“I often think this when it comes to songs; if you can apply it to anything in your life, it doesn’t matter what the song was written about. “

Rising Hard Rock quartet EMPYRE release their debut Self Aware today. Their ground breaking sound has seen high praise from both fans and critics alike. Rock Out Stand Out’s Lotty Whittingham chats to lead vocalist/guitarist Henrik Steenholdt and lead guitarist Did Coles about certain songs on the album, the artwork associated with the album and future plans.

Hello guys, thanks for joining us today. Let’s start off with talking about who your musical influences are.

Did:  We have varying influences. All four members collectively have different influences within rock music. Certainly, from the ninety’s grunge era; Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, you know that era of bands. In terms of rock music; there’s classic rock, progressive. We have influences outside of rock music as well. We are a rock band but there are elements of country, blues, singer-songwriter and some pop music.

This is alongside many stereotypical rock influences; each member has varying influences. I grew up loving guitar heroes such as Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck from the classic side. I also a fan of modern and instrumental guitarists. We have mutual influence in rock music but there are other influences as well.

Let’s talk about your album Self Aware, is there a central theme?

Henrik:  I wouldn’t say there was as it’s been coming together for the past few years. We just write about whatever takes our fancy. So, it’s not a concept album or a themed album, it’s quite varied in the types of songs we have. You got the ballads such as Only Way Out, heavier stuff such as New Republic. There is a political point behind New Republic but we’re not a political band. Our songs are about observations. If there was a theme, I would say observations.

Did:  There are different themes coming out of the eleven tracks. New Republic is a very political song, Homegrown explores religious themes. It’s more about observations and looking from the side-lines at things, then writing about those things and not latching onto one theme.

I noticed different artwork by each song when listening to the album, who did the artwork for those songs and did they design the album cover too?

Henrik:  There’s a variety of artists. I did the album artwork. I did two main designs, which were the eye on the front and one that based on a wave at the back. Some interpret it as a wave, some interpret it as a face. So, the album artwork was done by me.

Some of the single covers were done by Did’s brother Andy. We worked with him on some concepts and he came up with some ideas on the songs Just A Ride, Something Remains, Only Way Out and Drive. The artwork for these songs was done by Andy.

We had a few other artists working on these visuals. Our bass player’s wife provided a piece of artwork for our cover of My Immortal which was released about eighteen months ago. She also did the artwork for Too Little Too Late with the two girls on the cover. We have always understood the importance of this art. As far as we’re concerned not only do, we have a song, we have a single. We will also have a video to go with the song. All the singles that have been released from now on, will have videos.

Did:  We’re trying to achieve the objective that each single will have an accompanying video. There was one for Too Little Too Late, New Republic and our next one is for the song Stone. We employed a professional artist to do the artwork for that. It’s a tribute track to the protagonist from the TV show The Detectives. It’s done by someone called Michelle; she also did the artwork for Too Close.

We’re trying a bit different as a band. We write the songs, we record the songs, put them on an album and each song will have a piece of accompanying artwork. These designs will go onto merchandise. They can go onto t-shirts and then people can identify with the band and the artwork. That’s the idea any way.

Do you guys have a favourite song/s from Self Aware?

Henrik:  I think my favourite is Stone. It’s definitely my favourite guitar solo. It used to be Homegrown but when Did came up with the solo for Stone, it became my favourite.

Did:  For me, I don’t have favourites in general and it’s hard to pinpoint it to one track. It depends on my mood. I really love New Republic now; I love the intention behind the song and everything it stands for. It’s also a great song to play live. I have also loved hearing it being played on Planet Rock, which is brilliant and it’s received a great reception from those who know the band. That single helped us to get out there. Another time and another week, it might be something like Homegrown or it might be the opening track My Bad. It changes for me. They’re all bangers and hopefully they will be the right depth.

I wanted to ask about the song Only Way Out. Am I right in thinking it’s about trying to get out of situation you know is bad for you? For example, a toxic relationship or a job that isn’t working out.

Henrik:  Yes, that is basically what it’s about. I think the last line of the last verse will give you the jist of the song. It’s called Only Way Out and I sing “you’re the only way out” which states that to make a change, the only way out is you. You can change the relationship that you’re in, that’s the idea of the song anyway.

Is Cut To The Core about struggling with your inner demons and mental health? The artwork brought this to mind.

Did:  That’s a bit different, it’s a bit more aggressive.

