Thursday, 11 June 2020

An Interview With EMPRESS

I first became aware of Progressive Sludge/Stoner Metallers – EMPRESS – back in 2018 when I first heard and reviewed their debut EP – Reminiscence. The band released a stylish take on all things Progressive Metal, Sludge Metal, Doom Metal, Stoner Metal with heavy Psychedelic influences. Perhaps taking influence from ELDER, BARONESS and MASTODON on their debut EP, the band showed a lot promise and I wanted to hear more.

EMPRESS suffered a personal loss when bassist Brenden Gunn sadly passed away last year. I was saddened by the news as I talked to Brenden through Social Media multiple times and he was a lovely person and very down to earth. 

I wondered how EMPRESS would carry on and I was surprised to receive their debut full length album – Premonition – recently. I listened to the album straightaway and was blown away by how different the band sounded compared to their debut EP. This was a band with a more original and mature sound of their own. Emotionally charged lyrics and powerful grooves that made you think what you were actually listening to. 

Premonition is a wonderful album and I’ll be reviewing it soon.

I caught up with Chris (Drums) and Peter (Guitar/Vocals) to discuss the evolution of EMPRESS and the making of their new album.

Hi Guys. Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with you today.

Not only good my friend, but good enough.

Before we talk about your new album, I want to say that I was deeply saddened and shocked by the sudden loss of Brenden Gunn last year. I was a huge fan of Brenden’s work and I’ll miss his undeniable talent and spirit. I offer my belated condolences not only to EMPRESS but to Brenden’s family and friends.

Thank you for saying that.

For people not in the know. Can you give a brief history of how the band came together and where it is today.

This band started when Chris and I drove down to Seattle to see Elder play. During the show we looked at each other and said, “Let’s do that”. Chris asked Brenden to play bass and that’s it. All three of us were good friends for many years prior. Today we have a brief idea of the next steps we want to take and go from there. Currently we want to release the album we made together which is dedicated to Brenden and meant to celebrate his life. 

How would you describe your own sound. As you guys sound quite different compared to your 2018 debut release Reminiscence

We agree with you on how different we sound since then and that was the intention. For years we were trying to find our sound and we feel that this release is the start of that sound we want to create. Oddly enough, a lot of what you hear on the new album was written during that time. While releasing other material we still worked on this full-length.

We are here to talk about your superb new album – Premonition – which I will admit is a wonderful and deeply emotional album with it’s fair share of dark moments and uplifting moments as well. What can people expect from the album.

Thank you again. This is the heaviest thing we have done. It is the most dynamic as well. The lyrics are more cryptic purposely to invoke an emotional response because of what the songs are about, which is mental health.

We cover a lot of ground in 48 minutes. The most riffing we have ever done. The most risk, song wise. The biggest statement we have made.

Peter, reading the PR notes that came with the promo, it states you drew on a lot of personal experiences on making this record. Was that a hard thing for you to when making the album or was part of your own personal therapeutic process.

Each release we have done has been a whole overlapping story. Each one has been therapeutic in a different way.

This one I saved for the full-length album because it needs to be the biggest statement. The best riffs, the best ideas and the best lyrics we have. Was it hard to write? Absolutely. All of our music was for me. This time around we had years of practice at it. I am relieved that I got it out of my system.

Chris – What were your experiences making this album. Did you draw on your own personal experiences yourself when making this album?

We had more time to work on this album than anything we released previously. Our first record was intended to be a demo to get the ideas down before I moved to Europe so we wouldn't forget the songs. But we ended up really liking them when they came back after mixing. The follow-up split album we did with our friends in Piece was recorded fairly soon after we decided to do the split as the songs were written already. With this album we really had time to flesh things out. There were many new ideas thrown around, some of which didn’t make it on the album.

Did Brenden play Bass on Premonition and did he get the chance to hear the final version of the album. 

Yes, he played bass on it. Yes, he heard the final version. So has his family.

