Tonight something very special will be happening at a Parkdale venue. Young Empires will be performing at wrongbar. They are like nothing I’ve heard out of Toronto so far. Torontette sat down with them to talk about UK music festivals, their skivvies of choice, the Toronto audience and the future of the album.
Jake Palahnuk: Bass guitar
Matthew Vlahovich: Synthesizers, lead vocals
Aaron Ellingson: Guitar, run beats, dance
Torontette: When did you guys come together?
Jake: Late September 2009. Aaron and I started playing together first in August with some other musicians. They all sucked pretty bad but we decided to stick it out. He had a good smile. I had met Matt a few months before that at my last ever show with my last band. He was doing a solo project at the time called Golden Girls and I really liked his stuff and then I sent him a message seeing if he wanted to jam. We did, and it was good. Magic.
Torontette: Where did you play your first show?
Matt: Our first show was at wrongbar, opening for We Have Band from the UK. We basically wrote our first set within a week of confirming that show and we hadn’t even nailed down a name. In fact I think on the poster for that show, they called us Empire States even though our name officially for that show was Young Empires and we’ve kept that name since. That was in October 2009.
Aaron: Yeah, and the first time we played together, that show was less than a month after we first met.
J: We were bad, it was pretty funny.
Torontette: What’s your favourite venue you’ve played in the city?
M: I think Mod Club was pretty cool.
J: I like El Mo but it’s kind of in a weird area.
A: I really like the Drake as a venue but we’ve never really had an amazing crowd there. If we had to play one place tomorrow, I would pick Mod Club.
Torontette: Who would you want to play with on tour?
M: Bat for Lashes. I think her music is really interesting. She’s a good song writer and puts on a great performance.
A: I really like Beck, I think they would be fun to go on tour with. Because it’s a different set every night. I would like to go on tour with someone that I would actually want to watch every night.
J: I’m going to say Rick Astley. He has a good catalogue.
A: I don’t think he’s currently performing.
J: I think that crowd would like our music. Matt kind of sounds like him a little bit and looks like him a little bit.
[insert Rick Astley aside here. Time: 6 minutes]
Torontette: Do you guys ever think about what you’re going to wear on stage?
J: Yeah I think so. I don’t think we plan together or anything but we like fashion and enjoy fashion and we’re cognizant of our whole brand when we’re performing.
A: I think about what I’m going to wear on stage just as much as I think about what I’m going to wear in the morning. Like I just don’t throw on the first thing I see but at the same time we don’t coordinate our outfits.
Torontette: Crazy fan stories?
J: Tommy Lee was rumoured to be in the audience at our London, UK show.
A: Matt’s had some crazy fans where you’ll just hear people yelling from the audience, “I want to have your baby!” or, “I want to marry you!”
Torontette: How does that make you feel Matt?
M: Well it’s usually guys that yell that out. It’s flattering, I guess? I’ll pass on the offer.
A: We had some good fans in New York City at Bowery Ballroom. We opened for Dragonette and I feel like no one there had ever heard of our band. It was literally the one show where we had zero fans when we started the show and we kinda won people over with a good handful of people. They made the effort to find out that we were playing in Brooklyn next and drove all the way there. They were front row, singing along to all the songs the very next night. Pretty cool.
Torontette: How well do you think music in Canada travels down to the States? Just how you say that you guys weren’t known at all at your Bowery show in NYC.
J: I think if the music’s good it’ll get around.
A: We’ve actually had a lot more online attention from New York and L.A. than from Toronto. We get compared to a lot of New York bands and from when we first hit the scene we had a lot of people saying that we would do well in New York.
Torontette: What do you think of the Toronto audience?
A: It’s weird, when you first start a band, the first couple shows that you play, you end up playing to your friends and people you know. I think we’re just starting now to get to that point where we don’t have to rely on that any more. People are starting to know who Young Empires are. We’re just getting to that point where we see what a real Toronto audience is like for us.
J: I don’t think Toronto dances enough.
M: Notoriously Toronto is more of a conservative market than even New York City. You ask any touring band and Toronto is a different city to win over. I think Canadian media really want to wait and see what record company the band signs with, or if they sound like anything else they can relate to and they’re not really sure what to do with you really. So when you’re doing something that sounds a little bit different, little bit fresh it can a challenge. That’s kinda the position we’re in now, doesn’t bother us though.
