It all started with an email address:
“Young Galaxy, the name, was my Hotmail address. We were trying to name the band and we argued a lot about [it]. Eventually I just said, ‘How about Young Galaxy?’ which was my email address.”
So explains Stephen Ramsay of the (aforementioned) band Young Galaxy. With a name pulled out of an old science textbook — “I just happened to have an astronomy book in front of me and it was a phrase that I literally put my finger on. Catherine’s was ‘Emotional Science’ and another friend’s was ‘Little Sparta.’ Little Sparta was already taken” — this dreamy, electropop five-piece has grown over the past decade, producing four albums over six years with various labels such as Arts & Crafts and, currently, Paper Bag Records.
For their most recent album, Ultramarine, Stephen Ramsay, Catherine McCandless, Stephen Kamp, Matthew Shapiro, and Andrea Silver travelled far from their Montreal home to the wilds of Gothenburg, Sweden to work with electronic producer Dan Lissvik. Jumping into a somewhat different sound and taking more chances than their previous albums, Young Galaxy has tapped into a pop sound that is more than the mere 80s-laced synth of their shoegaze roots – and after their recent show at Lee’s Palace, they gave Indie 88 the inside scoop on it, among other things.
INDIE 88: Creatively, what are some of the big themes that you guys are drawing from on the new album?
Andrea Silver: I think we just wrote on the fly and wrote what ever came to the top of our minds, weird-wise or music-wise. It seems as though weird-wise is just the style [of the album] – we were kind of more open. When we were working with the producer Dan [Lissvik], he really tried to get us out of our shells and do things that we’ve never done before — be more groovy and kind of break out of the mould we were so used to playing.
Stephen Ramsay: He’s really into precision and demanded that precise approach.
Andrea: But at the same time it was something that felt very organic and natural, which is kind of a tricky combination.
Stephen: He’s good at it though. Dan is a true producer in the sense that he was able to get the best of us. He would get physical in showing us in how he wanted the groove to be by dancing in front of us.
Andrea: We had to read the music from his hips.
INDIE 88: From a storytelling standpoint, what were lyrically some narratives or ideas that were not specific to music that you wanted to explore?
Stephen: Some of our earlier practices tended to try to inject a lot of meaning into our lyrics, so that people could feel like saved by them or something. We had a very cathartic approach in a way – as fans of music we really believed in the power of music to save people, and [this time] I think we wanted to pull away from that.
INDIE 88: If you listen to the music and the lyrics in a song like “Pretty Boy,” it’s a very emotional experience. What kind of feelings do you have as a band when you’re playing songs like that to the audience?
Stephen: We have this running joke right now that before we go on we say this little chant: “Precision, energy, judgment!” The judgment part is just a joke — but we just did a tour in Europe and I think we felt inhibited at first. In the end our job is to connect as players and push that curve; you have to treat every show like it’s your last and every listener like they’ve never heard you and make them think.
Andrea: I don’t think it’s fair to expect an audience to have energy if we ourselves don’t have energy. [At the shows in Europe,] once we let loose a little bit the audience was dancing and we were dancing. We were taking from them and they were taking from us, so it was nice, shared energy.
INDIE 88: What’s the weirdest venue you’ve ever played?
Stephen: This hostel in Iceland. It wasn’t so much of a weird venue as it was a weird show. It was a hostel cafe, and the audience was extremely close to our faces. It was dead day, at noon, and people were grabbing coffees from espresso machines.
Andrea: There was a venue in Calgary where the stage was like a little hole. There was a big room and just a little kind of hole. The layout was very strange.
INDIE88: Tell us about the first time you heard yourselves on the radio?
Stephen: I played in the band Stars for a while before I was in Young Galaxy, so I would hear Stars a lot. I had the experience going into places like clothing stores or antiques or shopping malls in New York City and Stars would be playing. On more than one occasion, I’d say, “You know who’s playing right now?” and they’d say, “Who?” and I’d say, “My band.” A couple times I got free clothes out of it.
Andrea: When we were in Frankfurt, I was in H&M looking for a new bra and they were playing “Pretty Boy,” and I thought, “I can’t buy this from here.” Somebody had actually mistaken me for someone who worked there, so I was like, “I need to go!”