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Operation Every Band - SXSW 2014
The Goal: To listen to and review every band performing at SXSW 2014.
OEB - SXSW 2014 Project Links:
OEB's 5 SXSW Qs - An Interview Series
Operation Every Band - SXSW 2013
Operation Every Band - SXSW 2012
Following the lives, careers and internet buzz of twelve bands from SXSW through the end of the year (2011).
Austin City Limits Festival 2011
35 Conferette 2011
For a few months this summer, I was a little worried about Empress Hotel. I mostly followed “The 12” through a combination of researching Facebook, Twitter, Google Alerts and videos. There was very little coming from the Empress Hotel camp besides mentions of Micah McKee playing out with his solo effort Little Maker. The band had spent some time in the studio preparing their full-length, but with no touring it was hard to even determine the status of Empress Hotel. I was a little bummed out, as Empress Hotel was one of my favorite discoveries through this year’s SXSW project. The five songs on their debut EP displayed that Empress Hotel already has a sound all its own. Mixing in indie rock, African polyrhythms and R&B melodies, the songs come together perfectly to create something new and exciting. I consider myself a really big fan, but coverage was so slim that I wasn’t sure if their next batch of songs would even see a proper release.
That all changed in early September. Immediately after a duo of shows in Atlanta and Raleigh with a revamped lineup, Empress Hotel announced a month-long cross-country tour in support of Van Hunt. Aided by some news stories from local outlets and band champion Paste Magazine, it seemed like Empress Hotel was completely back in the ring and primed for a bright future. I was able to sit down with the band as they passed through Dallas and I could truly sense the excitement for the road ahead. The band explained how 2011 was meant as a slow build, not trying to be a “flash in the pan” indie rock band that is so prevalent in our Internet-driven music culture. Empress Hotel has a plan for their songs to stand up against the test of time. They want to make music that will be around for years and years. Judging from the new songs that were played in Dallas that night, Empress Hotel has a real chance to fit into those self-imagined shoes.
After six months of coverage, Empress Hotel feels like the band I personally want to keep spreading the word on since they still fly pretty low under the radar. 2012 is set up to be a real opportunity for the band as their LP is set to come out in the early spring and they already have their sights set on a follow-up possibly by the end of the year. Empress Hotel may have been quiet throughout our “12” coverage, but they are full of ambition, creativity and drive. If you haven’t heard these guys yet, do yourself and take a good listen. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love what you hear.
10/3/11 – House of Blues Cambridge Room – Dallas, TX
Before their first gig with Van Hunt in Richmond last month, the last time Empress Hotel had hit the stage was all the way back in June. With not too much information coming from their camp over the summer, we were pumped to see the band put up seventeen dates supporting R&B/rock fusion artist Van Hunt in late September. The tour covered the South, Midwest and West Coast mostly in small- to medium-sized clubs. This was a pretty big milestone for the band as it marked the first full national tour as Empress Hotel. Since June, the band has undergone some personnel changes in addition to building a setlist mostly comprised of unreleased tracks. Not only has Empress Hotel laid down tracks for their upcoming debut LP (set for release next spring), but they’ve also began writing for their expected follow-up. Some choice new cuts include opener “Heavy Halo”, the energetic “Last Picture Show” and “All the Drugs”, one of the darker songs in the band’s catalog. Along with the pop-focused tracks “Holly” and “Baby Octopus”, the future is looking bright judging from what we’ve been able to hear this tour.
The Operation Every Band crew was able to catch the band at Dallas’ House of Blues Cambridge Room earlier this month and we walked away pretty smitten with their showcase and we weren’t the only ones. The audience, most of which most likely weren’t aware of Empress Hotel’s music, were not only paying attention but were completely engaged. From bobbing heads to grooving bodies, Empress Hotel proved that their energy has the ability to move an audience. Their merch booth saw some good action after their performance as well. There’s no better way to win over fans than putting on a great show combined with strong songwriting, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’re exposure has grown by the next time they hit the road. Expectedly, Operation Every Band wasn’t the only media outlet to be turned on by Empress Hotel this month. Mapanare noted, “They move their sound around to make each song unique but never out of place” regarding their performance from Schubas in Chicago and The Muggle Show called Empress Hotel “a hard band to follow”, a pretty strong compliment for any supporting act.
