Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) just released their sophomore record, You Will Eventually Be Forgotten
. Frontman Keith Latinen took some time to talk about the record, describe his writing process, and fanboy about Mineral with me.
Howís your tour with The Early November been?
Itís been great, this is our first time doing a tour a tour of this capacity. Weíd been mostly doing DIY tours or basement shows so itís nice to be playing shows like this. Itís been interesting because weíre not really what Iíd call an acoustic band but itís been, kind of surprisingly, translating really well. Itís been amazing and the guys in The Early November are incredibly helpful and theyíre great to tour with. I really liked them when I was growing up, which is kind of funny, because those guys and I are around the same age. Itís been really cool to see the trajectory theyíve had and how theyíre still going today. I know they broke up for a while but theyíve got a lot we can learn from them. But itís very nice and itís a bit of a foreign world for us, which is sort of refreshing. I think a drawback of just going to see your favorite band somewhere in some random basement is the sound. Like, a lot of people watch bands on YouTube, and a lot of the places we play, the PAs arenít great, theyíre usually pretty garbage. Itís all garbled and not mixed well, and in a basement, thereís only a certain level of loudness you can play and it doesnít really translate well. So I think a lot of bands unfairly get bashed by, say, people watching on YouTube. Itís not going to sound the same as it does if youíre there. And Iím not saying this is something that happens to me and Iím not trying to complain, I just feel like itís something that people should keep in mind.
And, just so I don't sound dumb, the band is you, Kathy, and Warren Franklin, right? Just you three?
Well, actually, itís me any Kathy who record everything. I play the majority of the instruments, and Kathy plays guitar. Then when weíre touring itís me, Warren, and whoever else happens to be there. When we went to Europe with The World IsÖ, The World IsÖ was my backing band. But yeah, Warrenís my go-to guy for sure. We actually just got a new bassist too, nameís Nick, Nick Miller. You may know him from New Girl. We got our longtime drummer back, he drummed on On Time Spent Waiting, Into It. Over It. split, football, etc. split. Itís amazing to have him back Ė heís one of my best friends and he plays exactly, exactly as I wrote it. Thatís really important, because when youíre borrowing people, detail isnít going to be the most important.
Wow, I never realized it was just you and Kathy on all your albums. Thatís impressive.
Yeah, I donít think a lot of people realize it, haha. Itís not something we go out of our way to tell people, you know? Like, itís important, but itís not important. I think the thing that surprises people a lot is that I play drums. Itís kind of a bummer, really, because Iíve never played a show on drums. I write the songs, then I record them, and thatís the only time I ever play drums on them. Itís something Iíd love to do at some point, but I really donít think I ever will.
Speaking of your albums, what made you choose the title You Will Eventually Be Forgotten?
I think itís sort of a universal truth Ė like, everything you do, at some point, will someday be forgotten. I remember reading, after I came up with the title, where you die two deaths. The first death is a normal death, and the second death is the last time someone says your name aloud. It sort of keeps in line with that. Also, weíve been a band for a very long time and it hasnít been an easy trek through our music. Itís amazing that weíre progressing now, and with how many bands there are taking a go at it. Itís been really, really well-built for us. Maybe itís maturing, and maybe people wonít be as big on any of these bands again, or even our band again, so I think we should just cherish it while it lasts, because you never know.
When did you start writing You Will Eventually Be Forgotten?
We started writing, I think, two years ago, and wrote four or five songs, and then we took a big break because the label started taking over again. We ended up keeping maybe two songs from that session and then we realized weíve got to get this done, made it our number one priority over everything else, from there we just churned it out.
So then when you started writing, did you have it in your mind that youíd write more literal narratives, or did it just sort of happen, unconsciously?
Well, itís been a real gradual change. If you look at where we started with When the Sea Became a Giant, those are much more vague. At that point I was very much a fan of metaphors, and most of those songs, you probably wouldnít know what they were about unless I explained it, and they maybe youíd think, ďOh, I see it,Ē and maybe not, I guess it depends. But I think my writing has evolved into what it is now. I think the biggest turning point was Home After Three Months Away, which, chronologically, I know would be after On Time Spent Waiting, but was actually recorded before that. I think that would really be the turning point for more hyper-realism. My favorite poet is Robert Lowell Ė on Home After Three Months Away, all the titles are from works of his, and actually so is the albumís title Ė and Iíd been reading John Steinbeck. I just love their language, how clean and pretty and elegant it was, but it wasnít vague, it was direct, and just really helped tie the piece down. I really loved that, and I just started working more and more towards that, and this is the end result.
Yeah, I could see the Robert Lowell influence in your past works. If Iím sticking to this, though, would you say youíve got a favorite, lyrically, on this album?
Iím not sure I could say I have a favorite song or not. I guess ďRibbonĒ because itís such a sparse song, a sparse piece, musically, so the lyrics and the vocals are much more of a centerpiece. Maybe the last song, but really, I tend to think of it as one body of work, as opposed to one track and another.
Alright, so that said, why did you choose ďIf Itís Bad News, It Can WaitĒ as the first song to be released from the album?
