INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Taking their name from an album track by Los Angeles alternative rock collective Failure, four-piece Empty Friend are an outfit who have truly made a mark on the London underground music scene in the last couple of years with a heavy yet melodic combination of grunge, hard rock, stoner, and metal.
With the band having recently signed up to the MAS Records development programme, as well as having recorded a much-anticipated follow-up to last year’s debut EP ‘Saltwater‘, the quartet’s vocalist Dave Kirk and guitarist Ryan O’Hare chatted to me in-depth about these positive developments, and much more.
How did the band first get together?
DAVE KIRK (vocals): Well, Ryan and Karl have been mates since they were teenagers, and played in a band together a long while back, but Empty Friend really started to form at a Soundgarden reunion show in Hyde Park in London.
Ryan and Karl were there, and I was there with a close friend and bandmate from a previous band, so we all met up and experienced that amazing show together, and it all spiralled from there, really!
While we all come from different musical backgrounds, Soundgarden was, and still is, a special band for all of us. You can hear that in our music to a certain extent, and we still talk about that show.
While we all have different musical backgrounds, Soundgarden was and still is a special band for all of us. You can hear that in our music to a certain extent, and we still talk about that show.
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
RYAN O’HARE (guitar): For me, it’s basically, “That sounds good. Let’s play it again!” Dave and I swap riffs all the time, and regularly spend time working through stuff on an acoustic – so we put a lot of work in to get it sounding right, but at the same time, the four of us can turn up to a band practice with something embryonic, and in a few minutes, we have the bulk of a song structure. What takes the time is carving it into our “style“.
What inspires the band lyrically?
DAVE: I almost always take on lyric writing duties, as I find it quite hard to channel real energy and emotion through someone else’s words. I often to take a positive approach to lyrics, writing about resistance and empowerment, but I also draw on ideas and observations from books, my own life experiences, or what I see around me in the world.
Sometimes, Ryan will pitch in with a title, idea, or key line that he has in his head from the riff writing stage. He really liked the idea of ‘Falter‘ being the keyword for our single, and so I took it off in my own direction from that word.
It’s pretty much the only “political” lyric I’ve written – one reviewer called it a “protest song of sorts“, and I like that, as I see so much anger and injustice in the world at the moment that I had to investigate it through the songwriting process.
Trying to match Ryan‘s enormous riff, the lyrics ended up being this huge vitriolic release of anger and hatred towards dictators and authoritarian regimes around the world who lie, kill, oppress, disappear, and muzzle their people all for the sake of their own ego, power, and greed.
On the subject of ‘Falter’, which was your recent single, how has the response been to it so far?
RYAN: It’s been great! Way more than we could have hoped for.
DAVE: We’ve had some play on Amazing Radio, Hard Rock Hell Radio, and some other cool stations, as well as some great feedback from several reviewers and rock music blogs, which has blown us away, really!
Also, the track was the first to be taken from the band’s upcoming second EP of the same name. How was the recording process for that?
RYAN: It was intense! We recorded and mixed everything in one weekend. At the end, we were doubling guitar parts in single takes, screaming our lungs out on vocal takes, and pretty much crashed out on the floor, but we had a great producer (Tom Hill), and it came together really well.
DAVE: Karl and Davvers really brought their A-game to the drums and bass – you have to be ridiculously tight musically when you are recording, as little things can really come back to haunt you when they are on record, and the studio can be an unforgiving place if you’re not ready, but Tom did a great job of making it as relaxing as possible, though, and he’s a very chilled guy.
How will the EP differ stylistically to your debut release, last year’s ‘Saltwater’?
RYAN: I think it’s a completely different sound from ‘Saltwater‘ – it’s more aggressive and edgy. It’s meant we’ve had to bring new life to some of our older tunes, and spurred us on to write more tunes which push things forward a bit more, and that’s a good thing. We really like it, and we hope others will as well.
DAVE: I totally agree – this new EP is very ambitious, and we have all really been pushing ourselves musically since last year. I think that comes across in the songs, as they have become bigger, bolder, and more direct.
And when are the band thinking of getting it out by?
DAVE: Good question! We’re due to put out one more single in the coming weeks, but you can expect the full EP to be out by Christmas/early New Year. Exciting times!
The band recently signed up to the MAS Records development programme, whose patrons include Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs. How did that come about?