The band wrapped up the tour with a few headlining shows on the path back to New Orleans from California, but it seems like that’s the last gig scheduled for the band through the rest of the year. This is our last Tour Report from Empress Hotel, but keep an eye out on their Facebook and Twitter feeds for more information on dates as they are booked. If this tour is any indication, the band could have some bright opportunities not too far in the future.
Auld Lang Something – 10/3/11 – House of Blues Cambridge Room – Dallas, TX
Late last month, Empress Hotel started up on their first nationwide tour alongside R&B/rock fusion artist Van Hunt. Along with gaining fans the old fashioned way by performing energetic sets night to night, Empress Hotel gained some additional coverage from local outlets across the country. Here are a couple of highlights:
Prior to Empress Hotel’s performance at Dallas’ House of Blues-Cambridge Room, Holly Hall from Mungle Show shared an extensive audio interview with the band. The band covers a lot of ground over the session from the background on their formation, the influences that bleed into their music and some information on the band’s debut LP due next spring. The band is also preparing a few steps ahead, as they are looking to re-enter the studio for a second album possibly to be released by the end of 2012. The best material to come out of the interview was just to get a sense of how excited Empress Hotel is for the future, so look for next year to be a breakout one for the young band.
Austin’s The Daily Texan caught up with the band while they were in town for a gig at the Cactus Club. The newspaper shared a nice interview focused on the band’s influences, but more notably they captured an energetic in-office performance of “Mach Bach” and new tune “Baby Octopus”.
Empress Hotel – 10/3/11 – House of Blues Cambridge Room – Dallas, TX
Last week, the Operation Every Band crew caught up with one of “The 12”, Empress Hotel, for an extensive sit-down covering their current tour, the recording of their new album(s!) and where the band feels they fit in on the indie music landscape. We’ll have a complete report on how the show went including a peek at some of their new songs (six out of ten of the songs played were unreleased) in about a week, but first we wanted to share the interview itself. Since the video is long (20+ minutes), we captured some highlights below as the band had some key insight on the life of an exciting young band in 2011.
For anyone new to Empress Hotel, you can catch them along the West Coast this week or keep up on their Facebook and Twitter for more tour dates to come along the path from Seattle back to the New Orleans towards the end of the month. They were a pleasure to talk to and exude the patient confidence of a band that could break into larger music circles in the next year based on the strength of their songwriting and energizing live show. Their debut full-length is expected to be released spring of next year.
On Touring with Van Hunt:
“We went in it not knowing what to expect because Van Hunt’s music is quite different than ours, but it’s been obvious to us that this crowd is really into good music and I guess our music is pretty good. People have been really digging it. It’s been awesome – it’s been a great tour.”
It’s been a good three months since we’ve last heard any concrete news from the Empress Hotel camp, but they have had a couple tour dates on their schedule over one weekend in September since the beginning of the summer. Surrounding the band’s appearance at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Festival and a headlining bar gig in Atlanta the night prior, there was a concurrent ripple of news coming out from some local and national outlets during the first half of September. This burst of information was a nice reintroduction of the band since SXSW and may be the start of a little momentum leading into the release of their debut album early next year.
Paste Magazine has consistently supported the local New Orleans indie rock scene, already highlighting Empress Hotel a couple times in the past year. The band’s Live From Paste studio session was released a few weeks ago capturing four high quality recordings on Paste’s recently introduced “MPlayer”. It is appropriate that the first video is for “Mach Bach”; Paste premiered the music video for Empress Hotel’s first single back in February. Other tracks include “Here Comes the New Challenger”, “Search Lights” and the unreleased track “Baby Octopus”.
