Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Empty Flowers: An Interview With Lead Vocalist Christian McKenna

Empty Flowers play the type of indie rock that doesn't get made much these days. It's loud, passionate, and rough around the edges, yet still tuneful and catchy. On their sophomore record "Five", which came out earlier this via The Path Less Traveled and Atomic Action, you can hear a band coming into their own, refining their craft and becoming a cohesive unit.

It may surprise some people to find out that the band contains two ex-members of infamous Connecticut noise mongers, Cable. Randy Larsen holds down the bass and vocals, while Bernie Romanowski handles guitar and vocals, also. They are joined by Christian McKenna, lead vocals and Andre Galiffi drums. All contribute to the writing process.

Even though the members of the band are spread out, up-and-down the East Coast, they have managed to crank out two albums of tunes. There will be a remix album coming early next year on Redscroll Records, that features such collaborators as JK Broadrick (Jesu, Godflesh), Mike Hill (Tombs) and Jeff Caxide (Isis, Palms, ex-Cable) They are currently getting ready for a short run of live dates that will see them play Philadelphia, New York City, and Hartford on November 10.

For the CT date, they will be joined by Rhode Island's volatile Fucking Invincible, which features members of Daughters and Dropdead, as well as our hometown sludge wrecking crew in Stone Titan. We sent McKenna a bunch of questions that covered the band's genesis, their creative process, the birthing pains of making a record, as well as his influences as a vocalist and lyric writer.  

How did the band form? What was your main motivation?
The band has existed for about 2 and a 1/2 years, I guess. We had several false starts, cancellations, member changes and other life bullshit early on though so it still feels kind of new with Dre playing in the band, with this lineup, he's been playing with us since last August. I've known Randy and Bernie for about 10 years. We've worked on some music in other bands and they've been playing together for 20 years off and on. I think our main motivation is just to have fun. We like to write. I like to write and record. We get sick of songs quick and like to move on. I want to have some kind of recording to listen to while I'm driving around, something that I can be proud of.

With all the members scattered along the Eastern seaboard of the United States, how does your songwriting process work? As a follow up, how does it work when it is time to record, and play shows?
We send crude demos back and forth to each other. On the first two records, Randy had "Call a Priest" and "The Water" basically finished. We maybe shaded them, tweaked a thing or two here or there but they were done. Bernie brings songs. Dre has ideas. Different combinations. Not really anything consistent in the way we come up with stuff. We can all write in this band. I think the fact that we are spread out just makes us work harder when we do get our time together. I think it's a great way to work. It stops you from getting sick of the tunes cause you are not playing them to death week in and out. It stays fresh. We record really quick. We know how to play our songs. It's just us playing live. This isn't some cut and paste type thing. I think someday we may try some different things sonically with more layering and experimentation but right now we just try to capture what we sound like playing in the room.  

How do you think the new album "Five" is different from your debut "Six"? How is it similar? Why? Do you think the new album is more urgent sounding?
"Five" was completed in a much quicker time period and just came together a little more organically. The urgency comes from that, from being in the moment and not over thinking. I think we were in a better space making this latest one. "Six" kind of sounds more eclectic to me. It's us trying to figure it out. I think I kind of pushed the band to record a little too early when we did "Six" It has the first song we ever wrote on it. Randy didn't want to record "Six" really but I wanted to document what we were doing at the time and then move on to the next thing. I didn't feel like we could do that till we got through that first batch of compositions. I think Randy saved "Six" by bringing "Call a Priest" in right before we went in to record cause. In retrospect, we were kind of short on material. "Six" was not as easy of a process from start to finish. I don't think we were collectively getting along as well and I was doing dumb shit, eating pills and not really showing up to do my shit. I could have done a better job and there is some things on it that make me cringe. It got heated several times during the two or three days that we knocked it out.  

Where do you draw your inspiration for the lyrics? They are very descriptive. What is your approach?
Inspiration from lyrics comes from different places. Things people say, things people do or don't do. It can start in different ways. A lot of the time, I will hear a song title in conversation and that is the genesis or I'll hear a melody and then try to find words that make sense. Sometimes it's just playing with words and it doesn't mean anything. On the other end of the spectrum I've written stuff and had the meaning change over time, realizing much later what I was digging out of myself. Some of the stuff is very personal and I wouldn't even feel comfortable explaining. Plus, I may ruin it for you if I do so.

You have a remix album coming out soon. Can you tell me a little about it? I heard you got some pretty cool people to do remixes and the vinyl is coming out on Redscroll Records. What made you decide to do this, and why go with Redscroll?
The remix record is just a excuse for us to work with people that we admire… I'm honored by the people that have contributed and I'm super happy with the tripped out little ride that the record takes you on. Randy knows the Redscroll guys. I'm not really sure how we got to work with them but they have been a pleasure to work with and we don't have to like sell our souls or anything. We aren't giving up the ownership of our music.  

Who are your influences as a vocalist and how does that show up in your own vocal style? Or does it?
I would say my favorite singers are people that create their own little world with what they've got. I don't think I sound like any of these people but I'm a huge Mark Kozelek fan and his stuff definitely influenced me with phrasing. I really like the way Roger Waters writes. The different perspectives he can come from. Michael Stipe with the way he plays with words. It's very poetic. Great stuff. I feel like a lot of these guys raised me. when I was laying in bed at night listening with my headphones on. I got a lot from all that stuff for sure. I don't think anyone really influences me in terms of trying to get a sound or tone. I don't have much range and I have to work hard with what I've got. I have to try and make things interesting, finding a way to weave myself into whatever the band is playing.  

What are the future plans for the band? Can we expect more new material soon? Or any more live shows?
We almost have enough material to make another record. I think we are going to record some more music next year and try and get out on the road more. You'll hear new music early in the year.

Manic Productions And Redscroll Records Presents:Empty FlowersFucking InvincibleStone TitanSunday, November 10 2013Arch Street Tavern85 Arch StreetHartford, CT 061038pm - $10 - 21+

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