empires
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empires

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Rock

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Chicago five-piece Empires had never played New York City before their Thursday night CMJ showcase at Fat Baby, but you wouldn't know it from the packed crowd singing and clapping along.

The stage and sound was dominated by drummer Ryan Luciani, while frontman and keyboardist Sean Van Vleet pressed his hand against the low ceiling and played two new tracks to complement a set of songs from the band's self-released first album, 'Howl.' After forming in 2006 when guitarist Tom Conrad parted ways with the Chicago band The Academy Is, the then-nameless band spent all of 2007 clandestinely recording their first album, sacrificing live shows in favor of getting a perfect sound on record. The result is a sweeping album that doesn't really come off as a first effort and spans from sunny-pop songs like 'Believe' to the rockin' howl-along 'I Want Blood'.

Empires, rounded out by bassist Alfred Smith and guitarist Max Steger, put out that album directly to the Internet in 2008 as a free download on their website. In its first two months alone 'Howl' was downloaded and shared more than 25,000 times, and thousands of listeners have continued the trend. Thus, while the band remained primarily touring in the Midwest for the past year, their fans have sprouted worldwide without any traditional marketing push.

As a result of their grassroots effort the New York show was filled with enthusiastic fans from all over the northeast, singing every word including the newest songs, as well as the requisite label scouts every unsigned band hopes for at a CMJ event. While the band is already working on a new album, they're also, according to various band members Twitter feeds, considering a move to New York, presumably to help further their fan base. Based on their reception this week, New York will welcome Empires with open arms. - AOL Spinner


“[Empires has] set about doing this right. It's a sentiment reinforced by these sterling alt-pop tracks boasting delicious symmetry of texture and tension. The 20 minutes Empires deliver on BANG makes a strong case that given the current music landscape, bands would be best off releasing EPs of their best songs while the material's still fresh…”

- Alternative Press


"New songs like 'Damn Things Over' pretty much out-Killers The Killers" - Metromix Chicago


“The sound is reminiscent of something along the lines of The Smiths plus The Stone Roses on speed -- at least in that vein. Emotive, fast-paced, and anthemic.” - Mixtape Muse


With a name as evocative as Empires, it's no surprise the band is steeped in portent and grandiosity, falling somewhere between the Killers and the Alarm on the subtlety scale. Its aggressive aim-to-please bluster has a tinge of the Devil's Bargain about it" - Timeout Chicago


"Chicago's answer to The Killers." - Brooklyn Rocks: NYC Music Blog


"Damn Things Over" - featured - The Tripwire Podcast 059


“[Howl is a sweeping album that doesn’t really come off as a first effort and spans from sunny-pop songs like ‘Believe’ to the rockin’ howl-along ‘I Want Blood’” - AOL Spinner


"Unlike many bands who have Myspace pages before songs, kinetic Chicago rock five-piece Empires spent the entire first year of their existence under wraps while they organically honed their tone and worked on writing and recording their eclectic debut full length, Howl. "Empires are a new band of old friends"... - ALTERNATIVE PRESS Jan 09


"Empires came out of the gate strong and have showed no signs of letting up," says Benetti (talent booker at House Call Entertainment). "They play solid, well-written pop music that is exciting enough for younger folks and sophisticated enough for the most jaded of adults. Thats not so common these days." - Chicago Tribune


"From the rockin', love-me-or-else fury of "I Want Blood" to the sunny pop of "Believe!" to the sexy funk of "Late Night Rendezvous," the debut from Chicago quintet Empires is either refreshing unpredictable or totally all over the place. Buy you've no reason not to give it a listen.
Thats because the group released the self produced album "Howl" as a free download (at weareempires.com) in hopes of gaining attention through word of mouth. (Unlike those cheapskates Radiohead and Girl Talk, who allowed free downloads but gave users and option to pay). So far, the strategys pay-ing off. Not only does the record achieve a strange, roller-coaster choesiveness, but in its first two months alone, "Howl" has been downloaded and shared more than 25,000 times all over the U.S. and as far as Kenya and Saudi Arabia...." - Red Eye (Chicago Tribune) / Matt Pais


