Ben Whitson (vocals, guitar) - Micah Gilliam (guitar, keys, vocals) - Lauren Gilliam (bass, vocals, guitar)
The Young Step make music that’s fantastically untethered to any point in time, a wide-eyed form of rock & roll much too imaginative to be aligned with the past or the present. With their thoughtful intensity and disarming lack of self-seriousness, their equal affinity for Zen poetry and Sade slow jams, the St. Augustine-based trio made their debut with 2016’s El Clàsico—an album mixed and mastered by engineer Matt Boynton (MGMT, Kurt Vile) at the legendary Magic Shop in Manhattan. And while El Clàsico unfolds in flashes of new wave and art-punk and spaced-out psych-rock, The Young Step ultimately remains genre-agnostic, slipping into whichever style best articulates their strange and outlandish moods at any given moment.
On their new single “Ghost Town,” The Young Step shift from the sometimes-feral power of El Clàsico—an album built on heavy bass and unruly guitar work, thrashing drums and wild vocals—and drift toward a smooth-and-breezy sophisti-pop sound. With its warm guitar tones and gentle grooves, “Ghost Town” proves to be both escapist and unsettling, its lyrics speaking to the existential complexities of the band’s adopted hometown (e.g., the ravages of recent hurricanes, the real and/or metaphorical haunting inevitable in America’s oldest city). “It’s also about what it’s like living in a beach town—how you have to be really conscious about doing something with yourself here, instead of getting sucked into the status quo of the beach-town life,” Lauren adds.
Each originally from the Midwest, the three band members moved to St. Augustine within the last decade, forming The Young Step in summer 2015 and now all living together (along with Micah and Lauren’s two-year-old daughter). El Clàsico arrived in December 2016, offering a low-key and unaffected exploration of secular spirituality, largely inspired by the trio’s fascination with philosophers like Terence McKenna and Alan Watts. “Instead of humming like monks, we wanted to write rock & roll songs about all this shit going on in our minds,” notes Micah. Centered on the yin-yan dynamic of Ben’s shadowy baritone and Lauren’s crystalline lilt, the album delivers songs like “Nature Man” (a groove-driven and dreamy ode to pastoral living, accompanied by a Ben-directed video) and “Yoga” (a gloriously shimmering tête-à-tête on the metaphysical implications of lusting after a fellow student in yoga class).
To support El Clàsico, The Young Step headed out on a tour strategically booked in cities where the Gilliams had friends or family on hand to take care of their then-three-month-old baby. With their live history also including a performance at SXSW 2018—as well as a 2016 gig that made The Young Step the first local act to play the St. Augustine Amphitheatre—the band’s early shows marked Ben’s first-ever onstage experience. “I’d maybe done an open mic here or there, but for the most part everything we do is a first for me in music,” he says. On the other hand, Lauren has spent years playing with Micah in a folk duo called The WillowWacks, while Micah himself is a lifelong musician who’s toured internationally and runs his own recording studio.
As revealed in “Ghost Town,” Micah’s skilled musicianship contrasts beautifully with the relatively novice status of Ben (a filmmaker) and Lauren (a professional blown-glass artist). “Because Lauren and I don’t really know anything about music theory, we’ll sometimes come up with something that’s a little weird or off, and then Micah will tell us: ‘That’s actually really cool—I never would’ve thought of that,’” says Ben. At the same time, the band have purposely embraced a free-form creative approach in which the songwriting and recording process are often intertwined, allowing for the unfiltered spontaneity that makes The Young Step’s music so utterly original. “There are some songs where the guitar tracks are the first thing I played after plugging my guitar in—it’s what immediately came out when I had that first idea for a song,” says Micah. “Usually what you hear on a record is something that’s been already played 20 times and analyzed and refined, but this way there’s no time for overthinking; it’s just what was created before any thinking happened at all. There’s something really special about getting something down right when the inspiration hits.”