Empress Hotel will head back on the road this month as the support act for Van Hunt’s national tour. The Atlanta-based R&B singer-songwriter has been building steam since his debut LP in 2004 and should provide a nice compliment for Empress Hotel. Both bands are based in different corners of the R&B world with a penchant for breaking out of any conventional molds. This is the longest tour for the band and a great opportunity for Empress Hotel to spread their live sound around the country. The tour has already kicked off with shows in Richmond, Charlotte and Nashville this weekend and it will continue over the next three weeks heading south then west before finishing off in Portland, Oregon in mid-October.
In what accounts more as a teaser than a full story, Brand New Kind of Photography recently posted a couple paragraphs after spending some time with Empress Hotel. A full video of the interview is expected to be posted to the site shortly, but the blog has already proclaimed the band “about to blow up in a big way” and “not to be missed” while sharing a couple of photographs.
Gambit, a local New Orleans magazine, recently featured Empress Hotel in their New Music Issue. Gambit has written about the band before and continued their support by including Empress Hotel amongst the eight bands they featured for 2011. The short article covers the major events for the band this year including getting signed to Park the Van, recording their debut LP with T.J. Lippie and their recently announced tour with Van Hunt.
As of this morning, two of the top three sessions on Daytrotter are held down by artists we’re following as part of “The 12”. The Civil Wars and James Vincent McMorrow’s sets were both added to the site in the last two weeks and have been popular downloads ever since. The takes are intimate and raw from both acts, a trend among bands that record in Sean Moeller’s Rock Island, Illinois barn/studio. The sets feature some nice unreleased tracks as well, capturing The Civil Wars’ “Disarm” cover and “Oh Henry” as well as McMorrow B-Sides “Red Dust” and “We Are Ghosts”. Daytrotter has recorded hundreds of sessions over the last five years, now posting at least one new session everyday. The site’s focus on new and unique musical content to the online listening landscape has set the benchmark for any new music blog or service. Not only that, but they also provide a great forum for independent artists to display their songs to a wider international audience. To prove their reach, Daytrotter has recorded sessions with an astonishing nine of the artists in “The 12”, from hip hop artist Dessa to the fuzz-rockers Yuck to the orchestral folk of Lost in the Trees. We’ve compiled all of “The 12” Daytrotter sessions below (see more by click on the “Read More” button), which are freely downloadable directly from Daytrotter’s website.
Birds of a Feather, Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins), C’est La Mort, Oh Henry
This Old Dark Machine, Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree, Red Dust, We Are Ghosts
While bands like The Head and The Heart and The Civil Wars have been breaking through to larger audiences, we’ve been covering a few bands that have remained rather quiet. Empress Hotel played their last proper gig Park the Van’s roster showcase at Tipitina’s in late June. They do have two shows on docket in September, but for now the only activity coming out of the Empress Hotel has been from Micah McKee. McKee has joined up with the New Orleans band Little Maker and they’ve been recording their first release since the middle of July. Little Maker has also been gigging heavily in New Orleans, anchored by a weekly Sunday night appearance at the Saturn Bar with Loren Murrell, King Eddie Burke and Blind Texas Marlin. McKee has also performed a few solo shows throughout the last month to supplement his main projects. In terms of what this means for Empress Hotel, it is a little unclear. Empress Hotel has reported back that they’ve been in the recording studio throughout the past few months, so this summer could just be a season of downtime for the band.
Nonetheless, the band has put forward one product for the interwebs, a performance of “Holly” (an unreleased track) on the streets of New Orleans for the web-streaming site Live Set. We’ve attached that performance below to re-familiarize yourself with Empress Hotel until any news comes across our desk next. The band’s next appearance is scheduled for September 7th at Atlanta’s Drunken Unicorn followed by an appearance at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Festival.
Tipitina’s – New Orleans, LA (courtesy of Nola)
Of all the bands we are following as part of the “12”, Empress Hotel has been flying lowest under the radar since SXSW. Sporadic reports of recording have been coming out of the band’s Twitter stream, an especially important step in the band’s career as they only have one EP to their name, released earlier this year. Empress Hotel booked ten shows over the course of two months, mostly covering a pretty limited geographic range between their hometown of New Orleans and Austin. The heaviest buzz came from elsewhere though, as the band performed a set as part of Birmingham’s Secret Stages Festival, a walking festival specifically tailored to new bands. Local source Magic City Post previewed the band’s performance by sharing an MP3 of “Bells Ring”, drawing attention to their particular showcase. This show had the most Twitter and Facebook of all of Empress Hotel’s shows this year, proving the power of a festival setting for an up-and-coming band.
