Even though the black metal scene in Quebec gets more of the attention (at least among the kvlt crowd) but for my money Vancouver may currently have the stronger scene, especially if you’re into all things proggy and/or riffy: Anciients, Archspire, Bison, Auroch, and Seer have all put out killer albums the last couple of years, and that’s just to name a few. And now there’s Empress, a new trio featuring guitarist/vocalist Peter Sacco of Seer and drummer Chris Doyle and bassist Brenden Gunn from Craters. I have a feeling that most people’s reactions upon hearing their debut EP Reminiscence will be remarkably similar to mine: jaw hitting the floor when the first blown-out sludge riff on “The Offering” kicks in, followed immediately by a massive smile that won’t fade until the final notes of “Dawn” fade out just under 30 minutes later. If you’re a stoner/sludge fan, then trust me: you need to cop this shit the minute it comes out.
Reminiscence will be available on February 12 from Empress’s Bandcamp page. In the meantime, check out our exclusive stream of “Baptizer” and my interview with Sacco below.
Indy Metal Vault: So just to start with here, the promo notes say that the three of you have known each other for almost ten years, but that you only came together as Empress after being inspired to do a stoner/sludge by catching an Elder gig, and spent just two months putting together Reminiscence. I know that Chris and Brenden play together in Craters, but how does Peter fit into the mix? Have the three of you collaborated on anything musically prior to doing Empress?
Peter Sacco: We have actually known each other well over ten years. I fell into the mix because I started getting into that side of music on my own and have had ideas for something like it for quite a while. Coming together with these guys was all right time/ right place for myself. We have never collaborated on anything previously. But we have always gone to support each other’s bands as much as possible.
IMV: I have to say that the description of the band’s sound in the promo notes might be the most accurate I have ever seen in one of these things: “a hybrid strain of monolithic groove, over-amped sludge and mutant prog.” Given how quickly it seems like the EP came together, how did you arrive at that particular sound? I mean, I can hear traces of Elder’s psychedelic melodicism in a couple of the tracks, particularly “Immer,” but much more bombastic. How much did your sound evolve over the course of the two months you spent writing the EP? Or is the finished product pretty much how you sounded the first time you plugged in together?
PS: We knew what kind of band we wanted to be right off the bat. Which gave these ideas a lot of fluid momentum to come together. So the recording is just how we sound together in a room with no click track. All these songs just came out on the spot because the whole concept of what we where doing was set, I think that was a huge part of why it came together so easily. Our sound has evolved since then as well.
IMV: Another thing I find striking about the EP is how much variety there is from song to song. I’ve already mentioned “Immer,” but opening track “The Offering” is some seriously bombed-out, hella riffy sludge goodness, “Baptizer” almost has a post-metal tinge to it that reminds me a bit of a band like Kylesa, and “They Speak Like Trees” is just…fucking stunning, really, in the way it brings together bits of everything that came before and a few new elements besides. What’s your songwriting process like? Given how loose the band sounds overall on Reminiscence, my guess would be that you jammed a lot of it out in the rehearsal space? Or were they written individually and then brought to the band?
PS: How we like to approach the writing is if it doesn’t speak to us at all, throw it out. Move on. Zero hard feelings on what doesn’t fit. We actually don’t even have a jamspace for ourselves yet. We jammed minimally together till now. Which the upside is we are all genuinely excited to get into a room together to create. So the songs were all put together by all of us. Not too much stuff was done outside the jamspace.
IMV: The song I’m most curious about is “Dawn,” mostly because the quirky little instrumental track makes for an interesting choice as the closer for the EP. Why did you choose to end Reminiscence with that track?
PS: That one had a certain tone to it that is outside the others, much more of a take a minute to breathe type of thing happening with it. We all like instrumental bands. I would like to continue the theme of having a song without vocals so the instruments can do their thing. This song was a test of that idea.
IMV: You recorded the EP at Bully’s Recording Studio. I looked the place up, and it seems like Bully’s and the building it’s in has a cool history in terms of it relationship with the Vancouver music scene. What made you decide to record there? What’s the setup like?
PS: We have known the guys running it for the longest time, had a jamspace for a previous band with them as well. We knew what Mike was capable of. Knew what kind of music he does and is into. He was the guy for the job. Simple as that. I had a really good feeling about the guy, when we started the process we clicked on working very well together. I respect the hell out of the guy. He has done very cool bands in Vancouver as well. He has the chops for our type of genre.
IMV: I love the cover art for the EP, particularly because artist Luke Oram used a combination of colors that you don’t often see on metal album covers. How closely did you work with him on the cover concept?
PS: Brenden and I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road. I LOVE the color pallet for that movie. So we used it. Luke took exactly what we had in our heads and put his work on it. We worked neck and neck with the guy about what we wanted to see, and he was also super easy to work with. Very kind, very quick in responding.
IMV: I always like to ask at least one question about gear, since the topic kind of fascinates me. There seems to be some variety in the tones of all the instruments over the course of the record. What did your studio rigs look like? How close do you think your live setup will be when you play your first gig next month?
PS: For myself, I used a Hiwatt cab from Bully’s and Orange cab. Marshall DSL100 for overtone, Peavey 6505 for my main tone. Pedals: Garagetone delay, Strymon TimeLine, EH Cathedral for effects. Chris used a 4 piece Pearl Vision kit, 22” ride, 21” ride and 18” china, as well as a sub kick on the bass drum. Sabian Jojo Mayer 22 ride, hhx 21 groove ride, 18 Meinl china and 70s Zildjian hi hats. Brenden used a Ltd 4 string bass, ocd, Ampeg svt3 pro, Ampeg 810.8. As well as a Boss Space Echo.
IMV: As of right now, it looks like you’re only releasing the album digitally. Are there any hopes or plans for a physical release in the future?
PS: We will have a run of merch within the next few weeks. Hopefully in time for the show and release. So we will have physicals.
IMV: What’s next for Empress after Reminiscence comes out? Do you have any touring plans at all? Or are you already thinking about a full-length?
PS: We are already at work on a full-length as well as having a full run of shows by the end of year. Nothing we can say, but it is happening. Count on it.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to take the time to answer a few questions. I like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
PS: We would love for people to voice where they would like us to play. We are all ears. We are already at work on a full length and trying to up our performance to include things none of our projects have done. The future is very exciting for this band and we aren’t wasting time just sitting around. It’s go time.