Montreal-based synthpop act Young Galaxy have been busy the last decade, generating an impressive amount of work and creative output that has manifested in the form of five albums, including their latest, Falsework. Originally formed by Stephen Ramsay and his spouse Catherine McCandless, the group has since evolved into a four-piece that continues to push themselves artistically. Even with two kids now in the picture, the constraints of family life hasn’t stopped the group from moving full speed ahead.
The quartet has just set out on tour in support of the new album, which is sure to be a spectacular affair as the band enlisted the help of Adam Hummell — whose production credits include Madonna‘s Super Bowl Halftime performance and Miley Cyrus‘ Bangrz Tour — to help them design a music-triggered light show for the set. Their live show will also feature dancers from Montreal’s Street Parade, all in an attempt to challenge people’s expectations of small club shows — which we for one can’t wait to witness at their Black Cat show tonight in DC.
In advance of the show, we spoke with Stephen about his time touring with Stars, Catherine overcoming stage fright, meeting their producer Dan Lissvik through Myspace, being influenced by unconventional acts like David Bowie, and of course their adorable, record-loving children.
Where to begin…you have a breadth of work and we’re loving the new album, Falsework. For new, prospective listeners though, could you tell the story of how you got started, and where your name comes from?
The story started in Vancouver with me in University and working a day job, writing and recording late into the night. I was recording demos — one of the great offshoots of having a computer for school was that I could also record music on it, and this was in the early days of being able to simulate a full band…it definitely allowed me the ability to flesh out my ideas a lot more than previously. I wanted Catherine to sing but she was too shy to even sing with me in the room, which is why I feature more heavily as the lead singer in the early recordings. Anyway, I had just befriended Torquil from Stars, who I played the demos to. On the strength of them, he offered me a job as the touring member of his band as long as we moved to Montreal. Once we had done that, I toured with Stars for a year and a half, and got to know their label, Arts & Crafts. In my downtime between tours, Catherine and I began recording with Jace and Olga from The Besnard Lakes at their studio, Breakglass. Catherine began to warm up to the idea of singing in public more at this point, thanks in large part to the friendship we had with Jace and Olga who were wonderful to record with. Once we had about five songs recorded, we played them for Arts & Crafts and they agreed to sign us before we’d even played a show. It all happened rather quickly and fortuitously — we were in the right place at the right time.Where did you draw your inspiration for the new album?
We felt it was a logical continuation of the previous two with Dan Lissvik, an end to a trilogy as it were. I was listening to a lot of minimal dance and electronic music — and given our mandate of making the songs more sparse and energized over the previous albums with Dan, we tried to stay that course with Falsework. I had also come into a windfall of analog synths quite by accident, so my entire workflow changed with this new gear. It became way more process based, more about patterns and arrangements and rhythms than ever. The beauty of analog electronic gear is it’s very quirky and has real personality. The challenge is to harness that personality using your personal sensibilities. It’s harder than it seems…so as a result we were very in the moment — we let the machines shape the overall sound of the record.
How do you think your sound has evolved over the years?
We started in a much more traditional rock formation — in retrospect I think we were working out our early influences, or our original idea of what kind of band we wanted to be in when we first started dreaming of being in bands…I think I imagined it should be like a gang — a lot of my favourite bands growing up were that way, like The Stone Roses, The Verve, The Happy Mondays…but over time I realized we’d never really be that way, that by virtue of the band being centered around a couple it would be very different. With Catherine involved, we realized our band would always have a very feminine energy at the heart of it. Our influences eventually gravitated away from those more male, rock-oriented models to more androgynous, less conventional ones… acts like Bowie, The Knife, New Order — they all challenged preconceptions of whom bands should be comprised of — they flipped stereotypes back on themselves. So it stands to reason that as the band’s personality shifted, so too did its sound and its influences.
What is your writing process like, and how did you first become connected with producer Dan Lissvik?
As I mentioned, it’s very process based now. It started with me more or less just being emo with a guitar into a 4-track recorder… I haven’t written a song on a guitar in years now, it seems. It’s changed a lot, it’s a bank of synths and drum machines talking to each other these days. If I want to go acoustic, then I start with drums or bass. Rarely guitar now though.
We became connected to Dan through Myspace believe it our not. His band Studio was kind of ending at the time we contacted him, and I think he was looking for something different to cleanse his palette with. It was a matter of good timing. He had expressed his interest in finding new collaborators to his girlfriend, and apparently we messaged him the next day or something. So we both kind of took it as a sign.
We understand that you have two young kids at home. How has parenting shifted the dynamics of the band?
We were really worried that our kids would somehow cramp the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the band in some way. But it turns out our kids take the edge off the crustier moments in the van; they’re sweet and naive and make everyone smile for the most part. But then we haven’t toured with both of them yet. That starts tomorrow… maybe you should re-ask this question in a week, haha!
They seem to love the music — our oldest is four and wants us to play our records to him before he sleeps, it’s pretty adorable. Our youngest dances constantly… music stops him in his tracks. He’s a chip off the old block.
What song do you feel most connected to or enjoy performing?
Right now, I’m loving “The Night Wants Us To Be Free” — playing it is super fun — it grooves and gets me into a playful mindset when I’m playing it. If I’m worried or have a furrowed brow before that, it’s gone by the time we’re playing that song.
What artists are you listening to right now? All-time favorite?
As you can imagine, we just went through another obsessive Bowie phase. He is the greatest pop star of all time with the greatest breadth of output, hands down.
We’re trying to cheat the game with this show. Bands like us aren’t supposed to have production values or choreography. We wanted to prove that a band that doesn’t make a lot of money can put on an amazing show. These days commerce gets to dictate people’s perceptions of what is good, cutting edge or exciting in the live setting. Somehow we manage to put a show together that subverts that expectation — we want people to see it and have their jaw hanging on the floor by the time it’s over.
View the Falsework tour trailer below, find Young Galaxy’s 2016 tour dates on their website — and as a bonus check out their amazing modern cover of Madonna’s “Open Your Heart.”