The rest of May found the band on a small headlining run through Houston (previewed by Free Press Houston), Austin and San Antonio followed by two hometown gigs supporting Telekinesis at One Eyed Jack’s and Felix at The Saint. Empress Hotel’s hometown connections allowed some more local exposure to music fans, which seems to be a heavy priority by the band at this point judging from their touring schedule. June mirrored May in terms of location, featuring a mix of headlining and supporting gigs in Baton Rouge, Fort Worth and Austin for the second time in less than a month. The band’s touring was bookended by another important show for the band. Empress Hotel played at legendary New Orleans venue Tipitina’s joining Park the Van label-mates Generationals and Giant Cloud, who received a bulk of the media attention after announcing it would be their final gig as a band. The show featured a slew of local media coverage with previews posted by Gambit, NOLA and The Tulane Hullabaloo, who specifically called out Empress Hotel as “one to catch” amongst the four-band bill. Empress Hotel currently only have one upcoming show posted on their touring calendar, a set at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Festival in September, so it’ll be interesting to see what short term plans they set for the rest of the summer.
Holly – 5/20/11 – The Ghost Room – Austin, TX
Empress Hotel just closed their second mini-tour through Texas in so many months, but they’ve recently been granted an interesting show opportunity driven by fan voting. Paste Magazine launched a contest last week to grant one up-and-coming band a spot on Rombello, a five-day music cruise from Tampa to Cozumel. Empress Hotel competes against River City Extension, Little Tybee, Easter Island and Seryn. The voting system allows for some extra promotion for Empress Hotel as Past shared videos and links for each band competing.
Vote for Empress Hotel at the link below:
While Empress Hotel is in the midst of some light touring throughout the South, we wanted to take a second to share a couple official videos.
Mach Bach - The band’s first and only official video single, “Mach Bach” effectively executes a simple yet creative idea. The band plays the track together in a room completely filled with balloons creating a colorful and fun first impression. The video is directed by Andrew Stubbs, who also recently filmed a video for the band Generationals.
A Behind the Scenes look at the making of “Mach Bach”.
A mini-documentary of the band recorded for BestNewBands.com.
While many of the “12” bands are off touring the world and building buzz for themselves, Empress Hotel took a different approach following SXSW. They hit the recording studio. The band has only released an EP so far, so they are eager to display their sound on a full length effort with Park the Van Records. The band began recording on April 5th at New Orleans’ Living Room Studios, sending only a couple tweets since reporting back positively on their progress.
Though the band was committed to staying local throughout recording, they did fit in a few unique New Orleans shows throughout March, April and May. On March 28th, they performed as part of New Orleans Fashion Week at the Eiffel Society followed by a mid-April appearance at Crawfest alongside Givers, Rebirth Brass Band and Anders Osborne. The highlight appearance of the month was an opening slot for buzzy New Jersey rock band Titus Androicus and Felix. The show was highlighted by New Orleans online publication Gambit as a strong recommendation. Last week, Empress Hotel performed in New Orleans for a fourth time at the Studio 3 Warehouse (a visual design studio) as part of a late night party with four other bands. The local shows were sure to draw a little of local word-of-mouth, especially as the band concentrated on performing alongside other bands and fresh audiences.
Search Lights - 3/5/11 - Alabama Music Box - Mobile, AL
The only other items of note are a few late reviews of the band’s debut self-titled EP in medium-sized blogs and online publications. One Track Mind shared the MP3 for “Bells Ring” along with a favorable review of track on April 11th. The Wild Honey Pie recommended the EP as well as the band’s Daytrotter session three weeks later. Lastly, Dagger Magazine chimed in last week with a review of the EPdrawing comparisons to Modest Mouse, Wings and Beach House all in the course of five tracks. All the reviewers hit on the same angle displaying Empress Hotel as a band equally defined by their New Orleans influence along with the need to break their sound away. In the coming month, Empress Hotel will certainly be road testing some new material beyond the EP through a run of Texas shows in May and June interspersed with local shows at One Eyed Jack’s, The Saint and the famed venue Tiptina’s.
