Donning a more progressive and jazzy front to the usual metalcore sound, The Empire Shall Fall get wildly creative on their new EP, Volume One: Solar Plexus. I had an opportunity to talk to bassist Nick Sollecito about the EP, which is the first of a three-part EP saga, how a personal tragedy shaped the EP, and the advantages/disadvantages of releasing an album in December.
Dan Marsicano: What gave the band the idea to do a multitude of EPs after Awaken?
Nick Sollecito: There’s a few reasons for it. The first reason is for me personally, I always feel like albums should have a concept. I feel like if you are going to write an album, there should be some underlying theme or something to tie things together. In the past few years, I’ve been trying to make any project I’m involved in more conceptual, whether it’s the band or the album.
As far as splitting up one album into three different segments, that was another multi-layered thing. I feel nowadays in music with downloading, the idea of a full-length has almost been lost. I see it when I track our iTunes sales. A lot of people don’t download an entire album. They just download the tracks they like. Certain people just straight-up steal albums. I’m not sure if it’s an attention-span thing or directly related to downloading in general.
I feel like the idea of doing a 12 song or more record is not as important to do anymore. If you just release 4-6 tunes at a time, in a way, you can pace yourself a little bit better. You can spend more attention and time to a select group of songs. You can also have something that is easier for people to latch onto in its entirety. Now that we’re releasing four songs at a time, it’s easy for people to get excited about those particular four songs than having 12 songs to listen to and skipping over some of them.
With the three EPs, do each one have a singular theme that runs through them all, or can each one be its own separate entity?
There’s a couple of underlying themes in all of them; however, the story for each of the three is a work in progress. We’re kind of writing as it comes. Basically, to backtrack a bit, about a year ago, the band up to that point was very politically-driven. That was our main focus: politics and corruption. Then tragedy struck.
My long-time girlfriend committed suicide, and it threw all of us in the different place. We were trying to make a lot of sense out of things that we couldn’t really make sense out of. We kind of lost focus on the political aspects, at least me personally. I think when you go through something like that, not much really matters; certainly not politics. I just loss interest in that kind of stuff.
My life became focused around trying to get better and trying to get out of this really dark place that I was in...it was not just myself, but everybody. We are all close friends. The individual band members are really close friends, and with that, our significant others and our other friends are very close. When my girlfriend had passed, it shook us all up.
Ironically enough, around the time when she had done that, it was at the time we were really starting to think about writing some new material. Something so tragic happening to somebody and knocking you out on your ass, changing your whole entire world and your perspective, making you rethink everything; I think that’s what the first EP is really about. Towards the end of the EP, you sort of see this glimmer of hope. That’s kind of the first initial period after such a tragedy, where you spent a month or two really f**king miserable, but then after that, you start to get back on your feet and start realizing, ‘Okay, I have to get on with my life. I have to get back to work.’ Not that everything is better, but you start to realize, ‘I have to keep going. I can’t let this destroy me.’
There seems to be a lot more emphasis on jazz/progressive elements on this EP, which was only hinted at on Awaken. Did the ability to open up and let in other influences come naturally?
Yeah, I would say so. If anything, we ended up being reserved about it. Myself, I’ve never played metal before this band. I know Jeff (Pitts), the drummer, likes metal and played a little bit of it, but was never really in a metal band. Jake (Davenport) was all about metal, but Jake is also somebody who is extremely driven to become a music educator. He’s a great jazz guitar player. I come from a more groove-based and a jazz-based background. Jesse, obviously, has a metal background, but his favorite music is reggae and he loves hip-hop.
I think it’s pretty natural for us to not write metal. When we add these jazz elements, in that sense, we’re allowing ourselves to be more at home than when we’re actually playing metal; not that I’m saying the metal aspect is forced or anything. Adding that side of things is more reflecting on who we are. We’re not entirely focused on always being a metal band, even though we are classified as a metal band, which makes complete sense obviously. I think we could very easily write an album that has nothing to do with metal and I think we would all be happy with it. I don’t think now is the time or place to do that, especially with this particular series.
Did the fact that Jesse was formerly in Killswitch Engage affect the songwriting for Awaken?
I’m not really sure if it really affected the songwriting. I know for sure that a few of the songs that were on Awaken, they were written before Jesse had anything to do with the group. If some of them happen to sound Killswitch-like, it was more of a direct influence of the genre on Jake. Jake does a main part of the songwriting. As far as his Killswitch influence affecting us as a band, I wouldn’t really say we actively said, ‘Let’s write something like this.’