What do Brenden’s family and friends think of the record. As the album is quite an emotional experience. I won’t lie that it made myself shed a tear or two remembering about close family and friends who are no longer here. Which I ultimately thank EMPRESS for.

His mother and brother are proud of him. Then and now. It is clear his family and friends, including us, all feel the same way. We played Brenden’s favorite song that we made which is one this album. The reaction of almost 200 people was enough for us to know how people feel about hearing it.

Who is releasing the album and what formats is the album being released upon.

It is a self-release and we have two songs currently out on all formats everywhere. It comes out on July 24th on all digital formats—YouTube, Bandcamp. Physicals are CD and Cassette.

Are there any plans for a Vinyl Release in the future.

There are plans for a vinyl release at some point. Since it is a self-release and we have to release it in steps. Vinyl is quite expensive and we need enough support to do it first.

What comes first when recording new music. Lyrics or Music.

Music. Lyrics are always being written and the music needs to be there for context.

COVID-19 has pretty much put a stop to all life as we know it for the time being. How big of an impact has it affected you guys. And how are you surviving in this stressful time.

We are surviving like everyone else. Not being able to perform how we want hurts. But that doesn’t mean we cannot keep making new music and content. So that is what we will do.

When this whole COVID-19 scenario settles down or goes away, What are the future plans for EMPRESS. Will you be touring Stateside or doing a bigger tour of Europe. As you toured Germany not so long ago.

Our plan for 2020 was the U.S. For 2021, we will remain open to offers anywhere.

How was your experiences touring in Germany. 

It was a dream come true for all of us. Chris was there for a year actually, so he was the reason for us being able to go to Germany. For any band wanting to go there, it is worth it. Germany funds the arts like it needs to be and other countries should take note. The shows we played, big or small, we were simply grateful for even being there.

The album cover is awesome and shows you what to expect with this album. Who designed the cover and how much input did you have into the overall design of the cover.

Orion Landau did the initial artwork. Robin Harris did the art direction and layout afterward. The artwork was a long process and it was absolutely worth it. Working with both of them was awesome. They are both artists and wanted our input, so it felt like a collaboration with both of them rather than a hired gun scenario.

What have been your favourite records that you’ve heard this year. Regardless of any genre.

Peter — My favorite record to listen to this year has to be the latest from Brutus, Chapel of Disease, Bölzer, Tool, Heilung, Wardruna, Holy Fawn, Myrkur, Gunship, Andrew Judah, Chve, Amenra, Colter Wall and Wayfarer. It is hard to narrow down the list. As soon as I heard any of these though I could feel that in my chest. 

Chris — After Hours from The Weeknd, Blood Machines from Carpenter Brut, and Saturnine and Iron Jaw and 1x1 from All Them Witches. 

What is your musical equipment setup when playing live or recording in the studio. Do you have an an advanced rig or basic rig. (You can tell I’m not much of a musician. HA HA).

Peter — Dunable Guitar, Orange cabs Peavey 6505 head and my pedalboard. Both are used live and in the studio in the same way. In the studio we played live together to a click. The energy we have together needs to be there before doing anything else.

Chris — Currently playing a stainless steel Ludwig kit from the 70's which I am in love with. Zildjian cymbals and DW hardware. Los Cabos sticks. Studio and live is the same. 

In the studio Brenden used Ampeg svt Classic, Darkglass b7k ultra v2. Ibanez bass, Fender Jazz Bass, Bass Wah, Boss space echo, EHX phaser, Fulltone OCD and a clone od pedal.

Thanks for doing this interview. Before you go, do you have any words of wisdom that you want to say to your fans.

The point of our music is to empower people that do not feel empowered. Whoever that may be. After this album is out, more will come. Be ready.

Words by Steve Howe and EMPRESS

Thanks to EMPRESS for doing this interview. Premonition will be available to buy on Cassette/CD/DD from July 24th 2020.


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