The second entry in our SXSW reflection series focuses on New Orleans indie pop band Empress Hotel. There are a number of factors that affect whether SXSW will be a launching point for a rising band or just a string of shows amongst the crowded lineup. The most crucial elements have to do with the build up to the conference and the plans scheduled immediately after. Empress Hotel was in an interesting position as they didn’t have any officially released music prior to the announcement of their inclusion at SXSW in January. The band did have a couple of tracks on their MySpace page, which allowed for some early adopters to discover the band. Operation Every Band was actually one of the first to highlight the band’s SXSW appearance with a brief spotlight in late January.
Empress Hotel did build a small bit of online momentum in early February, as a few blogs, notably MVRemix, Pure Grain Audio, Indie Rock Reviews and Flocked Media, posted a variation on the story of the band’s video premiere of Mach Bach originally released on Paste Magazine’s website. Notably, the stories also mentioned their February-March tour that concluded at SXSW. Combining this with their EP release on March 6, there was at least enough meat to draw writers and bloggers to highlight the band. This is actually pretty important going into the showcases, as SXSW has a greater payoff if you are already on the radars of the journalistic crowd. There was a slight bit more traction as the conference approached. In late February, BestNewBands.com spotlighted the band through their "Don’t Miss" series in which the band provided an exclusive behind-the-scenes type video of their recent tour. The only other blip on the blogosphere was a brief interview with Les Enfants Terrible in early March. Relative to the other bands in “The 12”, Empress Hotel had a relatively small amount of fanfare going into the festival.
Empress Hotel were able to fit in seven shows in five days down in Austin, so they had no trouble finding a gig. The band’s trip started out with an interesting twist with frontman Micah McKee performing a solo set at Thai Fresh on Tuesday afternoon, a transition day between the Interactive and Music segments of the conference. The band played their first true gig that evening at Cheer Up Charlies followed by a set on Wednesday night at the Light Room as part of the Holy Smokes Booking Showcase. Through online analysis, it doesn’t look like these gigs created any sort of buzz. On Thursday, they definitely found a crowd at the Skinny’s Ballroom Radio Station Day Party, receiving a small mention on the UK blog “This is Fake DIY”. Friday and Saturday featured three shows including a set at the historic Victory Grill and a performance at a New Orleans Crawfish Boil party at Hotel Vegas. The cornerstone of their SXSW trip was a performance with their label mates at the Mi Casa Cantina. This official showcase seems to be pretty well attended from my research and gained the band a mention on the blog Helping Zero Knives Enter You.
Looking back on Empress Hotel’s SXSW experience, it doesn’t seem like they created any sort of wave of momentum following their trip. There haven’t been many mentions of the band in online music journals or social networks since mid March. There are a few reasons for this that jump out at me. First, their promotion cycle was really low key for their debut EP release. They did set out on a somewhat extensive tour throughout the East Coast and the South, but it was mostly wrapped up prior to the EP’s release. Since they are such a new band, the lack of promotion from their independent label is completely understandable, but the EP’s release was scantily mentioned online throughout the first few weeks in March. There has been some support from the New Orleans music journalism community which they’ve been capitalizing on with a hometown show scheduled about every two weeks between SXSW and the middle of May.
Beyond local appearances, Empress Hotel chose to stay pretty quiet on the touring front immediately after SXSW. They instead decided to hit the studio in early April to begin work on their debut LP. This puts their SXSW appearance in a little different perspective. I’ve concluded that the band didn’t really gain any traction by playing down in Austin, but it doesn’t look like that was really their plan. I’m banking the band had their sights on recording a full length for a while. It may be a conscious decision to focus on what’s next instead of really pushing forward with the five songs they released in March. Their scheduled activity for 2011 leads to the same conclusion. The band is anchored in New Orleans until mid May, recording at Living Room Studios. Interestingly enough, the band must feel confident in a gain of local Austin fans from SXSW, as they’ll be headlining two shows downtown within a month’s time at Skinny’s Ballroom and the Ghost Room surrounded by shows in other major Texas markets. They currently only have nine upcoming appearances, so it’ll be interesting to follow Empress Hotel from a recording and promotion perspective throughout the coming months.
