Young Galaxy and I just chatted once again (our previous interview in February), getting a progress report on how the year has gone since the release of Shapeshifting to the acclaim of Gorilla vs. Bear, Polaris Prize and Pitchfork. Yet that hasn’t been the biggest event in the lives of Stephen Ramsay, Catherine McCandless and the rest of the group. Aside from talk of the new tour to kick off September 11th at First Avenue in Minneapolis (dates below), and the new album, Stephen and Catherine’s excitement focuses mostly around the newest, littlest addition this year…
[Stephen Ramsay] We have a new addition! We have a little boy named Fergus.
How’s he doing?
Great. She couldn’t be happier. We’re both over the moon. It’s funny I’ve been describing saying it’s like you have this capacity of 100% in terms of how much you can love somebody. However much love you can feel. But when you have a child, suddenly your capacity doubles to 200%. So one of the challenges is just trying to manage how much you’re feeling about it. It’s an interesting challenge because as we become adults we have a tendency to become a little more cynical, or maybe see the world with a little less excitement or wonder. But a baby can certainly change that. It’s kind of a nice thing!
It’ll be interesting. We’re bringing him on the road. That’ll be challenging but at the same time I feel that the experience will make him a better rounded individual.
I was going to ask if he’ll be going on tour.
We’re going the 8th of September for 2 1/2 weeks with Junior Boys. We’re doing a few days in the States. We finally get out to the West Coast for the first time in ages, since 2008. We’re going to do a bunch of dates in Canada, then we go to Europe. Then we come back to North America; more dates in Canada, in the Midwest, Chicago and Minneapolis again. If I had an excuse to get to Chicago-ever-I’d take it. I’d play there as much as I can, I love it.
I see that you’re starting in Minneapolis.
Yeah! Haven’t been there in a while. We haven’t been there since the last album in 2008 or 2007. We’re looking forward to getting back there.
What are you excited for out west? You’re off to the Doug Fir, where I was at a couple weeks ago.
It’s a great venue, huh? We love that venue. It’s so unusual. They treat you well. The fact that you can be put up in the same complex as you play in is really nice for bands that spend their whole day on the road. Once you get to the venue, you get to stay for the night. We’ve played there a couple times now. It just has this warmth about it with the wood and everything. We’ve had some really great shows there.
Generally I’m looking forward to all of it. The West Coast is in some ways the nicest part of the country to tour in. Geographically it’s so impressive and varied and you’re playing in these great cities. You’re playing Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and L.A.. You get a sense of the whole fact that you’re in a band. It’s a little more glamourous. When you’re in L.A. walking around Hollywood. The first time we went to L.A., our manager had ties with, you know that show The Hills like one of those places they would hang out, the after-hours club called The Sky Bar or something like that that would look over Hollywood Hills. Everyone’s beautiful and drinking martinis. We’re like, “Wow! Look at us and what we’re doing!” We’re all scruffy and just got out of the van. But L.A. lets you suspend your disbelief a little bit and play into the idea. You end up shopping. Even if you don’t like shopping, you end up shopping. It’s fun!
The last time we were up that way, we decided we would drive the Highway 1, the Coastal Highway. We thought this isn’t going to be a problem, just a detour. Turns out we grossly miscalculated the drive because it’s super windy, and you can drive about 10 mph the whole time. At nightfall, we had been driving all day. We had driven only a quarter of the distance we were supposed to. We missed the reservation at the hotel. Almost missed the show because it was an incredible drive looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Plus I’m from the West Coast, so any time I see the Pacific Ocean I get a little pang.
A couple of the members of the band, Matt & Andrea, haven’t been out there before. It’s always fun to see the fresh perspective people have. So it’ll be fun.
In a way, both Catherine and I have ties there. All our families are out west. It’s the geography we understand the most. And having just had a baby, we sort of feel like we want to take him there and show him it. But because of what we do, the way we live in Montreal that feels very community-based, that you can’t find out west. You have to drive everywhere. Everything’s built around a very consumer-based culture, to live amongst mountains. So everything is driven by real estate crises and high-end services. Montreal is kind of like Chicago where it’s cold in the winter, an old city, it’s in a groove and does it’s own thing. It doesn’t care what the rest of the world is up to. So it’ll be interesting when we’re out there on the West Coast with Fergus, doing these shows, and seeing how much it pulls at our heartstrings. I don’t really see us leaving Montreal anytime soon, but I have this fantasy of living on the ocean someday. I had a dream about it last night, weirdly…
Since you and Catherine are touring musicians, what’s the best advice that you have to musicians who are about to branch out from their city or region to tour farther away?
I think part of it is not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t bankrupt yourself for starters. I think it’s good to work in this climate now where music is becoming more nomadic, and the ways in which music is becoming celebrated is through the internet, media-it’s a very fracturous world people live in musically. So people should establish themselves locally more and then work in concentric circles out a bit. A good example would be that if you were, say from Chicago, I don’t understand why you’d jump in a van and go play SXSW. Why would you drive to Austin, Texas where every other band in the world is playing? You have to pay for everybody. You have a shitty old van. You have to do things sustainably because nothing breaks the spirit more than a flat tire on your first trip out of town, or running out of money, or a fight that breaks up the band. It’s better to pick your spot. That will tell you eventually. That’s how good music is found. Good music gets out one way or another. It’s best to do things sustainably, and try to get your chops up and be a strong musical entity. Don’t break the bank in order to chase an opportunity. If you’re chasing it, John, it’s running away. Don’t chase it, because it will run away from you.
Not a very rock’n’roll perspective, I suppose. Be practical! [laughs] But that’s kind of how it has to be these days. A song can break you on the internet now. You can be a band that hasn’t even played a show, that isn’t a real band, and you get a song on the internet. Suddenly you have a potential career. There’s many ways for bands to break these days that don’t involve getting in a van, driving a million miles in order to chase an opportunity. Be good at marketing. Marketing’s the key.
