Published May 14, 2013The members of Vancouver's Gold & Youth have a well-established chemistry. Even before group founders Matthew Lyall, Murray Mckenzie and Jeff Mitchelmore released a 2009 EP as part of the now-defunct Racoons, they honed their chops on the local circuit in Victoria, BC. This musical rapport shines on their first album, Beyond Wilderness, which features bewitching vocal contributions from new addition Louise Burns (herself an established pop songwriter). Her singing gives an extra splash of colour to the band's atmospherically moody synth-pop songs and makes Beyond Wilderness an exceptionally mature-sounding debut.
How did the transition from the Raccoons to Gold & Youth happen?
Murray Mckenzie: It was actually a really long period of transition. It was a transition that involved us not really being a band for a while. We stopped playing Racoons songs altogether for about two years before we started playing all the new songs. I think people, especially journalists, have made a lot more of it than there really is, besides the fact that we used to be in a band together.
What differentiates what you're doing now from what you did as the Racoons?
Matthew Lyall: We really worked at increasing our technical ability to create music. We had written before in a rehearsal space setting as the Racoons and it was pretty freewheeling, chaotic, noisy music, and it was a lot of fun, but the songwriting wasn't very methodical, and it wasn't compartmentalized into very specific parts. Then when we sat down with Gold & Youth, the writing process was 100 percent opposite. We didn't even learn to play the songs live until the album was finished. It was very methodical, very deliberate, which is the opposite of the Racoons.
How did Louise Burns get involved?
Matthew Lyall: Basically what happened is we had one song ["Time to Kill"] where we were like, "Oh, a female voice would really lend itself to this song," and she was the obvious choice because these guys [Mckenzie and Mitchelmore] had played with her before and she's a really good friend. She happened to be visiting Vancouver, and she came into the studio and it sounded awesome. We ended up doing it on a couple more songs throughout the album. Then we sent some songs out to Toronto, she added more vocals on them, and it ended up being, "Well, this makes sense [for her to join the band]."
Where did the title Beyond Wilderness come from?
Murray Mckenzie: There's a book, actually, written by a UBC art historian, with the same title, about the way that Canadian wilderness painting dominates the mythology of Canadian art [Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art by John O'Brian and Peter White]. While we were working on the Gold & Youth stuff, we were talking a lot about how there are a lot of obvious UK influences, there's a lot of electronic stuff, a lot of lyrics based on Matt's childhood in Saudi Arabia. We're not really working within the mould of a Canadian — or definitely not a West coast — band.
You guys don't feel connected with what's going on musically out here?
Matthew Lyall: You have to be careful with that kind of question. I don't think we fit. There's a scene of people who are really nice and they're friends of ours, but it's hard to find people to play with, that we can tour with. I just met Yukon Blonde the other day. I think they're rad dudes, but I don't see Yukon Blonde and Gold & Youth co-headlining a tour anytime soon. I think we have to look elsewhere to find our place where we really fit in musically.
What do you think the character of Canadian West coast music is?
Murray Mckenzie: So much of that identity is defined by the relationship to the space and vast open wilderness. That's sort of the joke of Beyond Wilderness. For us, it doesn't really reflect our reality, because we've lived very urban lives. There's that Canadian romanticism that, in a weird way, can really hold back a lot of Canadian artists, I think, because it's sort of like an in-house party where everybody's celebrating the same concept, but it doesn't really translate to an international audience. It also doesn't feel all that authentic for us, and that's not to take away from how that feels for other artists. I'm sure there's a lot of people who grew up with that being a big part of their lives.
Matt, how did you end up growing up in Saudi Arabia?
Matthew Lyall: My dad got hired there. He's a doctor and we moved there in 1993. I was there for a good chunk of my childhood. That was one of the talking points when we started making the record. We were joking around about it being our desert album. Murray and I go down quite frequently to where he spent a lot of time in his childhood, which is near Palm Springs in California. The first time I was down there, all I could think about was how insanely similar the vibe is there [compared to Saudi Arabia]. It's gated communities. Everything's very sterile, but it's in the middle of this amazing, extremely alien landscape. It's a very artificial form of life. Manicured lawns. But very futuristic. But also maybe completely unsustainable. Dystopic. All of my memories from Saudi — on one hand, I loved the place, but it was this weird urban chaos, because Riyadh, the city I grew up in, is a city that emerged literally within the last 30 or 40 years. It went from being a tiny little village of mud huts, mid-century, to billion dollar skyscrapers everywhere. We have one song that talks about that, "City of Quartz." The name's lifted from a concept about Los Angeles, because there's a lot of similarities between growing up in Saudi Arabia and L.A. in terms of the endless freeways. People aren't supposed to live there. It's not fit from human beings. You take away the "progress" of technological achievements and plumbing, and it's not [liveable]. It is the future, in a weird way.
Will you change your sound for the next album?
Jeff Mitchelmore: I think it will be a little different.
Matthew Lyall: Maybe just because we've gotten so much proficient at the technological side of it. When we made the album, I — naïvely fucking around in different synth engines and not knowing what I was doing — made a preset bank of 20 or 30 sounds. We said, "Okay, that's it. We're not going to go outside of those goal posts." It's too easy to spend endless hours tinkering away and making a billion different varieties of sounds to use. Maybe the next album will suck because now we know what we're doing.
Jeff Mitchelmore: We've lost our innocence, too.
Matthew Lyall: Yeah, exactly. We'll be old men by then. [Laughs] We'll be 35 when we make our next album. We'll have a new name and we'll deny ever having been the same band.