Stephen Ramsay of Young Galaxy: On their latest album, anarchy, and being a “musical terminator”


Young Galaxy is a Canadian quintet whose latest album Shapeshifting sums up the group’s tumultuous transition from record label to independent music makers. With the help of Swedish producer Dan Lissvik (who they’ve never actually met), they have crafted tracks that manage to be epic in their subtlety, which is no easy feat. I had a chance to catch up with lead singer Stephen Ramsay last week via email, and I found his answers full of an intelligence, honesty, and global awareness that was absolutely enthralling. Be sure to check out the ultra trippy music video for “Blown Minded” below!

Laurel Kathleen: You’ve got a slew of tour dates in North America this September before heading over to Europe in October. Is there a specific show you’re particularly excited about?

Stephen Ramsay: I don’t know… Iceland? L.A.? Paris? Edmonton? It’s really hard to pick one… Honestly, we’re excited about all of it: especially since it will be the most touring we’ve every done in a short period as a band. This has always been the goal for us, to raise our profile and show people we are a world class band. We feel like our limited touring to date has contributed to the feeling like we’ve always flown under the radar and we’d like to change that once and for all.

LK: What did you take away from the recording of Shapeshifting? Either about how you work as a band, or recording techniques that you prefer or dislike?

SR: The prevailing feeling after that experience is that it pays to take creative risks – we felt like we were trying to play by other people’s rules before, and it meant having a much more limited idea of what success is than we do now. We had the sense that if we hadn’t re-invented ourselves when we did, we would be chasing success – and in my experience, if you’re chasing something, it’s running away. On the other hand, the process was hard on the band in some ways: we felt like we had very little influence over the finished product and it was out of our hands for a long time… what this has meant is that we work harder to communicate ideas since, and work by committee more than ever, which is good for our chemistry and morale. Recording wise, we blew open a lot of doors with Shapeshifting. We feel non-traditonal, a kind of hybrid band: part flesh, part machine; a kind of musical terminator as it were!

LK: Is there one specific song that you feel best represents your sound? As in, if a potential new fan was to hear just one track, what would it be and why?

SR: Well, as Keith Richards said, “don’t make me play favourites with my babies… I would never cut my babies in half.”

Young Galaxy – “Blown Minded

LK: What’s the strangest place you’ve ever written or performed a song?

SR: Catherine and I have written a few songs at a remote lake on Vancouver Island called Sproat Lake, where my family has a cabin. Sometimes we’d get in a little 10 horsepower outboard boat, and take it ten minutes across the lake to a little rocky outcropping where there is no civilization except for a logging road… we would take an acoustic guitar and a laptop for lyric writing, which was always funny to us: having a laptop out in the middle of nature! That is certainly the most beautiful place we’ve written, if not the strangest. Also, writing in the van while we’re on tour is always a little odd!

LK: In “Swing Your Heartache” what specifically are you talking about in regards to the line “the institutions of the world will only serve to enslave us”?

SR: Well you wouldn’t necessarily know it to talk to us – being Canadian and all means we’re pretty mild mannered and polite… but underneath there is a real anarchist streak in the band. I don’t mean that we crave total chaos, but I do think that the institutions of the world, i.e. big business, corporations, ‘the free market’, et cetera are directly responsible for the imbalance we see in the world today. We are all enslaved by things more insidious than political or religious beliefs in the end. The result is that every successive generation is a little more apathetic and lost than the last, because they are stripped of their agency by the powers through hypnotization by consumerism and sensory overload. We’ve been neutered culturally – we live fractured, cowardly lives. Peoples’ sense of community is defined by Facebook, online gaming, et cetera. UFC fighting is one of the biggest sports in the world now: a kind of gladiator culture has returned. Our fantasies are furtive, full of blood-lust and pornographic in nature. Do you know the average age of the people who play more video games than anyone else? 37! That’s pathetic… Why can’t we change the system that is slowly eroding us? I think it’s because the governments don’t even run the system. They are cogs in the corporate wheel just like everyone else – and the real culprits hide behind faceless, multinational logos. Could you even name the new successor to the World Bank? I can’t.. and that’s how they’d like it to be I think.

LK: In what ways is your music progressive, conservative, or both (either music-wise, topic-wise, etc)?

SR: Definitely progressive! Haha! Does that mean we are a prog-rock band? I never thought of that…We’re just trying to follow our instincts as fans of music, first and foremost. Music changed our lives growing up – it was my best friend during the most important, formative years… hopefully our music can be that for its listeners as well. We’re just young, cock-eyed optimists from the wrong side of the tracks trying to make it in a crazy world.

LK: What global phenomenon has united or divided you as a band?

SR: Soy milk lattes.

Young Galaxy will kick off their fall tour with Junior Boys in Minneapolis at First Avenue on September 11th before heading up to Canada for several dates. For tickets and more information, please visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter. Their album Shapeshifting is now available on iTunes.