Check out this great interview with Young Galaxy in Planet Notion here.
Young Galaxy Talks Creative Departures and Musical Influences
With their third album, Shapeshifting, Young Galaxy has once again shown themselves to capable of immense creativity and great complexity. The album is defined by lyrical depth and the kind of musical experimentation that is a sign of true artistic talent. Stephen Ramsay, one half of the group’s founding duo, gives a thoughtful interview with Notion’s Tim Robinson.
Much has been said about your “creative departure” on the latest album, Shapeshifting, and your dynamic with the producer Dan Lissvik. Do you think the album would have sounded as different from your previous efforts had it not been given to Dan? You mentioned that the songwriting process itself was very different from before…
I think it would have, yes. We just opted not to use the same instruments to make sound with on the other records a lot of the time. For instance, there are waaay less guitars on the album, and barely any live drums. We recorded at home a lot, and only spent a short time recording in a proper studio. We also avoided layering the sound as much as we have in the past, with the hopes of using space as a kind of instrument. We were a little tired of the idea of being a ‘rock’ band – we felt there was a lot more to explore musically than we had to that point, so all of these reasons led to the change of direction.
Do you think this is a process that you could work with on more than one album, or is such an unusual model for crafting an album something that can only work once to “break the mould” and shake things up for you creatively?
Yes I could for sure, though we will probably end up doing each record a little differently depending on resources and personnel, etc. We have begun working on a new record with the intention of having Dan work on it again, but we have a new band that is the best one yet so we are working in more of a ‘full band’ way in the studio so far. The beauty of Shapeshifting was that it taught us that we could make something exciting in an unconventional way, that it didn’t require conventional recording techniques to give it credibility. Plus it was exciting not knowing where it would end up – we kept wondering, ‘What are we making here?’ which was great.
What were your decisions for working with Dan? It’s been noted that he comes from a different musical background- with much more electronic roots, in contrast to your more shoegaze/”dream pop” sound- and so doesn’t seem like the most logical choice for a producer; was that the whole point?
I absolutely LOVE his band Studio. That was the initial reason for reaching out – as a fan. I just thought Studio’s production was brilliant – totally timeless but also of the moment, beautifully layered and organic and so I asked him to work with us. Apparently the timing was right, and he agreed to do it.
There’s a lot more in the band’s record collections than dream pop, or whatever you want to call it. The modern music listener has all kinds of music on their ipods, and our band is comprised of music listeners first. I grew up with hip-hop and and electronic music as well. I don’t listen to much rock anymore actually, so in some ways the change in the band musically is an honest representation of where I’m at with what I’m listening to and influenced by.
Do you think the album would have turned out completely differently if you had gone to Gothenburg and written the songs there? Gothenburg’s renowned for being a pretty bleak place, do you think it might have been a darker LP?
I think being with Dan would have changed things quite a lot because the band’s process and Dan’s process were so separate from each other for Shapeshifting. There wasn’t much back and forth, so being together would have meant more integration of ideas I think.
As far as Gothenburg goes, I’ve only been there in the summer and it was pretty beautiful actually… I’m never that aware of how our surroundings shape the material – and besides, Dan is always joking about how his music is always being labeled ‘balearic’ and ‘tropical’, so his surroundings betray him don’t they?
Catherine steps into more of a prominent vocal role on this album. Were you trying to work as more of a coherent unit on this record?
Yes, I think Catherine’s emergence has been happening since the beginning of the band – singing for her was very personal and intense and she was very shy about it for some time. When she started singing, she made me leave the room when she did it! So naturally she didn’t have a major role to begin with, she had to get comfortable first. But she has a very powerful and distinct voice, so it’s been a natural progression to have her singing more and more, to be the true front person of the band.
In some ways we were less coherent than ever for this record, haha. We didn’t have a lot of money or time to make it, the band was all over the place with work and other commitments so we picked away at it when we could, as a group or as individuals. It came at a tough time for the band because we had just put a huge amount of money into the second record, and put it out on our own. It felt like a huge commitment and it put abnormal pressure on the band, so wanted to come back and do Shapeshifting quickly and much cheaper and move on to something new.
How are you feeling about signing to Smalltown Supersound for European release? Their roster is loaded with Scandanavian artists; do you feel a particular affinity with music coming from this part of the world?
We’re super happy, they’re a great label. They didn’t hesitate at all, they were excited to do it from the moment they heard it so we felt like it was meant to be. I suppose we do feel some kind of affinity with Scandinavians – there is a lot of beautiful, forward thinking and exciting music coming out of there. But we have our own particular Canadian-ness about us – and Young Galaxy hasn’t been to Scandinavia yet, so we will have to see once we get there!
Making the kind of music that you do, it’s easy for people to coin your band as self-serious. Was your (quite trippy) video for ‘We Have Everything’ an opportunity to show a more humorous side to the band? The bands that you’re often compared to work that whole “tortured artist” vibe very well…
Um it depends what you mean by ‘self-serious’! We are just human beings trying to live our lives and do something we love and believe in for a living in the process… truth is – we suspect we aren’t any more tortured than every other fucker in the world who has to live and die whether they like it or not… in fact, we feel fortunate that we can call ourselves musicians and feel a sense of purpose and direction about why we’re here in the first place. I’m a working stiff, man. I’m fully employed. Writing music is catharsis and hard-labour for me; it exhausts and fulfills me. So if that means I’m self-serious, so be it – I’d rather that than phone in the rest of my life in some shitty job wishing I had tried to fulfill my dreams when I had the chance. Those people are unemployed no matter how they fill their time, I guarantee you.
Also, I had no input towards the making of the video, which was part of the agreement between the band and the director – so I assure you we weren’t working an ‘angle’ there. AND the main character dies in the end. My 5 year old nephew didn’t find that funny, that’s for sure…
Much like your conscious decisions to create Shapeshifting through different processes to usual, did you make a concerted effort for the new video to be different than what you’d created before, some kind of departure for you as band?
Again – we had no input in it’s making, however the video director and the band agreed that making the video this way would create an interesting parallel between it and the way we made the album. That seemed more relevant than whether it would be a departure creatively.