Empty Friend: Thought Provoking Hard Rock From The UK
Empty Friend: Thought Provoking Hard Rock From The UK
Empty Friend from the UK present their own dynamic brand of thought provoking hard rock. Fans of Soundgarden and Incubus are sure to be intrgued by the songs found within Empty Friend’s recently issued Falter EP. Expect to rock and rage when encountering what Empty Friend has to offer the world at large. Highwire Daze recently caught up with vocalist Dave Kirk to find out a whole lot more about Empty Friend, their exhilarating songs, their upcoming show at Camden Rocks Presents, and a whole lot more! Read on…
Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Empty Friend, and how long the band has been together.
My name is Dave from Empty Friend, and I’m frontman and lead singer for the band. My main jobs are to write the lyrics for our music, and to lead the charge on stage when it’s show time. We’ve been together as a band for nearly five years now, and we are really starting to get things moving, having put lots of work into our music and on the local underground scene in recent years. We really ‘go at it‘ on stage, and we try to leave nothing in the tank at the end.
Where is the band based out of and what is the local music scene like there?
We’ve based in London, England, and the local music scene is holding up ok at the moment. We’re still seeing lots of important grass-roots venues closing down, which is no good at all, but the government has FINALLY reduced taxes on venues which might help some survive. Venues have had a lot of problems with noise restrictions and high taxes in recent years as property development has boomed, so hopefully things will improve now. In terms of music, there are lots of good bands around, but there seems a huge gulf, not in quality, but in exposure, between the important underground rock bands on the scene and the bigger touring bands. It can be very hard to get noticed, but there are some new movements springing up – we’re part of one called ‘Civil War London‘ which is a collective of heavy bands who put on their own shows and is building its own scene just for fans of grunge, stoner and heavy music, with all proceeds going back to the bands. No one hands you a record deal or even a ‘break’ anymore, so you have to make your own, and we like that just fine.
Is there any overall story or concept behind the Falter title?
‘Falter‘ is the lead track from our EP, and the story is quite interesting. Ryan (lead guitar) brought this giant riff to a songwriting session we had together, and he had this idea pre-formed in his mind that the key lyric would be the word or idea ‘Falter‘. Since I usually develop the lyrical ideas all myself, it was nice to be given a starting point. I often write quite introspective or thought-provoking lyrics, but to match this monster guitar part I dug really deep into myself and wrote this completely different type of lyric sheet, feeding off so much of the political chaos the UK has been in recently, but also elsewhere around the world. It tells the tale of how populist ‘strong men’ have been rising to power with cheap lies and divisive propaganda, and then completely abusing their position for their own gain. I usually avoid anything political in music, but in this song I decided I had to confront it. It’s a call to arms to stand up to oppression and to resist (a reviewer recently called it ‘a protest song of sorts’). There are so many countries under dicatorships right now, just take a look at the world map, and I can only see this all turning ugly before long when people crack and say ‘no more’. They already are in some places. That’s what Falter is about – ‘Well the day’s gonna come, when you Falter and run, all the people as one, baying for blood‘. It’s heavy, but it’s true. It walks the line but is not inciting violence or anything, just recognising that they will be an inevitable backlash if things carry on. We’ve had a few people tell us this song has a lot of Black Sabbath and early Soundgarden in its DNA, and that’s awesome, as we count them amongst our biggest influences.
As the lead track and the first single, we felt that the EP should take its name, as many of our songs are about resistance one way or another. For me, if rock music is to stay relevant it has to be brutally honest, and it has to say something . Each of us in Empty Friend has been around in various bands on the scene for a long while, and we simply don’t have time to waste making bland music that has no message. No heart. Mostly you can just turn on mainstream radio if you want to hear that. There was a time where I might have compromised and dialled back the intensity of the lyrics a bit, but not now. We have embraced who were are as an underground band, and if all we have is our integrity and our hardcore fans, we’re sure as shit gonna keep all of that at the centre of what we do.
Select two songs from Falter and what inspired the lyrics.
