Of Empires – Interview 2018

Sunday night saw Brighton’s Of Empires return for a very special homecoming performance at The Prince Albert where they showcased their brand-new double A-side single ‘Waist Up in Gold/Gunslingers’. The gig was a delight, exhibiting just how fantastic a live band the four-piece are with their reverb-drenched desert-rock sounding fresh and exciting in the tiny venue. You can read our full review here.

The band seem to have a new lease of life and, after a few years of playing excellent shows up and down the country, look set to explode into the broader sphere. I sat down with vocalist Jack Fletcher and lead guitarist Matthew Berry to talk about the hardships of being an unsigned band, their new music and streaming music.

Hello, Of Empires. How are you doing?
Matthew Berry: Yeah, pretty fresh.

Jack Fletcher: Yeah, pretty good considering last night was a bit messy.

Yeah, how was London last night?
Jack Fletcher: Yeah, it was good. Well, I say it was good but the soundcheck didn’t go as planned because there was no sound man.

Matthew Berry: He wasn’t booked basically.

Jack Fletcher: Yeah, so the sound man who was meant to be doing our sound was in America and it was just a massive ball ache! And they had to sort another sound man at the last minute and get him across London. One of the guys in ARCADES (the support band) is actually studying sound production at uni so we just started setting everything up, but we didn’t quite know what we were doing. It was probably the most stressful start to a gig we’ve ever had. We’ve never played a gig with no sound man.

What do you want people to take away from an Of Empires gig?
Matthew Berry: I dunno, some thrills [laughs]. A sense of something they might not have seen before, in the UK or from a UK band. There’s a lot of UK bands that I really like, a lot of upstarts, but I don’t really feel anyone’s doing quite what we’re doing. Which is taking an American theme, I guess, it’s almost blues-based, but kind of Western, psych, garage-y. People keep saying that it’s got a bit of a desert sound to it, which I like because it’s something I wanted to aim for.

Jack Fletcher: We never really aimed for it, but it was always our influence. The Doors are our favourite band, for all of us, and you can hear that a little bit in the old material.

Matthew Berry: I think we got a little bit lazier with the songwriting, and it’s actually become more productive and intuitive.

Jack Fletcher: It is just the vibe, isn’t it? Getting in the room and waiting for the muse to sit on your shoulder and I think that’s just how that’s come out. So that’s why I guess it’s sounding more like that because that’s how The Doors wrote a lot of their stuff by just getting in a room and vibing off the energy that’s created in there.

So this show’s in aid of a double A-side release single release ‘Waist Up in Gold / Gunslingers’, which comes out next Friday on streaming sites. What can we expect from that?
Jack Fletcher: With ‘Waist Up in Gold’ it’s got a bit of a Middle Eastern, kind of psychedelic riff to it. I know that sounds a bit bizarre, but a lot of people that have heard it have said that it’s got a really Eastern sound to it and actually a few people, whose heritage is from that part of the world, have said that it’s reminded them of their grandparents playing that sort of music. So that’s been really interesting.

Do you know where that came from, or was it just something you were feeling?
Matthew Berry: We took a step back with what we were doing before and, it sounds a bit cliche but, we started to open our eyes up a little bit more. We started to hang about together, becoming closer friends outside of the music, and we started to learn a bit more about each other. What we truly are, as people not just as music fans, and I think that’s helped probably the most in getting to where we are with these tracks.

Jack Fletcher: Definitely, we just became better friends because Matt and I lived in a flat together and we’d just spend weekends just getting fucked up and writing music, just having a few beers and having some good times and staying in on a Friday and Saturday night with some guitars. We never really sort of did that before. That’s how the ‘Waist Up in Gold’ track came out, with that riff I guess, he just started playing it and we were like: “That is buzzing!”

Matthew Berry: The way I got the sound was just messing around with delays and reverb and finally feeling my way into something that sounded like a melody and it probably just came out of nowhere and stuck, so I just kept repeating the riff – and obviously when you keep doing that your mind just sticks, doesn’t it? I’m not trying to say this is rocket science because it’s really not.

