An Interview with Aaron Ellington of Young Empires on Their New Interactive Video and More


Young Empires are a Toronto-based haute rock dance party, with Matthew Vlahovich on vocals and keys, Jacob Palahnuk on bass, Aaron Ellingson on guitar, and Taylor Hill on drums. These friends have been jamming together since 2009, but have recently gained wider attention for an impressively fun interactive Facebook music video for the single “White Doves” (non-interactive version below). This prompted me to catch up with Aaron before their recent energetic performance at Glasslands to find out more.

Kelly Knapp: You just released a pretty rad interactive Facebook video for “White Doves” – how did you come up with that concept, and how did you execute that?

Robert Aaron Ellingson: A lot of it was the director – this guy Miles Jay. He had just come out of school, and we had mutual friends that introduced us, and we did these two-week shows with Girl Talk in Canada, and he came and met us there. We got along really well, and it started more as a friendship thing, where we liked him, we got along, and we’d seen some of his college stuff and were just discussing, like this is kind of the next big thing. So we kind of snapped him up and said hey, do a video for us. Then him and Jake, our bass player, had come up with the idea of wanting to do something interactive. I still don’t know how it happened. We basically had to call in a lot of favors, especially when it came to the special effects thing and coding, and all the stuff that I don’t really know about.

KK: And you don’t see every other band doing that – the last video I can think of being like that was Arcade Fire.

AE: Yeah, the big thing with this one is that the pictures move. It’s very smooth. Every time I see it, it gives me goosebumps. When you’re in a band you don’t get that very often. When you’re in studio and finish a song, you’ve already heard 30 mixes of it, and by the time you’re done with the finished version it’s kind of lost the impact. That video will always have that effect. And it’s one of those things where you don’t really have to be a music fan to like it. Kanye West makes awesome videos, but my mom isn’t going to watch the “No Church in the Wild” video and say, oh my god this is cool, but my mom will watch the “White Doves” video and say wow, this is amazing.

KK: And was it just as important to you to have that connection to your fans, and have them be able to put themselves into it?

AE: I think it always has been really. We really tried to use social networking to do that. We have a weird thing – we saw a breakdown of our fans on Facebook somewhere once, and I think other than our home city of Toronto, the next was Mexico City. We had thousands of fans in Mexico City, and none of us know anyone in Mexico City or have been to Mexico City. We’ve never played there, but we can go online and a fan from Mexico City can like our video, and we can write back to them. It’s a really good way to interact with fans and not have to be on the road. I mean, I’m not going to go on Instagram and take a picture of the shoes I put on and the lunch that I’m eating every day, but you can find that middle ground.

KK: Your song “White Doves,” and a lot of your other songs are kind of anthemic. Are you trying to write these grand songs that people will light their bics to?

AE:  We don’t really try to write anything. I think one of the strengths of our band is that we’ve never sat down and said, here’s the kind of music we want to make. When Jake and Matt and I first met, we didn’t even talk about music. We talked about fashion, art, and food, and we made sure we got along as people. When it come to writing songs, we kind of just get in a room and make noise. We’ve never really had any pre-conceptions of the kind of music we want to make. We don’t sit down and make these massive anthems, but it’s something we all like. I think we like making music that makes people feel positive. We like the idea of not having to be this dark, angsty, brooding band. We like being able to be kind of poppy, and make people feel good, make people smile, and make people want to dance, but with having some substance behind it.

KK: What inspires you the most to make this noise that you have no pre-conceived notions for?

AE: It’s a weird time for us, because most of the songs that we’re playing now, and most of the songs on our EP are songs we wrote when it was just us, and no one was paying attention. We didn’t think we would be playing shows in New York and things like that; we were just making music for ourselves. Now that we’ve traveled to crazy places – we’ve toured all over Europe and Canada and the U.S., and played crazy festivals, I think what inspires us now is seeing how the music you create can have an impact on people. Knowing that if we put out a song tomorrow and someone is actually going to pay attention, that’s super exciting to me. Getting to travel and the shows get bigger with more people responding to it, that’s really inspiring.

KK: How would you describe your live show?

AE: The live show is probably a little more punk rock than people would expect when they hear us. Most of these songs were written without a drummer, and it was a little more electro. And for the first two years of this band it was just three of us, running the drums as backbeats and stuff like that. Now, we have a live drummer so it’s a little bit looser, little bit scrappier, but it’s got energy. We sweat a lot and move a lot, and have that connection with the audience. I never liked seeing bands where they just stay there and play their songs and act like they’re bored. We have fun and we put out energy, and the better the crowd is, the more you get back from them. Last time we played at Glasslands it was awesome.

KK: Do you have any pre-show rituals? You guys seem to have this spiritual level to your band.

AE: Yeah, I think we kind of do…I don’t know that’s there’s anything overly routine that we do, but it’s more just taking five or ten minutes before the show to get away. It’s finding five minutes to remember why you’re there, and what you’re doing. Really, for us, it’s taking time to appreciate that what we’re doing is awesome and amazing. To get to come to cities like New York and play for people who pay money to come and see you is such an amazing thing, so it’s just taking time to remember and appreciate that and put on a good show.

KK: What’s next?

AE: We’re working on a full-length album. We’re finishing this tour, and then we doing a fall tour mostly in Canada with Dragonette. But really, we’re getting back in the studio and hoping to get an album out kind of early to mid- 2013.