Empire State Human
Electronic band from Dublin, who to date have done more in the USA than over here in the UK.
Keith Elcombe catches up with them to find out more about this professional outfit from Ireland. (September 2003)

1. So who are you, and where are you from?
Empire State Human (ESH) are Aidan Casserly, Lar Kiernan & Seán Barron. We all live and work in Dublin and are Ireland’s only existing electro-pop band. We formed in 1999 and have been releasing commercial albums in North America since signing with Ninthwave Records www.ninthwaverecords.com in 2002. So far, we’ve released 2 albums (‘Pop Robot’ & ‘Alpha & Omega’), one EP (‘Music For Humans’) and we also have a new single out in September called ‘Liquid Blue’ and an album to follow in November (called ‘Urbanism’) all with Ninthwave Records. Through our hard work, self-promotion via www.empirestatehuman.com, networking and interviews like this, we’ve been in a position remix and collaborate with many of the leading electro-pop bands in the current underground scene world wide, from countries/places such as the England, Ireland, Germany, Isle of Man, USA, Mexico and Australia too.

2. How would you best describe your music, and musical style?
ESH create contemporary song and instrumental based electronic music, with a retro-electro edge. The music is a combination of analogue and digital synthesized sound, mixed with powerful rhythms and overlaid with strong pop vocal melodies.
We’ve built up a loyal following, by releasing a number of CD’s in a very short period (3 last year, with 3 out this year). Thankfully we’ve received a number of excellent reviews along the way, which have helped given us the opportunity to release more new music in 2003.

3. Have we been blind and deaf? How come we’ve never heard of you over here in England before, but they have in the USA?
Well, it all depends were you’re looking and listening ;-)
The underground scene worldwide is very healthy and just because you may not have heard of a particular band doesn’t mean they’re not doing well and achieving goals. Having said that, we’re only signed in North America at present and being based in Europe, we’ve limited opportunities to make waves in the UK. We’re appearing on a new UK electro-pop compilation called ROBOPOP on the Lucky Pierre Label set up by Wayne of the UK electro band Macondo, which will be out later this year. We’re actively seeking a European deal and when that happens, we’re sure to get more exposure. It’s probably a good thing that we’re not that well known over here just yet, as we’re still developing our sound and song writing abilities.
It’s apparent to us that we’re getting there with each release, and in doing so, we’ll eventually appeal to the right kind of label to make our EU commercial debut with.

4. You produced a piece of music for a PS2 commercial – how did that come about?
Well that PS2 commercial was Directed by Brian O’Malley in 2001. Brian O’Malley (Red Rage Films), was a founding member of ESH up until the start of this year. Brian left to focus on his Directing career and was replaced full time in the band by Seán Barron. We basically submitted a piece of music called ‘Chimes’, that was accepted by Sony Ireland and the rest they say is history (our history). It was both a fantastic opportunity and thrill to hear a piece of your music on TV and in the Cinema and it helped give us confidence to feel that we had potential to cross over to a mainstream audience, from the electro-pop underground. We remixed ‘Chimes last year and it featured on our ‘Alpha & Omega’ album in October. An extended version features as one of 7 bonus tracks on the new ESH single ‘Liquid Blue’, released in September with Ninthwave Records. We’ve recently been asked to compose music to a short movie, which is something we’re really interested in as well.
It may work out that we have a flair for these kinds of commissions and in doing so we’ll be able to show our potential to a major label with regard to licensing ESH to a much wider audience.

5. What got you into the alternative scene in the first place?
We formed the band back in 1999 as an electronic trio, purely with the intention of creating electro-pop songs and instrumentals for our own enjoyment, but also with the idea in the back of our heads somewhere, that if we could develop and improve, we may one day attract a label.
It worked out that we signed with a successful and highly regarded independent underground label called Ninthwave Records, based in North America. Working the underground scene wasn’t our choice, but merely what happened. We’re very glad it did happen this way, as we’ve not had any label pressure to sound like the current trend and have only been encouraged to develop, grow and nurture the music in a more natural way. That’s been key to our survival and why we continue today as we work to our strengths and within our natural abilities.