This isn’t meant to sound cocky at all, but honestly, if we wanted to write another Killswitch record and sell a s**t-load of albums, it would be so easy for us to do because we have Jesse in the band. All we would have to do is write those kind of songs and just have him sing over them. Not so much at first did we actively try to get away from that, but as we realized who we were as a band, we tried to shy away from the whole Killswitch thing. It helped us in some sense, where we didn’t have to start playing open-mic nights or anything like that.
We don’t want to get stuck with that label. I think metalcore is a tough genre to be thrown into. It’s bad enough we’re thrown into it and we’re trying really hard not to be metalcore, but I think when you get classified as that, it can really limit a band for sure. In a way, metalcore is a dying genre. It’s had its run, unfortunately I guess for some. We’re trying not to let it limit us.
With this EP being released in mid-December, was there any worry that it may be brushed to the side by the media?
This is kind of a lesson I guess we should have probably learned when we released Awaken, because we released it right around the same exact time as well. I guess in a sense, it can be kind of overlooked because it’s so close to Christmas, but at the same time, some people take notice and put us in there as that one final thing before the end of the year. There aren’t really a lot of new albums coming out right around this time.
In a way, it might be okay that we actually did put an album out around this time. We have a little less competition as far as new releases. You can get loss in the mix if you have your album come out the same day as 25 other bands coming out with a new album. I’m not really sure if it helps us or hurts us.
Honestly, I think that’s more of a mainstream thing. We don’t really hit the mainstream too much. We’re below the surface of that, and I think it would be nice to get a little more recognition, but I don’t think we’re on that level anyway. Just being who we are, being such a small group, I don’t think it matters.
Are you surprised that the band hasn’t got as much mainstream press considering that Jesse was a part of Killswitch Engage?
I’m actually surprised we’ve gotten as much as we did, to be honest with you. Especially at the beginning, that was a huge ace up our sleeve. Like I said, we never had to play crappy open-mic gigs. We haven’t really struggled much as far as financially getting stuff out there. The band has been self-sufficient almost since day one, with the exception of a few hundred dollars I spent printing out the first T-shirt design. I made that money back in no time, so whatever. I know that it’s mainly because of Jesse’s credibility in Killswitch, that kind of instant recognition.
I feel like it’s cheating, to be honest with you. I’m not going to deny it at the same time, because that’s good press. As far as if I’m surprised we’re not getting more press or we’re not on a label, I don’t think so. We’re not a touring band. If we were touring around and really working our asses off on the road, and we were still not signed or still not in a better place, I would be surprised. Considering how little we do on the road, I’m pretty surprised at how far we’ve come.
You mentioned the band does limited touring, but will there be any shows in support of this EP or are you waiting until they are all done to go out and support them?
You know, I really don’t know. Touring has always been something that we wanted to do, but haven’t all been able to do. Different people have different schedules. I know Jake is in school, I know Mark has a full-time job. I know Jesse gets busy with Times of Grace. Honestly, in the past three years, we’ve been put on hold.
As far as touring is concerned, I really couldn’t tell you what’s going on. If I was to say right now if we’re going to be touring the next year, I would say absolutely not because there’s no way it’s going to happen unless we get support from a label that advances money so we can pay our bills.
We’ve been in talks with a few labels about that. I don’t know how serious they are, and honestly, I don’t really care. I understand what the point of labels are and I understand how they make money nowadays, but I don’t understand how the artist makes money anymore having a label. It’s a weird thing, with 360 deals, which I understand why they do it, but at the same time, they are just taking huge cuts from artists. You give up so much; I just don’t know if we want to do that.
Do you think it’s more financially viable for the band to continue to be a DIY project instead of being signed to a major label?
I don’t know. Right now, given the offers we have been given, I can say yes; we’re doing better as a DIY band. I think the one good thing about signing to a label is that they would push us to get out on the road and tour. I think touring is probable the best way a musician is going to make money. You’re out there being a salesman to yourself in front of hundreds of people every night. I honestly think touring is the best way to make money, label or no label.
Like I said, for us, the only reason we need a label is so we have the advance in money so we can afford to go out there. I’ve come up with a plan and I’m hoping by the time all three EPs are released, we’ll be able to do it. My plan is to basically release all three EPs, bank enough money where we can put each other on salary, and then go out on the road for X amount of time for X amount of dollars. I don’t know what those figures are, because they are being worked out, but I’m hoping that after all three, it’ll allow us to do that.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I think stylistically speaking, there’s a good number of bands we would fit with. TesseracT is pretty bad-ass. Obviously, Between the Buried and Me would be really fun. Periphery is a great band. I think stylistically we would fit pretty well with those bands. I know this is a little obscure, and probably doesn’t make too much sense stylistically, but Pink Floyd would be a fun band to tour with. They have this sort of dark element about them that is relatable. They have also have this slightly jazzy, jammy kind of element that I think we can kind of tap into.