Jack Fletcher: If anything, I think we’ve tried to be less complicated and not think about it. And when that riff came out, for me as a vocalist, I didn’t really need to do much to it for the song. I didn’t really need to come out with any hooks as such because that is the hook. We just vibe off each other. We use a lot of reverb on the guitar, and the vocals, but with ‘Waist Up in Gold’ I do just try and follow the melody and I think that’s true on the latest tracks that we’re writing, which is why I think we’ve become a more cohesive band.

So is it just you two collaboratively?
Matthew Berry: No, we probably expand a little bit with George (Le Page) on drums and Liam (Bewey) on bass. Before we pigeonholed the sound we wanted too much, and since then, we’ve said, “Let’s just stop trying too hard and let’s remember all that we’ve actually got in common” when it comes to our love of 60s music. It’s just sort of freeing ourselves up a bit and that’s enabled those two to really develop their playing styles.

Jack Fletcher: I think we’ve all developed together, because we’ve been together for so long I’ve seen all the guys become better musicians. Also, it’s not just better musicians but I feel like we’re better as a band because we’ve been playing so long together. We know each other, almost subconsciously. We can get in a room and we know how to bring out the best in each other. If Matt comes up with a riff now and it sounds great, the rhythm section will do their thing now and put something sick under it.

Matthew Berry: And because our sound is quite simple, quite stripped-back – it’s just three instruments at the end of the day – there’s no bullshit with it. No other guitars, or synths, we’ve even cut back on backing vocal a bit.

Jack Fletcher: A lot of bands nowadays, they’re five-pieces, they’ve got synths… I mean, we love that music but it’s not us, we’re a bit opposite to that. But the lyrics mean a lot to us and we want it to have meaning and, I guess because we’ve been doing it so long now, we know how to vibe off each other.

So the last time I saw you was supporting Anteros at Komedia. How important are those support slots?
Jack Fletcher: So important. They’re a great band that are up and coming, with a fantastic frontwoman, and I think it’s so important that we get more of those bands now and they’re doing great at the moment. It was really important for us to support them because they had a massive crowd that night and so a lot of their fans watched us and we got some fans from that night, just chatting to people afterwards.

Is it difficult to keep up the momentum, not playing as many gigs as you would like?
Jack Fletcher: Yeah, it’s difficult. I think this is probably the busiest start that we’ve had to the year ever.

Matthew Berry: Especially in terms of offers to do things.

Jack Fletcher: Last year was good, we did a few of the main festivals like Reading Festival and Isle of Wight and stuff. We got booked for Y NOT Festival, which we drove all the way up for six hours and then it was cancelled! So it was nice to have those last year, but I think last year we were still trying to develop our sound. We did a few gigs last year, trying to figure that out, but this year we want to play everywhere. We just got quite a few more gig offers this week coming in.

Do you have to keep those under wraps?
Jack Fletcher: No, we’re playing Paris in May, playing London in April for an all-dayer fest – Modern Age are putting that on – we just got booked for Nambucca Palooza which is a two day thing which Himalayas are playing at. That’s in July. Portsmouth next week, Buckinghamshire we’ve just been offered one. Everywhere! We’re just looking to go everywhere. We want to play more up north, we’re playing Manchester tomorrow, we want to start doing those gigs, like Leeds, because we’ve always stayed down the south and that’s literally just because being a southern band is difficult to get promoters to notice you up north. You chat to northern bands and they want to play down here, and one of the bands we’re playing with tonight, ARCADES, they’re from Leicester and they’re like, “Yeah, we just can’t get gigs down in Brighton” so that’s the whole point of us getting them down here, so we’ll go and play in Leicester.

Is there a community between bands?
Jack Fletcher: Yeah, I think so. I think bands are really starting to bond together on that, because it’s more and more difficult than ever to be in a band. It’s so difficult, just because the way the music industry is at the moment. Rock’n’roll is not necessarily in vogue at the moment. Venues are closing. People aren’t going to shows as much. Streaming, not making money. It’s so expensive to be in a band. Petrol, vans…

Matthew Berry: Spending £4 at a service station on some water.

