Last week I sat down with Empires guitarist Tom Conrad. We chatted about Chicago, their new record Orphan (released 9/23/2014), and what it takes to be a meteorologist. If you are in the area check them out this Friday at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. Full interview is below.
All right, so Empires is based out of Chicago, but are you originally from there? Did where you grow up influence your music at all?
I was born and raised in Chicago but live in Brooklyn now. The [early] influence side comes from venues like The Metro and Double Door and hearing bands like Smashing Pumpkins. All 90’s stuff, but pretty influential. I also am a punk rock kid at heart, I grew up seeing bands like Alkaline Trio, The Lawrence Arms, shit like that. I would say those are the bands that got me going and that punk rock really got me to play guitar.
Awesome, I also read that you used to play with the Academy is… I was a punk rock kid at heart too so I definitely played my fair share of the Academy is…
Ha, that’s cool. Its funny I’ve never felt the need to talk too much about The Academy Is… It wasn’t my band, I didn’t do any writing in it… it wasn’t my own thing. It was very educational, and a lot of touring. Creatively it wasn’t something that I had to myself.
Definitely – it wasn’t your piece of art work.
I wasn’t in my fucking DNA.
Right. So I’ve asked this question before to bands, and I love the stories that I get out of it. Is there a particular time in your life that you knew you wanted to be in music?
I think the first musical moments were my mom playing the acoustic guitar to me. She is definitely the more creative one of my parents, being a guitar player and all that. But I don’t really know. Like I said I grew up going to shows on a local level and seeing bands that made me say ‘I can do this’– so that had a big influence on me.
Anyone particular that you are feeling these days? Anyone I should keep my eye on?
Ok I love this one band called BRONCHO, their record came out around the same time ours did. The record is called… shit It’s called like “To hip for…,” shit you are going to need to look this up. It’s “To hip for…” actually give me a second I’ll fucking look this up. It’s “Just enough hip to be woman” by Brancho. It’s definitely been on my playlist – Spotify and what not. Its cool its like, its like Midwestern rock, but a little bit of the Replacements and the Ramones but they have this gritty feel. It’s cool.
I will definitely look into them! Ok let’s dive into Orphan a little bit more. Can you tell me about the album and the tour?
Yeah, what do you want first? The album or the record?
Let’s talk about the record!
Ok, yeah. We started writing in June of 2012. We had just put out a record that month and we have this attitude of like- once something is put out there we don’t really go back to it. We don’t reference it or sit on it. We just move on to the next project. So we immediately started working on “Orphan.” The title track Orphan, it was the first song that was written and put together – it is the corner piece of the record. It’s also the only song that was produced by the band. Everything else was done with John Congleton, who has done a ton of shit, and he’s the like the most prolific producer I’ve ever met.
Yeah, I know him, he’s down in Texas right?
Yeah in Dallas. So we spent the month there working out of a studio just working with him. The funny thing is, we had a full month there but we were so overly prepared that we could have done it in a week. It was funny. We did all of our homework and spent all of 2013 writing and recording and getting it all figured it out. So when it came to track record – we knew exactly what to do. Congleton was amazing but next time I don’t think we need a month together.
That’s great, yeah he’s been tied to some big names.
He’s just a dude that is craaaaazy and works so much. And its so much better to be around someone that as soon as he is done with a project, he’s like “another one!”
Haha, nice. Alright so tell me about the tour. You guys are coming to New York on the 14th right?
Yep, we will be playing Baby’s All Right, which I’m excited about we haven’t played there before. I think the last time we did Brooklyn was in the spring and we were at Cameo Gallery. But yeah we’ve been out for the last 7 weeks and actually have had the last week off which has been nice. I’m comfortable to say that it has been well-deserved haha. I haven’t seen the fall season at all so it’s cool to be back in New York and see it all. Next week we start the East Coast stint of the tour.
So I read that you guys had offered up some of your older albums for free for download. I know there have been a lot of conversations about Spotify and streaming music and where the artists fit in. Then you have Taylor Swift making a statement and pulling all of her music from Spotify. What are your thoughts on Spotify?
Well the record that you are talking about it we put out in 2008. And it was very taboo for artist to do that. We were in a spot, ha it sounds like I’m dating myself, but it was after Radiohead did it. I think the whole bands recording on their own and having that ability movement was still relatively newer. But we were in a place to do it, we didn’t even think twice about it. We were like “Of course this is what we need to do!” And as far as Spotify or streaming services it is hard for me to have an opinion on it, because I do it. I love Spotify. I don’t think I’m in a place where I can complain about it. I guess for me, I don’t understand what there is to complain about. If it’s the money that’s your prerogative, well that’s just not my thing right now.
I hear you and it’s interesting because I’ve had artists say that it is unfair, but that the reach and audience it provides is hard to ignore. Kind of a double edge sword, and you really just have to take it for what it is. Work closer to make it better on both sides.
I think ultimately it’s a fucking up hill battle. Anyone that is going to try and fight it- it’s pointless. You have to be more creative. We know Chance the Rapper type guys and all that, and it’s cool quibble what he has done without signing and how he has built his team and audience. To me, that is thinking outside the box. That is creatively challenging your audience and yourself and that is how you succeed. If you keep on the same platform or the same “A + B = C” you will always get the same result you know what I mean?
Yes definitely. Alright switching gears a little bit – If you weren’t a musician, what would you be? A different type of artist?
Like a different career? Ha! I think about this all the time. I would love to be a meteorologist.
What?! Really? That’s so cool
Yeah that would be my thing! I mean I have no education or background in the field but its one of those things I check every day. I don’t know if its because we are traveling or just… I dunno. Haha. I would love to get in front of a TV and be like “Yeah it’s going to fucking rain today”
Haha! Oh man, that is definitely the best answer I’ve ever heard. Amazing. Ok, ok next question: Is there a song that particularly hits home for you all? Maybe politically that you have written?
As far as my own body of work, not someone else’s work?
Hmm I can tell you this personal experience. Off the new record “Lifers” is my personal favorite. It’s not in a selfish way that I creatively had a lot of input, but more of that there were a few judgment calls in that tune that in my head didn’t make sense – but in my gut it did. But at the time we had such a gano and it was catchy. And at the time we just ran with it, but I got to a point where I was like “this song is dead, its going to fall by the waste side,” and I was cool with it. I was just letting what happens happen. If it was meant to be it would come back to me ya know? And I remember hearing the final mix of it and feeling soo good about it. It was one of those things where I let it be free, let it be what it was- and it came back to me in the best way.
That’s cool it’s a great song.
If that makes any sense… It got to point where we were recording it and I was like “It’s done, it isn’t going to live,” which is ironic because the song is called “Lifers”.
Haha, yes very. Ok last and most important question: What inspires you?
In general? It varies everyday. Haha. I find inspiration in… hmm. Inspiration is that muse you chase everyday and it comes in different shapes and forms and colors. So if it’s being in New York for a week, or a simple melody that you came across on Spotify- you have to chase and find it. It’s anything, I know that’s vague, but inspiration can come from good conversation to the weather.