Young Galaxy are a dream pop band who loves Cirque du Soleil as much as their new record, Shapeshifting. The Montreal outfit has been hard at work touring North America in support of the full-length, and answered some tough hitting questions while on the road about the perils of musicians. We talk about Canadians getting issued mandatory tattoos of beavers holding hockey sticks, indecent exposure in the daytime, and babies.
How did the founding duo meet to form the beginnings of Young Galaxy? How did more members and collaborators get added to the YG family? Is there a Canadian version of Craigslist?
Stephen Ramsay: Craigslist is in Canada too! The beginnings of Young Galaxy were in Vancouver – I was writing songs late at night while finishing my University degree, some of which ended up on the first YG record. Catherine [McCandless] and I were a couple before the band started. She was a very shy singer at first – I used to hassle her to sing on my songs but she wouldn't even consider it unless I left the room! Eventually I wore her down, and now she won't stop.
We moved to Montreal because we were looking for a change from Vancouver, and it was there that the band formed… all of our other band collaborators other than Dan Lissvik, who I stalked online, were found in Montreal. It's a great place to find collaborators; so many artists choose Montreal as a destination to live because it's relatively cheap and has a history of good art being made there.
You've toured your motherland of Canada with Arcade Fire, Stars, Twin Shadow; you’re just finishing a tour with Junior Boys, and then will go on to support Austra. These dudes are all Canadian too. Is there a secret pact all Canadian bands stick together?
S: It's not so much a secret pact as mandatory. We all have to get matching tattoos of beavers holding hockey sticks when we register our bands with the government. Then – and only then – are you allowed to fraternize with other artists…
What was the inspiration to release your third LP (Shapeshifting) this year and an upcoming one in 2012 back-to-back?
S: We think being prolific is a key element to our creative growth and the growth of the business of the band, plain and simple. In this musical environment, if you go away for a prolonged period then you're basically starting from scratch, as we learned a bit from the period between album one and album two. This way of working suits me just fine because I can get easily bored with what I do, especially if it sits around for a while… the prolific approach allows me to have a sense of how my process is evolving, which will hopefully insure we don't make the same kind of music twice.
Montreal, where YG is currently based, has a very respected reputation in the performing and visual arts scene. What are your observations about music fitting into the arts landscape?
S: It's elemental in people's lives and in other forms of art – almost all of the other high-profile types of art in Montreal work closely with the music scene, from the circus to dance. World renowned companies like La La Human Steps and Cirque Du Soleil have all employed or collaborated with musicians that I know. It's just part of the landscape there. For a fairly small artistic community, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of world class artists in their respective fields. As I mentioned before, the lifestyle and relative lack of expense are factors, as is the Quebec and Canadian governments support of the arts. They seem to recognize that art is a major export for the country and region, which is lucky for those of us that live there, but I wish more places would do.
Do you have a favorite constellation?
S: Yes, the Constellation record label, from Montreal, Quebec!
We also hear you made your own little galaxy. Who's the newest addition into your life?
S: We have a son named Ferguson – he's 4-months old now and napping in our hotel room as I write this from the road. He's a little beauty – he came out looking like a little man, with a full head of hair and a wry smile. He's an old soul, we think. He's been so easy and mellow on the road so far, so we feel extraordinarily lucky!
Speaking of being on the road – Catherine, how has being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis changed the way you've toured, if at all?
Catherine: It has changed the way I've toured. Typically you would think that scaling back the pace, number of shows, and fun would be the way to protect yourself from further damage /another attack. To some degree this is true – I need to occasionally call it a night early, or skip a load in, but as a rule I am exceptionally well on tour. I think this comes down to MS being an auto-immune disease. It is worsened, for me (and every case is different) by stress. My stress is significantly alleviated by doing what I absolutely love doing. I love to sing and perform. In a way, it is a physiological release for me to sing – it's breath control, expansive movement and a kind of uncorking of the emotional bottle. All that is healthy. Some suggest that disease is the response of the body to stifled or complicated emotional states. If that is true, then for me, singing and writing is an antidote to my MS. For me, the touring bubble, where all a day’s activities and responsibilities lie in performance, is a very welcome lifestyle change for me. It’s surprisingly healthy.
For Shapeshifting, some of the post-production and wrap-up was completed by Dan Lissvik, who is based in Sweden. Were there difficulties in connecting globally and staying on the same page vision-wise? Were there lots of Skype dates and FedEx packages?
S: Of course there were, but in the end we feel like it was a very worthwhile experiment. The whole process was just so damn modern, wasn't it? Dan works to the beat of his own drum – he doesn't really take orders or do timelines, which is fine by me. I believe he has a very special talent so I wanted him to have room to work however and whenever he wanted to, so long as he felt inspired by the project.
So yes, there were a few months where it felt like we didn't know if we were even making a record anymore, but we all pulled it together – which seems like a miracle having 6,000 miles between us and having never met! But we had chemistry from the beginning with Dan, so it was easy to give it lots of leeway to get done. We are going to meet him in person next month, which is going to be so weird given that we've talked almost every week for over a year now with him just as the voice of our computer! I keep imagining that he'll just be a giant laptop when we meet, haha!
You'll be in town (San Francisco) the weekend of the Folsom Street Fair. Is there any way we can make a field trip with Junior Boys to have a stroll?
S: I'd love that! But beware the Junior Boys, they are as nefarious a group of people as I have ever come across… a kind of modern day pirate caravan as it were. Very daunting… Then again, they might fit in perfectly there, who knows?
What do you hope listeners take away from being exposed to Shapeshifting?
S: Exposed? Sounds like our album is walking up to strangers wearing an overcoat… haha. “Be careful, if you go to the Folsom Street Fair you might get exposed to Young Galaxy's Shapeshifting“!
I just want them to give it time as a record, to make it a part of the soundtrack of their lives, and maybe, just maybe, respect the band and hopefully continue to support us, and ruffle my hair and buy me a drink when I come to town, that's all!