Jack Fletcher: Yeah, we’re certainly learning how to cut our costs. It’s really, really difficult, and the most difficult thing is you’ve got to pay for your recording, getting to these shows, it’s difficult. This is why publishing deals help to bankroll it a little bit.

So you said that Lout are putting this gig on. They’re famous for taking those smaller bands in Brighton and giving them headline slots. How important is that?
Jack Fletcher: So important. They’ve given us this opportunity to play The Prince Albert, we’re really thankful for it. Lout have always done that for local bands and a lot of those bands have gone on to do big things. Look at Tigercub recently headlining Concorde 2.

Matthew Berry: It just shows you the influence that Lout have and what they’re willing to do.

Jack Fletcher: And it’s putting you on supporting bigger bands. That opportunity is amazing. Patrick and the team are really, really hard working and they do things really well, especially when you go to other places in the UK and you work with different promoters. Lout is probably one of the best out there.

What do you make of the Brighton scene at the moment?
Jack Fletcher: It’s really good, yeah. White Room are definitely my favourite Brighton band at the moment. I think they’re going to be massive. They’re already massive in my eyes. I mean, they played a show recently at The Hope and Ruin and just seeing those guys from when they first started out to that was special.

You’ve done some massive things so far, such as play Reading Festival and win MTV Brand New Unsigned. What’s the biggest thing that’s happened to the band, what’s the pinnacle?
Jack Fletcher: Tonight. [laughs]

Matthew Berry: It’s difficult, because we’re always striving for the next thing and that can be a bit heartbreaking sometimes because you forget to live in the moment and appreciate what you’re doing right now. Tonight is a big show, because we’re headlining a show to showcase our music.

Jack Fletcher: The music that we’re playing at the moment is the highlight of our careers so far, because we love and believe in these tunes. It’s not that we haven’t had belief before because we always have had belief in what we’re doing, but we’re always evolving and we’ve got to a point now where the evolution process is almost complete. But if I had to pick any sort of highlights, I guess supporting Adam Ant at Concorde 2 was a massive gig, just to play that venue.

Matthew Berry: Isle of Wight was a pretty good gig, I enjoyed that.

Was that the This Feeling tent?
Jack Fletcher: Yeah, it was. The Jack Daniels tent. That was a great experience and it was just a really good festival.

Free Jack Daniels as well?
Jack Fletcher: Lots of free Jack Daniels as well, yep. And This Feeling has helped us a lot and continue to do so. They put us on shows and if it wasn’t for guys like Lout and This Feeling, new bands would have to be doing it themselves and it’s fucking difficult doing it yourself.

You’ve been getting airtime on BBC Introducing in Guernsey. You’ve got affiliations with Brighton and there. Is that important to get a wider appeal?
Jack Fletcher: Yeah definitely, BBC Introducing South, which is the one down here, and the one in Guernsey have always played our music and we really appreciate BBC Introducing South and BBC Introducing Guernsey just playing our stuff. It has got us on Radio 1 on the BBC Introducing show’s late at night as well. Just to get on Radio 1 is pretty buzzing.

Matthew Berry: I think we want a bit more now. As much as the BBC has been great, it’s a great showcase, I would love to appear on more stations. Especially this year with the new music I think that would be a big bonus to get more airplay.

What do you think about streaming?
Jack Fletcher: I think streaming is absolutely fine, but it would be better if the bands got paid. The bands do not get paid and all the money goes to Silicon Valley. Fuck that. The platform is fantastic, but give us some fucking money because we’re pouring our heart and souls on this and there’s some geezer meditating in Silicon Valley on 50k a day off a collective of bands that are working so hard.

Finally, what are you listening to at the moment?
Jack Fletcher: I’m listening to L.A. Witch, I’m always listening to The Doors.

Matthew Berry: Yeah, lots of the Allah-Las.

Liam McMillen

Website: ofempires.co.uk
Facebook: facebook.com/ofempires
Twitter: twitter.com/ofempiresmusic