"Genres are so all over the place these days. I mean everybody’s got all these subgenres and all that crap. It’s just a pop band, I mean, it’s very catchy and a little quirky at times so, yeah, we’re a pop band. I don’t like indie-pop, that just sounds ridiculous."
Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Label: Park the Van
Currently Supporting: Self-titled debut EP released 2/15/11
Operation Every Band Reporter: Kevin McStravick
Of all the bands we are covering through The 12 Project, Empress Hotel has been playing together the shortest amount of time. Their story starts only a year ago, when two brothers and a locally established singer-songwriter joined forces to share their unique take on pop music. Guitarist and lead vocalist Micah McKee had received a bit of recognition in New Orleans already, fronting the indie folk/rock band Silent Cinema. After eight years of touring, the band wound down to a halt in early 2010. Micah, seeking a different direction with his songwriting, joined up with guitarist Ryan Rogers, and they quickly formed a musical bond and started crafting songs together. The duo is regarded as the chief songwriters of the band, but were quickly supported by Ryan’s brother, Eric Rogers on drums to start laying down some recordings. Eric was also wrapped up in the New Orleans music scene prior to Empress Hotel, jumping back and forth between different local bands.
The story of the full formation of Empress Hotel shows the power of networking locally with other musicians. Bassist Patrick Hodgkins had just moved to New Orleans from Portland, Maine, meeting Ryan on a chance conversation at the Circle Bar in New Orleans. Keyboardist Julie Williams met Ryan at Mardi Gras. Rounding out with keyboarist/percussionist Leo DeJesus, the band in its present state was formed in spring of last year. The songwriting commenced in a logical fashion, starting with one song, finishing it, then moving on to the next. Five songs were forged that would be the basis of their first EP. The band’s name, shared by the album and one of their earliest songs, was picked as a subtle homage to one of the Rogers brothers prior bands, Antennae Inn, but instead shouted out to a local dive hotel nearby called the Empress Hotel.
Their first show was in July 2010, receiving some early local coverage mostly based on the band member’s prior projects. The earliest critics, either introduced to the band live or through two tracks (“Bells Ring” and “Here Comes the New Challenger”) showcased on the band’s Myspace page, drew connections to some of the more inventive pop/rock bands of the last decade such as Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors, and the Flaming Lips. They credit inspriation from the pop hooks of one-hit-wonders of the 1970s, but their sound also has an experimental impulsiveness to it that fits quite well with the alternative music scene of the past couple years. The band signed on with New Orleans indie label Park the Van, best known for being their work with Dr. Dog, and put some finishing touches on their EP last summer. The rest of the year focused on touring in order to allow the band to gel in a live setting.
2011 is primed to be a busy year for the young band. The early part of the year was based around the release of their debut EP in February. They supported the release with an early spring tour, that concluded with a handful of showcases at SXSW. They found an early supporter in the online publication Paste Magazine, who premiered their debut video for “Mach Bach” and highlighted the band on the feature “20 SXSW Bands You Might Not Know (But Should)”. The rest of the year will be focused equally between recording and touring. The band has ten songs fully developed in addition to the tracks on the EP, and plan to begin work on their debut LP within the next couple of weeks. They also have some sporatic tour dates scheduled throughout April and May with shows in Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. We’ll pick up the next chapter at SXSW, and look forward to following Empress Hotel throughout the next year.
Kevin’s Take: Empress Hotel was one of the most exciting discoveries through the SXSW project, as they were hard to find any information on. Catching onto a band so early in their career is always a treat. I missed their sets at SXSW due to musical conflicts, but hope to catch a live show soon. I have a great deal of belief in their sound to really catch on with the indie pop/rock audience, so it will be interesting to see what strategies they take to get their songs exposed. They really are a great band for their time playing together, so I’m happy to share them with the online music community.