I Am Empire

I Am Empire: Owning their destiny
Interview by Anthony Saia

I Am Empire are probably one of the better bands that you haven’t heard of. Their stage presence is second to none. They live very humbly and even drove five hours to play a show of only twenty people. They might be some of the hardest working guys in the music industry right now and are starting to get noticed for it.
Earlier this summer, KUOI had an opportunity to sit down with all five members Austin Lyons (vocals), Andrew Stanton (lead guitar), Dan Otis (guitar), Joshua Case (Bass) and Eric Martin (drums). They had just made the trip to Pullman, Wash. to play a show after playing in Seattle.

Anthony: Alright so, first off can you guys tell me a little bit about your recording process on your self-titled first album, where you guys recorded it, when, inspiration, that kind of stuff?

Joshua: Sure. We actually were in Estonia on this super long trip and it took a lot out of the band, and we came home and I lost a couple members. We had a meeting about what we wanted to do, you know, if we still wanted to play music or not, and a couple of us decided that we still wanted to do it and we didn’t care if it was hard, and a couple of us decided that it was time for them to leave and that’s how this band was formed, the one you see today. It’s kind of the inspiration for this last album.
Austin: Yeah, I mean that album was just about a bunch of different circumstances, getting through hard times, you know, different scenarios.

Eric: We recorded it at home at a local studio.

Anthony: In San Jose?

Eric: Yeah. So it was a pretty good process, we could just go home and record and work at the same time.

Anthony: So from what I’ve seen, your single “You’re A Fake” is everywhere. How does it feel to have a ton of publicity like that? Is it a blessing or just like whatever or what?

Andrew: It’s really awesome. A lot of the radio stations that play it we don’t get in San Jose, so it’s weird for me at least to hear that it’s everywhere because I never hear it on the radio, but it’s awesome when we go out of state and people are like, “Oh my god, I hear your song every day!” It’s pretty awesome.

Anthony: It’s also number 15 on the Billboard Christian Rock Charts. Would you guys consider yourselves a Christian Rock band?

Austin: Yes, it’s kind of half and half. I mean we’re all Christian guys, that’s just who we are, but I don’t know if we define our band as that because we don’t just play churches or anything like that, we play everywhere, we play bars, whatever. We’re chill about all that stuff.

Eric: We’re just a rock band.

Josh: Yeah, being a Christian person you know, if you’re being true and writing about your struggles, struggles in faith are going to come up. But we don’t solely focus on Christian topics because in the world people don’t face solely Christian struggles all the time. But it is a lot of the time at the heart of what we’re talking about.

Anthony: Can you explain the basis for the video “The Elevator” a little bit?

Austin: Yeah. It’s basically about saying goodbye to relationships or people that aren’t good for your life, things that aren’t healthy. So basically that video is a girl with a bad boyfriend or something and learning that he’s bad for her and she just leaves at the end. So it’s just encouraging people to make good choices with relationships if they’re unhealthy.

Eric: Walking away from bad situations.

Anthony: Yeah it kind of seemed pretty straightforward when I was watching it, but can you explain the deal with the gas masks a little bit?

Austin: There really is no explanation for that, that was just kind of just a video thing.

Josh: Our friend is the director, he directed the “You’re A Fake” video as well. He kind of wanted to do a couple different things, try some stuff and you know, and he was really hooking us up with some stuff so we let him take the reins on his idea for the video. He just wanted it to be really visually scary, so that explains the pea coats and the trench coats and the gas masks, and the kind of in your face nature of the video.

Anthony: Were you guys the actual people in the gas masks?

Andrew: Yeah, we’re all our own stuntmen.

Anthony: Did they smell bad or anything?

Josh: They’re hard to get on.

Dan: Yeah, they’re hard to breathe in.

Eric: They had this weird white powder on the inside of them, I don’t know why, maybe they were shipped with
something, but my eyes were super irritated the entire time.

Dan: My hair smelled like that powder for like two weeks after.

Andrew: We frequently get requests to play shows in those masks, but it’s just way too hot.

Eric: We’re not as cool as Slipknot either. Some say we are, but, yeah… (awkward pause).

Anthony: So you guys are sponsored by a lot of big names, do you care to name a few and how those relationships were formed? Being that they were essentially formed without any sort of label backing.

Andrew: Well we got hooked up with Fender and Chris Boone at Fender through our management company, Sound Management, in San Jose. They had a pre-existing relationship from some of the other artists that they’ve had at Sound Management before. We were kind of lucky to already know the right people. But they’re a fan of the music, so they’ve been hooking us up with guitars and amps and gear for the last year. Another local company makes kicks and some of the smaller accessories called Wedgie. We just kind of met them from being local and they’ve been supplying us with a lot of stuff for the last year.

