It’s not often that a rock or punk band will make a hip-hop style mixtape just to clear their creative cobwebs. But that’s exactly what Albany-based four-piece Young Culture did. Formed by school friends Alex Magnan (vocals) and Gabe Pietrafesa (guitar), who have been playing together for a number of years, Young Culture put out their debut mini-album, You, in the summer of 2016. It was followed up with a five-track EP called Blue. The former had a song, “Bedroom Floor” that featured Derek DiScanio from State Champs – a fellow Albany band – on backing vocals. The latter was co-produced by him and Seth Henderson, who’s worked with the likes of Real Friends, Knuckle Puck and Sleep On It.
Young Culture – completed now by guitarist Troy Burchett and drummer Nick Cavin – toured those songs and began to build up a solid following, which remains strong today. But instead of working on new material for the band, the pair, fuelled by an inherent restless creativity, began to experiment, Pietrafesa sending Magnan different beats to write lyrics over just to keep their inspiration and creative juices flowing.
“A lot of our influences come from hip-hop and pop music,” explains Magnan. “That’s stuff that we really like. So Gabe was making beats and he sent me one and was like ‘You want to just try writing something over this?’ And I was like ‘Yeah, I’ll try it out’ and we ended up writing a bunch of songs.”
“In the middle of writing all these other pop-punk songs,” says Pietrafesa, “I’d just send Alex a beat for fun so he could stay creative. And they just sounded kind of cool and we wanted to share it.”
A complete 180 to the music Young Culture had made previously, the band released them as a mixtape under the abbreviated moniker YC. I the songs served as an important writing exercise for the pair to sharpen their skills when it came back round to writing ‘real’ Young Culture songs. That influence is very much evident in “Drift”, the first song the band has written since signing to Equal Vision.
“We were trying to incorporate those sounds a little bit,” explains Pietrafesa about the direction “Drift” and other Young Culture songs that are in the works have taken. “We still want to have that pop-punk/pop-rock vibe, but with “Drift” we messed around with production techniques and I added my own little flavor, like I would do on the hip-hop songs. It’s definitely expanded our horizons.”
“It was a real learning experience,” adds Magnan. “We found different ways to write songs, brand new angles we could approach from.”
The result is a song that redefines both who Young Culture is as a band, but also reshapes the perimeters of pop-punk – although it should be noted that they’re very wary of being confined to just that genre. As they should be – because there are many more layers to this song and this band.
“I think that it’s easy for us to be categorized as pop-punk,” says Magnan, “but at the end of the day that’s not really what we are. I don’t know how to explain it, but there are so many different influences on the sound we have and what we do has so much more to offer than just that.”
The presence and input of Derek DiScanio has also been invaluable in helping to shape the band. Having met him through a mutual friend when they were in a previous band, DiScanio has since become a mentor of sorts to the Young Culture, on both a personal and musical level.
“Working with him has taught us an insane amount of stuff,” says Pietrafesa, “such as how to act in the studio and what to look and aim for when writing a song. He’s a very talented guy and he’s become one of our best friends.”
“Having him around is so great,” says Magnan, “because he’s so invested in our songs. He treats them as if they were his own. And I think he’s super proud of us because he’s seen us grow and learn from him and the other producers we’ve worked with. He’s really taken us under his wing. He’s like a big brother.”
“When we signed to Equal Vision,” adds Pietrafesa, “he said ‘I told you this would happen!’ He has so many connections he could have easily hooked us up, but he’d rather see us get it on our own than do us a bunch of favors.”
The release of the emotionally charged ‘(This Is) Heaven’ EP, then, is helping to usher in a brand new phase of Young Culture’s existence. They might now be just 20 years old, but both Pietrafesa and Magnan’s attitude and songwriting ability display a maturity way beyond their years. And while this isn’t an entirely new beginning, it certainly marks the start of something that’s thoroughly unique, electrifying and engaging.
“This is definitely a new vibe and a new era of Young Culture that I think is mind-blowing,” says Pietrafesa. “We’re going from a two-piece to a four-piece, we’re now on a label, we have new songs, shows and music. We have a whole new attitude and I think it’s going to go out of this world. We’re really excited for what’s going to happen and it’s only going to get better from here.”
“No doubt about it,” adds Magnan. “I really feel that. This is straight up just the beginning. We’re still a baby band but we have a lot of potential and people see that at our live shows. People see that from talking to us and listening to our songs. We’re going to be number one, baby. We’re going to be Drake!”
“Yeah,” laughs Pietrafesa. “We’re going to be Drake!”