Young Empires Seek to Conquer with Debut EP “Wake All My Youth”

Photo Credit: David A. Pike

Photo Credit: David A. Pike

NME has referred to them as the summation of this generation’s achievement in rock. They themselves call their sound “world beat haute rock”, an appropriate description of their eclectic output, and their aim is to make empowering, feel-good music that people will want to strut down the sidewalk to. That aim has been partially fulfilled, with their song, “Against the Wall” being featured on a viral fashion video for Nylon TV. Now Young Empires is on the cusp of their debut EP, Wake All My Youth,  out January 31, and the whole music world is watching.

Not bad for a band who have only been around for two years.

Recently signed to Pirates Blend, the label owned and operated by members of Bedouin Soundclash, Young Empires (consisting of Toronto based players Robert Aaron Ellingson, Jake Palahnuk, Taylor Hill, and Matthew Vlahovich) haven’t even released their first record yet, but they are already high on the radar for many in the music world.  In the past they have opened for acclaimed new act Foster the People, as well as mash-up genius Girl Talk and Grammy Award-winning Montrealers, Arcade Fire.

They were noted as one of the top ten out of 500 bands at NXNE 2011, and even the fashion industry took note, with their single “Glory of the Night” being released by Parisian fashion/music label Kitsune Maison 10. So one can say they truly have come, they’ve seen – and been seen – and now, with their debut EP, Young Empires is ready to conquer.

Cadence caught up recently with Young Empires co-founder Jake Palahnuk via phone, and technical difficulties aside (the poor network reception and a persistent phone echo made us push the interview back an extra day) we were able to speak at length on YE’s growing success, what makes a good record, and the band’s musical influences, which range from African percussion to REM. Naturally, being that it’s the middle of winter, we also spoke about the bipolar Toronto weather, and why Young Empires should be allowed to battle other bands with the “Young” prefix for the exclusive right to the title.

How are you doing today?


You have a new album coming out?

The album’s coming out, yes.

How does that feel?

It feels really good. We’ve been a band now for about two years, we’ve kind of had these songs written for almost a year, and (it was) just a matter of finding the right team for it, the right home for it, and just wanted to do things properly. Yeah, it feels really good to finally bring it to fans that have been very patient, waiting for it. If we had our way it would have been out a year ago, but it just wasn’t right.

I hear that. So what was it like looking for the right fit for your music, and getting it out there?

I think we’ve been really lucky to find a label like Pirates Blend, we’re all coming from other bands, with quite a bit of history in the business and you know, sometimes labels can not be your best friend, they just have different motives.  Some other labels were interested but it just didn’t feel like the right fit for many reasons. A lot of it just had to do with the people, and kind of believing that that’s the right team for the band and making sure that they understand who you are as musicians, and what your vision is for the music. So I think, to sign with Pirates Blend seemed like a really good fit, and it’s been nothing but wonderful signing up with them, so we’re definitely stoked for a future with these guys.

That’s great. So your band and your sound have been described as  the summation of this generation’s achievement in rock. How does it feel?

Yeah, it’s a pretty nice compliment!

So with that kind of expectation of you, does it feel intimidating for the follow up, or for this album even?

I don’t want to say it’s intimidating, I mean I think it’s an honour to obviously get quotes like that from a really well respected music magazine, NME, but I think when we’re actually making music it’s not about having to live up to some press expectation, I mean, you know we don’t make music for press, we make it for the fans, and for ourselves, really, so I think when it comes to the next record we actually just really want to sit down and make a proper record. This first EP, we had enough material to make a full length, but we decided to make an EP instead, we just didn’t feel we had made a record, you know? We had started the band, we had made some songs, but we didn’t actually sit down and say we were going to write a record, for the next one that’s the plan; we’re actually going to make an album, start to finish, that’s a complete work. So yeah, I would think it’s not really the same game anymore. It’s a different level for the band.

So for the next one – I mean, I’m thinking about the next one, the first one hasn’t even come out yet, right? (Laughter) But based on what you’ve said, you put all your ideas and such into this EP, but it didn’t quite feel cohesive like a record record, but more like a showcase of what you’re doing?

Yeah, it’s kind of like an introduction to who we are, and the music that we’re making, and we kind of arranged it into an album and just thought, you know what, these are good songs, and this is a good representation of what we sound like but it’s not necessarily a full, front-to-back album. I think for some people it might be, but we’re kind of perfectionists in that way, in that if we’re going to present something as an album, it’s going to be an album. So that being said, we’re still very proud of it. It has a theme definitely, it’s not just a bunch of songs together, but you know, we kind of chose the songs that we felt were most representative of the feel of the first record, that would beWake All My Youth.

You’ve described your sound as “world beat haute rock”. What does that mean?

What does that mean, um, I think with the world beat it’s because we like to try a lot of different percussion when we’re making music, you know, it’s influenced by African percussion or Latin America, so that’s kinda where that half falls in, and the haute rock is I guess a term that we’ve coined ourselves. Just, I think we want to make music that makes you feel sexy, and makes you feel good, the kind of music where you want to walk down the sidewalk, and you want to strut like you’re in a fashion show. You know, when you put on your headphones and you’re kind of in your own world and it becomes like your runway. That is the objective of our sound, it’s the combination of those two things.

That’s actually kind of interesting you’re saying that “Glory of the Night” was released by a fashion/music label, which I think is an amazing concept – fashion and music together, perfect; and also, the one song, “Against the Wall”, was on a fashion video for Nylon TV, so it seems that everyone seems to agree with you that that’s the kind of music that you really can strut to, literally!

