Young Legs’ ‘Rare Earth Dream’: A Decade of Genre-Blending Brilliance Young Legs
Label: Mint 400 Records
Reviewed by Sam Lowry

Young Legs has been creating a diverse range of self-recorded and produced music for over a decade, blending bedroom folk, garage rock, lo-fi curios, and pop anthems, while drawing inspiration from science, science fiction, love, and dreams

Young Legs, the musical alias of queer NJ native and NY state transplant Steven Donahue, has been crafting a diverse array of music for over a decade. His work spans whisper-quiet bedroom folk, blown-out garage rock, lo-fi curios, and hi-fi pop anthems, often combining these styles on a single record. Self-recorded and produced, Young Legs also collaborates with other artists, focusing on intricate arrangements. Inspired by science, science fiction, love, and dreams, his latest release, "Rare Earth Dream," aims to take listeners on a journey. Outside of music, he enjoys sci-fi/fantasy books, gaming, gardening, and stargazing.

Q: In your opinion, what are the essential qualities that make a “good songwriter”?

A vision. A songwriter needs to be in alignment with the song they are bringing into the world. They can do this by knowing exactly what feeling they hope to evoke as they strive to evoke it. Or, they can have no idea what the end goal is, and be in alignment with the journey.

Q: What is the basis for writing attention-grabbing music in this day and age?

That depends entirely on whose attention you are trying to grab. If you’re an international act, getting into a public beef and writing diss tracks seems to have made a comeback as a successful tactic, as has releasing a 3 hour double album.

Q: What has it been like working with an indie record label as opposed to working on your own?

Working with an indie label has taken the pressure off of trying to land some kind of inside deal to publishing, or pay for my own distribution and radio campaigns. The fewer expenses I have to justify to myself in order to create my art, the better!

Q: Can you pinpoint some specific songs and songwriters that changed the way you write music?

Many artists have taught me many things, but Elliott Smith is very special to me. Sometimes you find 3 different chord progressions to play under the same hair-raising hook, like in Pretty Mary Kay. Or perhaps a string section is what you want to send the song through the veil, like in Waltz #1. Maybe you just have to let it all out and make some noise, but it still makes people cry, like in Coast to Coast. But no matter what, you only ever need a guitar and the moon, like in Satellite. 

Q: Do you find it hard to be inspired by artists that are younger than you, or are you motivated by their energy? Can you name any new artists you find inspiring?

It’s very, very rare that I find a new artist of any age that strikes me with a lasting impact. I think I take a long time to process influence - as you can see from the last question, I’m still picking apart songs I fell in love with in middle school. The other part of the equation is that in 2024, you can listen to almost any song that was ever published in the last 80 years within seconds of pulling your phone out of your pocket. There are hundreds of YEARS of music on Spotify or Apple. Then, factor in all of the incredible, visionary music that was released independently before the digital age, floating around out there in the paradoxically ephemeral material world: hand-dubbed cassettes, self-pressed records, tape reels of a genius’s forgotten demos. If I hear some obscure English band’s one-off psych record from 1971, or a live one-mic bootleg of some 80s Somalian disco act, it completely blows my mind in a way that for some reason just doesn’t happen with contemporary artists. Is it because it was “new” then, but it nothing is “new” now? Why should it matter, when I can hear both for the first time, at the same time? This is something I often wonder.

Q: For your new album, what inspired the lyrical content, album title, and overall vibe?

The album was written when the love of my life came back into my orbit after years apart, only for her to immediately move across the country to LA. She spent a few months there, and almost all of the lyrics are directly inspired by this time of geographical separation. The album title comes from the last track, which is about the long calls that we would have every day, the difficulty of being so far from each other, but the strange wonder of modern technology keeping us connected. This theme is echoed multiple times throughout the album. Rare earth minerals are critical elements in the construction of cellphones and other devices, in particular LCD touch screens. Being able to see her face on a screen, often times hours into a call, not having anything new to say but not wanting to hang up, drifting into unconsciousness, it became a very dreamlike time. This is the first meaning of Rare Earth Dream. The other even more pervasive motif is that this planet which we call home is an exceptionally rare jewel indeed, in the infinitely beautiful but equally inhospitable expanse of the universe, and to be alive on Earth at all is itself a unbelievable dream.

Q: Do you find that you ruminate over writing songs and hold on to them for a long time before including them on a record? Or do you prefer to write them, release them, and be done with them? Do you ever re-visit old material to do a re-write or once it’s done it’s done?

I have come to understand two patterns in my production cycle, one which I hope to discard and one which I hope to embrace. The first pattern is that I will write a set of songs that function as a sort of journal or documentation of a specific time in my life, usually of tumultuous emotional content, which I then treat as a grand project with extensive arrangement and production, and it takes me years to finish and release it. The Petal and the Page took 5 or 6 years, and Rare Earth Dream took 7.

As for the other pattern, I didn’t spend more than a couple of days arranging and recording any one song from Promise of Winter or Songs from Lost Valley. Going forward, I would love to stay in that space, so that I can write and release more often.

Q: Were there any lessons you learned in the writing and recording process for your current release that you will take with you into your next project?

Don’t take 7 years, and don’t wait for things to be perfect, because the people who will like it will think it’s perfect anyway. My next project is a 5 song Dungeons & Dragons EP and I’m aiming to record the whole thing in a weekend. We’ll see how that goes!

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