Q&A with Empires
Have you checked out this year’s “Choose The Cover of Rolling Stone” contest? Hundreds of unsigned bands winnowed down to just 16 who are competing for face time on one of music’s most coveted covers—the bands are talented, different, and some have been on The Blue Indian before. We had the chance to do an email interview with one of the competing bands, Chicago-based Empires. For both their 2008 debut album (HOWL) and 2010 follow-up EP (BANG), the band generously offered up their music for free download and saw a viral payoff in attention and success, including another trip to SXSW this month. Ryan Luciani (drummer) and Tom Conrad (guitarist) share their thoughts on Rolling Stone, their music, and the new Radiohead album.
The Blue Indian (Beth Yeckley): First off, congrats on being one of sixteen unsigned bands to vie for the cover of Rolling Stone; how does it feel to be a part of this contest and what would it mean to win?
Ryan Luciani: Thanks! It’s very flattering to be a part of this considering they went through 1200 bands to just choose 16. Winning would be an honor but we’re taking things one day at a time. Right now our goal is to get the word out about our music and this competition.
Tom Conrad: Honestly, none of us are expecting to win. Just looking to turn a few new eyes and ears onto our music that we’ve been working hard on.
BY: What can you tell me about your perspectives/opinions of the other bands competing for the cover?
RL: I feel most of the acts are talented although some are not my cup of tea I can see how they fit in their respected genres. It’s more fun for me to check out everyone’s social media skills, a couple of groups have some good ideas.
BY: And if you could convince readers to vote for you in one sentence, what would you say to them?
TC: If you’re into what we’re doing, help us create more music daily by click those classic 5 stars.
RL: Help keep legitimate foot pounding rock written and played from the heart alive by giving us a five star rating.
BY: You’re Myspace bio says that you are “a new band of old friends.” Can you elaborate on how you came to form the band and why you decided to play music together?
TC: Well, I’ve known Sean for almost ten years now but it wasn’t till early 2007 when Sean and I started playing music together. We eventually started taking what we were creating more seriously when Ryan joined up with us the following spring.
RL: Tom sent me 2 demos Sean did and I remember thinking Sean had a killer voice. So I did this makeshift recording of my drums over these acoustic demos. The guys liked the initiative and we’ve been working together ever since.
TC: Max entered the picture a few months later. I’ve been close with Max and his family for about eight years. Initially, we hired Max to record demos for us and an immediate connection was there. Life works in strange ways.
BY: Did any of you guys play in other bands before forming Empires?
RL: We’ve all been involved in other music projects in the past. Speaking for myself it wasn’t anything that made it past the garage.
BY: Are there plans for you to remain an unsigned band in the future, or are you in the market for a label?
RL: It comes down to what makes sense. If we find a label we’re comfortable with and they believe in what we are doing then great. Otherwise we still have the means to create.
TC: Empires has been built around a DIY mentality. Max Steger (guitar) handles all of the recording / production on the records. Ryan (drums) directs and edits all of our video work. I create all the artwork and photography.
RL: All we need is a mechanic in the group to fix the fan when it breaks and we’re set.
BY: Do you think that you will follow up with a free download of your next album / ep?
RL: We are always giving music out for free. Just recently we put out a 7-inch vinyl with two b-sides off BANG and with the purchase came a download code where you could snag another song for free. We like giving back to the people that care about us. They say and do so much for us it only feels right.
TC: And our album HOWL is still for free download…
BY: BANG was a very attractive and rambunctious EP follow up to your 2008 album, HOWL—how would you describe the changes in your sound?
TC: HOWL was crafted around four or more studio sessions. With BANG, it was the exact opposite.
RL: We got a practice space in an old factory in Pilsen on the south side of Chicago and began fleshing out the songs as a full band. We worked the songs in a live environment in an attempt to create a vibe. This helped us see what we could really recreate at a show and brought a little more rock out of us.
TC: We focused more on feel, dynamics and tonality.
BY: What can we expect in your next batch of music? More along the lines of BANG?
TC: It’s more a long of the lines of BANG in the sense that the songs are being even more fleshed before we hit the record button. We are putting more attention into how we want to hear a particular song presented and their structure. Production is more stripped down and raw.
BY: Are you guys planning a tour after SXSW?
RL: We’re planning on recording; I think everyone in the group is ready to start playing some new songs live. Changing it up a bit. We have to hit that studio then the road.
BY: In an interview with Steven Pressfield, Sean talks about what it takes to do music these days and having to still work when you’re not on the road. Sean said that he serves up coffee… what does the rest of the band do?
TC: Max engineers and produces other artists at his studio. Ryan edits and films for an advertising company in Chicago. As for myself, I do graphic design for a local venue / bar in the city.
BY: You have listed Radiohead as one of your biggest influences… What do you think of their new album?
TC: Radiohead is one of the few artists we are collectively fans of. The King of Limbs is beautifully abstract and pretty “chill”.
RL: I’m into the new record. The video for “Lotus Flower” is both awesome and hilarious. They actually had a choreographer for that. Mind blowing!