Young Galaxy have been building buzz slowly for their sophomore release, Invisible Republic. Put out independently after they released their first album with Arts and Crafts, they’ve been growing this album the old-fashioned way, with lots of touring, inevitably followed by lots of accolades. We talked to member Stephen Ramsay about the band and the album, and what’s coming next.
1. Your first album was released on Arts and Crafts, and this album was released independently. What advantages have you found in doing things on your own?
The longer I spend in the music industry, the more I feel that you are your own best advocate and judge of what is right to do as a band. The tendency is to seek authorities in the industry to tell you the right thing to do, to latch onto opinions coming from other people’s experience. Every band is subject to a unique set of rules, unless they follow a trend — in which case they will probably not stand the test of time.
The truth is, no one knows what the right thing to do is anymore. Things are changing too quickly and there is a huge divide between music that is commercially viable and musical trends. Most labels will tell you that the secret revolves around the commerce of being a band. You’d be surprised how quickly a band’s perspective can shift from being committed to making great art vs. being committed to making money. It’s a dangerous perspective, in my mind.
Being independent has allowed YG to write its own model for success…we operate more than ever from a place of creative inspiration. We understand it may be a long road to being a “successful band”, but we refuse to compromise our artistic integrity. We’ve toiled in obscurity for too long to jeopardize our creative output now — we are willing to pay the price to be a great band. We think being an artist is a great responsibility, and we are only now starting to understand what the long term goals for the band are…if we were on a label, we might feel more pressure to meet the standards set by other bands on that label, or for that matter other labels, which can be very traumatic and too much pressure for a young band.
2. You and Catherine McCandless lived in Vancouver before moving to Montreal a few years ago. How has the change in geography and musical peers affected Young Galaxy’s music?
Montreal has a much more communal spirit generally than Vancouver.. In my experience Vancouver is an executive city, where only rich people can buy homes and people are more socially apathetic…the distance between neighbourhoods and the weather seem to be contributing factors. We benefit from the close-knit community that we are a part of in Montreal. We are minorities as both Anglos and musicians here, so all of us know each other and support each other, from the biggest bands to the most obscure bands.
3. Invisible Republic was recorded over a period of several months — how did that way of recording affect the output, and for the next album would you rather lay it down in one chunk of time or spread things out again?
I often wonder what kind of record we might make if we had Radiohead’s resources, for example, where we could set up in a mansion somewhere for a year and work on a record they way they did with In Rainbows, recording, scrapping, re-recording. If we could do that I believe we could easily make a record to rival theirs…the reality is, most bands don’t have the luxury of being able to record for long stretches of uninterrupted time, so you work with what you have at your disposal. For the new record, ours is an even more protracted and abstract approach. We recorded the bulk of the album in January this year, and then sent it to a producer in Sweden to work on, so even we don’t know what it will sound like or when it will be finished…I think for us, it’s most important to do things in challenging, engaging ways, rather than follow a formula.
4. Young Galaxy’s songs sometimes touch on political themes. Why is it important for you to mix politics and art?
It’s not particularly important to me, to be honest — though I recognize that the choice to identify yourself as an artist is inherently political. I think our politics are more about the politics of the self — or what it means to live an authentic existence.
5. The band has gone through some changes to both its touring and permanent line-up. Do you now feel settled into a group of musicians that works well together?
Definitely. For the first time in the band’s existence, I feel like we are operating in our essential configuration live. It is just the principle four members playing now — me, Catherine, Stephen and Max — so we feel pretty in tune with each other. I’ve got the feeling even just from rehearsals that we are going to start turning heads live — there have been some transcendent moments.
6. You’ve done a lot of touring in support of both albums; what are some of the bands you’ve most enjoyed playing with?
Truth is, we wished we’d played a lot more than we have! But of the bands we’ve played with, we always enjoyed playing with good friends like Stars, The Besnard Lakes, and The Dears. Playing with Peter, Bjorn & John was fun because Catherine got to sing “Young Folks” and experience true mass hysteria…
7. Young Galaxy has personal and musical connections to other well-known Montreal artists like Stars and The Besnard Lakes. How does being part of a defined “scene” help the band?
It doesn’t help much — the Montreal “scene” has long been eclipsed by the Brooklyn “scene” in terms of hype, which is good thing I think, because now bands can exist on their own merits rather than on the coattails of some journalist-fabricated movement. There is a sense that everyone is preoccupied with their own process — we aren’t all trying to accomplish the same things musically. If people want to look at it as a scene though, be my guest…all it means is we eat and drink together occasionally, and lend each other amps from time to time!
8. Toronto and Montreal have a rivalry of sorts — what do you see as the key differences between the two cities, musically?
That’s a difficult question! Having never lived in Toronto, I couldn’t really tell you, though I think it stands to reason that the key musical players in both cities have more influence over their respective vicinities than they do in each other’s, and vice versa. I personally have never felt a sense of rivalry, and I feel like I have a fairly objective opinion given that I was on a big Toronto label while living in Montreal, having just moved from an entirely different part of the country altogether. I always heard about this supposed rivalry, but never felt hostility from either city. Of course it’s entirely possible that this is only because I was intoxicated during that whole period!
9. What does the second half of 2010 hold for Young Galaxy?
Ayahuasca. Astral projection training. Finish third album. Tour. Weep uncontrollably. Rehab. Rinse. Repeat.
10. Which artists do you most look forward to catching while in town for NXNE?
Young Galaxy are playing NXNE on June 17 at the Mod Club at 8PM.