Before storms forced a temporary evacuation of Grant Park on the second day of Lollapalooza 2012 (ultiamtely postponing the much anticipated set of Chicago's own Empires until the next day), I sat down with guitarists Tom Conrad and Max Steger to chat about returning home to play one of America's most influential rock festivals, Empires' excellent sophomore album Garage Hymns as well as performing Friday night at Lincoln Hall...
Q. Tell me about the Rolling Stone contest first of all. How the hell did you guys pull that off? (Editor's note: Empires made the final four in a contest to win a recording contract from Atlantic Records and grace the cover of the venerable rock rag before being eliminated)
Tom Conrad: Yeah, right? Well, I don't even know where that came from. Rolling Stone came to us. There wasn't like a submission. They came to us and there was definitely a big debate about doing it only because sort of the limelight of the contest. But I think ultimately, the goal was exposure. And we definitely did not think we'd get as far as we did. I definitely look back on it and I think it made us a stronger band. I think it put us in situations that were uncomfortable but at the same time we learned a lot from it and I'm glad we did it. I think it was honestly ideal in the sense that we got a lot out of it and we got out with our heads still attached, so...
Q. I read that when the Rolling Stone thing came along you guys didn't even have a full-length album out, just an EP?
Tom: We were close. We had a full-length and an EP out and we were in the process of writing and recording a record. So, it just kind of intertwined during that whole competition.
Max Steger: It focused us finally.
Tom: Yeah. Instead of putting all our eggs in some stupid basket. We were definitely motivated. We were using every minute we had off. We'd come back to the studio and start writing and recording and we really stayed more focused on that.
It was the most fun we ever had making a record, I will say that.
Q. What about Lollapalooza, how did that come about?
Max: Being from Chicago, we wanted to play the festival since we started the band. This year we got asked... unbelievable. We tried to get on other years and to no avail. This year we got asked, didn't even try.
Q. Have you guys been to Lollapalooza in the past, either of you?
Tom: I was here in 2007 and 2008.
Max: '07, '08, '09. I didn't come in 2010. I came last year.
Q. Who are you looking forward to seeing?
Tom: Well, we saw Sabbath.
Max: Yeah, Black Sabbath was amazing. Little Dragon.
Tom: Chief Keef! Ozzy is definitely out of his mind.
Q. What's it like getting back to your hometown and playing a festival like Lollapalooza in front of all these people?
Tom: It's awesome. I mean... I don't know what else to say. It's f---ing rad!
Q. Well, let's talk about Garage Hymns a bit...
Max: It's definitely the most honest record we've made. I think it's the first time we were just comfortable in our own skin, knew where our strengths were. We didn't try to do anything out of reach and just kind of focused on our strengths. I think this record, we spent a lot of time practicing and working out the songs. We were so well rehearsed that when it came time to track, I don't think we did more than two takes on anything. So it was just very natural. It was the most fun we ever had making a record, I will say that.
Tom: Definitely. And the thing that I love most about the record... I mean, first of all, I think it's one of the first projects that I've ever been a part of where its been done now for a while and I still look back on it and reflect on it and I still feel good about it. And to me, that says a lot. Just for my own personal sanity. Because I feel like a lot of things you get done and then you look back six months later and you're like "Could've done better." But I feel great about the record.
And also, another thing that I really do love about it is there's a lot of nuances. There's a lot of things like since the process was really quick, we did a lot of homework before the record, laying the songs out quite a few times so when we tracked the record it was quick. And there's a lot personality and some real nuances in it that I think add to the character.
Max: Yeah. Especially with that esthetic that we were going for. It captures a moment rather than just something where we went in [to the studio] all surgical like.
Q. How's the touring been going for it?
Tom: Good! We just did like a week and a half with this band Mona [who played on Sunday at Lollapalooza]. It's been great. And we've got more touring coming up in the fall. We're playing Lincoln Hall on the 21st. The rest of the year will just be touring and more writing and recording.
Friday, September, 21, 2012
2424 North Lincoln Avenue
Pomegranates and Suns open
Show starts at 9PM
*** Click HERE to purchase tickets ***