I had the privilege of interviewing Dead Empires recently - not once, but TWICE! Above is a phone interview I conducted with them just prior to a show they played at Dingbatz in Clifton, New Jersey on 11/15/12. Below is a separate interview (some questions are in both, but most are different) that each member of the band answered and sent back to me the same day. I hope you find them both enlightening and humorous, because that's Dead Empires. They manage to bring a destructive onslaught of musical mayhem, a little restful respite, and much needed humor to the world of music. Their first full-length album, Waiting In Waves, is representative of this. You can read a review I did of it here.
Where did the name "Dead Empires" come from? For that matter, what inspired the album title, "Waiting In Waves"? Furthermore, you seem to have a knack for loosely naming songs after celebrities ("Ted Dancin", "Danny Gloved Her"), but how in the world do you choose your song names?
JOHN: When we first started the band we went through several different name and concept phases. We always try to keep a high standard for this band, especially being an instrumental band - and we wanted to do something bigger than ourselves. We wanted to do something that left a lot of room for interpretations and created strong visual imagery to go along with our musical and songwriting style. Dead Empires we just felt was the best fit for our goals and our vision of this project-and we have run with it ever since.
TYLER: To this day, neither Phil nor John has explained the meaning behind our band name. I made up my own interpretation of it being that the group was born from the ashes of bands that never quite took off; John with Warhoof, Phil with Bless The Fallen and myself with Penny Racer. Those are the dead empires, I suppose.
JOHN: We should probably have a discussion with Tyler about how he defines "never quite took off" considering Bless The Fallen was signed and toured nationally.
JOHN: As for song titles, our songwriting style comes out of a lot of jamming and recording - we record every practice and every jam, and have them assembled into a Riff Bank. Most of the time, we title them ridiculous things on the fly just so we can keep them organized.
TYLER: I stayed away from celebrities: my lone song title contribution was “Getting Head From A Guillotine.” I have a knack for paying attention to dumb Aerosmith lyrics (do your homework!)
PHIL: We ultimately decided on Dead Empires after months of workshopping ideas. We set out to create something atmospheric and the word combo seemed to resonate the deepest. I like to think the name is
subjective and open to interpretation.
"Waiting In Waves" was inspired by Emerson's "Self Reliance". There’s a quote about how society is like a wave and how the ocean stays the same as much as waves come and go. I took this as a commentary about what it means to be an individual in a society that can never seem to reach a permanent consensus of what should be considered acceptable. People looking for change are often waiting in those waves and as an instrumental heavy
act, the name seemed almost too appropriate.
A lot of our song titles stem from code names we give them at their inception. We often can't think of anything we'd rather call the songs so they normally stick!
I've noticed many bands are choosing to use Kickstarter.com, a website that helps individuals and groups raise money for projects, to help them fund the release of their albums. What drew you to Kickstarter and how did you feel about the process?
JOHN: We took flak from a couple people about doing a Kickstarter. Here's how I always saw it: you're pre-ordering a record (for bands, in our case) or a package deal to get some cool swag and help out an independent artist who might not be able to get their project off the ground otherwise. No different to me than pre-ordering a record from an indie label. What's wrong with that? Somehow its perceived as lazy or greedy by some people. I don't get it. We're all struggling to survive here. But for the most part we received a very positive response and I am incredibly grateful and thankful to everyone who were so kind in helping us out.
I'm not sure why we picked Kickstarter over any of the other crowdfunding websites - I think it was a similar idea, I saw another band doing it and said "we should do this."
TYLER: Kickstarter is a total sign of the times; thanks to social networking and the crumbling of once-powerful norms of rock and roll, the wall between band and audience is almost non-existent compared to how it was 10 years ago. So, to have the fanbase actually have a hand in the production of the work is pretty cool, and I’m absolutely grateful for the support that we received for our album.
Phil: Our friends in Thank You Scientist introduced us to the idea. I couldn't be more pleased with the concept of kickstarter. Bands have an opportunity to raise money they otherwise wouldn't have been able to without some sort of label support and fans have an opportunity to help bands out and get cool exclusives doing it. Bands ask for help all the time when their vans die, why not give them something back for their money? We are very thankful for all the support we received during that time.
For your Kickstarter donations rewards, you gave away some very interesting things! One of those things was being featured in an upcoming music video for the song "Carl Weathered". What's the story on that video and when can we expect to see it?
JOHN: Thing took off so fast with this record that we still have a lot of goals still on our plates. But we're ambitious, and have big plans - and also don't want to do things if they're not just right. We don't want to do a second rate anything - again, going back to the high bar. But as soon as we get it off the ground, you'll be the first to know. I don't want to do a spoiler for the video - but it fits the vibe of the band: heavy, funny, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek. We laugh a lot, hopefully you will too!
