When I reviewed the Empire Shall Fall album (read the review here) I discovered a band who have forged their own identity from a huge array of influences from the poly-rhythmic ‘math-rock’ of Meshuggah to hints of jazz and classic rock. While the name of Jesse Leach will always invite Killswitch engage comparisons, I felt that the album dispelled any sense that they wished to follow in those footsteps within the first track and continued to batter the listener’s expectations into a pulp over the remaining forty minutes or so of its run-time. A huge-sounding, arty, heavy rock album; it also features incredibly uplifting lyrics (which you can track down on Myspace if you have a mind) which intelligently voice hope rather than despair and unity rather than segregation.
An entirely DIY band, The Empire Shall Fall have come together over shared love of, and passion for, the music they make. Each artist (as you will see in the following interview) comes from a very different background and offers their own unique contribution to the whole – a huge benefit to a band who seem determined to plot out their own unique course on the musical landscape from the off – and SonicAbuse are privileged to have had the opportunity to pose some questions to them at this early stage of what we hope to be a long and rewarding career.
Read on and learn about a band destined for great things, The Empire Shall Fall:
1. You carry a considerable reputation with you already – to what extent does that help or hinder any new projects?
To me, it is what it is. It can be a “hindrance” because a good deal of people are looking for KSE part 2. However, I have received a great deal of support and love from people who like the fact that I have made it a point to come out with different stuff. To me, I am just doing what comes natural to me with what ever project or band I am doing. People are always going to have their opinions and expectations. I try to never let that influence the music I make.
2. You have returned to a much harder vocal style – something you left behind with your last project – is it something you’re more comfortable with and therefore adapt the music to fit your vocals or the other way around?
Yeah it feels really good to get back into a more extreme style of vocals. However, I feel I have learned so much about my voice during my Seemless years. I have big love for the blues & rock n roll. I think that influence will always stay with me and has become a crucial part of my sound. I have taken all I have learned over the years and applied it to my “style”. It feels good and I am feeling like I’ve finally figured out my true voice, which is a mixture of different styles.
3. You published all the lyrics from the new album on the band’s Myspace page and they do seem strikingly intelligent and positive: what inspires you and how long does it take you to develop your ideas so that they are coherent and fit the song?
It all depends. Some songs come right out with in a matter of hours. Some songs come from different ideas that I have written down over time. I have a stack of pieces of paper, napkins and the sides of boxes with lyrics and concepts all over them. My creativity can be all over the place at times. I write what I know and feel. To me, that is how it should be…
4. Do you feel that there is a chance that people will hear the music, which is blisteringly heavy, and not realise the message you are trying to convey?
Perhaps, but then it is not for them if they are not open to it. They can go listen to what ever they like; it is not my concern. I love hearing that a kid who loves death metal or punk will stumble upon the lyrics to one of my songs and be floored. I have gotten so many messages and emails from people who have listened to my music and liked it with out realizing what was being said. When people hear aggressive music with a positive message it catches them off guard. That is what inspired me all those years ago to do what I do. I was listening to bands like Bad Brains, 108, Cro-Mags and a great deal of reggae back before I joined Killswitch and it hit me; these bands are all really saying something. There is real passion in what they do! So I decided that was what I was going to do: mix that punk/hardcore/reggae lyrical influence into more aggressive metal.
5. There’s a very strong message of unity in your music – are you writing from a personal experience of bigotry and ignorance or are you influenced by external events – news, literature etc?
First of all, I was raised with the belief that we are all Gods children and all have a place and a purpose in this life. The only current events that influence my lyrics these days are the ones not being covered by the media. The media does a great job of washing out the truths of events and candy-coating them. To me, the truth is so much more valuable than a safe translation of how things really are. To me, there will always be racism, sexism, class-ism, corrupt governments, greed, etc. etc. So writing a song that deals with any of these topics helps to bring them to the surface. The truth is a positive thing, but a great deal of people are either not comfortable hearing it or would just rather live in an ignorant, apathetic bliss. I take pride in writing about any of these topics and feel it is my way of contributing to my community and the music-world. I have been influenced so much by other musicians and artists that came before me. It is my tribute to all they have taught and inspired in me.
1. You’re currently doing a double degree in Music Ed and Jazz which must be something of a challenge – how do you find the time to fit in your various musical projects?
It’s not hard to fit something you love into your life. And TESF has been a sort of therapy for me: I have no obligations in the same way that I do for school (even though I love what I am studying). Truth be told, I wish I could be doing more. I have a hip-hop project, a jazz group, post-hardcore material, as well as another concept album based on the “timeline of the universe” all waiting on hold because I don’t have the time to dedicate to them. It’s hard enough to find time to practice for classical guitar, jazz, and this band. But any artist will tell you its worth the wait.
2. You seem to have a very eclectic taste in music – when you are writing for a given project, does that wide-ranging taste help you to bring new ideas to the table or do you try to focus on the genre of music at hand?