6. Do you think that in today’s ‘EBM-soaked’ alternative music scene and is there room for another Electronic band? Why?
Absolutely yes! Basically, we call it diversity and bands like ESH help bring diversity and choice to people who want more song based electro-pop. We’ve no intention of trying to compete with EBM, but only want to try to make the best electro-pop we can. We’ve probably more in common with Madonna than VNV Nation and also more in common with Richard X than say The Prodigy. That doesn’t mean we’re inferior, better, or any less or more talented than those acts, but it only goes to show and back up the fact that ‘pop’ has become less polarised and more layered and diverse and that there’s a place for all types of band out there, from Gregorian chant to techno!

7. Would you say the UK Electronic scene is ready for you in particular?
The UK electronic scene has always shown an ability to include left of field projects and similar underground bands as Empire State Human in the past, so we don’t see that changing anytime soon. We just need more promotion, via a EU deal and possibly management to help with gigs abroad. The UK charts currently have more electro-pop content making some serious commercial impressions in the last 12 months, with tracks such as Sugarbabes ‘Freak Like Me’ (Gary Human sample), Basement Jaxx (Gary Human sample), Richard X two recent hits (featuring two Human League samples), Kylie and Danni Minogue, all of William Orbit’s productions, Madonna and the recent Electric Six track ‘Danger! High Voltage’. All of these are relevant electro based hits. Even Ministry Of Sound signed the New York Electroclash/art band Fisherspooner to a £1 million sterling recording deal early last year, as well as releasing licensing a compilation called ‘This Is Tech-pop’, which contained a number of underground electro artists. All of this shows us that retro/electro is an assist and not a negative musical equity anymore.

8. What inspires you to produce the music you do?
We tend to compose with strong concepts in mind for each release and with our love of cinema, the arts and electronics, they all help influence compositions too. We also use themes such as Science Fiction, Urbanism, Industries, our basic human interest in Martian’s and Space/Time travel to help inspire our music. We find inspiration from many more sources and to date, haven’t had problems with discovering new ways of writing songs and instrumentals. Luckily, we tend not to only get bogged down in only relationship themed tracks, as that would only be repetitive when releasing a lot of material.

9. Who would you say that you take your musical influences from?
We’re really driven and intrigued by quality pop-music, and musical pioneers such as BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Raymond Scott, Kraftwerk, science fiction, film scores, Elvis, Bowie & The Beatles; which collectively help us visualise our musical goals. Our songs are about such diverse subjects as double agents in Tokyo, escaping to Mars, pop robots, Munich robots or either time/travel, being lost in space or flying down to Rio, to escape the crime underworld, or even discovering your best friend is a serial killer!!.
We can't say that we've any one big influence, but a number of varied ones that as a whole motivate us and influence us on a day-to-day basis. It all begins and ends with the music, it's that basic. The feeling we get when either playing or listening to someone else's music or when writing for ESH is the tread. The electronic music style is always developing; with new gear, new artists, new record labels, new e-zines, Magazine and websites. This is why we're still an electro-pop band and not an acoustic one, as we're connected to this ever growing and changing electro pulse, that's forever moving forward, continually bending and reshaping. It's very exciting.

10. What musical training/background have you all had?
Aidan and Lar went to school together and grew up having an interest in all types of music, which eventually lead them into forming ESH with Brian in 1999. Aidan and Seán worked in a number of other projects, for a couple of years before ESH respectively. Training wise, only for a few vocal lessons that Aidan took, everyone is pretty much self-taught and reply purely on a love of melody, beats and electronics to record. Utilising technology makes up for any lack in musical training and you’d really be surprised how many trained musicians can’t compose a note or even keep in time with a drum machine. So all in all, I think we’re the classic DIY band.

11. What things annoy you the most, both in and out of the music scene?
We can’t say the music scene annoys us per say, as like any other business in the 21st Century, it’s still very much business orientated and that includes all that goes with that territory. There are possible more narrow-minded people in and out of the scene and not enough mavericks. Most independent record labels these days are actually owned by majors now and that’s telling on the music they release. There’s also real stagnation in contemporary mainstream music, which we believe is more common in the rock scene, as opposed to the electro scene we’re involved with. The current chart syndrome is particularly inane. There’s such a strong emphasis on looks and wanting to be a ‘pop idol’ or ‘famous’, with little thought or effort put into content. Major labels don’t develop or nurture artists anymore either, but merely launch them like some new soap product and if they fail to hit the charts, drop them like a brick. We feel sorry for those walking that kind path. We’re very positive people in ourselves, we just do our job the best we can and let other things take care of themselves. We enjoy what we do and are passionate about the music we make and that’s our main drive.

