Young Galaxy’s Falsework is their most vivid synth-pop expression yet

An interview with singer Catherine McCandless about the personal motivation and gear acquisition that makes their fifth album so great.

Young Galaxy
Young Galaxy

Since the release of their third album Shapeshifting in 2011, Montreal’s Young Galaxy have been building a radiant sonic world for their songs and for the voice of lead singer Catherine McCandless. Assisted by producer Dan Lissvik along the way, the band left behind all traces of earlier rock inclinations, crafting a range of sounds that evoke 1980s synth-pop, contemporary hip hop and multiple shades of electro and R&B. Their latest, fifth record Falsework, the follow-up to 2013’s Ultramarine, is Young Galaxy’s most vivid expression of their electro-pop aesthetic, and the reasons for that are both personal and technical.

“There was an urgency about it,” McCandless says. “We decided to write another Young Galaxy album when I got pregnant, so we had this window to use. We had to be efficient and do the best thing we could in that period of time. The quality of what we were going to make was determined by that in a way also.

“There’s a battle in us both,” she continues, referring to her bandmate and husband Stephen Ramsay, “to reconcile the domestic side of our lives with the creative and the working side. Both of us are people that need the creative side to be nurtured and it’s something we put a lot into in order to feel like happy, functional human beings. But because we knew this intensive nesting time was coming — basically the first six months of the baby’s life — in order to feel like that was okay, like we weren’t losing some identity or momentum or level of engagement with our life, we needed to make something really challenging to us. We needed to feel like we were risking something. It couldn’t be as comfortable as our domestic selves, it needed to be a foil to that life.

“But it also needed to be something we knew, and we needed to inform it with all the intensity we were feeling as we were writing. That’s why there’s a lot of big world view commentary in some of the lyrics, there’s a lot of discussion of physical vs. mental energies. Excavation is sort of a huge theme; we were feeling like we were digging.”

On the sonic side, Falsework sounds the way it does because the band acquired what McCandless describes as a “huge amount” of analogue synth gear. At first their experiments with it were intended for a side project, but soon they realized that it was destined to become part of “YG.”

“It was challenging work but exciting work — a lot of hours spent finding sounds and learning the production and how to record and engineer those sounds the way we wanted them.”

Due to the weight and bulk of the actual gear, the band uses sounds from the synthesizers via samples which they can manipulate with a midi keyboard or laptop. And, along with triggered lighting designed by Adam Hummell, they’ve introduced another new element into their show.

“We’ve got dancers now! We’re working with this amazing production company, choreographers and producers who are friends of ours, really talented and creative people. We wanted to accentuate that visceral quality we’re after because there are less people on stage now, less ‘band playing instruments’ so to speak. Guitars are less present on stage — instead it’s a knob turning or a dial sliding or a pad being hit.”

When I spoke to McCandless in late January, Young Galaxy had just returned from playing New York City, and were about to play some more stripped down shows (minus their guitarist) in Washington and Pittsburgh.

“It was really fun to take it to New York first and get our shine back on. It was our first show in a couple of years and our first presentation of this show,” she says.

“I have a lot of confidence in our live show because a lot of great people have put a lot of great ideas and effort and time into it, and I love them. But there’s some element of it where we love it so much that it could crash and burn. It might be a total Spinal Tap. But on stage we’re all dressed up together and it’s ‘Let’s do it! Here we go! We’re gonna dance!’ It’s fantastic — it feels great to risk that much and just go.” ■

See Young Galaxy live, with opening act L.A. Foster, at Théâtre Fairmount (5240 Parc) on Thursday, Feb. 18, 9 p.m., $15

Young Galaxy commissioned a short story to accompany Falsework, by Sean Michaels. Read it here.

Catherine McCandless was one of over a dozen local musicians who contributed to Cult MTL‘s tribute to David Bowie. See and hear her favourite Bowie track and read her thoughts about the late music legend here.