrounded by a lot of people your own age, and a lot of people are making the choice to go out and party. For me personally, not to advocate for partying or advocate for unhealthy behavior, I needed to experience going through those kinds of situations to be able to grow out of them. I don’t believe that everyone needs to do that, it was just for my own personal side of things. I was surrounded by people all of the time and I never really had a chance to sit by myself and think for myself when I was younger, being with the band, and living with the band, not that it’s the band’s fault. It’s really not them, it’s just the environment. And you can even relate touring to college, in the sense that it’s an environment in which young people are free to make the choices that they want to make, surrounded by other young people who have the same choices. I thought that I was making my own choices, when really I realized that a lot of it was influenced by what other people were doing and also the idea of who I thought I was. You know, a musician, on tour. There’s these ideas of ourselves, of myself, that I was supposed to fulfill my role. As you get older, and maybe you go through these experiences or you have more time to think by yourself and think for yourself, then really the question is: What do I want to do? Do I want to go out and drink every night? Or do I want to stay home and work on music? Or whatever that means for people. I think it takes sitting down and kind of thinking for yourself, not influenced by everything around you.
DI: The band lived together for about six or seven years, basically being in a constant state of togetherness. You would be on tour together, only to arrive home and be together again. What was that experience like for you?
EC: It was fun and it was necessary for us. It was necessary for us to grow as a band together, and experience all of that together. I think it really makes us appreciate each other and also appreciate the space that we have now to kind of grow as individuals. When we do come together now, we are stronger than we were. I think it was definitely necessary for us as a band to live together for that long, and it honestly just made sense. Now we all live within a mile and a half of one another here in L.A., so we’re all very close now. The band actually recently bought a house in the neighborhood that we lived in to build into a recording studio. It’s a lot better in regards to the fact that we all have our own space to grow individually so that when we do come together, we have a lot more to share with each other.
DI: Speaking of people that you are close with, you have said in previous interviews that you wanted to be just like your older brothers growing up, and one of your brothers had a significant role in making you want to play guitar. What is it like being away from family when you’re on tour?
EC: I feel like I actually see my family more than a lot of people that I know. Living in L.A., you have a lot of people who moved here from out of state or out of the country, and a lot of their families are much further away. I am very lucky that I moved from Orange County, and my parents are an hour away. My brothers both inspired me, and so did my whole family. I grew up with my dad playing piano. He still plays piano. Growing up as the youngest of four, you really idolize your older siblings and my brothers were really into music. They both played guitar, and they both inspired me a lot. They were really into punk music when I was younger. When I was really young my brother would show me songs and he would ask me, “Who is this band?” and I remember thinking, how in the world could I know what band this is compared to the next one that you’re going to show me? And he kept asking me, you know, a week later “Which band is this? Which band is that?” and eventually, I started to notice the voices sounded different, the guitar sounded different, the drums sounded different. So, he basically was trying to show me that there are differences in each of these bands. I remember at a very young age being interested in what those differences were, what made a band unique, what made a band something that I liked listening to. Touring is difficult, but when I get home, I make it a point to see my family, to see my parents and my siblings. My oldest brother, who lives in Washington, D.C., I actually see him more than the rest of my family sees him because I travel to D.C. once or twice a year for shows. Sometimes touring actually brings me closer to my extended family, because I have family in San Francisco and New York and Boston, so any time I’m playing a show in any of those cities I get to see my aunts and uncles and cousins.
DI: When you first started playing the guitar, you played a lot of blues. What made you want to play blues at such a young age?
EC: It’s funny, the door for me that lead me into playing guitar was that one of my brothers showed me the pentatonic blues scale. Prior to that I didn’t really know how to be able to listen to a song and play along with it, and kind of tinker around. The blues scale opened that door for me to being able to improvise. That really showed me that there’s a form of expression on the guitar that isn’t playing someone else’s written parts or playing along to a song, it was a much more creative feeling. I was never really into particular blues musicians, it was just that the lesson on the guitar opened a door for me creatively, which inspired me to play guitar every day as a kid.
DI: Throughout your time touring with Young the Giant, have you ever met any musicians who you idolize? Have you ever had a fangirl moment?
EC: We met Paul McCartney in 2009 or so, and he was very nice. We were actually doing a record label showcase and at the same rehearsal studio we were at, Paul McCartney was rehearsing for Coachella. So, he was sitting outside eating a croissant sandwich and I went up to him and introduced myself. The band all met him and we said something along the lines of “We love your music, your music has inspired us so much,” and he said, “You have good taste in music.” So he seems like a cool dude. But that was definitely a moment when I was starstruck, just because of the amazing reality of meeting someone from one of the most influential bands of our time. Just realizing that there are still two members of that band who are going to go down in history for so long is actually really interesting in the time that we live in. In ten or 20 years there will be kids growing up without Paul McCartney or Ringo in the world.
DI: You briefly attended California State University in Long Beach, is there anything you know now that you wish you had known back then? Do you have any advice for current college students?
EC: I went to college for a semester, and then I left college to pursue music. The reality for me was that I didn’t want to do anything but music. What was offered at school in general, in any college really, I didn’t feel that it was really what I needed to do to achieve where I wanted to go. I think that at its core, the most important question to a student or to an individual who is trying to figure out where to go and what route to take is what do they find meaningful to spend their time doing? I can’t really give advice to students other than really going deep within themselves to try to understand what the path is that they could take to make them feel good and feel fulfilled and feel like they’re following the path that their lives are supposed to take. That seems so ridiculous to say, but I feel like so many people don’t know what they want to do, and they go to college and pick a degree based on the fact that it’s the degree that supposedly helps them make money. But, they hate what they’re studying and they don’t like spending time learning about what they’re studying. To me, that’s not worth the money that the United States makes kids and families pay for college. But, I think it’s worth it if there is something that the student feels passionate about. Even if it’s just an inclination, or just the start of a passion. Because if they start down a path that is based around their passion for something and they figure out later that it wasn’t the right thing once they learn more about it, at least they’re chipping away at what the path is for them. But, if you’re just going because you want to meet the expectations of others and you don’t like what you’re studying and you don’t like the idea of spending the next 40 years of your life revolving most of your time around a subject that you don’t even like, or a career you don’t even like, it doesn’t make sense. I think that’s really the goal, to find the thing for each individual that really sparks their interest and makes them feel passionate. Because then, even if it is work or a career it hopefully doesn’t feel like work, or as much like work.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.