I hope so! Yeah, I mean, perhaps we’ve succeeded so far, which is good.

You’ve been a band for a couple of years, and some bands it takes years and years together before they get that cohesive sound as a band before their first release. How do you guys work together to make that work?

Obviously it feels great, anytime people are actually interested in your music and think that what you’re doing is cool, that’s exciting. I mean, we kind of started this band two years ago from other projects from just wanting to get home from our day jobs and make music. You know, some people like to watch tv, some people like to play sports, and we just like to jam. It’s our hobby, it’s our release in our spare time. You know, when we first released two tracks to the internet, just ‘cause we needed something online, just home demo recordings in our bedrooms, and people actually liked them and said, wow, this is really cool, we never really expected any of that to happen. I think it’s exciting to have the record coming out, two years in the making, and we’re definitely kind of proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as a band in such a short period of time. It all kind of feels surreal, you know. Everyday is like a little bit of a miracle. So it’s a cool way to live.

That is a cool way to live. So who influences you as a musician or as an artist?

We have kind of a wide range of influences, which, I think, is kind of why we get the press that we do in terms of genre crossing, summation of achievement, and things like that. You know, anything from house music to hiphop, to indie, to big, American rock like Kings of Leon. When we’re on tour in the van it’s always quite an eclectic mix on the stereo, which is, I think, healthy. Also we listen to Latin American music, too, so  it’s kind of a neat mix.

If you could jam with any artist, alive or dead, past or present, who would it be?

Ooh, that’s a tough question. Any artist at all? Umm…I’m going to go with Daft Punk – is that kind of a cop out answer? Who wouldn’t want to play with those guys? – or REM.

REM’s cool. How long had you guys known each other, in the band, before you started making music together?

We actually didn’t know each other at all. We had met each other through mutual friends, and just from the Toronto music scene. Aaron (Ellingson, the guitarist) and I were playing with a couple other guys, just jamming out some stuff, weren’t feeling what was going on but the two of liked each other’s style in terms of music and what we would play, so we decided to kind of stick together and search for a singer. I had met Matt (Vlahovich) six months before that at our last band’s last show, ironically, and just remembered that he was doing a solo project at the time that I was into, and just hit him up and said, you know, I know you’re doing your solo thing but would you be interested in starting a band? And he was like, yeah, I’ve been thinking about wanting a band for awhile now, so let’s get him, get a rehearsal space, and see what happens. And you know, from the first jam we just knew that everything just seemed to click, so it was kind of a cool moment.

Seems almost fateful, everything just leading into the next and into the next, so do you see yourselves jamming into your seventies, like the Rolling Stones?

Oh, I hope so! I think obviously bands that can survive through decades and continue to put out relative music, and continue to not only maintain their fanbase but grow it, I think that’s something that is obviously desired by any band. I mean, when you make music you want to make music. You know, if it’s not in a live capacity I’m sure we’ll all still going to be involved in creating music, whether it’s behind the production chair, you know, songwriting, or anything like that, I think that we’re just musicians and that’s what we’ll always be, so, yeah, I certainly hope that in ten years from now we’re still…maybe we’ll be old and bald but we’ll still be rocking.

And that’s all that counts. Where does the name come from, Young Empires?

It’s really difficult to choose a name when you’re a band, and basically we had been jamming for about two weeks, and Matt (Vlahovich)had a show offer for his solo project, and he’s like, do you guys want to do this show as a band? And we were like, okay, sure, we’re not really ready, but we’ll take the show, we’ll write some songs and we’ll go do it. And we didn’t have a name at that point, and all of a sudden the flyer was going out, and we needed a name for the band, so we just kind of sat down, locked ourselves in a room for awhile, talked about who we wanted to be, and what we wanted to do, and I think Young Empires is really about the start of something big, something young and innovative and fresh, but with big potential. I think we want to inspire people to feel that way about whatever they take on in their life, so that’s kind of where it came from.

That’s possibly the most amazing name-decision story I’ve heard in awhile. Because some of them, literally it’s just, Okay, there’s something on the wall, it’s a sign, okay, that’s going to be our band name! You know? (Laughs)

(Laughs) It’s not easy, it’s not easy to choose. And we didn’t really know there were so many “Young” bands out there when we chose that name. There’s a couple, I know Young Galaxy existed, but all of a sudden there’s been, like, four hundred “Young” bands that’s come out in the last year and a half. We actually considered changing our name at one point, we were so sick of seeing all the “Young” bands, but I think what I’d like to propose is like a Battle of the Bands, where it’s us versus every other “Young” band, and only the winner could keep it, and the rest have to change.

Nice. I’m going to put that as my headline, “Young Empires Challenges All Other Young Bands!”

Yes, publish that. Come on, bitches!

“Battle to the death! Or, you know, just to get our name back.” (Laughs) Okay, so do you have anything else? What would you like to share that we have not talked about?

Well, we have a tour coming up, which is going to support the release of the record. So we’ll be hitting kind of eastern Ontario, and Quebec, and then starting in Montreal we’re going to hit the US and go from New York, Philly, Boston, down to Florida and across to SXSW, so obviously we would like to have people come see us play live, because I think that’s the way we write music, we don’t write in the studio we write live, and that’s the way it’s meant to be heard, and the studio is just a representation of that. So, the tour will be cool, and that’s about it, I think.