The Toronto electro-pop group that met on Craigslist talk about the pressures of living up to their second project ever, due out September 4th.
If Young Empires sound familiar, it’s either because of the plethora of artists now named “Young”-something, or because three years ago, the Toronto electro-pop group skyrocketed to success with the release of a simple EP. Today, Young Empires announce their debut full-length album, The Gates, which is due out September 4th in North America and in Europe and the UK on October 2nd.
So, how does a Canadian band with only one EP share the stage with bands like Foster The People and Vampire Weekend, lock down fashion collaborations, and quickly become one of the most talked about players in Canadian synth-pop? Outside of that, how do they intend to reignite that same buzz after a few years out of the limelight?
Aside from just making plain ol’ feel-good, danceable music, the first year after Young Empires’ inception paints a solid picture of their whirlwind early traction. Fresh out of other music projects, bassist Jacob Pahalnuk and former guitarist Robert Aaron Ellingson met on Craigslist before scouting their lively lead singer Matthew Vhalovich and nabbing the opening slot for UK group We Have Band’s Toronto show shortly thereafter. A week into rehearsing together, they had to craft a 30-minute set out of thin air.
From there, it didn’t take long for Young Empires’ multidimensional, self-described “world beat haute rock” to carve a place in Toronto’s (then) relatively under-saturated indie dance scene. They signed to Pirates Blend Records, dropped their debut EP Wake All My Youth and added drummer Taylor Hill to the line-up before booking gigs on three continents.
Three melodic songs have been released ahead of The Gates: “So Cruel,” the title track and the breezy “Sunshine.” Often compared to genre vets Friendly Fires and Passion Pit, Young Empires mimic the latter by moving in a weightier direction with the new material—one that’s sonically lush and led by Vhalovich’s most authoritative vocals yet.
Noisey: Your debut full-length is coming out September 4th, which feels crazy to say, because you guys have been on the scene for awhile now. Why the wait for an LP?
Young Empires: Well, the success of our EP kept us touring and busy, until we kind of exhausted playing those songs. We’ve actually been sitting on this record since last October, because “strategy,” you know. If we had it our way, the album would have been out months ago, but what can you do. We wrote about 35 songs, and ten have ended up on the album.
Your EP was very youthful and blissed-out—whereas the material from the new album has a heavier vibe. What’s that growth process been like as a group?
The EP was all dance and happy-go-lucky. Not nonsense, but nothing heavy lyrically. It got to a point where the genre itself kind of got beat over the head until it was dead. And, we just grew up as people. We’re no longer in our twenties; we went through hard times like everyone else and struggled internally as band mates. Becoming a full-time band is a difficult thing. You lose your job, your RSPs… it’s tough to take this on as something really serious. So, the outcome is this kind of album, which is darker. Our live set is now less of a dance party and more of a rock show.
Early on, you coined the term “haute rock” to describe your sound. Do the new songs qualify as that, or are you working on other descriptions this time around?
Yeah, we’re going to ride that one out into the fall. It’s hard to come up with a name for your “sound” without being too kitschy. We’ve been tossing out a few other things though, seeing what else sounds cool.
Teens seem to love your music and that demographic is definitely one of the fastest to find a cheap or free stream. What are your thoughts on the ways your music is being consumed these days?
Honestly, we don’t expect to see a cent off any record sale. Our first record was released for free and we would do that forever if we could. Music should be free. Nowadays, it seems like anyone who is making money isn’t the artist, anyway. We think you’re best to just play shows, sell merchandise and find brand collaborations.
And you guys have kind of mastered that approach. With the EP, you collaborated on a number of fashion projects and you just released a pretty elaborate interactive video with Coors Altitude for your single “So Cruel.” Can we expect more brand partnerships? What do those mean to you?
Not many that we can talk about right now, but definitely. You’ll hear people say that doing stuff like that is “selling out,” which we’re not. Take the video we did with Coors; if you write a song that Coors wants to pay you for—why not? It’s a reality, it’s a way to make a living and it appeals to that “haute rock,” upper class, twenty-something fan base. It’s not like we did something with McDonald’s or Target.
And after the album drops, is there going to be another lengthy wait for new music?
We don’t want to wait as long with the next one. This recording process took so long – I think we almost got tired of making music together at the end of it. After the fall, we might put a little EP together for the spring. But for the time being, we’ll just enjoy the fruits of our labour.
Jess Huddleston is a writer living in Toronto - @JessHuddles