DAVE: Myself and Karl have, on-and-off, been going to Rooz Studios on Old Street for practice for the last ten years. We know Gerry pretty well, and he has kept an eye on us since we played our first show there a few years back, and he recommended that we apply this year, as he knows the people at MAS, and we are so excited to have been picked for this.
The idea that Robert Plant or Ricky Wilson might know, hear, or even like our tracks is the stuff of dreams, as Led Zeppelin, especially, are one of my all-time favourite bands.
And how is it going for you all so far?
RYAN: It’s still early in the process, but we’re happy to be on board. We’re really looking forward to the months ahead, and taking full advantage of the opportunity.
DAVE: It feels great to have some official support behind us, as we have been an underground DIY band building our own following since 2015, and we really hope that MAS will be able to help us reach a wider audience of the UK outside of London.
The band have performed at venues across much of London. How is playing on stage as an experience for all of you?
RYAN: We love it, and we just try to play our hearts out for every show. We’ve been really lucky to have some great support from friends, family, partners, and other bands, who enjoy supporting live music and want to be part of a growing scene, so thanks to everyone who has (and still does!) come to see us!
Live music, especially heavy rock, is in a bit of a funny place at the moment. There’s loads of bands and live music, but many venues are being priced out of London by rent increases, commercial development, etc, so it means we’ve lost some really iconic venues (Big Red, 12 Bar Club, the Alley Cat).
I think most people want to hold on to these great venues, but at the same time, in London, we might think £6 for a night of live music is steep, yet not think twice about forking out £5 for a beer! If we want to keep music alive in the city, then we’ve got to get out there and support it – and that means venues, promoters, and especially bands too. Support each other, and stick around for each others’ sets!
DAVE: There’s nothing quite like the buzz you get from a good live show with a raucous crowd. Your mind goes to some weird place, and you are completely alive in the moment. We come off stage sweating, occasionally bleeding, and completely knackered. I find a ton of bruises the next day. We leave absolutely nothing in the tank.
For me as a frontman, you are performing, sure, but it is actually a really honest experience at the same time, as you have to put across your most secret, and sometimes darkest, thoughts and admissions to complete strangers in the crowd.
In smaller venues, you can see their faces and the whites of their eyes, and a real rock crowd knows fake bullshit and posturing in the first 30 seconds of a song – if you are not 100% ready and genuine, you are done.
For that half-hour or hour I’m on stage, I become my real self, as the rest of the time, I feel caged somehow, and I think the lads feel that way too.
EP aside, what are your plans for the near future?
DAVE: We’ve got a lot on the horizon – we are long overdue some touring, and we are hoping to put that into action next year. We are mad keen to play some local rock festivals now that we are really ready.
We will be playing our first Camden Rocks Presents all-dayer on December 7, with a fantastic bill, and we are hoping that this will lead to us performing at Camden Rocks 2020, as we have been along to festival in the crowd so many times, and to actually play it next year is our biggest target.
We are also starting to make plans for a debut album, and for the past year, we have been part of Civil War London, which is a rock night, and also a collective of grunge, stoner, and metal bands who we know from the city’s scene, and these quarterly shows have helped to pull together some great underground heavy bands.
We would also love to get involved with Desertscene, who cater more specifically for the heavy rock and metal crowds.
And lastly, what is the band’s long-term aim?
DAVE: In the long-term, we really want to write better and better songs, and to establish ourselves as a recognised band in the London and UK heavy rock scenes. We have put in a lot of work over the years, and we are ready to play bigger stages, festivals, and support some touring bands.
We don’t care about cheap manufactured fame – we just want to play more great shows, make our mark, and maybe influence some of the next generation of great young bands on the scene that we have been meeting along the way.
Earlier this year, Ryan and I saw Fu-Manchu at Desertfest, and they are a great example of a band with enduring underground appeal, as they have been going for nearly 35 years now, and they still managed to pack out the Camden Roundhouse.
They’re not really a household name outside of the heavy rock scene, but they probably don’t give a shit!
‘FALTER’ – THE LATEST SINGLE FROM EMPTY FRIEND – IS AVAILABLE NOW VIA MAS RECORDS, AND THE BAND’S NEXT EP – OF THE SAME NAME – WILL BE RELEASED SOON.
FURTHER INFO ON EMPTY FRIEND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: