I was recently watching a TV show where someone said, “Look a robot ghost!” They trapped that ghost in a vault, deep in a cave, where it languished for 100 years. If that robot ghost had had a synthesizer, it might have written Young Galaxy’s Shapeshifting, just released on Paper Bag Records.
Etherial, severe, melodramatic, and with a kind of icy desperation, Young Galaxy’s songs are the soundtrack to a disaffected dance party. Like contemporaries Glasser, La Roux (Young Galaxy often sound like the musical equivalent of the colourless colour they sing about), and, to some extent, the whole raft of chillwave artists, Young Galaxy obviously owe a big debt to late ‘80s and early ’90s pop music, and cite Kate Bush and The Eurythmics among their influences.
It wasn’t always this way, however. When Stars touring guitarist Stephen Ramsay and his girlfriend Catherine McCandless formed the band in the mid-2000s, its sound was more space rock than foggy dance party. Prefix recently had an email chat with the band Ramsay (and McCandless, for a moment) about the journey to their current sound, working with producer Dan Lissvik (who also worked extensively with Fever Ray, the project of the Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson), and whether Canada has better doughnuts than America.
You were both working with Stars, and dating. How did you get from there to having your own band? Did it just grow out of spending time together, doing what you enjoy?
Catherine was painfully shy about singing - I tried to coax her into singing on my songs from early on - when I finally convinced her to sing she made me leave the room while she did! While we still lived in Vancouver, I made a proper studio demo with Catherine singing backups. A couple of those songs ended up on our first record.
I had casually passed the demo on to Torq from Stars, who I had befriended. It wasn't long before he asked me if I would be willing to join them as a touring guitarist. Catherine and I were looking for a change of scenery and an adventure, so we decided to move to Montreal - from there, we began to record with our new friends Jace and Olga from The Besnard Lakes at their studio, Breakglass. Because of my associations with Stars' label, Arts&Crafts, they heard the record before it was finished and decided they wanted to put it out. We had a record deal before we had a band together, so it all kind of happened in reverse!
Your first record is very different from this one. Can you tell me how you arrived at the sound on Shapeshifting?
It was a calculated decision to change direction, though the types of changes that were made were quite organic. Traditionally with the band, we had demoed songs at home on our computer, then re-interpreted them in a 'live' setting in the studio - so in a way, there is less re-interpretation on this record than with our other two because we kept a lot of the sounds made at home on the computer on this record. This meant not relying so heavily on writing with traditional instruments like the guitar or piano - sometimes we would write the song using beats or grooves first - we wanted it to be a groovy record, first and foremost.
We were tired of the traditional indie audience reaction - people judging with their arms folded, not moving. We wanted to make people move with this record. We also wanted to make more space in the sound - to make that as important to the record as the sounds you hear. We've always had a tendency to fill space - to make an epic wall of sound. We didn't care so much about being epic on this record - we are aware that lots of bands talk about change of direction, but usually that just means a few wibbly synth sounds over their typical sound. I find that annoying. I felt like we needed to deliver something very unusual for us - to have the record signify a brave choice, failure or not. We aren't afraid to fail in the name of pushing our creative frontiers.
Could you tell me a bit about working with Dan Lissvik? How much did the record change from what you sent him to what you got back?
Dan is a wonderful man, a very soulful individual. He's become a very good friend through this whole process. It was great that we connected as people - I think the whole process would have been a lot more laborious if we didn't feel like we were becoming friends during it.
His actual process was quite drawn out - initially the album was supposed to be done in April, but didn't get finished until September! Plus, he wouldn't let us hear much of what he was doing - and when he did, it was a 30 second clip usually. On top of that, he would play a song one week and the next week it would be totally different! So really, we didn't have a sense of how it would end up at all, until the album was actually finished. It required a lot of patience and trust.
Catherine – your vocals are very emotional. Is this a natural way of singing for you, or did it take you some mental preparation to get to that place?
McCandless We write with a lot of emotion, unabashedly. We try to focus on one vein of feeling and mine it, explore it. The performance of our songs, especially during recording (when you particularly want to give it up, not phone it in) is often very intense for me. Its been known to squeeze the occasional tear from me, or caused a re-take. I mean it. If you don't you are wasting the time of your listeners and you will perform distantly or with cynicism. There is nothing contagious about that for a listener / audience member. That means, when on the road during a year and a half album cycle, that I have to be listening. To the band, to myself, to the audience to really be there with the feeling we wrote with in mind. The song always becomes something new after many performances too so you have to find a way to stay on it and ride it through every performance. It makes me a happier person to sing, to give it up, to own it, and to share the physical and emotional rush with a listener.
Could you tell me a bit about the video for “We Have Everything”? I have to say that it doesn’t really reflect what I imagine when I hear that song. Is it what you guys see when you play it?
I guess everyone has a different sense of how it relates to the song. I think upon repeated viewings the connections get a little more clear. There's an urgency there, under the quirky animation and vivid colours - a sense of melancholy. That's what I hope people pick up on with the song and the video. When I used to play the song, I would envision a muscular viking, sword drawn with flowing long silver hair riding his white steed in slow motion across plains of ice. Now I see the video's star, Jennifer Harris, with her tongue out daydreaming. That's the power of the video, I guess.
You’re both Canadian, I believe. Is Tim Horton’s a million times better than Duncan Donuts?
Neither! I'm a Doughnut Plant guy myself! Though our bassist Stephen Kamp would say the sprinkle donut from Tim Horton's is divine.
Upcoming tour dates:
03.10 Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
03.17 Boston MA – TT The Bears *
03.18 New York, NY – Mercury Lounge*
03.19 Brooklyn NY – Knitting Factory *
03.21 Philadelphia PA – Ku Fung Necktie *
03.22 Washington DC – Red Palace *
03.23 Pittsburgh PA – Brillobox *
03.24 Akron, OH – Musica *
03.25 Chicago IL – Empty Bottle *
03.26 Fort Wayne, IN – The Brass Rail *
03.28 Winooski, VT – The Monkey House *
* w/ Winter Gloves
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