Interview: Young Galaxy, Part Two

Earlier this week we debuted part one of our interview with Young Galaxy‘s Stephen Ramsay. The group is a core of three musicians, Stephen Ramsay, Catherine McCandless and Stephen Kamp. The new album, Shapeshifting is out February 8th on Toronto’s Paper Bag Records. Without further ado…

“Cover Your Tracks” and “Phantoms” has this weird tropical feel to it. Where did that come because I don’t know of many beaches in Montreal or have heard of them?

[laughs] Yeah, that’s right! I got to say my spare room is full of sand. I painted a beach scene on the wall.

You’ve got a sun?

Yeah I’ve got a heat lamp! It’s not really a sun, but a heat lamp…A lot of that came from Dan’s influence, which has always been described as balearic, which always makes him roll his eyes. There’s kind of a tropical exoticism to his music. If you’re going to use steel drums, it’s going to come off as being summery or beachy no matter what. I think it’s just a sensibility he has musically that it hasn’t described itself for him in that way. It comes through his influence. I guess in a way we were trying to write songs that felt very different. We weren’t using the same kind of melodic palette again, formula to make the songs. So in a way everything just innately lined up that way.

We wanted to make music that sounded like it was in a trance, or traveling somewhere with this real intention like you are on a trek, or a pilgrimage. It has this loping quality to it. Dan just colored it in based on what he heard, which I think is great. We handed him an elaborate outline of everything we wanted to do with no colors in, and just let him fill in the colors.

Did you send him pieces of the songs or, how did that work?

We did a whole separate session. We wrote right after we had released Invisible Republic, we went right back into the studio. We spent, up until January of this year, working on it from our end. And then in January, we sent it to Dan and Dan had it from there on with the intention that he could do whatever he wanted to it. So we had fully formed songs that he could either deconstruct or embellish or just enhance in any way he wanted. In some cases, some of the tracks are very true to what we did originally and some of them were totally transformed. So it was really collaborative effort. You can imagine we were very excited to hear it eventually because even we didn’t know what the outcome would be. But that was what we wanted.

What was the most surprising song that came back to you?

Well, they were all surprising in a way, but I guess “Phantoms” is truly reworked. “Phantoms” came back in a totally different style, and same with “Shapeshifting” the final song. He reinterpreted them, not that he totally redid them it was more that the feel, the tenor of the music was completely reworked from his end in a way-like that tropical sound on “Phantoms” was just a very small part of it to begin with. It had a very, very small feature in the original song and he just blew it up. I think that was probably the most surprising song that he brought back.

Quick question, I don’t know if anyone’s asked you but have you seen “Black Swan”?

No, I haven’t yet. But everyone’s saying, “Yeah, did you write that song?” I didn’t, I had no idea. Had I known I would’ve made it way less happy so that they would have had to have made it their theme song.

I was half expecting it to show up in the film at some point.

Yeah, I would’ve liked that, believe me, but I think that was just a coincidence. I got a lot of flack for calling that song, that idea in the song because a friend of mine who’s a writer was like, “You know that idea is like two years old on the internet, so it’s kind of played out.” I was like, “Oh man!” [laughs] But then the film came along and saved our asses. It’s like, “No, it’s back!”

Good timing on that one! … Going back to the previous album, for the “Come and See” video, how’d you get in touch with those directors and what did the moon do to warrant being blown up?

It’s Felix and Paul, and they just kind of came forward. We worked with their production company for our video previous to that one. In fact, I think someone called us from the production company and said, “We want to do a video with you, and we have this new director team that really want to do it.” This was a while ago. There’s two guys from Montreal, with no surnames apparently. And they’re really, really talented guys. One guy is very frenetic and articulate and fiercely intellectual who’s always going a mile a minute with his ideas. The other guy is a lot quieter and does a lot of the production. It’s a classic ‘guy behind the scenes’ ‘guy in front of the scenes’ set up and they compliment each other well. The hilarious thing was, when we sat down to speak with them, we quite like them as people, but then of course they’re like, “So this is our concept, we want to blow up the moon.” And of course, we, as the band just kind of went, “Yeah, okay man, go for it!” [laughs] “Good luck!” like hard to do that! And so, [laughs] we thought it was kind of a silly concept at first but then when they laid it out for us, we’re like, “Oh man” there’s such virtuosity to what they were doing. So much of that video was like photographic stills from stock footage, like stuff that they just pulled off the internet. They created this world with it. I was really stunned.

We spent one afternoon in a studio in front of a green screen shooting some scenes. They just ran with it. We didn’t really have anything to do with it other than having us come into the studio and do what they asked. So in the end, when we saw it, we were just blown away, we couldn’t believe it! They just did so much with so little. Since then, of course, we’ve been hounding them like, “Let’s do another one!” but I think they’ve moved on to bigger and better things. They’re trying to do features now.

We’re lucky enough. It’s funny. In our past, our first video we made was with a guy here who has now moved on and is making a feature now. So whenever we ask him to make a video, he’s like, “Nope, too busy making features.” I’m like, “Well aren’t you big time?” [laughs] And then the other guys are the same way now. We have this way of being a good springboard to go from videos to features.

So apparently once they do a video with you, they’re instantly doing feature films.

Seems so! So any burgeoning film makers out there should definitely come forward! [laughs] It’s guaranteed pretty much.

You’re better than just moving to L.A..

That’s it, and we’ll make your career! [laughs] Yeah, no it was great. It was a great experience. They made it easy for us. We didn’t have to do a lot, and they made so much with that video. It also did very well in terms of the amount of people that saw it. And we were very pleased. It was a great promotional tool for both of us. Yeah…blowing up the moon, eh? I couldn’t believe it when they told us that. “Yeah, whatever, yeah. So you’re going to blow up the moon in the video? Sure, go for it” feeling like they’d come back in a while saying, ‘Well, you know what we couldn’t blow up the moon.’ And I’d be like, “Well that’s surprising!”

Have any final words?

We’re just excited. We feel like we’ve blown open our boundaries as a band. We’re very excited to play shows. There’ll probably be more recording in the spring, followed by more touring in the fall. And I just think we’re at a place now where we’re really excited to keep pushing the boundaries. Hopefully at some point it’ll translate. People all over the world will really stop and take notice. That’s the goal. We just don’t want to stop now. We’re really happy where we sit with it, but we feel like we just scratched the surface in a way of what we’re capable of now.

We really appreciate the coverage and we’ll try to do our best to do justice to this record when we play live.

Yeah, not to give you pressure but I’m looking forward to what you guys do a little bit more than Broken Social Scene or Stars now.

Wow.

No pressure though.

Yeah, okay! Alright, I better-I gotta go rehearse! [laughs] We actually have a new band. The core of the band is three, and has been since the beginning a live act. But now we have two more new members who are just joining us for this tour. So it will be interesting to see where this goes now. In a way, it kind of another reinvention, but this time of the live setting. I’m a little more stressed about that. I sort of feel more comfortable as a recording act, it’s more instinctual. The live show is a little more unpredictable and fills me with a little more angst. I was reminded today by Evan, who plays in Stars and Broken Social Scene. He’s like, “How you doing?” I said, “I’m a little stressed.” He’s like, “That’s a good thing. You do not want to go on the road not worried about it. That means that you’re in it and you’re focused.” I was like, “Oh, ok. I’ll take your word for it. Excuse me while I go barf.” [laughs] Well not exactly, you get the idea!

Thoughts?