What’s your tips with marketing?
There’s the whole thing about the marketing to get the profile and get noticed, but now there’s bands more often that are doing the anti-marketing where you can’t see their faces in the picture. You don’t know their names. Trying to create an air of mystery. It’s a new marketing ploy. It’s very hard to say how to market a band now and it changes constantly. I know for us, the thing that’s helped us is a much higher profile online. The internet world of our band is a lot stronger than it ever was, so it helps us a great deal. For us, the internet played a great deal. But it’s not like that for every band.
You have to find an identity for yourself that feels true to what you feel strongly about. Not just what you think will help sell your records. You have to feel strongly about whatever choices you make. Usually most musicians’ intuition is correct more so than somebody else telling them what they should do. In other words, avoid getting as many outside perspectives as you can. Follow your instincts.
After the tour’s over, what are your plans?
We’ll probably have a couple songs coming out this fall to coincide with the tours. In January, I think the bulk of the recording for our new record will occur. We’re writing a lot now. It’s an interesting time writing-wise because we broke the mold of the band on the last record. Now we have to figure out what we are, in a way. It was a liberating process, but it also leads us to be able to move in any number of directions. Distilling that into one direction will take the bulk of the energy we have with this record. I know we can write songs, it’s easy, but in terms how that is expressed is where the bulk of the work is now. We’re in this position of finding that out.
The plan is we’re going to get Dan Lissvik in to Montreal. We had this last record, which we sent off to Dan in Sweden but he did it all sequestered away from the band. This time, we need him in the room. All decisions will be in the room together [laughs]. Having him here will make the record an even stronger hybrid of our musical perspectives. Hopefully our strongest record. I’ve got a good feeling about it, John!
Since you mentioned, how would you go about planning touring with Fergus?
It’s a good question. First of all, we need a bigger crew. We’re going to bring a tour nanny around. Catherine’s niece is going to join us. She’s young and hasn’t really seen the world. Logistically, we have to get more hotel rooms. We can’t pile on the floor like we used to. So in a way, it’s a more expensive proposition to tour. But we realized that if we didn’t establish this at this point in his life, and make it a part of his life, that it would never get done. We’re not going to wait till he’s five years old…hold on, I’m going to pass Catherine to you.
[Catherine McCandless] We’re trying to teach Fergus some adaptability early on in his life. It seems like the best way to do it. He’ll get familiar with the kind of life we lead, and the kind of life he will lead also. And he’s not running around and moving himself yet, walking, so we have the chance to drag him along with us. To teach him to sleep anywhere and make himself comfortable with the things that move with us.
It’ll give him interesting stories to tell later on in life with the other kids. Some kids’ll be, “I’ve been to Disneyland” while he’ll be, “I’ve already toured the world.”
[Catherine] I hope so. I hope that we can do this long enough with him that he’ll remember it. I don’t think he’ll remember this one. But it’ll be great. I truly hope that’s the case that he feels he has more experience that way.
I sort of had an alternative upbringing in a way; I grew up in a housing co-op. So I saw lots of kinds of alternative lifestyles around me. I know this would be considered one by many. A lot of people think we’re crazy to tour with a baby. I want to teach him that things are different in the world, and they’re not all the same. Patterns, and what you would expect. Also our work’s going to feel like two separate worlds-our baby and our stage life-and we’re going to have to combine them. That’s often been a subject of some of our lyrics is feeling that there’s a kind of dichotomy that we’re trying to see more holistically. This will be an actual concrete exercise in that!
So do you and Stephen see incorporating Fergus down the road into your band, like a little family band?
[laughs] No, I’d never make that choice for him! If we have a child that wants to make music later on, we’ll nurture that in him of course!
Will you be meeting up with Dan when you go to Sweden?
[Stephen] We’re going to probably spend a few days with him in Gothenburg where he lives, which will be exciting. I don’t know if we’ll do some work together, but it’d be nice to try. He’s introduced us to a few other people through his contacts there. He’s friends with Henning Fürst of The Tough Alliance who remixed us a while back. We struck up a friendship. I’ve been to Gothenburg once when I was with Stars, and it’s a beautiful city. It reminds me a lot of Canada there actually. We have a natural affinity with the Swedes somehow.
It’ll be weird to be in person though since he’s been the voice of our computer now for almost two years. There will definitely be a strangeness to the meeting with Dan, given that we’ve had such an intense connection with him for two years without ever even seeing his face. It’s a very modern situation! [laughs]
Tour Dates (* w/Junior Boys):
9/11 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue*
9/12 – Winnipeg, MB – West End Cultural Centre*
9/14 – Edmonton, AB – Starlite Room*
9/15 – Calgary, AB – Republik*
9/17 – Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom*
9/18 – Victoria, BC – Sugar Nightclub*
9/20 – Seattle, WA – Neumos*
9/21 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge*
9/23 – San Francisco, CA – Mezzanine*
9/24 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theater*
9/25 – Tucson, AZ – Plush*
10/13 – Reykavik, IS – Iceland Airwaves
10/15 – Stockholm, SE – Strand
10/19 – Oslo, NO – Mono
10/20 – Göteborg, SE – Pustervik
10/21 – Malmo, SE – Debaser
10/22 – Hamburg, DE – Indra Club
10/23 – Berlin, DE – Comet Club
10/25 – Cologne, DE – Elektroküche
10/26 – Amsterdam, NE – Paradiso
10/27 – Paris, FR – Flèche d’or
10/28 – Lille, FR – Ground Zero Festival
10/30 – Manchester, UK – The Deaf Institute
11/2 – London, UK – The Lexington