||JESSE ANDREWS: IN CONVERSATION ABOUT EMPERORS AND ELEPHANTS
Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke
There are some popular bands around right now who all share similar hard rockin' and modern credentials. Take Alter Bridge, Shinedown, Hinder, Nickelback and many other examples in the same ball park who can pack out reasonably sized venues and sell impressive quantities of their albums; yet there are newer bands who are worthy of our attention also adding to the growing list.
Here at MetalTalk at the beginning of this year we stumbled across just such a highlight which went by the name of Emperors And Elephants. Their style, self-confident approach and top quality production all became ingredients that made us pay attention.
On top of that, their debut album 'Devil In The Lake' had some truly awesome tracks on it like 'Your Will', 'Bring It Down' and the first single 'Who You Are'. While we await the official UK release date for the debut album, I was assigned with getting the lowdown on who these U.S. rockers were, and find out a little more about them.
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Lead vocalist Jesse Andrews took some time out to give me some insights in to this very special band. So to start the interrogation I instantly wanted to know wht they called the band Emperors And Elephants?
"The band name comes from the story The Emperor's New Clothes and the saying 'The elephant in the room'. They are both references to the tendency for people who lack the ability or will to address an obvious problem, basically standing up for what's right at their own risk."
Even from across the Atlantic I got the impression that Jesse was a deep thinking and observant guy. Joining him in the line-up are Jason Meudt pounding the skins; Ron 'Stoppable' Vanders plucking bass strings; Randy Cooper and Jeph Stiph on guitars.
Providing some back story to how the line-up came to be, he casually regales me with their story: "Jason and Jeph have been playing together for years and knew of Ron from other bands in the area. Jason found me at a club that had a terrible PA, bad lights, bad beer and a band I wasn't comfortable with. After the show he wined and dined me with free tickets to an Incubus show if I auditoned for his band. I said Hell Yes!!"
I was curious how such a strong debut album like 'Devil In The Lake' was assembled, and what the recording process was like? "We recorded locally with our friend Brad Dausman at his place, Angryman Studios. Most of the songs were written prior to entering the studio although we did add some extra parts during the recording process."
We both acknowledged that the debut album is generally easier because you have many years building up a band and crafting the songs before you finally settle on the various elements that make the album. "True, the classic saying 'you have ten years to write your first album...' We used riffs that went back over ten years, music we put together as a group during the first year being together, and some things were put together during the final weeks of recording. On a couple of the songs we flew in the tracks from the demos."
Digging a little deeper, I wanted to know how a couple of specific songs were put together. Firstly, their track 'Your Will' had received significant airplay in their native Chicago: "The music was one of the older songs that Jason and Jeph had from a previous band. They brought in a track without vocals and let me go to town on it. The lyrics were something I also had previously and they fit the tone of the music perfectly."
Moving on, what about the track 'Change'? "That song started off as demo Jeph brought in. It orginally was very heavy on keyboard parts and had a different arrangement. It sat on the back burner for a while until one rehearsal he brought it up again and played it on acoustic. The clean guitar riff was originally the bass line and When I sang the vocal melody over the top of it, that is when everyone in the room perked up. Ron added a new bass line and everyone added to their parts. The final outcome has the most collaboration of the any of the songs."
The album title conjures up several interesting thoughts and not really expecting Andrews to give the game away, I didn't truly expect him to share. "The theme of the album is redemption and struggle and coming out the other side. We like the imagery of a person entering a lake, the lake becoming deeper the farther they go in and at a point they realize the are surrounded by water and cannot breathe.
"At this point they are tempted by the Devil to have it all go away, but they continue to struggle and finally emerge on the other side. The lake is a representation of a relationship and the devil is a quick fix or an easy way out."
Not being very familiar with 'windy city' and knowing the band come from Chicago, I poked my curiousity about what it was like being a band in that area of the U.S?
"Truthfully, it isn't easy. There is a wide variety of venues to play, but you have to really work to get your name out there."
Finding Jesse's sincere honesty refreshing and open, I wanted to find out a little more about him as a person: "I would say, when I was 13 I had a group of friends in 7th grade that were starting a band. They had everyone but a singer. I wanted desperately to be in it, so I started singing and fell in love with it."
That's how he began, but what was his favourite track from an album that he should rightly be proud of? "Of course I like them all but my personal favourite is 'Hit Of Red' because of the significance it has for me. It is about losing a best friend to something that was completely out of my control."
Whilst reviewing the album, my only real bone of contention came when I found out they had included a cover version of the Chris Isaak song, 'Wicked Game'. Finnish Gothic Rockers H.I.M. had made quite an impact with this rockin' rendition already, so why include a cover of their cover?
"Jason and Jeph are actually huge H.I.M. fans and that was one of the songs we played when they auditioned me. The H.I.M. version is not very well known in our area. It's become a staple of our live show so it felt right to put it on our CD."
On the subject of cover versions, we then discussed their approach to such things when playing live: "'Wicked Game' is the only consistent song in our electric set, although we have been known to throw out 'Man In The Box' from time to time. For acoustic shows we add multiple covers."
With their aims now on promoting their debut collection, playing as many shows as they can seems high on their agenda, Jesse adds "Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. These are the bands I grew up with and it would be a surreal experience," when asked who he would like to support and tour with if the opportunity arose.
Listen out for these guys in the future, because they could well be your next favourite band. A strong debut is awaiting to be discovered on its release here in the UK, and if you're interested in these guys and wish to know more, check out their new official website at http://emperorsandelephants.com.