Interview with Tom Conrad (Empires) by ninthandash

In this interview, ninthandash asks Tom Conrad, guitarist for Empires, about his thoughts on the current music scene, the internet fanbase and how Empires are different to virtually every other band out there.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few years about the impact that the internet has had on the music industry, and the general consensus seems to be very negative. Especially with MySpace, it’s now so easy to be heard or to find new music that a lot of people aren’t bothering, and new bands are either generic, one hit wonders or people are just choosing to listen to whatever popular music is in the charts.

However, Empires have a very strong internet fanbase. Do you feel that the internet has had a positive impact on the music industry, and you as a band, or do you think that it’s still mostly a bad thing?

I would not say it’s negative, it’s just different than what we have known in the past. It is important for life to evolve and I believe the general state of music is in a transition period. Everything is so quickly and easily accessible because of the internet, so you really need to offer something different to stand out.

Also, the internet fanbase; it’s unusual for a band to build up such a strong community so quickly. The fans all seem very close-knit, and have taken gifts to shows to give you, or made lists of fans from all over the country to give you. Do you think your fans are different to a more mainstream band’s due to the fact you can still talk to them personally, and that one-on-one dynamic is important?

The five of us have been very lucky thus far. We try very hard to have direct contact with the people that care about Empires as much as we do. I wouldn’t want it any other way. This is about sharing and hopefully sparking some sort of feeling in each other at the end of the day.

Putting ‘Howl’ on your website available for free download was a move almost like Radiohead’s release of In Rainbows. Coming back to the impact of the internet on the music industry issue, was this a response to that? Were you worried that no one would buy the hard copy of the album if you did this, or were you just happy to get your music out there, and this ensured that possibly more people would listen to it?

We released “Howl” online for free for several reasons. First, we did so because we could and not many artists can. The album was ours and will always be ours. Since the record was completely constructed by the band, we could do whatever we wanted with it. Second, it was important to us get our music out as fast and as easy as possible. We knew this way anyone in the world could grab it and we could know exactly where from. Third, we loved the idea of this being our
introduction to everyone. Knowing we initiated our relationship with you by giving away something we spent a lot of time and energy on is a great feeling. Now, we hopefully started a strong bond with the listener. “Howl” is the starting point for Empires and to me, feels like when the band truly kicked off.

Some of our readers have been asking about “Hayley”, and whether there’s a story behind it. Could you clarify this?

Sean writes all the lyrics for Empires. The story is true as far as I know.

Do you feel that being unsigned allows you a greater level of control? A lot of the reasons so many fans feel so strongly about you is that they feel a connection, due to the free download of Howl, and due to the way you can personally interact with them. Would you ever consider signing to a label, especially a major one, or do you feel that it wouldn’t be worth it for you in the long run?

The best thing about being unsigned is that our path is unwritten and unseen. Anything could happen. The downside to not having a home for Empires is that it does make things much harder for us and can be a cause for distractions while trying to achieve the main goal. I’m not opposed to signing with an indie or a major at this point but obviously whatever is in the best intention for Empires, we’ll decide to do. Max, Sean, Ryan, Alfred and myself do everything we can to make Empires as self-sufficient as possible and I don’t think that will change. It’s very important for us to be “hands on” with anything we do together. The more we can do on our own, the more accurate of representation it will be.

Your music is very different to most bands around these days and definitely stands out, especially the way all your songs have a different sound to them. Do you think this is important? What do you think about a lot of the bands that seem to have made it big these days, as some artists have labeled them as talentless and generic?

I think it’s important to be yourself and pursue what makes you happy, which is what “Howl” is to us. It’s not my place to judge or to call someone else’s work generic. Though I have been finding myself digging deeper through more experienced and educated artists to find inspiration lately. You need to have something valid to say to get my attention.

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