Interview: Young Empires Discusses Their Beginnings, Anti-Genre Sound, & Artists To Watch


Here at Ones To Watch, we love artists who don't fit into any specific category or genre. That's exactly why we love Young Empires. Although Matthew Vlahovich (singer), Taylor Hill (dummer), and Jacob Palahnuk (bassist) coined the term "haute rock," their music incorporates elements of pop, indie, rock, and everything in between - the most recent being the highly-acclaimed "The Gates."

The Toronto-based band recently wrapped up their U.S. tour with fellow Canadians Bear Mountain, hitting all major cities through the month of May. We had the chance to catch up with the boys when they stopped by Los Angeles for an energy-packed performance at the Bootleg Theater.

Just minutes before they jumped on stage, the boys sat with Ones To Watch to chat about their beginnings, why they're experimenting with new sounds in the next album, and which artists are on their personal Ones To Watch lists.

Have you guys played in LA before?

Taylor: We have–we've played here before [Bootleg Theater]. We've played at Echoplex too. Love the intimate settings.

You’ve already hit several major cities in the US on your current tour…any stand out moments?

Matt: I have a good standout moment. One of the good things about touring around is you get to taste food from different regions, and you know, everyone prides themselves on having the best barbecue, especially in the South. Highlight moment for us was being at Fat Matt's BBQ in Atlanta, listening to live bluegrass, an amazing harmonica player Tennessee John holding it down while we're eating the most delicious ribs and fatty Southern foods. This place was, hands down, one of the best barbecues I've ever been to.

Notice any differences between fan reactions in your home country of Canada vs. the US?

Jake: I think they dance a bit more down here than they do in Canada. Toronto's a bit arms-crossed, just standing there, but we've had a good run here.

Backtracking to the beginning–how did you guys meet and decide to start the band? 

Jake: We met through mutual friends - we were all coming off of other musical projects that had some mediocre success. We started doing this for fun, and it just seemed to work, so it was kind of a nice surprise.

Was there any particular moment where you realized you guys clicked as a band?

Jake: Even after the first jam, we knew that we liked what we were doing and whether it went anywhere or not, it was really fun. And then we brought Taylor in a year after that, and after half a song with him we realized he was right…and here we are four years later.

How would you describe your music to anyone who’s never heard it before?

Jake: Luscious.

Matt: I always tell the border officials when we come into the country that we play rock music because if you say anything else, they go through all your gear and think that you're smuggling drugs.

What role does each band member typically play in the creation process?

Jake: It's a very collaborative process. We send stuff back and forth and ask, "Do you like this?" There's no real formula.

What would you say each of you brings to the table?

Jake: Mad skills.

Matt: And that's with a "z."

“The Gates” is a pretty dark song–care to share the story behind those lyrics?

Jake: Well since we write together, it becomes this story of three people's individual experience that tends to blend into one song. So I think the song was based on that idea of feeling alone when you're going through hard times, but in reality, everyone's going through the same stuff.

Matt: And on that note, music is definitely personal. When you can do something that helps people get through some sort of emotional hardship, then it gives you more meaning to what you do for a living. It just creates purpose, you know. It makes me feel like we're doing something right. I guess it's because my parents are doctors, I have that nurturing side of me.

Tell us a little bit about your fashion-related side projects.

Taylor: I was a fashion student. I took fashion design and did nothing with it - I didn't do the final project because I joined another band. I make jewelry as well. Music and fashion go hand in hand, as history has told us. You know, it's just a byproduct of playing music and loving clothing and style and just dressing up. With this job you get to wear whatever you want, it doesn't matter. Like, look at Prince…rest in peace!

How's the next album coming along? What can we expect?

Jake: I think we're going to take a different approach this time and not focus so much on a 12-song album, but just do a handful of EPs. I think it's just where music is going, where people want music right away. We're going to try to do two or three songs in the fall and see where that goes.

Matt: Record labels always try to get their hand in the creative process, and I think in the past, maybe we took advice from people that we shouldn't have. This time around, we're just going to be like "F*** you guys; we're going to do whatever we want." Record labels shouldn't be involved in telling artists how to write music and how to arrange their tunes.

Taylor: You get a better product that way, instead of having this thing that they want that they know has already worked. And sure we can do that, but in the end, if we're making cool stuff, it shouldn't matter.

What is the next sound you're going after?

Taylor: Not sure, actually. That's the beauty of the band - we're not cornered into a specific type of music. We like being able to experiment with new stuff and see what happens. It's way more fun that way, and you become so much more diverse.

Matt: I mean, we live in a time where you really can define your own genre and you can pull from other styles. For critics that say that bands that change their sound over time have no sense of who they are - I fundamentally disagree. I think bands that change their sound over time aren't afraid to take risks and are constantly being inspired and that's what you want. I mean, you don't want to listen to an album where every song sounds the same. For example, Radiohead always comes out on top because they're fearless - they're always making different sounds. Especially in a time where people's attention spans are really short now - you've got to be fresh.

Who are the top artists on each of your Ones To Watch list?

Matt: I just found this really incredible Danish singer named Soho Rezanejad. She did a cool track with this band called Lust For Youth called "Armida"–highly recommend it. She's doing dark-wave, kind of like witch house, goth music. I just love her voice, and it's much different from stuff you hear on commercial radio in North America.

Jake: I listen to a lot of Jack Garratt. I know he's got a lot of awards already, but I think his songwriting's fresh - it's soulful but also contemporary. And then, just yesterday, this band called Lost Under Heaven (LUH) put out a record that I've been really into. They're brand new, just signed to Mute Records.

Taylor: I'm into these guys called John Lee and Jerry Brown. A buddy of Matt's was DJ'ing at a bar in Toronto and they played it on a record. Classic rock from the '70s. It's these two dudes, and they're sick. It's like impossible to find online…just vinyl.

Anything else going on after the tour that you'd like to share with fans?

Jake: Yeah, we've got an interactive web experience art piece coming out in the Fall that we've been working on for almost a year now. We did interactive video on our first EP, so we kind of wanted to do something more grandiose. Can't share the details, but you'll be using your webcam and getting involved in the video.

Taylor: You'll see…it's crazy.