I think itís a powerful song, a heavy song. I really like the flow to it, itís got a really big Death Cab flow, which is one of my favorite bands. I just think it was a powerful introduction to the album.
Both of your albums so far have had a guest vocalist on the last track Ė this time you had Chris Simpson from Mineral, and you also had Bob Nanna on ďA Keepsake,Ē so howíd you choose which songs theyíd each be on, and what was it like working with them?
I think when I was writing, they just sort of felt right for both those songs, and I chose each particular singer thinking of how theyíd each carry weight best. So for example, ďA KeepsakeĒ Ė I really like that because Bob does a great job of breaking up the song, heís got a great voice. Chris singing on the last song just came naturally. Then working with them, it was hard to believe Ė actually, itís still hard to believe Ė working with these two giants for me, having them on our record. I mean, my two favorite bands are Mineral and Death Cab, and then one of the things that was awesome about this music growing up was Braid and their approach to everything. One of the reasons why weíve put out so many splits and weíve done so many projects is really based off of Braidís philosophy. They would never turn anything down, and they constantly had new material. We kind of made that our approach in Empire!, which is why weíve got so many splits, so many projects, so many little releases. But working with them was incredible. We were fortunate enough to put out Certain People I Know, which is one of Bobís projects after Hey Mercedes, and then weíre putting out the Zookeeper record for Chris, so it was sort of a natural transition.
Thatís great, then, that youíre getting to work with people you respect so much. How is that, now being in an emo band, seeing all the groups you looked up to are coming back and getting popular?
I think itís just incredible. Like, for example, I never got to see Mineral or American Football, these two bands that are now reuniting, and now I get to see both of those bands. Itís just this super great, unpredictable thing. Especially since I never stopped listening to emo, itís always been my favorite stuff. Like, American Football was super, super big for me, and they were not popular. But know theyíre really the ones that people know. Itís like thereís this revisionist history going on, making them more than they were. Donít get me wrong, American Footballís one of my favorite bands of all time, but itís just interesting to see whatís been made popular. I mean, there were other bands back in the day that were much more popular that havenít really had that kind of resurgence, and then there are bands thatíre still around today. So Iím not really sure what determines that, and Iím not really sure that anybody can, but yeah, I think itís amazing. Hopefully more bands get a chance to do it.
Yeah, I agree thatís awesome. Youíre even getting to play with Mineral in September, right? How do you feel about that?
Oh yeah, I almost feel like I could just be done, haha. Like, thatís it, Iíve done all I need to do, I got to play with one of my favorite bands. Itís just surreal to me. I mean, obviously Chris and I are friends, so I knew there was a possibility of that happening, but you never really know until that happens. Iím just over the moon, really. So many people, so many bands never get the chance to play with their favorite bands, and for the longest time it just didnít feel like it was the right time to pick Mineral back up again. So Iíd completely written that out Ė just like Knapsack! Knapsackís another one of my favorite bands of all time and when they reunited I was also just ecstatic. But to play with Mineral, yeah I could pack it all up and be incredibly happy.
While weíre on the topic, which Mineral album do you prefer?
Oh, I love EndSerenading. Well, obviously I love them both, but EndSerenading is just real melodic and it takes time. You have to be patient with it or you are going to get real bored. Thatís actually even how I feel about Empire! Some people arenít going to connect with it, but the people who do connect with it, I feel, really have a deeper connection and they understand it more. Thatís really what I love about Mineral.
I agree, and I feel like the transition you guys made from What It Takes to Move Forward to You Will Eventually Be Forgotten is very similar to the one Mineral made from The Power of Failing to EndSerenading.
Wow, haha, thank you for that. Thatís a very flattering compliment.
You're welcome. Just one more question, because this is something really cool you're doing I haven't touched upon yet. I know youíve talked about the idea behind Ribbon, the book, before, but just to clarify, it's a graphic novel with each song getting its own story?
Yeah, correct. I like to think of the album as eleven short stories, and these are the actual, real lyrics to the songs. Because theyíre so literal, itís much easier to picture them happening, envision them, and Ben is very, very talented. Heís a good friend of mine and he was my first choice, and honestly I didnít even get to a point where I had a backup plan Ė fortunately he did it all perfectly. What I did for each song was I went and found pictures from each time period the song was written about - like, for ďRibbon,Ē thereís a picture of the church Kathy and I got married in - and I sent all those pictures to Ben. Then when I was writing the lyrics, what I did was I called all the people who were involved in each song and I asked them first what their experience was, then Iíd tell them what I remember, then weíd both talk together, because you know people all remember things differently. But it was important for me to get it right. Like when Iím talking about the car, itís my parentsí old car, and itís not like you would know if thatís as much detail as I could get or not, but it was important for me. Iím really proud of how the books came out and Iím really excited for everyone to see them. My standardís always been that lyrics have got to be strong enough to stand on their own, as their own piece of work. One of my favorite things about this graphic novel is that you could read it, and maybe never even know it was meant to go with music. I donít choose melody or anything, I always go with word choice over anything else.