What are you to do when you’re a touring musician on one hand and ready to start a family on the other? Many people postpone and postpone until things “settle down” while other jump in head first and take on the resulting adventure with full force. Steve Ramsay and Catherine McCandless of Young Galaxy and one of those amazing duos who are partners in love, life, music & parenthood. We asked them a few questions about the effect that music has on their family and the effect that family has on their music.
Pomelo Magazine: Can you tell the readers a bit about yourselves, your band and your son.
Steve: We are originally from British Columbia and have lived in Montreal for 8 years. I got my break playing in the band Stars as a touring guitarist from 2004-2005, and then formed we formed Young Galaxy in 2006. The band now consists of 5 members, including Stephen Kamp, Andrea Silver and Matthew Shapiro. We’ve put out 4 albums, and toured North America and Europe extensively in the process. Our son Fergus joined the band in May 2011. He would like to be a drummer or a fireman when he grows up.
PM: What are the positive influences parenthood has had on your musical process?
S: For one, I have way more perspective on the ups and downs of the music business – once our son was born I didn’t have to treat our band like a baby anymore, thankfully… birth makes the priorities in your life apparent instantly and as a result, I began to enjoy making music a little more. ‘Success’ became less of an issue – it maybe sounds hokey, but I believe I was privy to one of the great mysteries of the universe when I witnessed my son’s birth. It was completely overwhelming – music making is a lark comparatively. So yes, it was very good for me, because prior to Fergus’ birth I maybe took the whole process a little too seriously. I take more creative risks now, because I feel like there’s less at stake between me and my creativity.
PM: How is being a parent/musician different than how you imagined it?
S: Honestly, I never spent much time imagining it – I kind of had the sense nothing can prepare you for your first child’s arrival, so why bother going through hypothetical scenarios when you have no clue what kind of creature your child will be? Actually come to think of it, I did worry a lot about whether we could tour – which turned out to be better than we had anticipated. Our son travels well generally, and his presence with the band makes everyone a little happier. I thought it may cramp our band’s rock n’ roll lifestyle, having him along – but it hasn’t, and he makes the van a less crusty environment, when you are singing nursery rhymes and have Disney films playing, haha.
PM: Do you think finding the music/family balance would be much simpler or more complicated if only one of you were a musician?
S: I think both would be true – of course not having the pressure of parenting on the road, or hiring a nanny all the time, or disturbing his routines, etc. would be easier, but being away from one parent or the other for long periods of time would be very hard too. Plus we like to think all this experience traveling the world with him will inform the kind of adult he is eventually – we hope he will be adaptable, worldly and adventurous. These are traits we value as touring musicians. We don’t want him to live a prescribed lifestyle. Being in a touring indie band, like it or not, is counter-cultural, and we appreciate that he will grow up knowing it as our way of life. He will know this is the path his parents chose, rather than fell into.
PM: When you tour do you always take Fergus with you? How do you think that your touring schedule will change as he grows up and enters school?
Catherine: From birth to 2-yrs old Fergus has done all touring with us. It meant that some shows we could not take on as they involved 15 hr drives or snowy passes at the wrong time of year. You know, we needed to be able to find a safe, clean hotel every night and ideally, have him and his tour nanny happily set up there before show time. Only with our last round of touring did we decide that some legs of the tour could be cut for him. As he has grown, he needs to be much more physical and the long drives he accepts, but we do not for his sake. So last tour it was decided, at the eleventh hour, that Fergus should not do the full 5 weeks of touring. He is very comfortable, happy and reliant on his home routine. So Steve decided to stay home with him for 11 dates of our Canadian tour. They both joined us afterwards very happily. Fergus is very happy when he is going everywhere with the band. He LOooooVES them! And we all have a great time together when he’s there. As much as he is happy with his routine, he has definitely learned adaptability.
As for future touring, we will always seek to not spend too much time apart as a family. I imagine it will involve shorter tours, time out of school, short stays with family, or at times, some form of home (road) schooling.
PM: Do you try to put an extra emphasis on music during playtime at home and if so is it important to you that Fergus grow up with a strong appreciation for music?
C: He has a .. well represented array of instruments to play with. He has a music class once a week at daycare. But we don’t add extra emphasis on music. We think it is enough to have it playing in our home a lot, to sing together with him, to talk about what we listen to, and to drag him along on tour, to sound checks, performances, etc. to suitable shows. So now that I’ve said that much, I guess there is no intentional emphasis, but our life is in music and so is his. We love to soundtrack our moments, our home. I think it will provide a measure of time and associations for him between eras of his childhood and certain pieces of music – that, we do want for him. If Fergus shows a preference for learning music, and seems inclined to take up an instrument then we will teach him or get him lessons or whatever, but he’ll probably want to be a recycling truck driver (current dream) just to stand apart from us.
PM: Have you written any songs especially about your adventures with parenting? If so what emotions or stories did the song or songs explore?
C: We have written about parenting, though somewhat inadvertently. First there is Sleepwalk With Me. That one was actually written with automatic writing. So it began as completely nonsensical. We wanted to keep it that way and not give a pointed meaning, but we did brush up the edges a bit. In the process I found myself relating that surreal and inarticulate understanding of the lyric to the early days of parenting. The sleeplessness. The dilated pupils, soft skin, flushed sleeplessness, heavy and beautiful burden of loving someone so much made sense when singing “look here comes the sunrise..”
Also Fall for You (watch the video below)– we wrote it in Sweden while in the studio. As it was the last song written for Ultramarine, it was a bit of a reflection on the process as it related to parenthood. It was a more conscious look at the feeling that we were, in the new context of this fresh life, devoting a lot of time to writing in a basement rehearsal space and feeling compelled to it even though Fergus was also where we wanted to be. We wanted to write for us and we wanted to write for him. So, it was a negotiation of seemingly contradictory sides of our life as musicians and parents, and was ultimately, like our perspective, celebratory.
PM: What are Fergus’ favorite musicians or songs?
S: His favourite musician is Andrea Silver, our band’s drummer, who he has affectionately nicknamed ‘Awa’. She’s his favourite person in the world – he has his own little drumkit because of her, and sometimes when he’s really upset or frustrated he cries out for her, haha.
Our Saturday morning routine involves playing Graceland by Paul Simon while we eat blueberry pancakes. When we’re at home, we never waver from this routine. He likes to repeat the “Don’t cry baby, don’t cry” line from ‘Boy In The Bubble’. The other day I played him The Smiths and tried to get him to repeat after me, “Johnny Marr is the greatest guitarist of all time”, but he wasn’t too interested. I will keep working that agenda though. He also loves the ‘Fireman Sam’ theme song – it’s a Welsh cartoon. He can sing almost all of ‘Jingle Bells’. He likes that band The Drums – they’re a good indie band for children, for those looking… but mostly, to our simultaneous delight and horror, he loves our own band’s song ‘New Summer’, which means we are forced to hear our own music in the comfort of our home a little too often.
Young Galaxy’s discography, including their 2013 release Ultramarine, is available through Paper Bag Records or at your favorite record store.