Toronto band Young Empires stands out in a sea of similar-sounding band names, with music that draws from different genres and eras. The quartet has been reinventing the electronica-indie scene for the past two years. Matthew Vlahovich, Taylor Hill, Jake Palahnuk, and Robert Aaron Ellingson have achieved quite a following by working independently and self-releasing a five-track bedroom demo. Their energetic rock music has allowed them to play at festivals, at a Grammys private show for the Arcade Fire, and throughout the U.S., Canada and in South America. Young Empires’ debut EP, Wake All My Youth, was just released on February 21, and the band has shared stages with Sleigh Bells, Jamiroquai, Chromeo and Foster the People; they will soon be making their way down to SXSW after a string of tour dates throughout the US.
We caught up with Matthew Vlahovich about blending pop songs with “big hitters,” performing for Deepak Chopra, and how being drunk and stoned in a random motel gave them inspiration for a band name.
ILANA KAPLAN: Who are some of your influences?
MATTHEW VLAHOVICH: Everyone in the band has different influences. I think for me growing up, I was really turned off by grunge music when I was a teenager. I kind of just started listening indie music because of that. I started a radio show when I was a page. I was able to somehow get a spot on Friday nights at university—I guess you guys call it college. I listened to a lot of musicians that I don’t think ever made it south of the border: a band like Sloan. I don’t know if you heard of them. I don’t know. I’m influenced by music from the New Wave era. I never really listened to ’80s music, but I feel like subconsciously it was the music I liked the most when I was in my mom’s womb, or from older brothers and sisters. I really don’t know. I hope that answered your question.
KAPLAN: Where did the name Young Empires come from?
VLAHOVICH: Well, we had been offered a show the first week that we had started rehearsing. We didn’t have a band name, so we headed out to this motel in the middle of nowhere. We got really drunk and stoned and just threw out a bunch of words. I guess, “Young Empires” came out of that. I would like to think that it was before there were 100 bands that start with the word “Young.” It’s kind of strange now. I had this idea where we could play in a “Young” battle where we play against all of the “Young” bands or go on tour with them and try to compete for the name.
KAPLAN: How do you go about the song production process: from writing the songs to making the beats?
VLAHOVICH: Yeah. I mean none of us have a background in audio engineering. Our first EP was our introduction to “how to make a record at home in your bedroom or your bathroom.” We just learned through experimentation. For this EP, it was really a collaborative effort, where I would send the project over to Aaron and he would record the drums. Then he would send me back the project, and I would record the vocals in the washer at home. So, it was just using technology to our advantage and not wasting all of our money going to a fancy recording studio. In short, it was really a collaborative effort between all of us. We put stuff in and pick stuff out. Hopefully we end up with stuff that people really respond to.
KAPLAN: You guys seem to have great musical chemistry. How did you guys meet?
VLAHOVICH: Well, the guitar player and bassist met on Craigslist. It’s a really interesting story. I had this solo synth-pop band called Golden Girls. I guess the guys had seen me play. I was tired of being a one-man show, so they asked me to come and jam with them. The week we started jamming, we got offered our first show opening up for We Have Band from the UK. Everything just stuck after that. We’ve become pretty good friends. So, we’re not like a childhood friendship band, where we knew each other since we were 15. It’s a new friendship; a new camaraderie if you will.
KAPLAN: What can we expect after this EP release? An LP, perhaps?
VLAHOVICH: Well, I think right now we’re at the level point where we added a new drummer into the band. Do we really focus on making proper songs in a typical pop arrangement or do we go more towards the electronic side or go with more club bangers? I think the direction is going to be maybe a combination of two worlds where there’s really nice, thoughtful songwriting and really big hitters. We definitely like club music, big drum beats and old electronic drum machines. At the same time, we love a lot of music. We’re going to just keep trying to combine both worlds into our band.
KAPLAN: What’s your favorite song that you’ve been working on? If you had to choose one, what’s the song you’re proudest of?
VLAHOVICH: I’m actually pretty proud about this song that didn’t make it onto this EP, but might make it onto the next record. It’s a song that is on YouTube. We had this fan post it and it’s almost got a million views. It’s called “The Earth Plates Are Shifting.” People seem to be responding really well to it. It has a different feel. It feels slower and more melodic than the songs on the record. Like I said, that one might make an appearance on the full-length.
KAPLAN: What are your upcoming tour plans?
VLAHOVICH: We’re on our way down to SXSW. We’re in New York on March 1 and Brooklyn on March 2. We got this really strange offer from Deepak Chopra’s Foundation. Deepak Chopra, that new-age guru, he reached out to us and asked us to play his symposium in San Diego and suntan in California. So, we’re going to fly from Philadelphia and go there for two days. Then, we’re going to fly back to the East Coast and we’re making our way down the East Coast. Then we’re going to play three shows in Texas, and we have two in Austin. Well, I guess Austin is a part of Texas, but it is kind of different. We’re doing two shows at SXSW. We decided to not try to do too much, so we could see other bands from the UK and US that doesn’t really come up to Canada. I really like this guy Chad Valley right now. I don’t know much about the label, but just see some stuff that doesn’t make it up north here in Canada. That’s kind of the plan. After that, we’re doing some shows with this band called Dragonette. We’re going to do a bunch of stuff over the summer, and then record our album during the summer. Hopefully we’ll have it ready for the fall.
KAPLAN: What has been the biggest challenge for you in the band?
VLAHOVICH: I guess, one would be, living a normal day-job lifestyle. Pursuing music is not something I have any technical training in. It’s just something I’ve always been passionate about since I was a teenager. Making that transition and not being in a nine-to-five, and just forcing yourself to be productive during the day. I think finding inspiration is always very challenging. I think being on the road and meeting people in other cities really fosters the creative spirit. Just getting along with everyone and making sure that no one fights on the road. We all have very strong personalities and being able to compromise. We take a very communal approach to music, so everyone really has a say. Sometimes you have to put your foot down. It’s going well so far. We’re really happy.