Henrik:  That song is actually about verbally annihilating someone. So, it’s giving somebody a very abrupt, direct and aggressive dressing down when they are in the wrong. The first line of the song is “cry for help” so that’s somebody who is denying something in such way where it makes you question “do you need help or are you just winding me up?” It goes from there to the extent of them rather being on their knees begging for forgiveness instead of standing there after what they have said.

I really like the artwork, that again was done by Did’s brother Andy. It’s about the sinking hand, the person is sinking underwater and under their lies of what they’ve said. The smoke theme is an Empyre theme that runs through so much of our work. The original Empyre logo was smoke and there was the hand and I think we had the hand with the smoke on the EP too. You will also see it in the video for Stone. It’s just something we keep as a theme throughout. We have the lady’s face which you can see on the artwork Drive and Just A Ride. Again, that’s another aspect of Empyre.

Did:  We’re pretty much all smoke unfortunately, more so than the other members of the band. Me not so much but we love the smoke in the theme and how it works. It can be consistent across our songs and people will latch onto that.

Henrik:  We’re quite happy to explain what the songs are about. I often think this when it comes to songs; if you can apply it to anything in your life, it doesn’t matter what the song was written about. It applies to however you want to apply it to. George Michael once said you never explain your songs for that reason. What does it matter what it means?

Did:  I think that’s really important, what Henrik has said. There are some big life themes we’re talking about in the writing. Some of it comes from our own personal life experiences. So, something like Too Little Too Late is about the breakdown and fallout of a toxic relationship, that I had myself. A lot of people can relate to that, a lot of people have been in relationships where things don’t work out and they can identify it with their own lives. You don’t want to take that away from them just because it was about something I went through. It’s important to leave it open-ended for people to interpret songs how they want to.

What are your touring plans? You have done a few gigs already.

Did:  We’re really pushing with the album release on the back of a UK headline tour with a couple of bands. We just did a festival yesterday and we played an acoustic gig on the Unsigned Stage at Birmingham Arena on Friday which was good. We do love to play live, we got dates booked with another band. Really, it’s about pushing on with the album release, it’s getting introduction through social media, interviews and the radio. One of the best places to promote it is live, that’s where we feel closest to home. We get the intensity; we get the raw music and we really encourage people to come to gigs. That’s where we’re happiest on stage.

Henrik:  Basically, we have just come off the back of a tour and in summer we have mainly been locally based. We got few dates in Northampton, another near Oxford and one in Milton Keynes. We have a couple of acoustic shows and a couple of electric shows. We’re supporting Wolfjaw and Crobot at The Crauford Arms at the end of July. We really like the venue; in fact, we recorded the New Republic video at The Crauford Arms. We really like the place we play locally. This way we can support them and we’re trying to build our local base so we hope that’s reciprocated well. I can’t say too much now but it’s fair to say we will be on the road again.

To round up, can you tell our readers why it’s important to support your local music scene?

Did:  It is important. I think the best way for people to discover new music is through social media. We are very active with our online presence. We have a very active Facebook page, we have a private group for the hardcore fans, the website is regularly updated and we have a newsletter that goes out every six weeks on what’s going on with the band. We don’t splurge people with irrelevant information, just the main pieces. Henrik does that very well. So, the social media is good for attracting local fans.

Doing interviews also helps, it helps get our sound out to those who may not have heard us before. They might click to something and then the next thing they’re at one of our shows. Once they have been to a show of ours, ticketed or free, they often come back. We’ve had people seeing us for the past two or three years and we have people who come to pretty much all the gigs. They love coming to see us live, they’re active on social media and they tell their friends. They go out to the gig then tell their friends. Social media is the attraction point, then if we can use that to convert them into fans and get them to join the EMPYRE that’s what’s working.

Henrik:  It’s all part of supporting the local scene because we do a lot locally. When people and bands come to support us, people in turn get to know those bands and they get to know us.  We do gig together with bands up and down the country. We have made some great relationships with bands such as Massive Wagons, Power Rats, Wicken Rivers and Black Orchid Conspiracy. We also formed great bonds with Rocket Dolls and Ryder who we were just touring with. So, all the bands we have toured with have said that we need gig together again, we can pretty much make our own festival. It’s really important to come out to see us and other bands.

Thank you so much guys for joining Rock Out Stand Out for a chat today and best of luck with the album release.

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