Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) hail from Farmington Hills, Michigan and play a brand of indie rock that is saturated with beautiful harmonies and inventive musical accents. What follows is a conversation between guitarist/vocalist Keith and Diatribe cofounder Chris about the bands new 7″ and about music in general.
Diatribe: Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) is certainly an inventive name; how did this marvel of punctuation come about?
Keith: (laughing) I know the name is ridiculous. Actually, Empire! Empire! started out as my solo project, and since I thought it was only going to be a recording project, I thought I could name it whatever I wanted. I wanted something that was elaborate and artistic, but if I had known that the project would become a full band, I think I would have chosen something a bit easier to remember.
As for the meaning behind the name, I’ve had a lifetime of bands not working out, and so I chose a name to reflect my frustration. I tend to hide lyrics and names behind a lot of dense symbolism, so here’s the general break-down of the name. “Empire! Empire!” is that one
evasive dream that you want so badly, and you will always chase it, but it never seems quite in reach. The “(I Was a Lonely Estate)” portion was where I felt I was incomplete and insignificant. It’s hard to get off the ground if you can’t find reliable people to share your dream. The exclamation points mark how important the dream is, and the parenthesis signify that I feel like I am unimportant and unnoticed.
Diatribe: I’m a little new to the band, so could I get a little band history? How did Empire! Empire! get started?
Keith: Cathy and I were recording a CD for our band Anna Flyaway, which I was engineering. I had never actually recorded more than casually so to get myself up to the task, I decided to record a solo project as a sort of guinea pig so that by the time the solo project was done, I would get the kinks out of the way and the Anna Flyaway CD would sound great. Towards the end, though, we could tell that Anna Flyaway was going to break up, so I concentrated on finishing the solo project instead, which ended up being When the Sea Became a Giant; Empire’s
Diatribe: I understand that you run the Count Your Lucky Stars label through which you released the Year of the Rabbit 7″. Did Count Your Lucky Stars form for the sole purpose of releasing the 7″ or was it something that was already in motion, and it made sense to release the album yourselves?
Keith: Andy, the amazing man behind Strictly No Capital Letters label/distro in the UK, and I talked about releasing a 7″, and he told me if I wanted to find another label stateside to release it, he would split the costs. I figured that we would just shoulder the other half and release it on our own label. We like to do things ourselves if we can. I also had some amazingly talented friends who needed the world to hear them, so I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone and start a label. We just sent Driving on City Sidewalks EP to be pressed, and we are finishing up odds and ends on the Brave Captain, I Am the Branch, and Boris Smile CD’s as well, so they should be out sometime this Fall, as well as our full length.
Diatribe: For Year of the Rabbit, do you feel that you approached the songwriting any differently than you did on When the Sea Became a Giant?
Keith: Yes and no. Yes, because I actually revived a song (“Year of the Rabbit’) that I had written in 2003 from a previous project, and we tinkered around with it and filled it out a bit more, but it was already written and we had the original drummer who played in that band record the drum track. Besides that, though it was actually just Cathy and me in the band when we recorded it, so the guitars came first, then I played bass and drums over it, which was pretty similar to our EP, except now Cathy was playing guitar too.
Diatribe: In a lot of ways Empire! Empire! is cut from the same musical cloth as Minus the Bear and you had a chance to work with Minus the Bear’s keyboardist on the 7″. What was the experience like working with Alex Rose?
Keith: It was a great experience, and since I love Minus the Bear, I was incredibly excited that he would want to work with us. It was harder though because he was on tour, so we had a finite amount of time to get things how we wanted. I love how it turned out though.
Diatribe: I’m always interested in what musicians think of music downloading. Personally, I’m not a fan but I don’t have to deal with trying to get my music out into the world. Do you feel the whole downloading craze is viable or is it just a necessary evil?
Keith: I myself don’t really partake in illegal downloading, but I can’t condemn it either. I know for a fact that it has helped people hear us, and we need all the help we can get as a small band. On the other hand, it is more and more expensive to be in a touring band, much less the costs of recording and pressing, etc, so it would be nice if people decided to take the plunge and buy the CD they could have for free. We all work hard to pay for what we do. I think since it’s here and it isn’t going to go away, though, we might as well embrace it and try and use it to help us instead. If it draws people out to shows, than that’s amazing.
Diatribe: I just like being able to hold an actual album in my heads and be able to look at the artwork and read the liner notes and such; that’s the only way an album is real to me. Anyway, I ask every band this question and I’d definitely like your feedback. How would you describe your music for someone who’s never heard it?
Keith: Actually, I get this question from a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the music we like, and I have to admit I don’t have the best answer. I guess I would say it has melodic, pretty guitars that are pulled along by moving drums and bass. Usually with that answer I get
a lot of blank stares or an “oh”. (laughs)
Diatribe: I think that description works pretty well. What’s next in the immediate future for Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate)?
Keith: We just switched out our rhythm section and finished learning a slew of songs. We have a full length that is very close to being finished and we plan to do a three-week or stint in the fall to support it. We are mixing with Marc Hudson, so we are very excited about working with him. It is going to come out on our label, and we are also going to co-release it on vinyl with Strictly No Capital Letters again.
Diatribe: Alright Keith, thanks for doing this with us; anything you’d like to say in closing?
Keith: Thank you very much for the interview! You guys are amazing!