Empyre - The Return Of Live Music - Summer 2021
The May bank holiday weekend has given the residents of Blackpool in the UK much to celebrate. It’s been the hottest day of the year so far, Blackpool Football Club beat Lincoln 2 – 1 resulting in their promotion to the Championship and best of all, Empyre are in town to kick start the return of live music with an acoustic set at The Waterloo Music Bar! In their first live outing in 2021, we catch up with the Henrik Steenholdt (vocals/guitar), Did Coles (guitar), Grant Hockley (bass) and Elliot Bales (drums) backstage ahead of the sold out show - and there is an enormous sense of excitement. This isn’t just about connecting with audiences again. It’s about Empyre showcasing their incredible new album The Other Side, an acoustic representation and companion to their debut record, Self Aware. The venue is packed with rock fans proudly wearing Empyre’s trademark lion art, and this serves as strong and heartwarming evidence of the band’s incredible yet unsurprising growth over the last 18 months. With a palpable air of anticipation building, our conversation begins…
So here we are. Live music is back! How does it feel to be back playing live again?
Grant – That question may be best answered after the gig but I’m pretty excited! It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for months. It’s what we do and it’s why we do it. I’m really, really excited!
Elliot – Yeah, it’s been organised for a while now and we knew it was all coming but we rehearsed, rehearsed and rehearsed and we all know what to do. Then suddenly the day appears and it’s as if I’m going back to my first ever gig because it just seems such a long time ago. The nerves are just excitement.
Henrik - We certainly took the first opportunity we had. I think over the course of the last few lockdowns we managed to do 3 gigs, which in one way sounds rubbish but in another way when so many bands were not doing any sort of gigs, we’re very grateful. We have tried every single nook and cranny to throw in any gig that we could do, whether it was an outdoor one or an indoor one. I wouldn’t say that I feel like we are leading the way but we are just again taking the opportunity to get out and play for the people that we know are as desperate to come and see us as we are to get on stage. They are desperate to see live music and hear live music, so we are just trying to be there at that time.
Did - Absolutely! The thing about The Other Side is that it was actually scheduled. It wasn’t as a consequence of the pandemic – loads of bands were forced into doing other creative things. We were in the studio in September 2019 and the idea originated from a couple of things. We released Self Aware which has been great but myself and Henrik actually met each other with acoustic guitars doing covers and that’s how we also formulated the songwriting to start with – just acoustic guitars and lyrics. The first opportunities for Empyre were on acoustic stages so the first gig we kind of got, Breaking Bands, that was on an acoustic stage before we showcased our electric stuff. The musical side of it is yes, we don’t want to simply pick up acoustic guitars and just rehash the same approach because certain songs take on a whole different emotional depth if you rearrange them and re-interpret them. Part of this was inspired by our mutual love of the MTV unplugged series. Now they were live concerts: Nirvana, Stone Temple pilots… all of those iconic MTV things, we really love them but I think we said was ‘let’s go into the studio and let’s do a full production of the interpretations’. The acoustic side of Empire was planned before the pandemic. No one saw it coming but fortunately for us we were in a position to have steadily released new music over the past 12 months with new music videos. These are reimagined tracks that have in some cases taken on a completely different musical level and interpretation. I mean one track has an orchestra on it!
Grant - I don’t consider it to be a studio album. What we’ve recorded is effectively what we are going to do tonight. So I think it will be fairly close.
Henrik - The fans are showing a commitment in investing in us without necessarily knowing what’s going to turn up so we wanted to return the favour and to give them something they’re not necessarily expecting. If you’re going to invest in us we want to give you something extra. We’re gonna do something a little bit extra this evening for those people have taken the time to come here, some of whom have had journeys of 4 or 5 hours. If you make the effort for us we will do our very best to make the effort for the fans and those who support us, and that’s basically where it came from. And as for the time, we just spent a long time happily signing cards and trying to come up with something to say! Some people we were signing cards to we recognised the names and there’s a lot of people we haven’t got a clue who they are. So all we can do is hope that they continue that support, that they enjoy the album and that they come and see us on the road somewhere down the line.
Well the rest 2021 is already looking really exciting for the band in terms of live performances. You do of course have your own headline shows, but there is one particular tour you’re part of that I think has the potential to be particularly special, and I’m talking about the run of September shows with Hollowstar and Mason Hill, together 3 incredible bands representing the very best in British rock. I actually think that when September comes there will be quite a state of mania. This does have the potential to be THE tour of the year. You must be able to sense that there is something happening here?
Did - There are a lot of dates and they now stretch into October as well, so firstly it’s brilliant that Mason Hill have invited us. It’s a band that we’ve been following and also it’s great that they’ve had national chart success. So that instantly appeals, that we are playing alongside a fellow rock act who is doing really well, and probably have a fan base that might not necessarily have heard our music. The thing about the 3 bands is there is enough contrast. We are quite unique and people struggle to put Empyre into any rock musical corner but that gives us the opportunity to be able to perform alongside so many other different bands within the rock world and elsewhere. Also, so many of those tour dates, we’ve never been to these places but we know we’ve got people who listen to Empyre there. So from my perspective it’s going to be great to play in these new locations, at new venues, alongside 2 bands we haven’t played with before. There’s mutual benefits on all levels. By that time we will be really gig fit and there will be some exciting things happening. You’ve all been experiencing The Other Side and the single releases what we’ve been writing… so there is going to be new material. That’s all I’m going to say!
You are also playing some festivals this year: the Steelhouse Festival in July where they will celebrate their 10th anniversary, Rockin’ The Bowl at Don Valley Bowl in Sheffield in September and WinterStorm in November, as well as others. With so many great bands at all these festivals they all promise to be fantastic events. What are you looking forward to most about these festivals and is there one you are particularly looking forward to playing?
Grant - I’m really looking forward to Steelhouse. One of the main reasons is my dad should be joining us on that one as crew. It’s a festival I’ve had my eye on for awhile. The stage looks great, the size is awesome, my parents live in Wales…
Henrik – There are things like that that are rockstar moments for me. It’s like the first time I saw an Empyre T-shirt, the first time we experienced people crying at our shows – for the right reasons! They are weird things to experience for the first time. Now I just want the whole audience to cry when we’re playing Only Way Out. It’s that thing that shows that we are capturing that emotional intensity, that recognition that it’s here in the room. That’s something you can’t get on a CD, you could only get that a live show.
2021 is now very busy for Empyre. At the risk of sounding greedy, what else can we expect from the band?
Henrik - I don’t think it’s any great secret that we are recording another electric album. On the whole the album is recorded but it’s not mixed, it’s not mastered and we’re not in a situation where we have it in our hands. Whether any of that music will actually be released before the end of the year I can’t say at the moment. I don’t know.
As our conversation draws to a close we reflect on what an incredibly exciting time this is for Empyre - a hungry band leading the charge in the return of live music. Numerous festivals, headline shows and high-profile tour appearances means that fans have across the UK have every opportunity to see Empyre throughout the summer. An Empyre show is truly an exhilarating experience and you need to experience this for yourself.