TYLER: If I had it my way, the video would be a killer live shoot with fire trucks and hookers and guns. I think there are other plans afoot, though.
Phil: A music video for "Carl Weathered" is indeed a concept we plan on fleshing out in the near future. We have a location and a concept but we need a couple more things in order to make it a reality!
For some reason, I find that three-piece bands sound bigger and fuller than groups with four or more people when I see them live. I don't really understand it myself. How does it feel to be a quartet now, instead of a trio? How do you think it's changed your sound?
JOHN: I love a good power trio, but we always knew the sound we wanted was... bigger. DJ's arrival and contributions have stepped it up so much for us. DJ has filled out this band and exceeded all my expectations. Everyone holds their own in this band- and that is a big part of what makes it so special I think. DJ definitely re-lit the fire in this band, and reinvigorated us all. I can't wait to showcase him on the next recording.
TYLER: When I jumped onboard, we were still without a bass player. It was a total Fucking Champs/Sleater-Kinney sound, which I dig a lot and we definitely got noticed for lacking the low end. But since DJ arrived, the sound definitely earned some much-needed girth that two guitarists just can’t quite muster without a bassist. It’s absolutely incredible live and we definitely get compliments about our current sound.
PHIL: We’ve always written with the intentions of recording a rhythm and lead section so becoming a 4 piece seemed inevitable to me. Playing without a bassist for a while was not ideal but we tune low enough so we still gigged around as we looked. DJ definitely pushed us to work harder as a band and his playing in right in the pocket.
For your first two releases, bass duties were taken care of by Nick Privitera, who now appears to be absent. Did he spontaneously combust? Also, how would you describe your new low-ender, DJ Scully?
JOHN: We parted ways with Nick over a year and a half ago, and spent most of that time simply searching for someone new - because honestly we always knew if we were going to make changes to the band lineup, we were going to find the right person. We did shows as a trio with two guitars for months, but like I said in the previous question, we always knew what we had in mind. it was just a matter of time.
As for comments about DJ, I think my previous question pretty much summed it up.
TYLER: Nick was already out of the band by the time I showed up. The scenario with him is definitely more a Phil/John question.
DJ Scully is a master. He’s the biggest pain in my ass and also the coolest older brother (by four months) I never had. He’s a welcomed addition to the unit and he definitely adds a lot to our sound, as well as our writing. He’s also a much better guitar player than John and I will ever be. He’s the Ron Swanson of metal bass.
DJ: Who's Nick Privitera? Playing-wise, I like to think of myself as an amalgamation of Mike Starr and Duff McKagan. In reality, my technique probably closer to Gene Simmons and/or Pete Wentz.
In all seriousness, I’m super lucky to be in the band. How we came together is a lot like when you have a chick in your life that you always wanted to date or at least bang and months and years go by and you don’t stay in the best touch, but you still have the idea in the back of your mind. Eventually you both get drunk and naked or clean up and come to your sense and you finally get to bone or whatever it is your original goal for the relationship was. This is like that except I haven’t been disappointed by finally getting what I want.
Phil: DJ is great. Bass players usually get lost in the fold of heavy music but DJ successfully and quite impressively makes his presence known. It just sucks there's a beard tie in the band now. Tyler and I had John against a wall for a while.
Speaking of low-end: Based on your "In The Studio" pictures for the album, it appears John and Tyler shared the bass guitar on the album. Why didn't one person do all of it, and how did you decide who would play what?
JOHN: It was never a question of one person - we're all involved in the songwriting and the performance of the songs. We each had ideas we wanted to bring and said early on there was not going to be a set person for anything - if one of us got inspired, we'd run with it.
TYLER: It was a mutual decision between John and I that we would split duties. I recall us putting the song titles in a bag and we chose our songs like that. For those interested, I believe John played on Ted, Space Race, and Crystal Cages and I played on Waiting in Waves and Guillotine. Believe it or not, we actually split duties on Carl and Blackout; he did the first half of the song and I did the second half!
JOHN: And the last fifteen second of Blackout are a great example. Tyler was laying down a bassline and I heard the last piece in my head - so I said "wait, Tyler, play it like this", I sang it and he laid it down. Then D James Goodwin wanted in, and grabbed a bunch of effects and helped us create the gritty, synthy bass solo that to me is the high point of the whole song.
Phil: Sharing is caring.
I've seen Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: Is it true that being vegan gives you super powers?
JOHN: Gelato's not vegan?
TYLER: I just think being vegan means you incessantly give high-fives and eat weird food.
DJ: If you consider incredibly disgusting farts a superpower, then yeah, maybe John has some.
