‘It’s a good time to be a Canadian artist,’ says Young Empires frontman

Culture Music
Young Empires. Photo by Kyle Thompson
Young Empires. Photo by Kyle Thompson

Toronto band Young Empires just finished their extensive U.S. tour following the release of their debut album The Gates — a trek that included a stop in Victoria on May 18. The Martlet caught up with singer Matt Vlahovich on the phone ahead of their show to get the lowdown on their latest output, his thoughts on music streaming, and what’s next on the horizon for the group. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for print.

The Martlet: Hi, Matt. So the most recent thing you put out was your “So Cruel” remix on April 8.

Matt Vlahovich: Yeah, we put out some remix of “So Cruel” with this guy Alixander III, who used to be one of the producers of Azari & III, who unfortunately had a short-lived career but were amazing house musicians and have kind of gone on their own way. But I was good friends with Alphonse, who was one of the main producers of that group, and he did an interesting take on the remix.

I never like to give people direction on how to do remixes. When I work with any artist and when I’m collaborating it’s really about them bringing whatever it is they do to the table, and not about me micromanaging artistic direction . . . Some artists need something to have as a reference point. A lot of musicians will steal chord progressions from other musicians, but I still think that art can be something that just comes from the magic of your mind. I think that’s where creativity comes from, not from trying to copy other people. Another example would be if I wanna get a song mixed for the album, and the engineer says, ‘What do you want it to sound like?’ My answer is always, ‘Make it sound good. Make it sound better than the reference, than where it started off.’

Has there been a good response to the remix, do you think?

We’re in kind of a strange time. When the band started off, music blogs had a lot of cred and there was a big momentum around music blogs, and that could really ignite and spark massive fan growth and stuff like that. I’m not sure that it’s the same anymore. When I talk to young people, it seems to me Spotify and streaming services are really the number one way that people are finding their music. And the big challenge with having one big centralized platform where all music’s being found and shared is that if you’re not on a major playlist, then you kind of just get lost in the abyss. I don’t know if that’s what’s happening with the remix. It’s maybe too early to tell.

Those streaming services definitely have their benefits and their drawbacks, especially for the artist that actually made the music.

Yeah, we’re in a time now where unless you’re in that one percentile of top musicians in the world, be it the Drakes or the Weeknds . . . it is becoming increasingly difficult to monetize in this world where people aren’t buying music and where the streaming services tend to pay out the labels more than the artist. Everyone says, ‘Oh, synchronization [and] getting music into film and television is the next wave of the future,’ but now that’s become incredibly competitive, too. It’s a very small world of close-knit relationships and if you’re an outsider to that, then it’s tough to get your music placed. And the environment now is where all over Los Angeles, these teams of dozens, if not hundreds of songwriters are just working to pump out music for the purpose of film and television, so music supervisors often lean toward the production instead of paying an artist an exorbitant amount. It’s easier to ask someone to write a song that sounds like M83 than to actually go out and use an M83 track.

So yeah, it’s a weird landscape right now with industry and being at where we are at, where we have a pretty good amount of commercial success in Canada, a little bit in the U.S., but we’re still a medium-sized band, and it’s [a question of] how do you take that to the next level? And I think it really comes down to what the next record’s gonna sound like for us. And we’re gonna get back into the studio and start writing the next record after this tour.

And you guys were talking about an interactive web project as well. How has that been formulating?

Yeah, it’s definitely in the works. We qualified and were awarded a MuchFACT grant that has to do with interactivity and music videos. [Editor’s note: MuchFACT is a company funded entirely by Much and M3 (formerly MuchMoreMusic) that “considers applications requesting co-financing for music videos and music related content.”] We had a lot of success with [the] “White Doves” video that had a Facebook integration component, and this new video, I can’t tell you much about it, but basically it’s gonna be presented like a short film . . . I don’t know if I can disclose that info yet. [It] uses webcam technology to create an enhanced user experience or something like that.

As a young group — well, we’ve been around for a while — you always have to try to find ways to distinguish yourselves a little bit. I found that for so long I was really bored of music videos. When I was growing up in the ‘90s, just seeing a band play in, like, a bar, and [seeing] people getting wasted and stuff like that in the video seemed boring to me. So we’ve worked hard to find creatives in the video space that are embracing technology too. And we’re really fortunate that MuchFACT has created this new category where they are expanding the idea of what a traditional music video is. It’s pretty cool. It’s a good time to be a Canadian artist for sure.

So you guys are on a pretty extensive tour right now, and you’re coming back into Victoria in May. Did you guys enjoy Rifflandia? 

Yeah, Rifflandia was a total blast. We had the chance to visit Victoria twice this year: once with Dragonette, once at Rifflandia. And we very quickly found Little Jumbo, which is now our favourite place to eat. One of our favourites in the country. So we have a few days off [and] that’s where we’re going to be hiding out basically every night, eating their platters.

Victoria is a really special place in the country, and I know the last time we were there, with Dragonette, was kind of the last day of our tour, and I think the entire band was just a little exhausted. We didn’t have the best show. So I feel like I owe Victoria a great show. So I’m really looking forward to coming there and having one or two days off in Victoria before the show will really reinvigorate us. Just being back in Canada will be a big treat because touring in the U.S. has its challenges.

Namely, it’s hard to find great food when we’re touring there.