Live at the M-Shop
Saint Motel and Empires
SATURDAY, MARCH 10 - 9pm
SAINT MOTEL and EMPIRES
$8 students / $10 public
"reanimated power pop with lean guitar riffs, the long-breathed melodies that A/J Jackson sang in his smiley tenor, and a willingness to veer in noisy directions." – The New York Times
With a sound as blistering as a parking lot on the hottest day of summer and a tireless devotion to the gods of rock and roll, Saint Motel are a melodic powerhouse of a band, with an intriguing blend of mischief and sincerity. Breaking out with “Puzzle Pieces,” a song lead singer A/J Jackson began writing in middle school, and a boundary pushing, explosive live show, Saint Motel are moving full speed ahead with their light hearted melodies and roll around on the floor excitement.
After high school, A/J Jackson decided to study film to discover new ways of creative expression, at the same time knowing full well that music was the closest thing to his heart. At film school, he soon met guitarist A Sharp, and the two friends began discovering structural parallels between movies and songs and began to explore them. A Sharp, who had been classically trained both by pedigree—having a classical guitar mentor in both his father and grandfather—and by education, learning to play flamenco in the caves of Granada, Spain. He wanted to immerse himself in something besides notes and chords and training, and so the two met amid film screenings and lectures about light and sound.
The rest of the band came together easily, if not somewhat by chance. The two film students found bass player Dak, a former buddhist monk, working as the sushi chef at their local sushi bar, where he overheard them discussing their search for a bassist. They found out that he’d been in a rock and roll band back in Thailand, and enlisted immediately. Drummer Greg Erwin gave up a professional career in motorcycle racing, and moved to LA to pursue careers in music and stunt work. Having first learned about music from bagpipe sessions with his grandfather, he ended up meeting the band at one of their first Los Angeles shows.
Saint Motel is one of those bands so dedicated, they’re willing to try everything—and anything–once. Looking to transport listeners to the same sweaty, shaking, dangerous place they found at the punk shows of their adolescence, they do things like practice entirely in darkness and try and maintain eye contact with one another through entire sets. Their shows are filled with thrills for the senses including a video piano that is connected to various live cameras planted on stage and others wirelessly roaming around the venue.
As a songwriter, Jackson pulls from a variety of sources. When it came time to build “Puzzle Pieces” into a Saint Motel tune, Jackson recalled a conversation with a photographer friend, about a model with perfect features but an anything but perfect face. “She had the most beautiful lips and beautiful eyes and her nose was perfect but they didn’t fit together on her face—I just thought that was magic.” Reflecting this everyday magic in sweeping melodies and raucous performance is exactly what the band is all about. “Sometimes our shows are more ruthless than they need to be for the type of music that we play,” Jackson says, “but that’s exactly how we want it.”
“It’s always felt like things just fall in place for us,” says guitarist Tom Conrad. “I think it’s a testament to how we approach things and the fact that we were friends long before we were band mates. We all have different perspectives musically, but there’s a collective mindset that makes it all work.”
Free from creative restraints, able to explore any sound they want, and build an identity that was true to their vision, Empires spent nearly a year crafting their debut record HOWL, which was officially released for free online in May 2008 via their website (weareempires.com). HOWL was entirely written, engineered, produced, and art directed by the band, with youngest member, Max Steger at the helm of the tracking and engineering recording sessions.
By the end of the year, HOWL had earned over 60,000 album downloads and had caught the attention of many including …
“The album is great, all ethereal and doomy like the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or the Black Angels, but with a little bit of My Chemical Romance snarl thrown in for good measure.”
“The debut from Chicago quintet Empires is either refreshing unpredictable or totally all over the place. But you’ve no reason not to give it a listen. The record achieves a strange, roller-coaster cohesiveness”
- Red Eye (Chicago Tribune)
“[HOWL] is a sweeping album that doesn’t really come off as a first effort and spans from sunny-pop songs like ‘Believe’ to the rockin’ howl-along ‘I Want Blood’.”
- AOL Spinner
With a recording and release process approached on their own terms, Empires’ collective kismet and cool confidence translates into a sound that’s bigger than their time together as a band might suggest. The experience-surrounding HOWL also left the band feeling totally liberated and allowed them to focus on finding new fans via untraditional methods. Especially by taking advantage of online communities and offering their music for free. “We’ve got fans from all over the globe now,” says lead singer and songwriter Sean Van Vleet. “It feels like a great way to start a relationship with the listener.”
“We’ve really learned how to work as a band,” says Van Vleet. “When you strip away all the worries about what comes next with the process of releasing music and all the other crap that just gets in the way, you end up really finding your sound.”
While the band works on their follow up to HOWL, they will continue to offer music for free. This collection of songs will culminate with a physical release of an EP entitled BANG, this March.