Eric: There are a couple drum companies, Vibrant Drums in Colorado and Sultan Cymbals. I’ve been with the drum company for like six years since my first band. And then this symbol endorsement I picked up, I went to the NAMM in Anaheim show a couple years ago and just met the right people and they liked our band.

Anthony: So I heard a rumor that you guys just got signed to Tooth and Nail. Is there a truth to that rumor?

Josh: Yeah, we were actually just announced yesterday. So we finally got to tell everybody.

Eric: It’s on Absolute Punk and Alternative Press Magazine and stuff. It’s pretty cool.

Anthony: Right on. So it seems like you guys are very much a DIY band, meaning that you do it yourself. Is the label going to allow you to still book your own tours or design your own Myspace layout?

Dan: Well as far as the design stuff goes, they’re going to take over all that stuff so that it’s kind of unified with the label, which I’m totally ok with because it’s time consuming and I’m not always sure if I do the best job, so I’m cool with that. And they always do a good job.

Josh: Yeah they don’t highjack it. We get a say in what happens with everything with that, so it’s really more of a tool and a load off our backs. We have an idea and we can discuss it with them and they can execute instead of us spending time and resources trying to figure out how to execute it on our own, like we have been for the past two years.

Eric: Yeah same with booking too. Being on the label now there will be a lot more opportunities to go out with bands we like and bands we want to tour with, as oppose to us making phone calls trying to get a few hundred bucks to play in whatever city.

Anthony: So what do you guys do in your off time when you’re not touring or recording. Do you guys have day jobs?

Andrew: Some of us have day jobs. For the last month I just hung out trying to live off the money I had, which was fun.

Eric: It’s kind of gotten to the point where this is all we’re going to be doing, touring, so it’ll be a financial struggle, but we’ve been prepared for it for a while.

Anthony: You guys are from the Bay Area, so you must be influenced by other Bay Area bands? Or are you influenced by different bands from different areas?

Andrew: Yeah, Austin’s uncle is in a band called Dredg from our area, it’s pretty popular. There are a lot of bands, obviously Metallica, Hugh Jacks is from the bay and Deftones, Green Day…

Josh: Trapt is from the area.

Austin: (Jokingly) I think we sound a lot like Smash Mouth though, I mean that’s kind of our goal.

Anthony: Is that what you’re going for? Smash Mouth vibe?

Austin: Yeah…

Anthony: Alright so, as your music goes, what inspires your songwriting?

Austin: Lyrically I just try to be as honest as I can about things that are going on in my life. Like the new record that we just recorded is titled “Kings.” It’s all about abandonment, like with my dad, stuff like that. So it’s just about getting through that stuff and finding joy, even in the hardest places. Stuff like that.

Josh: Musically it’s just kind of a melting pot with all of us. Andrew and I are really into 80s and classic rock. Everyone’s got a whole lot of different kind of vibes and likes and interests when it comes to music. But like something that I think people catch on to when they listen to us is kind of the 80s anthem feel of some of our songs. Yeah, I mean it’s just good old fashioned rock n’roll, you know, guitar solos and stuff.

Andrew: Yeah we’re not one of the bands out there that’s like overly-concerned with our artistic freedom. I think we still incorporate it a lot, but we might embody a big sound, something that a lot of people can latch on to.

Anthony: So do you guys end up bringing stuff to the table and then end up just playing off each other, building off stuff?

Dan: Him and Andrew write the base of the songs usually, and then they’ll bring it to the rest of us and we’ll just kind of build off that.

Anthony: And percussion-wise you guys do the same thing?

Josh: Yeah, someone will bring in a basis for a song, and then we all just jam it out, take away and add, and it morphs. The end product is usually not super close to what it started off as for the most part.

Eric: We do a lot of our own pre-production where we’ll write a song, record it, and then rewrite it three or four times until we’re satisfied.

Anthony: So you guys do like scratch tracks and stuff and then just kind of go from there?

Andrew: Yeah, there’s a couple songs from the new record that went through like I think four different versions, multiple changes.

Anthony: Off the new record “Kings?”

All: Yes

Anthony: And you guys recorded that in Nashville, did I read that correctly?

Josh: Yeah, Rob Hawkins in Nashville.

Anthony: And that will release on Tooth and Nail though? Do you guys have a date for that yet?

Austin: It’s either in the fall or January, February right now.

Dan: Yeah we’re open for February at the latest, early 2011.