A: We’ve had good response at shows. We like Toronto people, we all live here. We’ve all kinda said we’re not rushing to move away from Toronto. We think us living in Toronto is a big part of why we sound the way we sound. But for some reason that hasn’t necessarily resonated with an audience yet.
Torontette: Do you think that people rush to categorize music into different genres? Especially media? They feel like they have to give it a classification?
A: Yeah I think by nature, when you’re writing about a band you have to compare them to something. I personally rather be compared to a couple bands rather than a genre. Like when people say Young Empires is dance-punk. I don’t even know what dance punk is and punk doesn’t relate to our band at all. I wouldn’t hate on journalists for doing that because I think that’s what people kinda expect them to do.
Torontette: And what bands have you guys been compared to?
J: Friendly Fires, Yeasayer, Foals, Cut Copy, Killers.
A: I like when people compare different songs of ours to different bands. I like having that range.
M: Getting back to your question about Canadian bands breaking in the U.S., I think that’s why we have the sound we do, being based in Toronto. We’re putting a mosaic together where we’re drawing on different influences but we don’t necessarily have one cohesive melting pot sound. We just want every song to be interesting. We don’t want it to sound like the song previously you heard from our band. And I think that as our band continues to evolve there’s gonna be a lot more of that as we continue to draw on more influences and genres.
J: I think its going to become increasingly difficult to classify our band. We write a lot of songs and we just know what feels good and what we like. We never go into a song writing saying OK let’s write a slow song. We just write. We’re not afraid to just let a song be what it is.
M: And I think that’s what real Young Empires fans really like about our band is that you never know what you’re going to hear with the next song. And what you’re going to feel.
Torontette: Favourite food?
J: I like steak tartar a lot.
M: I like mushrooms and I like cheese.
A: I’m a big burger person. I really love Bison burgers. Any gamey meat in burger form.
Torontette: Drink of choice?
J: Amarone for me.
M: Champagne. Anything from France.
A: I usually drink vodka soda.
Torontette: Anything more interesting?
A: We all enjoy Belgian beer a lot. That’s what I drink when I want to get hammered. Three of those and you’re done.
Torontette: Boxers or briefs?
A: At the same time?
J: Boxer briefs. Happy medium.
A: Briefs for me.
Torontette: I’ve had the discussion with friends about the death of the album. What do you think?
A: My opinion has kind of changed. I think that before this band I always said I never want to put out an album, I just want to put out singles or EPs but I think that the way we are doing things in this band, how we were saying how song to song we’re different, I like the idea of presenting a package of songs together so that people can have a journey of sorts and you can kind of give someone more than 3 minutes.
J: I think that’s a better question for you as an audience. Like what do you want to hear?
Torontette: For me, just because I write about music, it gives me more content to go on if let’s say I know one of my favourite bands is releasing a single every few months. It has more consistency. But at the same time there’s something to be said about finding an artist that has an album that you love start to finish. Which is rare. There’s something very special about that.
A: I think that’s a good point. I think the death of the album kind of goes with the death of the industry, where albums aren’t important anymore because people don’t listen to whole albums any more. The way that iPods are now, people rarely listen to a whole album because they don’t have to. Where as back in the CD days I would buy a CD, listen to it in my discman, start to finish. I rarely do that. Bands are getting lazy because people don’t listen to full albums now, so it’s a vicious cycle. Bands are thinking let’s just write two good songs and sell our singles rather than making a good album.
M: I think if you put out a single you can only be a really good band but if you put out a really good album, you can be a great band. And you can have a longer lasting effect on people’s memories. A good single comes and goes. It might have lasting radio life but you’ll only be remembered for that one song. With a good album you’ll be remembered for being a good band.
J: I think the problem is just that albums just aren’t money makers. Albums don’t make money anymore. So then that changes the mindset of the industry. Some bands might say, we just don’t care anymore about making a good record because there’s no money in it anyway. Where there is money to be made is at a live show, film and TV placements and that becomes the focus. I think if it’s not valued by the fans, and if it’s not valued by the industry then a lot of bands are going to stop. But as long as you want to hear them, we’ll make them.
Listen to ‘Rain of Gold’ by Young Empires: