With their self-titled album now released and a few stops of their national tour under the belt, we catch up with Melbourne rock outfit EMPRA this week in On The Record to find out a little more about the new album. They launched it to a sold out Revolver in Melbourne and just spent the weekend in South Australia with Newcastle, Sydney and Brisbane on the cards this week before heading back home and taking some regional Victorian shows on the tour that will see them on the road through until late August. The album is available now on CD and digitally. Expand this post to check out their answers and listen to tracks from it.
Tell us about the title.
We had a working title of ‘I Won’t Give Up’ which was actually one of the songs on the album. That phrase literally sums up the dramas we’ve been through over the last three years to get this album out. But when we saw the draft of the artwork it looked so freakin’ cool that placing ‘I Won’t Give Up’ on the front cover would have taken so much away from the design. So we decided to have it self-titled instead.
Tell us about the artwork.
Full credit goes to Percival Ho from ph8.3. He came up with the idea of an emperor kinda playing cards more than a year ago after he saw us at one of our shows at the Brunswick Hotel. He was kinda drunk at the time when he was describing his idea to me but it still made perfect sense and I was blown away! Later on we added the theme of the fun looking skeleton kings and tried to incorporate elements that described the journey of EMPRA and the process of overcoming the inner daemons. It’s like the wasted skeleton king represents someone who has succumbed to alcohol and drugs from severe heartbreak and pretty much has given up on life. The head screwed on correctly skeleton king represents someone who has kinda said, fuck this shit I’m gonna sort my mess out and he takes the broken guitar which represents a broken dream and says… I will do my best and carry on even if I die in the process. There’s some other cool stuff in there like the logo of a punk band called The Suns and that’s reference to my last band and the symbol of Wayne Thunder on the crown. This album was dedicated to him so we had to acknowledge that. In that sense the artwork is kinda an autobiographical depiction of the EMPRA story and how it was born out of tragedy and how we’ve managed to soldier on to this point of releasing and tour the album as EMPRA. But we really have to thank Percival for his amazing work. That dude isn’t even a graphic designer. He learnt all that shit from YouTube videos and he worked on a shitty laptop that kept crashing and his letter “Y” key was not working. How amazing is that?
Tell us about the studio and why you chose to record there.
We recorded at Lighthill Studios which is Ricki Rae’s home studio in Sunbury. It’s a beautiful place set at the foot of the hills and you can see kangaroos jumping around through the windows when you’re recording. It’s got this SSL console that came from Sing Sing Studios I think. Apparently bands like Living End and Silverchair recorded on this console. We wanted some of their mojo on our record!
Tell us about the producer / engineer and why you chose to record with them.
We knew Ricki Rae as the guy who produced Electric Mary, one of our favourite Melbourne rock bands. They had a killer sounding record and if we could sound close to Electric Mary, that was good enough for us! Ricki has a reputation of not only being s top notch rock’n’roll producer and also is one of the nicest guys in the business. He is the most professional and coolest producer we have every worked with to date. Speak to any band that he has worked with… everyone only has beautiful things to say about Ricki and all are in awe of his skills.
How long did it take to record?
It took about 4 weeks to track and another 2 weeks to mix. We had to take a break in between cos I feel sick and could not record vocals. It’s like I kept stressing and telling myself not to fall sick, not to get a sore throat. Then shit! The day I’m supposed to start recording vocals, I fall sick. Fortunately Ricki was very cool about it all. We delayed the recording a bit but when I recovered it was all started falling into place.
Tell us a little about the recording process the band used.
