Empire Down just released a sick new EP - "Gallows Of The Winter" - on Primator Crew, so I thought it was a good time to drop front man Jon a few questions. Coincidence or not, the last time I interviewed Jon was exactly five years ago (February, 2016) about (his now previous band) Doomhammer - so feel free to dig into our archives after reading this one! Enjoy!
Hi Jon, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. For those unfamiliar with Empire Down, please introduce yourself, the rest of the band and the past experience you guys had in other bands.
Hey Mano, thanks for having me. I'm Jon, I sing for Empire Down, I've been in a bunch of bands, probably the most notable was Doomhammer, which I sang for. Buc Page plays guitar, hes been in a bunch of Minneapolis hardcore bands...Relentless and Own Up. Chris Gullickson plays bass and he was in The Virgin Whores. Pete Ayres plays guitar and he was in Holding On and a ton of other Minneapolis bands. And, Bill Kurth plays drums and was in End This Day, Relentless, and a bunch of other bands from the Twin Cities/Milwaukee area.
How did Empire Down get together? From what I understand you don’t exactly live around the corner of the other four members, is that correct? Was this always the case and how does this effect practicing, recording, playing live etc…?
Yeah, I'm about 4 1/2 hours away from the rest of Empire Down. It does make it a challenge at times. I've known Bill, our drummer, since our teenage years. Our first 2 bands when we were 13 and 14 were played in together. Over the years we have always stayed in touch and shared the same passion for similar styles of music. He ended up moving to Minneapolis in the 2000's and we still kept in contact. Sometime about 4 or 5 years ago we wanted to start a melodic Oi band. We kinda searched around trying to find different folks that would wanna play with us. Bill ended up finding Buc, Pete, and Chris from the Twin Cities and it was concrete. They all shared the same vision and style that we had in mind and it turned out great, I just happened to be the odd man out with being close by. We make it work though. They do alot of practicing without me, record the songs and send em my way to start the vocal process. This last recording was actually done at 2 studios for the vocals, one in Wisconsin and one in Minneapolis. Its actually been the easiest band I have ever been in, regarding making things work. I love Minneapolis, so I dont mind making the trip up there 5 or 6 times a year to make this band happen. And as far as playing live, we always just make it happen. Everyone schedule is pretty jam packed, but we pull it off. We are beyond happy with the shows that we have been part of and cant wait until this country starts taking this pandemic seriously, so we can open back up again and start doing the things we love again.
It certainly does not affect the band’s ability to write some massive tunes, proven by your latest release – the “Gallows Of Winter” EP. You must be satisfied with how the whole package turned out (music, art)? How did you feel when you opened up your box of records and pulled the first record out of the package?
Every time I open up a new record that I've been a part of I get excited like a little kid. I personally think it turned out incredible. Primator was extremely amazing to work with. The art is phenomenal. Ramon from The Upset did the art and blew our minds. I cant say enough about how happy we are with the outcome and the response from people picking up the new 7". Super proud of what we are currently doing and the direction we are heading.
The four songs are undoubtedly your best work to date if you ask me, what do you reckon? Could you also give a brief summary of what the songs are about?
Thanks Mano! I agree. I think it was definitely all hands on deck, and we had a vision of what we wanted to say. Most of the songs are pretty politically minded. It took awhile to get them finished. We actually had them done, but we weren't content with the vocals, so I went back in a rewrote some of the lyrics to make them more powerful.
- Flames At Daybreak: This song is about our countries current state. Having riots and protests break out in our areas over the last few years really affected us all. Minneapolis was on fire for a week straight, Kenosha was ablaze and had right wing militia gunning down protesters. This song is a song of hope that things can still change for the better in this country. Flames At Daybreak is my reference to driving to work the day after the Kenosha protests happened and seeing the smoke in the air and driving through Kenosha the day after and seeing the folks out cleaning up after the fires raged. Its about not losing focus on making a change and waking up with a fire in your eyes every morning.
- No Rest, No Pity: This song is about the class divide in our country. The haves and the have nots. This song is about fighting for your position in this world and progressing the working class forward. Taking power back. Smashing this fucked up system that keeps us all down while the 1% sits and drops crumbs from their towers.
- We Are The Horde: We Are The Horde is just about us. Empire Down is the horde. We found some solid friendships in this band. We all have similar thoughts on this fucked up world. We all want to see a change in this system. This song is our battle cry.