Thanks for noticing! The answer is I do a little bit of both. Something my teacher, Eric Hofbauer (one of the most talented and unique jazz guitarists ever) instilled in me is the idea of “sounding like me.” In the jazz realm, for example, he would always point out how new players may have some crazy sounds over their originals, but when they play standards they completely change and play them like standards. While that is important to be able to do, you aren’t being true to your true voice when you do that. So, when I play jazz or classical, I clearly play in those styles, but I always try to sound like me. That means you might hear a very “metal” sounding bite in a solo, or something. The same with TESF, even though I am playing in this prog-metal genre, you can hear a lot more. For example, the ‘verse’ in 5/4 in “Our Own” features alternating between chugging on the low F# to playing an A Major 7 chord in a D-String voicing. In my hip-hop material (I’m not the MC by the way!) you can hear elements of the groove and vibe of Minus The Bear. The more you listen to and dig into, the more original your sound becomes, and the easier it is to hear your own voice. This is what I strive to do as an artist and as a human being, and I am by no means a master!
3. Can you tell us a little bit about Soulja Boy?
Oh boy. I did that right around when that song came out on Fruity Loops on my old PC. It was in part getting familiar with recording, in part just making a comment on pop culture. I’m not really sure what the comment was supposed to be though, haha! I did that when I was 16 or 17, and haven’t been on myspace enough to care about taking it down. I’m actually a little afraid to listen to it now, haha.
4. What attracted you to Empire shall fall?
Well, being one of the original members, I would have to say that I just loved this aggressive music and loved the idea of playing with Nick, Alex (former drummer) and Jesse. So we just got together and started figuring ourselves out on the musical level and it evolved and blossomed into what it is today. And it will continue to grow and blossom, which I think some of the new material we are working on, reflects. But from early on we had this collective strength and determination and conviction through our message. We are just trying to spread some love. When Coltrane was asked ‘what are you trying to do with your music?’ his response was ‘Man, I’m just trying to uplift people.’ I think that holds true for any artist.
1. You’re another musician with a wide range of musical interests – does the multi-faceted background of the musicians in Empire… ever bring you into conflict with each other?
I don’t think there has been conflict with our diversity. Maybe a couple times I would hear something over a part that contrasted, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Overall, I don’t think it has ever been brought conflict. If anything, it’s the opposite of a conflict. It’s a pro-flict. I don’t think that’s a word.
2. What attracted you to working on the Empire project?
Honestly, not much thought went into the idea. I kinda had a random thought of doing a metal project and I called Jesse, Jake and Alex Chapman (original drummer) and that was that. Everyone liked the idea, and we started writing. For me, what attracted me to metal was that it was way different from anything I had done in the past.
3. What inspired you to become involved in music in the first instance?
I started playing bass at the age of 14, mainly because I wanted to do something to bond with my father. My dad was a guitar player, so I decided to get into music. I didn’t choose guitar cause I figured bass would be a lot easier. It is a lot easier to get started, but after the basics, it’s probably equally as difficult to master. I probably won’t ever master it.
4. What do you feel Empire… offers that other bands don’t?
I think TESF offers a lot. Despite what the haters say, I think we are taking a different approach to metal. We are putting some technical stuff in the mix, but not being overly technical. We are putting some catchy melodies in there without being over the top. There is actually a message, which I think all music, not just metal, is really lacking. On top of all that, I think our live show is something to be seen. If I’m not on the verge of passing out from exhaustion, then I know I didn’t give it my “all.” However, in the past two years I haven’t walked off stage not wanting to take my wet clothes off and pass out. It’s gross.
5. How important do you feel the message of the band is?
The message is the most important part. Unfortunately, not everyone gets it, but most do. We’ll play a show somewhere and people will start fighting in the middle of us playing a song about unity. It’s ironic, and really dumb. I can’t help but think, “Why are you here? Do you have any idea what any of these songs are about?” Probably 90% of our fans “get it” and that’s great. A lot of people have told us how they appreciate what we are doing or how we have inspired them to think differently or whatever. I think it’s great. Hopefully, we can reach that other 10%.
1. You are heavily involved in production – it must be a benefit to the band to have that expertise in the ranks?
Yea it’s definitely a benefit for everyone, especially their wallets. Haha. I joke.
2. How did you become involved with Empire…?
I became involved initially by signing on to engineer/produce “Awaken” before it was fully written. At the time, I was working out of a studio in Providence, RI with the guys from The Dear Hunter. TESF so happened to be looking for another guitarist as well, and Nick knew my background on guitar and recommended I come audition and see how things pan out. Needless to say I showed up and dazzled them with my musical wizardry on guitar and received my honorary TESF wizard’s sleeve.
3. What music influenced you?
I know this sounds somewhat cliché, but everything influences me musically. I listen to anything I can, even music that I may not necessarily be crazy about. I will always try to take something positive away from it, be it a catchy melody, an interesting song structure, etc. This has become more apparent in dealing with music from a production and song-writing standpoint. Music is music and I think a lot of bands/artists get so caught up in finding ways to easily define what they are playing. Don’t worry about that and just be honest with yourself as a musician/songwriter. I guarantee, you will end up reinventing your own musical wheel.