Anthony: Sweet. So obviously being a college radio station manager, I’m going to ask you some college radio station questions. So what do you think the college radio scene is missing right now?

Austin: Advertising.

Josh: I don’t know. I think it’s kind of a hard question for us to answer because it’s been like a long time since any of us have been to college.

Eric: But we’re new to the radio thing as well.

Josh: Um, something college radio is lacking?

Eric: I Am Empire.

Dan: Yeah I would say more I Am Empire.

Eric: More I Am Empire in your rotation. Midday.

Josh: You know it really just needs the support of people.

Andrew: Yeah because it kind of just branches out to the local music scene, and in a lot of places it’s just really suffering. There’s just not a lot of underground support for independent artists. So we’ve experienced the good and bad side of being an independent band. So I think really, it probably just needs more support.

Josh: At home there’s a huge gap between our college radio and the actual like scene that’s going on. For the most part the college radio station doesn’t play a whole lot of bands that are from the area. You know the kids that are going to college that are in the bands don’t listen to the radio station because they’re not hearing their friends or their peers get played at all.

Eric: Even me and Josh, at the school we went to, San Jose State, we’re just now getting played on the station and we’ve been in the band for two years.

Anthony: So radio in general; do you guys have any opinion on the state of radio right now? Do you think it’s a dying industry with the adding of iPods? Like FM for sure?

Josh: I think radio’s always going to be there, I think people get super freaked out about new technology and how it’s going to kill the old technology. But I think as business people and everyone in the radio are just getting used to adapting. The big radio station where we’re from has just started doing that kind of adaptation where you can vote for songs to get on the air through a website, so you get more control that way. I think if it keeps heading in that direction it’s never going to really die.

Eric: As long as they keep playing what people want to listen to, you know a lot of times they’re just playing bands that I could really care less about, but like Josh said, there’s this new thing where you can go and request songs and the majority vote wins and they play whatever song the listeners want to hear next.

Eric: Well there’s Pandora where you type in a band and it plays a bunch of similar artists.

Anthony: Do you guys ever Pandora yourselves?

Dan: Yeah, haha.

Anthony: How did that go?

Josh: Apparently we’re super hard core because that’s all that comes up around us. It’s like Rise Against and then like a bunch of super hard core metal bands.

Anthony: For example?

Josh: Uh, I don’t listen to any hard core metal bands so when they come up, it’s like, I don’t know. I guess Killswitch Engage has come up.

Anthony: Really…

Eric: Yeah, and Hatebreed.

Anthony: So final two questions: Top five albums and artists from each of you guys.

Josh: Top five!

Anthony: If you can’t do five, I will accept three.

Josh: Alright, three is doable. Let’s see. I’m going to say my top one would be Queen “News of the World,” number two will be The Matches “Decomposer” and number three would be New Found Glory’s self-titled album. Should I go number four and number five? I’ll go number four with Thrice’s “Illusion of Safety” and number five the new Foxy Shazam album. I think it is self-titled.

Andrew: I’d say number one would be Van Halen “1984,” two would be Muse’s Absolution, and third would be Chase The Sun by the OC Supertones.

Eric: I think one for me would be Future of Forestry “Travel II,” second; lately I’ve been into Jimmy Eat World, probably “Chase This Light” and Radiohead’s “Kid A” for sure.

Austin: My top one would probably be Third Eye Blind’s self-titled, Jimmy Eat World’s “Bleed American,” after that it’s just a lot of stuff. I’d probably say Brand New “The Devil and God” and four maybe Minus the Bear “Omni”.

Dan: Pretty much what he said. Jimmy Eat World “Bleed American,” “Devil and God” by Brand New, “Omni” by Minus the Bear. Oh yeah, “Abbey Road” by the Beatles.

Andrew: I’m going to add Miles Davis to my list.

Anthony: I dig it when bands are like this, because one of the bands I interviewed a month ago, one guy was like “Coltrane’s A Love Supreme,” and he’s like “That’s it.” And he was the bassist and I was like “Alright that’s cool man, right on.”

Dan: I think the last one would be “Plans” by Death Cab.

Anthony: Alright, so any final words to readers who are going to be reading to this interview?

Austin: Thank you.

Eric: Pick up our self-titled CD for now and then when “Kings” comes out buy it and give it to all your friends.

Andrew: Actually you can go on iTunes and we should have a merchandise store set up online very soon.

Josh: Tell your parents, tell your friends, tell you professors, cousins.

Eric: Keep listening to KUOI.

Andrew: Don’t tell your nieces and nephews, they’re too young.

Josh: Too young.

Eric: Babies.