First we produced all the songs in my garage on my mac using Logic Studio so by the time we hit the studio we were pretty much confident and certain about what to do. One thing though, we were recording so loud that we blew my Samson monitor speakers. That part sucked! But yeah in the studio Ricki made us record guide tracks and made some tweaks to the tempos of the songs… some songs he said played faster and he made me change some chord voicings and had ideas about vocal harmonies and all that stuff. We jammed the songs live, but only the drums were captured first, then we layered it with bass and guitars and after all the tracks were done, we did vocals… Then Ricki did his thing and to quote Ben Folds, “Some producer with computers fixes all my [our] shitty tracks!”. Then he sent us mixes, we listened to it, made a couple of tweaks, made a couple more… then Ricki mastered it an it was done. It happened so quickly and was so tremendously hassle free unlike some other experiences we’ve had.
Any guests involved? if so, who.. and what did they do?
Yeah. Wally de Backer (Gotye) played keys on a ballad track called Sabrina. He’s a music genius and I know him cos my last band The SUNS and his band The Basics used to do a lot of shows together. He’s like the coolest famous guy you’ll ever meet. He came to the studio and did his Gotye thing and it just lifted the song and made it sound so epic! We also had the boys from Zenith ASP (sadly they’ve since broken up), their manager Wayno (who now plays in Disgruntled Bruntle) and Brad Marr (Massive) since backup screams on a hidden track! You might have to wait a fair bit till you get the hidden track on our CD so make sure you’re not playing the CD around any of your grandparents during Christmas time or you might get into trouble.
Anything particular stuff outside your usual live gear used in the process?
Ricki has this really cool old skool Roland Tape Echo thing that looks HUGE but when you plug your guitar into it. You immediately sound like Andy Summers especially when you start playing riffs from The Police! We used that on ‘Doesn’t Make Much Sense’, ‘One of a Kind’ and ‘Sabrina’. It’s too large to bring on the road though.
Any memorable studio moments?
A funny moment, which is kinda terrible but now we can laugh at, actually happened during our first attempt to record the album at another studio, which because I am a gentleman, I will not name. Anyway the time had come to hear our mix. When I heard it, I was in utter disbelief. To say it sounded shithouse would be an understatement. And the producer at the studio, who I shall not name, looked at me like he had just pulled the best mix in the universe. I thought he was joking. It sounded worse that the actual home demos. So what I did, I took out Greenday’s ‘Dookie’ and put it in his Mac Pro and well… all I wanted to do was to give him a guide as to how EMPRA wanted to sound. I played ‘Welcome to Paradise’ and I did not change any of the volume knobs but Greenday kicked the arse of our mix from Melbourne to overseas in Tasmania! It was fucking unbelievable mate. And then the producer guy went fucking mental on me like Mr T and wanted to pick a fight cos I like disrespected him! What the fuck?! He was fucking going nuts and ranting and becoming aggressive… obviously he had a bit too much to drink as well… What a fucking wanker and a total loser to the max. These days when we think about it we just laugh it off! But at the time, it was like our whole world came crashing down because we could not get hold of our tracks from the studio! Hahah…
Any additional tracks recorded that didn’t make the cut but may see the light of day sometime?
Yeah there were about another 7 or songs that didn’t make the cut but we didn’t have enough money to record all the tracks we wanted to. We only recorded the ones that we shortlisted. For now we’re working on new material but there’s some older material that wasn’t recorded that might make it onto the next album if we can figure out how to make it sound better.
Now that it’s ready for release, what can fans expect of the album?
For starters you have listen to the album LOUD. It’s gonna kick your arse. It’s gonna be in your face. It’s gonna make you sing or scream along. And it’s guaranteed to lift your spirits if you are having a shitty day at work of if your favourite footy team loses. If you did rock’n’roll with a bit of a punk rock edge to it that is totally DIY.
How would you compare the album to previous releases?
It’s our debut album and we don’t have any other previous releases except a two track cd from a shitty studio which sounded terrible. This album kicks the arse of the two track shitty demo.
Any stand out track/s to you personally?
Doesn’t Make Much Sense, Only Love & Sabrina.
Anything else of note you want to say about the album?
You can buy it off iTunes, Bandcamp or if you want to get a signed copy you have to come to one of our shows on tour! For more details please visit www.empraonline.com