4. Like the rest of the members of the band you are multi-talented – playing both piano and guitar as well as your production skills what attracts you to metal as a genre?
I think the main thing that has always attracted me to metal as a genre is the raw honesty and emotion behind it. It is powerful on so many levels and forces you to take notice of what you are hearing. Not many other styles of music can leave such an impact on your senses like metal can.
1. There are elements to Empire… that are very progressive – what challenges did you face or was that very much the playing style you come from?
To be honest, the transition into TESF was very natural. The different styles that we incorporate into our music are styles that I was very heavily influenced by as a kid. I always found it really hard to stick to playing one particular style of music. You know, I listened to so many different groups growing up, so it was only natural to find myself playing in each of those styles at some point along the way. With TESF, it felt very organic, right from the beginning, to be able to incorporate all of our musical influences into what is ultimately a “metal” band. Very soon after joining TESF, it was really apparent that we were each cut from the same musical cloth, so to speak. It’s really liberating as a musician to find a group of guys with equally diverse musical tastes; it makes writing and playing that much easier and enjoyable. However, the challenge for me, as a drummer, was not whether I was able to play in a particular style or not, but being able to play those styles cohesively, together, and with the same musical voice. I mean, you don’t want a song to sound like there are two different drummers playing at different points in the song. And even worse, you certainly don’t want the different parts to sound forced. I think the challenge for me was to really try and find that balance. Not sure that it was executed perfectly, and there’s always room for growth!
2. How much are you involved with the actual song-writing?
You know, being the drummer, it’s hard to write guitar parts with a drum-kit (wink). Man, there really needs to be a better indicator for sarcasm in text, haha. I mean, I play a little guitar now and then, but my focus is obviously on the drums. Besides, Jake and Marcus are both pretty terrible drummers… (insert slightly-sarcastic-but-mostly-serious emoticon here)
Everyone writes parts for their respective instruments. Occasionally, I will hear something in my head and do my best to sing it out loud. It can sometimes be a modification to an already existing part, a new part altogether, or even just an idea for a transition from one part to the next. I think this is true for all the guys, though. At some point or another, we have each contributed ideas to parts that we’re not necessarily playing ourselves. It’s usually a very collaborative effort. Jesse doesn’t know it, but I went in and autotuned all of his screams and growls for one of the songs on the album because it just wasn’t quite brutal enough. But It really made the song what it is today.
3. How did you become involved in Empire…?
I’ve known Nick and Jesse for about 10 years now, as well as Alex Chapman (original drummer). It’s funny how incestuous the music scene can be. We had all sort of been in bands together, but not really ever in the same band at the same time (if that makes sense). Anyway, I was in a sort of Pop-Rock/R&B band that was sort of fizzling at the time Alex announced he was leaving. I had been keeping tabs on what TESF had been doing up to that point (just genuinely interested in what my old bros were doing), but had no idea about Alex’s situation. Nick called me immediately, asked what was up with my band (we had always kept in touch over the years, so he was sort of aware my band was on the outs), we talked for a bit about me trying out, he emailed me the songs to learn, a week or two later I met with the guys to jam (sans Jesse), they called Jesse to inform him that they had just found a new drummer, Jesse concurred and expressed a particular excitement towards the prospect of being so close to my musk after so many years apart, a week or two after that we played our first show together, and that’s more or less how it happened. It all transpired so quickly…I hardly remember the details.
To the band in general:
1. With such a varied group of musicians do you feel there is a danger that Empire… will be seen more as a studio project than a full-time band?
Jake – Being a studio band isn’t a bad thing, but even that being said, I don’t think we are worried about it. Our live show is much more then just getting together and playing our songs: it is where our songs really shine.
Jeff – We all have aspirations of taking this band to a “full-time” status. I think if and when the time is right, and as long as we’re in the position to do so, we’d all like nothing more than to make this band our bread and butter. We’re all working towards a common goal: to avoid becoming a corporate runt in a job that you hate. So for now, we’re doing the best we can. Strictly a studio project? Absolutely not. The whole point of this band (in my opinion) IS the live show.
2. You’re all involved in such different musical genres – how easy (or difficult) is it to incorporate all these ideas into the band?
Jake – Easy. We are all open-minded. Even if one of us just hates the idea conceptually, we’ll say “Okay, let’s try it and see how it sounds.”
Jeff – I agree with Jake. In fact, I find that it’s fairly effortless. The fact that we’re all so diverse coming into this really lends itself to just trying new things. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work for the song, it doesn’t make it, and that’s usually never a difficult consensus to come to.
3. When can we expect live dates in the UK?
Jake – When we can afford it. People forget we are DIY at the moment, and everything we do comes from our wallets. But we would love to play over there.
Jeff – Any personal investors out there willing to roll the dice???
4. What can we expect form Empire in the future or is it too early to tell?
Jake – At the very least, we’ve begun work on writing another record!
Jeff – I would say a killer follow-up album to “Awaken” and a continuation of a series of great live shows. Above and beyond that; well, we’ll continue to try to get our name out to as many people out there that are willing to listen. Help us spread the word!
Check out The Empire Shall Fall here: