The Realities of Young Empires

by Colburne Poapst

Being in a band that has toured the US, played shows in such marquee locations as Paris, London and New York, and gets consistent radio play across this country would be a dream come true for many young musicians. But there is a big difference between a dreamer’s distant idealizations of success and the actual reality of it. Stylus recently spoke with Jake Palahnuk, the bass player for Toronto indie-dance rock group Young Empires, and got a first-hand account of the ups and downs of playing in a band that has achieved, in many senses, indie success. Evident in our conversation is the way Palahnuk tempers his own excitement for his music with the realities of band economics.
Currently in between a US tour and the beginning of their first Western Canada tour, Young Empires finally have time to jam again.

“We have just been busy, busy, busy all the time and haven’t had a chance to just jam and have fun and make some noise again,” Palahnuk says. “The last few weeks we have actually been in the same location: in the garage with all our gear set-up, just making some noise and trying to write some tracks. It’s been fun. The goal is to have a new record written by our June tour and go and record it sometime in the summer. Hopefully we will get it out before the end of the year.”

While he loves the free time, he is also itching to get back on the road. Palahnuk is particularly excited about the band’s upcoming Winnipeg date, as he lived in the city until he was ten years old. When asked about his best memories of Winnipeg he turned to the old Winnipeg Jets.

“I’m a huge Jets fan. Go Jets go! It makes me happy that they are back. Really happy. My best memory of Winnipeg is the white, the white noise or whatever with the playoffs and the Jets. You know, the white outs. I went to one of those games and did the whole thing with my cheeks painted and an all white one-piece pajama suit [laughs]. A real little fan boy.”

However, he also jokingly remembers how, in the winter, “the wind burns your face off.”

Escaping the cold winters and NHL deprivation Palahnuk found his place in the Toronto music scene. “It’s really cool. It’s a really diverse scene. Toronto is kind of the place where you can do whatever you want, create whatever kind of sound you want and it’s kind of accepted. I think there was a predominant theme for a while, like with that whole Broken Social Scene, indie-rock kind of sound but that has all spread out.”

It is a good environment for a band like Young Empires to develop and explore their sound, but at the same time, Palahnuk acknowledges that the scene is not perfect. “The hard thing about Toronto sometimes is that they don’t really love you until someone else does; until someone in the U.K. says that this band is the next big thing. Then all of a sudden Toronto gets on board and is like ‘Yeah, they are.’ But Toronto doesn’t ever want to get behind a band for themselves. So as much as it is diverse sometimes people are following a bit, in terms of the crowd. But still, it is definitely a good community.”

When discussing the band’s recent success, Palahnuk again tempers the good with the bad. For the first time the band is employing a tour manager (a sign of their growing tour commitments). While Palahnuk hopes that will take away some of the stress from touring and give the band more freedom on the road, he also sees that this freedom has its price. I jokingly suggested that, in uncertain economic times, Stephen Harper should be proud of Young Empires for creating jobs. Palahnuk laughed, then said “Yeah, isn’t that what being in a band is all about? Creating jobs? I mean, you are the last one to get paid for your own music. You got to pay everyone else first. Pretty insane! By the time you pay your label, you pay your manager, you pay for the house sound guy, and you pay the tour manager, then it’s like ‘What’s left now for the four of us who made all this stuff happen for everyone?’ It’s an interesting concept, but that’s just the way it is. But we have always wanted to be in a band since we were in middle school or grade five or whatever. So it’s nice to see all those dreams come alive I guess.”

That seems to be the essence of much of what Palahnuk says. Nothing can be reduced to simple black and white. Sure, band economics can be depressing, but the most important thing is the music. And the music is good and the live show is certain to be a highlight of the Jazz Festival.

Young Empires play Winnipeg on June 21st at the Pyramid Cabaret with Imaginary Cities for the Winnipeg Jazz Festival.

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