Bandwagon noun (pl. bandwagons) 1. A large wagon used to carry a band of musicians in a parade.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The night I joined The Empire

The Empire at The Bedford

I’m craving music this Tuesday night, so I’ve rolled up to The Bedford in Balham to knock back a couple of G&T’s and get ready for up and coming indie rock band The Empire.  Little do I know that in a couple of hours I’ll be bursting into a back room where two of the lads are about to strip down to their boxers (oops!).

The free show’s being streamed live online and host Tony Moore welcomes the five-piece on stage classing them as “big, brassy, noisy and fabulous”.  My eyes spin to werewolf-esque guitarist Matt Holt - not because of his glinting eyes, but his intriguing familiarity. I make it my mission to find out which TV personality he is by the end of the night.

The boys start off gently, the steady drum beat and soft lead vocal rocking me into dream-filled melancholy with the circling back of line ‘I’ll be there to see it all’. But then the bass arrives - dirty, taunting and heavy. The vocal melody (‘Light the sky up, signal fire’) sung by Glaswegian Dave Gibson surprises me with its dissonant notes. His right-hand wrist swirls round in the air, seemingly coaxing out the anguish buried down within the music.

I’m reminded of the muddier sounds of Snow Patrol as the heavy rock sections interlock with softer guitar and vocal phrases.
Lovely & likeable lead singer Dave Gibson

Aided by his gorgeous Scottish accent, the very likeable front man utters what sounds like a charming collection of words - “Nice to be back making a fucking racket”.  

I lean back in the candlelit carousel room, (known as The Shakespeare Globe Theatre), and lend my ears to tracks ‘Fortune Favors The Brave’ and ‘This Time Next Year’. When Gibson sings, the purity of his voice and raring emotions cut through the unforgiving drums and thick guitars like a rough-cut star punching through the foggy night’s sky.

My head clocks again towards The Empire’s bassist… ‘Is he in fact Breakfast Show host Jamie Theakston?’, I ask myself (soon before slapping my forehead at my own absurdity). But my attention swings back to the music, where the jazzy piano hook in ‘Sirens’ sets a nonchalant mood before the track turns darker.

The boys end their performance with defiant anthem ‘Sticks + Stones’ and I bustle backstage to grab a few words. Unluckily for them, I’ve caught Rob (drummer) and Dave (front man) as they’re about to strip off into some sweat-free gear. ‘You idiot’, I scold myself, as I promise them it’s an interview I’ve come for and not to survey them in their boxers.

You’ve guessed what my first questions for drummer Rob Shaw and singer Dave Gibson is…

Is your guitarist (Matt Holt) secretly a celeb..?
Dave: To be honest, he might be – he’s a man of many talents. What’s happened there is you’ve been dazzled by his beauty. You’re not the first!

Who writes your songs?
Dave: I do, and we all sort of contribute.
Rob: It starts with Dave.

What are your favourite sounds at the moment?
Dave: I love a band called Beach Party. They’re from LA. They’re really, really amazing.

Rob: A friend of mine’s band called Royal Blood. They’re just a two-piece but it sounds like there’s about 50 of them on stage.

How did you guys form?
Dave: I was actually a solo artist before, signed under my own name and then decided to put a band around myself and put the word out that we were looking.
Rob: I messaged him on MySpace, that’s how I found his sounds. I was just blown away so kind of said 'If you ever need anyone..'
Dave: And I did!

So what was your stuff like before? Was it the same but completely stripped?
Dave: Very acoustic, very acoustic.

But still with a rocky twist?
Dave: No, not at all. I was never able to really put that sort of edge into it.

So how did you feel about adding different stuff?
Dave: Loved it. This is always what I wanted to do.

(Rob starts spraying his pits with deodorant)

What did you think when you woke up this morning?
Dave: I actually thought, ‘We’ve got this gig tonight, we better smash it and I should probably eat all the sandwiches before we go and perform’.  
Dave: Like get some sandwiches.

Did you actually have sandwiches?!
Dave: I did eat sandwiches!

What flavour??
Dave: Ham and cheese (with American Mustard)
Rob: Egg and bacon

Ham and cheese with pickle...?
Dave: No, American Mustard! Keeping it real!

(And boy did they need sandwich-driven energy for that powerful performance!)

What’s your worst festival moment, either playing or watching?
Dave: Do you know what, in all honesty, we haven’t had one. We’ve been really happy with the festival things, very lucky. I can’t think of anything bad I’ve seen from any other bands except, well, just a general point - that it’s always really awkward as a singer watching bands on stage at festivals when you know they’ve just had a line check, they’ve not had a proper sound check and you can see that the singer cannot hear a word of what he’s doing. That sucks.

What are you guys drinking tonight?
Rob: All of the beers!

Later that night, it hits me - the bassist is the young and attractive version of George and the Jungle's Brendan Fraser. I can go home and sleep easy...

Photography by Sophie Ellis
Tuesday 6th August
The Bedford

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