Red Empire – Interview
Having garnered critical acclaim with their debut EP ‘Strange Philosophy’, Red Empire are ready to take on the world with the release of their new EP ‘Small Mercies’ on 28th February. They hope to follow this up with their debut album ‘Inhale’, which was produced by Aslan’s Joe Jewell, later this year. Dublin Concerts caught up with them last week for a chat about the EP and album and their plans for the future and we were impressed by their confidence and ambition. Not that that confidence is allowed to spill over in to cockiness; “if anybody did decide to grow an ego, they’d be battered,” says lead singer Craig Cahill to a chorus of laughter from the rest of the band. He’s joking of course but it does show that the band is determined not to let anything get in the way of being as successful as they possibly can be.
Consisting of lead singer Craig Cahill, bass player Des Finn, Gar McCarthy on keyboards and guitars, and brothers Richie and Deco Connolly, who play guitar and drums respectively, Red Empire hail from all over Dublin and came together through Joe Jewell, who was a mutual acquaintance of all five members. Craig and Gar have been working together since they were very young while Des grew up across the road from Richie and Deco. So when they all got together did they know straight away that they had something special?
“People say ‘oh was there a spark or anything there?’ No, there was a common respect and it’s still there today, we appreciate each other,” says Richie. “We’re so different, absolutely different, different fishes all of us but there’s an appreciation there.” This difference is reflected in the wide range of influences that the band have; with classical music, Orbital, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses and Bon Iver just a few of the influences that the band draw upon.
With so many different influences it’s no doubt a challenge to piece them all together. “It looks disparate,” says Craig. “It looks like everybody’s into different things and it shouldn’t work but it does because we’re grown ups about it. I mean, Richie listens to a lot of up-tempo Britpop stuff I’m into that as well but some stuff that Richie is into, I’m not into and some stuff that I’m into, Richie’s not and that’s reflected all over the band every which way, but it works.”
“For some reason when you put us in to a room and we start writing a song, it just all works,” adds Gar. This collaborative spirit and dedication to honing their craft is certainly apparent in the material that the band has released so far. “We’ve set a standard for ourselves, a certain quality of that whatever we look back on we’ll always be proud of and we’re kind of trying to stick to that,” says Gar.
That high standard shines through in the excellent video for ‘Small Mercies” which features an appearance from Christy Dignam, a long-time friend and fan of the band. To shoot the video, the band had to endure 6.30 a.m. starts in the freezing cold and Dignam’s professionalism acted as a spur to the band to slog through the hardship in order to get the job done. “He was very ill at the time,” says Craig (Dignam was diagnosed with blood cancer last year), “so we didn’t think it was going to be possible you know, but on the day he suited and booted and he got up and he did it and that alone was enough of a confidence builder on the day for us to go, Jesus, right, we’d better get our shit together.”
The song itself is great and has an infectious chorus that you can’t stop from humming to yourself after a couple of listens. It’s set to feature on the band’s album ‘Inhale’. The album will feature ten tracks that the band have recorded with Joe Jewell. But with no label currently behind them, the band have so far taken a DIY approach to releasing their material and are open to continuing that approach if they have to. “In the industry at the moment it’s kind of like bumpy terrain. Nobody knows what’s the proper format to release these things in so we’re playing it by ear as to what’s the right way to go,” says Craig. “I don’t really mind releasing things as EP’s, it doesn’t really sway my opinion one way or the other. If we release another EP after this I think it’s great, it’s not like we don’t have the songs. We have like, 30 plus songs. They’re there, they’re sitting there, they’re going to be heard one way or another whether it’s on an album or on another EP, it doesn’t matter.”
It’s refreshing to hear a band speak like this and not be afraid to confront any obstacles that may be thrown in front of them. Do they think that the way the music industry is at the moment forces bands to be more proactive?
“Well it sorts out the messers from the people that don’t mess,” says Craig, “We’re pretty serious about what we do and there’s a lot of people out there that just can’t be bothered. They’re just like…a little bit of financial hardship there and they’re just gone. They’re not really interested but we’ve hung in there and it’s something we’re really passionate about. We’re determined to make it work.”
This dedication is clear to see in the work that they have released so far. It’s quite obvious that the band has a rigorous quality control system when it comes to their music which stems from the fact that all five members are involved in the writing process. “What happens is myself or Gar will come up with an original spark of a song. It’s elaborated maybe one or two more steps at that stage and then it’s brought in to the room and thrashed out,” says Richie. “It’s very important that everybody has their stamp on it because it’s not Red Empire if everybody doesn’t stamp on it so we’re not, you know, no one ever does everything. It’s just, it’s always collaborative.”
“We definitely won’t gig something unless we all think the quality is there,” adds Des to nods from the rest of the band.
The lads seem very focused on achieving their goals and it will be interesting to see how they progress. They certainly have the talent and belief to go far so what would their ultimate ambitions be for the band?
“I’ve set out to do what I’ve achieved which was to be in a really good band. Success is kind of a result that happened out of that but you know, what we have is really, really positive,” says Richie. “I just think everything going forward now for me is a bonus. We have a fantastic album, fantastic EP and everything we’ve done up to date for a band of our stature has been of such quality so I’m happy with the way things are and that’s why I want go for the jugular now.”
And where does he think going for the jugular will lead them?
“Mercury prize,” says Richie to laughs from the rest of the group. He may be saying it with tongue half in cheek but there’s no harm in aiming high. If they continue to do things in the manner in which they’ve done them so far, who knows, maybe one day their album will feature that little ‘Mercury Nominated’ sticker in the corner.
Red Empire will play an acoustic set in Anseo on Tuesday 18th February. The ‘Small Mercies’ EP will be available from iTunes, Amazon and Google Play from 28th February.
Interview by Mark O’Brien