12. How has your style changed (if at all) over the past few years?
When we started out we produced everything ourselves. Since signing with Ninthwave in 2001, we’ve worked and grown with many different producers and artists. We’ve a need to develop, to change our musical skin, until we fit our sound better. That’s a big reason why we set up our own studio in Dublin called Electric Eye early this year, as we were finally at a stage to return and take full production control again. After the next few releases are out of the way, we will return to fully producing the music ourselves. We’re at an ESH mark II stage, having added new band member to replace one who’s gone and with the excitement and growth that comes with that, we feel very positive towards the future and our own potential.

13. Is your material self produced, or do you have a record label distribute your stuff?
That’s two different questions you’ve sort of asked there ;-)
Regarding the production part of the question, please see our above answer to question 12. Regarding the distribution of our CD’s, that’s Ninthwave Records job solely at present. Amazon.com stock all our releases as well as CD Baby and various on-line stores around the world and various retail outlets in North America who stock our Ninthwave catalogue.

14. Your new album is due in November this year – how easy has it been to produce this in the wake of your previous releases?
We’ve a new single out September called 'Liquid Blue'. Produced brilliantly by John Giacobello (ex-Count To Infinity and now Giallo), it's a hard, melodic and hypnotic machine sounding electro-pop song. We feel it's one of our best new songs and one we’re very proud of. It's an 8-track single release, with each track being a different song and not just a re-working of the single itself. November is the release month for the new album ('Urbanism’), even though it's completed now and waiting mastering. Release time schedules dictate everything in this game. We've worked with a number of different producers (John Giacobello, Tycho Brahe, Wave In Head, Synthetik FM, One Lazy Ear studio and No Comment on these next two releases as well as producing a number of tracks ourselves at our new studio called Electric Eye. We re-recorded the whole of 'Urbanism' between July 2002 and March 2003. Having completed a first version of it in early 2002, we felt that it wasn't quite the right sounding electro-pop album we wanted and hoped it would be. We felt as it had some of our best songs written so far, the production sound would have to match it. So we went back to the drawing board and decided on a number of other producers. We've tried new things with this album, like opening it with an extended 8 minute mix of a song, lengthening the tracks over all instead of sticking to our traditional 3 minute 'pop' arrangement. The tempo's are quicker, more club orientated. We added an unexpected quick 'closing' instrumental piece to the albums only slow song ('Spinster's Kiss'), which helped give it some more depth. There's even a funk feel on the track 'Digital City', which when playing live we add Madonna's 'Music' to, with great sonic effect. We've even taken melody lines from an existing song on the album and re-working them into a new and different track (check out the song 'Reprise' which contains vocal samples from 'Dreams In The Mirror'). We've cut back the track number on our albums to 10 songs in total. We'll work this way again in the future, recording a larger number of tracks and then picking the best 10 for an album.

15. What promotional activity will be going on around the release of the album – any gigs?
We try and make ourselves as interview friendly as possible and time remix work, compilation appearances to coincide with our releases to help maximise our promotional opportunities. Many of our songs feature on play lists around the world and Ninthwave are very good with regard to sending out promotional copies for review. We play live as much as possible and hope to maybe confirm a gig in London, maybe early next year. We played New York last October and play as much as possible at home here in Dublin. There’s no gigs planned at present, hence we’re offering interviews to various sites we like and concentrating on more recording and remixing for other artists. We’ve found that there’s always an opportunity just around the corner, so we encourage people to keep an eye at our news at: http://www.empirestatehuman.com/news.htm. There’s a live ESH album called ‘Live On Mars’, which comes free with the first pressing of the new album ‘Urbanism’ only.

Any potential promoters out there can check us out live at: http://www.empirestatehuman.com/video.htm

16. Finally, where do you see yourselves in five years time?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, but ‘musically’ we hope to be still releasing albums, with a ‘hit’ or two under our belts and possible writing, producing and remixing for other bands and artists too.
Work at our studio Electric Eye is showing a lot of promise, so we’ve a number of objectives and goals that we intend achieving and with our continued hard work, we hope to establish ourselves by then. Health and happiness are always first on our list though ;-)

Thank you for this promotional opportunity and keep an ear out for news on the new ESH single ‘Liquid Blue’ and album ‘Urbanism’ via: http://www.ninthwaverecords.com/eshurbanism.html