Published May 06, 2013Three of the members of Vancouver's Gold & Youth previously played together as the Racoons, but after that project fizzled out after just one EP, they reemerged under the new name. With local songwriter Louise Burns on board as the group's fourth member, they will release Beyond Wilderness on May 14 through Arts & Crafts. In the meantime, this debut album can be streamed on Exclaim.ca right here.
Sitting down with Exclaim! at Max's Deli on Vancouver's westside, founding members Matthew Lyall, Murray Mckenzie and Jeff Mitchelmore explain that the shift from the Racoons to Gold & Youth wasn't so much a renaming as an entirely new beginning.
"It was a transition that involved us not really being a band for a while," explains Mckenzie. "We stopped playing Racoons songs altogether for about two years before we started playing all the new songs."
Lyall agrees and adds, "We just went from being a band that was three dudes who were friends who made music to actually sitting down and coming up with a solid plan of what we wanted to do. The Racoons wasn't really a conscious band — it was just fun."
The musicians first connected with Arts & Crafts as the Racoons were winding down, and they remained in touch with the label as they made the gradual transition between projects. "It took over a year and half, so we built up a relationship with them," remembers Mitchelmore. "We were keeping them in the loop of what we were thinking and what we wanted to do, and they were on board."
The new band found the longtime collaborators moving in a more electronic direction as they experimented with software synthesizers and composed on a laptop. The resulting songs toe the line between punchy new wave pop and pensive synthscapes. "Come to Admire" combines echoing guitars with electronic beats and cinematic synths, and Lyall pushes his baritone voice to the top of its range while singing a melody reminiscent of Broken Social Scene's "Sweetest Kill." Gold & Youth shift into more Kate Bush-esque territory on "Jewel," which is sung by Burns and steeped in dark drama.
This synth-based sound is new terrain for Gold & Youth, and Lyall admits that the songs were created without much technological expertise.
"I think that part of the thing that makes the record interesting is that we still weren't very good at it," he concedes. "There's a slight amateur-ness to some of the electronic sounds that I actually really like, because it kind of reminds of a lot of the initial, old electronic music, in its infancy. It sort of sounds a little goofy now. I've been listening to a lot of OMD in the last little while, listening to the initial recordings those guys made, and they had nothing to make [music with]. We have everything at our disposal. But they were able to get these kind of goofy sounds, in hindsight, but at the time it was really, really interesting production. Even now, we're a lot better than we were a year and a half ago. We were really tinkering away. It was a lot of trial and error."
The band's electronic approach is reflected by Beyond Wilderness's title, which Mckenzie notes was inspired by the 2007 book Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art by John O'Brian and Peter White. The tome, he explains, is "about the way that Canadian wilderness painting dominates the mythology of Canadian art," something that he believes is also true of Canuck music
"So much of that identity [of West Coast Canuck musicians] is defined by the identity to the space and vast open wilderness," Mckenzie observes. "That's sort of the joke with 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."
Gold & Youth have a few Western Canadian dates planned for this month and have a few festival appearances confirmed for the summer. You can check all the upcoming dates here. And of course go here to listen to Beyond Wilderness.