Young Galaxy: The Smartest Band You’ve Never Heard Of

Young Galaxy are not just another dream-pop band. They’re not another Canadian indie-pop band, either. So what are they? Well, they are a consistently great and dedicated band that has suffered the highs and lows of the music industry. They were signed to a “mega” label in Arts&Crafts, and then found that the “dream” wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

With this year’s Shapeshifting, not only is the sound fans may know them for gone, but so are any glamourous notions of the music industry. Stephan Ramsay and I had a long chat about the band, the music and whether they’re still artists left in this business.

Kristina Villarini: How did Young Galaxy come to be?

Stephan Ramsay: Catherine (McCandless) and I have been friends for years. Now we’re a couple, but in the late 90′s I began to write and record music, and I knew she could sing. I tried to get her to do things with her voice, but she was always painfully shy. So, it began as a solo project and I coaxed her into participating over time. I think she slowly warmed up to the idea of it, and you can hear it if you listen to our records.

On the first record, she sings a bit. The second, she is singing a little more, and now she’s kind of singing everything. (Laughs) But we met in Vancouver, BC, then we moved to Montreal in 2005 when we started the band. That’s where we met Stephen (Kamp), so it was just born out of those situations.

KV: Your music is so particular, though. Did you find that you had the same musical taste?

SR: She was always very supportive, and she acted as a witness the whole time. We listened to a lot of music together. Even when meeting with Stephen, we felt like musically we had a great deal in common. Our love for music stemmed from a mutual love of 80′s British post-punk.

KV: How did you begin writing music?

SR: I was a fan first. I was always trying to start musical projects with my friends. I was listening to The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. I liked the male-dominated, ‘best friends making music’ ideal, but I always aligned myself with non-musical people. (Laughs) All of my bands were purely conceptual.

This was always my dream, and I was always interested in doing this. Eventually, I just gave it up since I wanted to be the front man. I figured I could get someone else to do that leg work. (Laughs) I felt compelled to be involved in the conversation with music. I would sit in my room playing guitar poorly, and I was trying to teach myself. I took one lesson, and then I think I began tinkering with songs electronically.

The first songs I did were these horrible pastiches of bands I was listening to, at the time. The advent of the PC really helped me. I was able to do more. I’ve always written via PC. So this new record is more electronic-sounding for the band, but it felt very true to me and how we’ve created music. On the other records, we would reinterpret things into a full band mix, and we ‘let things be’ more in this record. There is less reinterpretation, even though it has been mixed and mastered.

KV: Do you feel like making this record has been more organic for the band? Typically, after a few records, a band has a better sense of how they want to sound…

SR: I don’t know. In a way we’ve kind of cleaned the slate with this record. I think what you’re saying is very true, bands have a better sense of who they are after a few records. When you’re just starting, you don’t have a sense of what kind of band you are, which is kind of nice because anything is possible. But right now, I feel like we can ‘will’ or shape the direction of the band. At the same time, we know what our comfort zone is. It became a question of steering the ship.

KV: What is the dynamic of the band?

SR: It’s based on doing justice to the idea of the music. It sounds a little pretentious, but I’m in my mid-thirties now, so I have specific reasons for doing things. If I think about trying to compete with the Arctic Monkeys… That depresses me. I don’t want to compete with those bands. That’s not where my head is at. I want it to be an art project and let different types of media become a part of it.

KV: But very few artists see music as art, honestly…

SR: It’s important to be honest, even if you have a lot of ambition. I’m disappointed too by musicians. I thought I would have a lot of philosophical and high-concept conversations about this art form. The truth is, a lot of musicians are just looking to seduce the audience and make some money. Young Galaxy is not really popular in the Top 40 sense, so I think we get to have an agenda that’s about being as creatively fertile as possible. I don’t hear a lot of people talk that way. For us as a band, we hit a point where you can either be more popular, or be more creatively rewarding.

It’s about articulating the kind of artists we want to be and the way we perceive ourselves is very important.

KV: Isn’t that the challenge, though? There’s a sort of, fragmented community of musicianship now that I think there never was before.

SR: There are very little resources in comparison to years ago. Bands would be on the road for 3 years with a major label, and even though no one bought a record then either, there was an investment in your career, for a ‘hit’ fourth record. Now everyone is looking for the next Arcade Fire. Bands have to think about making it so soon after they begin, which is very unnatural. People’s creative perspective are becoming marred so quickly, because they’re trying to make a career.

Those of us that are English and creative in Montreal, we all tend to know each other. We share resources. Bands like Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire and Stars, we all know one another and get along. There’s also a government support for records here. In the states there is an individualistic sense of music. It seems like there is a very small scale of the people who can make music, because they have the money.

KV: What are your thoughts on the industry?

SR: There’s a lot of work in keeping your perspective pure. It’s a challenge to be creative, and it’s getting harder. While I’m saying this, I recognize that it’s easier to make music every day. But to do it in the traditional way, takes so much money and time. We’re a band without a big audience, but we’ve scrimped and saved and worked so hard at this.

KV: Are there any bands that you admire, or think are doing it the right way?

SR: Most of the bands I mentioned earlier have become able to dictate their own career. But you become aware of the circumstances… Like Radiohead’s “Creep” allowed them to have their entire career.

KV: Well, some bands just don’t know how it’s going to turn out.

SR: I think you just have to not care if you can make a living. It’s a pity that more bands don’t endure. But those that do, you hope you just make something that endures. Sometimes there’s a shift with a focus on your career versus the project.

KV: Do you think you lost your focus between the second and third album?

SR: Leaving Arts&Crafts felt like a creative and risky thing for us to do. Even if it doesn’t become an economically viable thing to do; trying to do everything on our own. When we signed our deal we didn’t know the first thing about the industry, and I think hindsight is 20/20. After you’ve experienced it yourself, things become clearer. It was a lot of highs and lows, and the lows were very much treading water, trying to make something happen. The solution was to just continue to be creative.

KV: What do you want people to feel with this record?

SR: I want people to hear a band that is really invested in the creative process. I hear a lot of really interesting music, but it’s half realized and I think a lot of people are scared to step out and stand alone. Initially, people don’t react well to it. The Smiths is a great example. They were very vilified, at first. There are a lot of bands that didn’t sell a ton of records, but were groundbreaking… Not to say, that we are it, but we’re working toward it. People sort of give up after a couple of records.

I think we are taking a career approach to this record. It represents a right step toward one side or the other, musically. Bands sort of work in one straight line until the end. We are a zigzag or a large amount of lines. Hopefully, it’s compelling or we’re a band that people have respect for and it’s always interesting to listen to, and people can respect it. Everything is done with the best intention musically or creatively. It’s a lot to hope for, but music has that kind of power in my life. It’s kind of taken the place of religion. It’s given me meaning. So I want the music we make to be meaningful, not without a sense of humor or anything, but there’s an ambition to be the band people respect and love over a career. And that’s the dream. (Laughs) It’s tricky. Hopefully, because of the extremes between record one and two and the powerful label versus the DIY-nature for this record, I think we’ve cleared the air of the chatter that some bands are so dominated by in their careers.

KV: What’s next?

SR: In terms of what’s next, it’s as much of a mystery for us as for anyone else. That makes us very engaged and alert in the process. We’re not just going to make another record that mimics someone or something else.

Young Galaxy awill be touring throught the U.S. in March, so be sure to check out their MySpace for updated information, and pick up Invisible Republic if you can.