Actually, John does posses a superpower that most vegans don’t. He can actually shut the hell up about it and not give us a lecture when the rest of us are eating our pre-show meal of caviar followed by a main course of veal and foie gras, which we wash down with whole milk. He hasn’t even mentioned the fact that I use elephant tusk picks and polish my bass with seal tears. Truly a herculean effort; I applaud you, John.
Phil: John’s reminded me numerous times during our friendship he’s perfected a 3 bean pineapple chili so maybe... a good memory?
Most, if not all of your band, consists of huge wrestling fans. If you could only submit one of your songs as the theme for a WWE PPV, which track would it be and for what event?
JOHN: I think it'd be "Space Race". There's a lot of riffs and change ups in there that could be used for a lot of different wrestlers. If Jim Johnson is ever interested, hey, give us a ring!
TYLER: That’s a tough call. “Waiting in Waves” could probably work for Summerslam.
DJ: I don’t know much about wrestling, but when I’m getting laid I tend to throw on“Crystal Cages” on repeat.
PHIL: For me it’s a tie between “Ted Dancin’” and “Blackout”. Both are super aggressive tunes with moments of repose and could tie up nicely with a hardcore themed PPV of some kind (Hell in a Cell, TLC etc).
Your song "Blackout" features a jazzy, elevator music-inspired section, courtesy of the band Thank You Scientist. What lead to their contribution?
JOHN: I've always had a strong belief in community and sharing these things with our friends - I love guest spots on records. We had that piece in the works for months, and it was our little easter egg on the record. We actually
recorded a song during the WIW sessions that featured a drum jam with the boys from IT'S NOT NIGHT: IT'S SPACE that never made it onto the record. Maybe one day it'll rear it's ugly head...
TYLER: It was a silent agreement that something had to happen during Phil’s samba drum parts in that song. I forgot who made the call, but we ended up getting this insane recording that Tom and Andrew from TYS made
just from hearing the drum part. It worked marvelously.
DJ: It’s also worth noting that TYS is one of those bands that will do anything for a couple bucks. If you think their contribution ended at those jazz breaks, I have some very explicit photos to sell you. For what it's worth, Odin is a very generous, if sometimes aggressive, lover.
Phil: I remember going to bed after a long day at the studio. John left my house around 2:30 AM and I literally was closing my eyes when he barges back in with the mp3 of what they had did for “Blackout”. We could not stop laughing. I think it’s perfect.
What lead to the decision to make a vinyl version of "Waiting In Waves"? Is Dead Empires hoping for a resurgence of the analog era?
JOHN: As a collector, putting out a vinyl record has always been a bucket list item for me. Nuff said. And we just want to give people something memorable. No larger agenda here.
DJ: Yeah, John is a vinyl nerd and I don’t think anyone saw it important to print CDs, so it was a no-brainer. Vinyl legitimately sounds better and the art looks KILLER. We’ve only had one person ask for a CD copy so far, which probably signals the end of that era, at least for us and other bands in our position.
TYLER: The analog vs. digital debate is one that could fill up a shit-ton of space. For me, whatever medium works for the individual listener is the best kind.
Was it the band's intention to be a purely instrumental group, or have you just not found the right vocalist yet? Do you face different challenges being a live band without a singer?
JOHN: We never really put that much thought into it. This band has always been what I've called an "organic" band - we do what feels right, and we run with it. We've toyed with the idea and if the right person or moment came up and it felt right I certainly wouldn't hold back. But we're really proud of everything we've done so far and still have a lot to offer, sans a singer. I don't think it's really hindered us, and if we can shatter some expectations in the meantime, even better.
TYLER: Ah, the singer question. It’s a challenge on both sides: can we persevere as a strict instrumental act or can we successfully make the leap to vocals? It’ll come up every now and then, but I have no clue what could happen. We could do a Keelhaul thing where it’s half and half, but it just depends on who’ll be the first one to say “I wrote something.”
DJ: The only challenge I've noticed is that there is usually one drunk dude at shows who will insist that if he was given the opportunity to add vocals, we would be the biggest band of all time. When pressed for any sort of demo or follow-up, said dude will manage to disappear forever.
PHIL: We never set out to be an instrumental band. We just kept jamming and eventually had enough material to play a first show and we said if someone comes along, great. I second DJ.
What does the future hold for Dead Empires?
JOHN: I'll let you know after our mayan-calendar-end-of-the-world-shows this winter. Until then, I have a pretty simple goa l- destroy.
DJ: What John said. Ideally, I would get to blow up one more amp or cab before New Year’s, but I don’t know if my wallet can handle that.
TYLER: John will write a cool riff, Phil will hammer away at a drumkit, DJ will make his bass sound like a spaceship on fire, and I’ll play the fool.
PHIL: Music and mileage.
For more from Dead Empires:
Stream "Waiting In Waves"
Buy the Vinyl