Neon – ‘Neon‘ is about a psychedelic experience – partly amazing, and partly terrifying. It’s got a melodic, chilled out verse, then the pre-chorus ‘of waiting‘ in the time before anything happens, when you think it’s all ok, and then BOOM. The main lyric is ‘suddenly it’s kicking in, now I’m looking at the Neon lights‘ and that’s where it all takes off and goes crazy. There’s also a bit of a reflective middle section ‘moonlight shivers on the water, black dog shadows in the corner, red eyes stumble in the gutter, faces melting in the mirror’. It’s deliberately a psychotic song of two competing halves. Some say it’s autobiographical, but I can neither confirm nor deny that… This song was the second single we released from the EP.
No Light – I come from a slightly less heavy place in rock than Ryan and Karl, and I would say I fit slightly more in the classic rock school. This hectic riff also demanded an intense vocal, so I wrote this from the point of view of someone trapped in an interrogation chamber, like Guantanamo or something, after a weird terror dream I had about it. People have really reacted well to this tune live, and they have liked the dark lyrics. It wasn’t chosen for a single, but it’s a big tune with a big chorus. I’m not gonna get into whether interrogation is wrong or justifiable etc., but the idea of it is terrifying. One of Britain’s greatest ‘modern’ authors was George Orwell (author of 1984, Animal Farm etc) and my lyrics are quite heavily influenced by his concepts. His stuff is terrifyingly relevant – I like those t-shirts that say ‘Make Orwell Fiction Again‘ – as most of what he predicted has come true today.
Who produced Falter and what was it like working with them?
We recorded the 6 tracks in a busy weekend last year at Bookhouse Studios in South London, working with a great producer we kind of new through the hardcore scene, a guy called Tom Hill. He plays in several hardcore bands and also is a very talented producer, who understood what we were trying to do. He had a very calm manner and kept us all pretty relaxed which really helped us to bring the best out of us. He had some great ideas in the studio, and was really good company too.While the studio has amazing gear (an original Neve console, vintage amps etc) he was more concerned with getting ‘our sound’ down than playing with lots of effects, and we think he nailed it. I told someone recently that if I died tomorrow and this EP was the last thing we had recorded as a band, I would die happy. I think that says it all.
What could one expect from a live Empty Friend show?
When we were starting out we had some slower or mid-paced tracks, but these days our setlist is pretty relentless. We are a band built upon big riffs, full on ‘sung’ vocals and a furious rhythm section. Personally speaking, I love the small and medium venues we play around London, where you can see the whites of their eyes in the crowd and interact with individual listeners. We play rock venues where if you are not honest about who you are, or bring fake attitude or cheap novelty, they will expose you. They can tell a fake in about 30 seconds and will go back to the bar. As a frontman you’ve got no choice but to be 100% who you are with no BS, and to give everything to the crowd. They demand it. I like to be right at the very front of the stage, leaning into the crowd, and I like to invade the ‘audience’ space by getting into the crowd too. People don’t just come to a show to hear songs – they can do that at home – they come to be entertained and to see a performance. I did quite a bit of theatre when I was younger and I think I understand the importance of that to show. We usually come off stage pouring sweat, hoarse, and exhausted, but feeling completely alive. As an underground band every show is a challenge, to be heard, and to win over new fans. The 30 minutes on stage goes by like it was 30 seconds. It’s my single favourite part of being a musician.
What are you looking forward to the most about your upcoming ‘Camden Rocks Presents’ show on March 21st?
These guys also run the Camden Rocks Festival, which is the most important rock festival in London each summer, taking over almost the whole of Camden (which is really the home of alternative culture in London). We played a killer show for them in December at the Monarch in Camden (which just shut down, referencing your earlier question), and did everthing we could to let them know that we are ready to play the festival. At the height of our set I got the whole crowd to tell them, so hopefully they heard! The good news was that they put us higher up the bill this time, at a bigger mid-size venue called the Camden Assembly (the old Barfly), which is pretty legendary in Camden. We’re really going to bring it again for this show, and then hopefully we’ll have proved ourselves enough to play the Festival. We’ve been in the crowd at this festival so many times, it will be a dream come true to get up there and play it.