"...Empires, a new band he (Tom Conrad) was starting up "just to have fun and play music again." He said they were close to finishing their debut album and that rather than shop around for a deal, they were gonna post the album as a free download because they just wanted people to hear it. Lucky for us, they've done just that: the album is great, all ethereal and doomy like the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or the Black Angels, but with a little bit of My Chemical Romance snarl thrown in for good measure..." - MTV.com / James Montgomery


Local lovin'

There are always lots of local bands putting out great records, and these were five of our favorites this year, in alphabetical order: Bound Stems, "The Family Afloat"; Brighton MA, "Amateur Lovers"; EMPIRES (PICTURED) "HOWL"; Sleep Out,"Not Even Dust"; Unicycle Loves You, self titled. - Metromix Chicago


Discography

GARAGE HYMNS LP (2012)
Can't Steal Your Heart Away EP (2012)
Darko 7" Single (2011)
BANG EP (2010)
HOWL (2008)

Photos

Bio

Empires recently finished recording their second full length album, GARAGE HYMNS. The band’s self-produced debut album, Howl, garnered a massive amount of attention when they released it on their website back in 2008, and now, with GARAGE HYMNS, Empires feels that they have found the sound they’ve been searching for all along.

“We’re definitely more defined than ever,” explains vocalist Sean Van Vleet. “We’ve figured out what works for us as we’ve played together more, and now the music feels really honed in.”

“We never started out saying ‘We’re going to be a punk band,’ or ‘We’re going to be an indie band,’” says guitarist Tom Conrad. “What we wanted to do was never acknowledged in words. It was more like, ‘Oh, you play drums? Sweet. Show up and let’s play.’ And that evolved to what we have now.”

The band finished Howl in guitarist and producer Max Steger’s studio in March, and their “all over the place” approach had obviously worked out for them: the album garnered thousands of downloads online, including over 15,000 in its first week alone. “With Howl, we worked out the instrumentation of the songs as we recorded them,” explains Max. “With the band being so new, we took a lot of freedom experimenting with different sounds and genres. I think that gives the record its diversity and charm.”

Howl was named one of the top five local albums of 2008 by Metromix Chicago, and Empires spent the rest of 2008 and much of 2009 building a profile locally. They sold out several of Chicago most popular music venues, including Schubas, the Beat Kitchen, and the Subterranean. Then, late in 2009, they went back into Max’s studio to record again, and in 2010 they released a seven-song EP called BANG.

To generate more interest in their second collection of self-produced material, the band put out BANG in the form of monthly digital singles until physically releasing a deluxe edition of the album in March of 2010, right before their first SXSW appearance.

The BANG EP and their first SXSW appearance ushered in some good national attention.

“Whether we’ve been trying to spread the word ourselves or not, the word-of-mouth amongst our fans has always been really nice,” says Tom. “People have always been talking, and more people have been getting into it. We’re really grateful for that.”

With the BANG EP and a raucous makeout music video for the title track keeping a lot of attention focused on them, Empires quietly began demoing the songs that would later become GARAGE HYMNS in the summer of 2010. Then, from February to May of 2011, the Empires fan base came out in droves once again when Empires was one of sixteen bands being considered for the August cover of Rolling Stone.

Hand-picked from over 1,200 artists by Rolling Stone editors to be part of the magazine’s first ever “Choose the Cover” campaign, Empires advanced (through public voting) to one of the final four slots. Rolling Stone called Empires a “big, multi-faceted, tower of power” and said that “inspired by the independent spirit of ‘90s grunge, Empires’ music takes the urgency and emotion of that era and reboots it for a new generation.”

The “live feel” on GARAGE HYMNS that Sean refers to is a more loose approach that comes as a direct result of the way the band went at the recording process from the very beginning.

“GARAGE HYMNS was figured out mainly in the practice space,” explains Max. “I wanted the recordings to sound more like the band in practice, and I wanted to avoid any slick over-the-top production. We wanted to be as gritty and raw as possible.”

Tom adds that the difference between GARAGE HYMNS and Empires’ earlier records is that the songs on Garage Hymns were all demoed out six, seven, eight times beforehand. “When it came time to actually start to record the album, it was a really quick process,” he says. “All the homework was done, we just had to play the songs.