- Gallows Of Winter: This is probably my favorite song I've ever written lyrically. I rewrote this song 3 times in order to get my emotions across. Its a song about hanging onto that last thread of hope and motivation when this system continually tries to hold you down. After the George Floyd murder and the Jacob Blake shooting, it all came together. Its our dedication to the movement happening around our country. Its a fight song for those out in the streets trying to make their voices be heard. Its a dedication to those of us not scared to hit the streets for the cause. Watching this country implode with white supremists that were being encouraged by our president to not be scared to throw around racist rhetoric for 4 years took a toll on us all. Racists not fucking welcome. Fuck Trump.
After your debut EP “Bastards For The Butcher” on Oi! The Boat Records and a split EP with The Complicators on Pirates Press Records, “Gallows Of Winter” is now released by Primator Crew. Three releases, three labels – consciously?
No, there really wasn't a rhyme or reason to our releases. Our first album was put out on Oi The Boat. We've known Max for years. He was at our first show, with Victory and Fuerza Bruta, and liked what we were doing, so things just fell into place.
Our second release just kinda fell into place also. Pete is friends with one of the members of The Complicators, and one of them happened to work for Pirates Press, and helped with making that release happen.
With the new record, we just reached out to Primator and they were very into the songs. We wanted to find a label outside of the states to help us grow a bit. And Primator made that happen. Fingers crossed that someday after this pandemic ends we will be able to tour Europe. At least that's our goal.
There have always been reasons to be pissed off, maybe now more than ever – especially since these tracks were recorded March last year (2020). Did the recent past influenced you in writing new material already? If so, what can we expect of it and if not, about what subjects will you most definitely want to write about?
100%. Our country over the last 4 years has been insanity. It didn't help that we had a circus clown fanning the flames of misinformed bigots and taking us back to the 1950's with his rhetoric. I try to be a pretty positive guy, but I'm always riddled with large amounts of sarcasm, and most sarcasm has a bit of seriousness to it. With me, that sarcasm eventually turns into rage when it isn't challenged. These songs were definitely written about the last 4 years of insanity. We have a few new songs that we are working on and they are similar but based around different emotions than rage. Sometimes Oi music gets a bit redundant in my opinion. The bands that stick out to me are the bands that aren't scared to stand up for their opinions. We are all pretty busy dudes, we all have families and demanding jobs, so we relate to things revving around that.
After two EP’s of your own and a split 7”, some might say it’s time for a full-length – what do you think? I can also imagine the creative process is slightly different from other bands due to the aforementioned distance, or you just want to release your music as soon as possible, whatever the format is. How do you see this yourself?
Yeah, we are a bit slower with writing than most bands. The distance and our schedules are pretty nuts. We would love to do a full length, but at the same time, we are pretty content with what we have going on now. We've been able to work with some killer labels and bands through our existence, so we are happy just getting our music out there whenever its possible.
08. Now I know you’re into vinyl, but personally I kind of started to re-appreciate CD’s as well – especially those that compile a string of releases by a single band. Is this an option, to release the first three EP’s (perhaps with a little bonus) on CD, is it perhaps in the works already or do you want your music to strictly come out on vinyl?
We have actually talked about possibly doing a discography of our 3 7"s on one format. We are pretty much down for anything. I'm partial to vinyl for obvious reasons, but we don't discriminate. People are collecting everything. I havent personally bought a CD in years, I dont even think I have a CD player besides in my truck. But, nothing is ever out of the question.
Speaking of vinyl, what are the last records you bought? Any recommendations?
Man, I've ordered so much stuff lately. I cant say enough good things about The Chisel, that band is blowing my mind lately. I've been finding alot of 90's hardcore reissues...just got Excessive Force-In Your Blood, xClearx-Discography, Chokehold-Prison Of Hope. But, I kinda love all styles. The new Mooncitadel album is the best black metal album I've heard in years. Just received a copy of Silversun Pickups-Swoon album. I try and grab everything Soft Kill puts out, I'm loving their Blitz covers. I have both Kong Kong 7"s arriving in the mail this week. I've been jamming the new Mess-Intercity alot. I cant wait for the new Liberty and Justice album too drop. I got the new Death Bells album showing up soon. Holehog is a great band I picked up a 12" from recently. I've been waiting on a Maroon-When Worlds Collide reissue for like 3 months. The new Void Rot is heavy as shit. I just got everything Death Ridge Boys released. My brother Javi has a band called Glass Ox that is doing great things. Sunset is a great hardcore band with guys from Harvest and Regret playing in it from our area. Just picked up Crisis-Kollectiv which is a classic...I listen to everything, so being a vinyl hoarder is pretty easy, hahahaha.
Alright that’s it for now. Thanks again for your time and if there’s anything you’d like to add, feel free to do so!
Just wanna say thank so much to all the labels and bands that have supported us over the years we've been playing. Thanks to American Oi for all the support. We got more coming.