If Empty Friend could open for any band either now or from the past, who would it be and why?
That is a TOUGH question. I think as a band we would say Soundgarden (the idea for this band was decided at a Soundgarden ‘Superunknown’ reunion show in London), or maybe Black Sabbath, Led Zepellin, or maybe Failure (our band name is taken from an album track by Failure). Soundgarden are maybe the central band that all of us love though. Chris Cornell was maybe my ultimate hero as a singer, and his death really cut my heart out. His lyrics, increadible range, and quality of delivery were breathtaking and totally unique. He did an acoustic album called songbook that is ridiculously good. Listen to the high note in ‘Call Me A Dog‘ and name me one better all-round male singer in the history of popular music. He’s right up there with Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury, Elvis etc.
Has Empty Friend ever played here in the States or plan to do so in future days?
We haven’t yet, but we would absolutely love to one day. We’ve mostly been building our following in London and around the South of England (Bristol, Brighton, Chatham etc) but in many ways our music would be most ‘at home’ over in the USA, and we know you are really into your heavy music. We had one of our first US fans contact us recently through Bandcamp from Kentucky, and he said we ‘had our own unique sound’ which was a great compliment. We hope that the word about us will get around, and maybe we could start by teaming up on a show with a visiting American band in London before long. I got listening to a band a couple of years ago called King Buffalo, from Rochester NY, and they are amazing. Funnily enough I was on holiday in Toronto last year and they just happened to be playing, and they were even better live than on their records. I’ve also been in touch with a band called Sundrifter from the States, Boston I think, who have riffs galore and I’m hoping to catch live someday too.
Empty Friend is invited to play one song at a Royal Command Performance for the Queen Of England! What song would you play for Her Majesty and guests and why?
From our songs I would definitely play the lead track ‘Falter‘. I’m no ‘die-hard’ fan of the monarchy but I do appreciate the special role they play in British culture – the Queen in particular. She’s tireless, dedicated, and has spent most of her life serving this country, including in WW2. She & the other royals had the option of being evacuated out of London (which was constantly being bombed, don’t forget) to go over to Canada. They all stayed in London with the people. Having said that, ‘Falter‘ would still serve as a warning to any visiting VIPs or politicans from other countries! Freedom of speech is still recognised here and playing this song to the Queen would prove it. She might even like the lyrics.
Are any of the members involved in bands or projects outside of Empty Friend?
We are all active musicians with varied tastes. Ryan and I work on some acoustic material on the side, I added vocals to a couple of tracks at the request of a producer late last year for a recording-only project, Karl recently turned professional as a drummer and plays in a couple of other bands of different styles, and Davvers (bass) writes some pretty hectic EDM music on the side too, so yeah we all have our fingers in a few pies. It’s important that this band remains the ‘home band’ and focus of our main energy, but having different musical experiences does help us to write better songs.
What’s up next for Empty Friend?
We’re hard at work on new material at present, and their is talk of a long-awaited debut album in the air for 2020-21, so that it very exciting. We’re hoping to get out on a UK tour, to open for some bigger bands, and to play some festivals here in the UK and Europe, so lots happening!
Any final words of wisdom?
Music is a deeply personal thing and different for everybody, but I’ll try. For any new musicians out there, I would say start a band and don’t hesitate if you are thinking about doing it. Life is too short to waste time. It’s an incredible adventure being a musician – ups, downs, trials and tribulations – but I wouldn’t swap it. Dedicate yourself to being the best musician you can be, whatever your instrument, and keep pushing yourself to be better. If you’re patient, in time it’s amazing what you’ll be able to. Prepare, always do the work, and then when you turn around to face the crowd for your first song at your first live show – you’ll be ready to attack it with everything you have. Things will go wrong, but learn from it, and don’t panic!
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
You’re welcome Ken! Hope all’s well in California and thanks so much for your support.
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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