When the Straight last caught up with Young Galaxy, the Montreal-based band was just starting a tour in support of its 2011 album Shapeshifting. That wasn’t unusual, since talking to touring acts is a big part of what we do around here. In Young Galaxy’s case, however, there was one major difference: the group’s principals, Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless, were hitting the road with their four-month-old son, Fergus, in tow.
At the age of two, the boy is now a seasoned touring veteran, according to his mother. “He is a very adaptable traveller, and he loves being in the environment of the band,” says McCandless, reached in Saskatoon, where she’s awaiting sound check at Amigos Cantina. “It has become quite a familial environment. At this age, as he’s been growing, he gets out of the van and he needs immediate physical action, as much as possible. The band basically runs with him in shifts. So they airplane him around an airport or a hotel hallway or something like that. He looks forward to their company as eagerly as he does ours at this point.”
This time around, Young Galaxy is on the road to promote its fourth LP, Ultramarine. Once again, the band worked with producer Dan Lissvik. In the case of Shapeshifting, Lissvik remained at home in Sweden, and Young Galaxy sent him songs he would then reconstruct, transforming the outfit’s signature dreamy rock into star-shimmer electro-pop. To make the new album, however, the five musicians flew out to Gothenburg for a face-to-face collaboration in Lissvik’s studio.
The resulting songs push Young Galaxy even further toward the dance floor, with the crystalline synth arpeggios of “Pretty Boy” and the propulsive stomp of “Privileged Poor” carrying McCandless’s voice into uncharted waters. And it is only her voice on every song—her former covocalist Ramsay opted to stay away from the microphone and concentrate on instrumentation and programming. However, he did, by McCandless’s reckoning, contribute “almost 100 percent” of the lyrics.
“I was kind of wordless after having a child,” she explains. “I felt pretty animal. I wasn’t interested in articulating much. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to have lyrics, I just was more interested in the percussive or rhythmic nature of the vocal than I was in the meaning of it, and so between the two of us, we shaped the lyrics together but he wrote them—let’s put it that way.”
Ramsay’s stepping away from centre stage puts McCandless firmly in the frontwoman position. She admits that, as much as she loves to perform, you’d probably never peg her as the lead singer of a successful touring band if you met her outside the context of a Young Galaxy show.
“I’m a pretty reserved person,” she says. “I’m not an extrovert. You know, I’m not the life of the party. I like to hang back. I like to observe. And yet on-stage I am taking the frontperson role, and in the same way that I need to feel connected to the lyrics, I need to feel connected to that role, so I’m finding a part of myself in each of these songs and showing it, I guess—revealing it.”