From an outsider’s perspective, Young Galaxy might look like a band on a decent trajectory. Its self-released sophomore record, Invisible Republic, featured soaring throwbacks to new wave and shoegaze mixed with heaving, throbbing rock anthems like “Destroyer,” which was short-listed for the SOCAN Echo songwriting prize. The album was released to numerous distinctions of this sort, garnering plenty of positive reviews and earning a spot on the long list of 40 records strongly considered by the jury of the Polaris Music Prize. Overall, things seemed to be going pretty well. Not so, according to guitarist-vocalist Stephen Ramsay.
“To be honest, we’re probably in a worse position than we were in after the first record,” he says. “At that point, we had a big label (Arts & Crafts) behind us, and they gave us a worldwide release. Then we went independent, and we had to learn how to put out a record on our own and nobody’s heard this record. Nobody bought this record.”
“It’s great to have critical acclaim, but even on that level, it’s not enough to have some, it can’t be scattershot,” he continues. “If you’re going to go that route and be a critical-acclaim kind of band, it has to be universal. Pitchfork hasn’t even reviewed our record; they won’t touch it. It came out in the States; we probably sold 50 copies.”
In an industry where such raw candour tends to be coated with a thick layer of varnish, it’s almost refreshing to hear a confirmation: Doing OK in rock ’n’ roll is not doing OK in general. In fact, it kind of sucks.
“Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips put it best,” he says. “When you’re hovering really close to failure, you have total creative freedom. If (our music) hasn’t become a thing that most people care about, we’re going to keep experimenting, doing it the way we feel like doing it and going with our instincts, rather than trying to ‘refine our sound’ or ‘finally write that hit song.’”
Consequently, Ramsay and his cohorts are telling their audience to expect a 180-degree turn at breakneck pace for the next record. Invisible Republic was the result of countless polishing sessions in the studio, recorded, mixed and mastered at world-class facilities at great expense; the current project, currently slated for a 2011 release, has been made on the cheap.
“Everything is different,” he explains. “We recorded most of it at home, we spent very little time in the studio, there’s barely any guitar or organic instruments on it. It’s programmed heavily. We kind of wrote on the fly in pieces with the band not getting together a lot of the time. We did all this at the beginning of the year…. Once we had what we thought was the basic foundation, we shipped it off to a guy in Sweden who agreed to do some production. He’s spent the last eight months embellishing the record and getting it ready for release. What’s going to come back is a lot more collaborative and it won’t have any of the hallmarks of our previous sound.”
While Ramsay acknowledges the shift might leave some listeners scratching their heads, he feels the band is following the only track it can. Faced with the grim reality that its members may be approaching a point where they don’t care enough about their life’s work to keep limping along, Young Galaxy has decided to go down swinging, reinventing the band to suit its new, less-than-ideal circumstances.
“I’m of two minds,” he muses, philosophical even on the eve of potential destruction. “I’m super excited. I don’t even know what it’s going to be. It’s going to be something new. It’s going to be modern. It’s going to mean something completely different compared to what’s happened in the past. In a way, it’s Young Galaxy, mark II.”
“It’s been a tough couple of years. Putting everything you’ve got into music comes at a great cost when it doesn’t pay off in the form of a growing audience or money or any of that stuff.”