redempirefeature

A Musical Force Awakens:
We Talk With Ireland’s “Red Empire”

Twitter is good for at least one thing. It put me in touch with the Irish band, Red Empire. I hadn’t heard of them previously, but thank you, Twitter! I have now, and life is just a touch better as a result.

Red-Empire-lineup
The band: Damien Allen – Bass; Gar McCarthy – Keys; Craig Cahill – Vox; Deco Connolly – Drums; Richie Connolly – Guitars

Red Empire has a couple of singles and EPs out on iTunes right now, and they are all worth your time and money. The band hits you with a sweeping, hugely cinematic brand of rock and roll that can be pretty arresting, depending on what your ears are used to hearing. I mean, we all like the Ramones (if you don’t, please keep that to yourself), but there are times on rainy mornings when you need music in which everything matters. Every word, and every sound, fit together into an intentional whole that is almost operatic in scope.

The “Deliver Me” single is a great jumping off point (it was for me, at any rate). With its waltz-like tempo, it builds tension around a clarity and openness paired with questioning lyrics of “is this what I want? Is this what I need?”

Interestingly enough, there is a Japanese version of “Deliver Me” also available on iTunes.

“Small Mercies” off of the EP of the same name finds the band in full rock and roll mode. Hear the chorus just once, and I dare you to not sing along at the top of your voice.

Also on the Small Mercies EP is another driving rock song, “Like Ritual.” See the following interview portion with Craig Cahill for context in the line, “Hey! You never said you were an angel,” as well as the rest of the song.

The Truth of You EPs title track contains an ascending chorus that makes you want to sing out loud with arms outstretched Bono-style (sorry, cheap shot). Also included is “Fragile,” a song with a spare opening that gallops into a piano-driven, ringing chorus, and has some great lines like, “if you can’t speak your mind to me, I won’t know how lost you feel. If I can’t help you feel relief, then there is no place here for me.”

Rounding off The Truth of You is a cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.” If you need me to tell you what a great song this is, there is probably no hope for you. Red Empire does Bowie proud.

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If you like what you hear, read on for more on the band, upcoming music, and more…. directly from singer Craig Cahill’s computer keyboard.

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craigcahill
Image of Craig Cahill Courtesy of Oksana Ryzhykh

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Chad Werner: How long has Red Empire been a thing?  Any previous projects of note?

Craig Cahill: We’ve been together about six years and Damien joined the ranks last year. We’re all quite experienced musicians from very different backgrounds. Richie and Deco are brothers who’ve always played together and are quite “rock n roll” stylistically. Gar studied composition and is very engaged in soundtrack work outside of the band. I have written with Gar from a young age and have been in a number of different groups along the way. And Damo’s background leans towards the heavier side of things, having been in a few different metal bands.

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CW: I see on your Facebook page everyone in the band, and what everyone plays…  Band turnover happens, though.  Is everything up to date?  You haven’t sacked your drummer or acquired a full-time accordion player?

CC: Haha, no! As I said, Damo joined us last year after our original bass player left for personal reasons. It was all very amicable and we’re all still good friends. Damo has been a great addition to the band. Being from America you probably won’t immediately “get this” but as Damo is from the countryside and we’re all city lads the between-songs banter has been particularly good mainly consisting of crude jibes at each other’s hygiene. Good craic though!

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CW: Who is the principal songwriter?  Lyricist?

CC: It can happen in lot of different ways but usually either Gar or Richie will provide an original musical idea and then I’ll write the lyrics and the vocal melody before it’s brought back into the room to be trashed out with everyone.

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CW: Tell me about the band name.  Obviously “red” is an evocative color, emotionally, politically, etc., and “empire” is also a bit loaded.  Hell, the font you utilize seems awfully specific.  I’d love to hear what you were going for with the band name.

CC: Actually, more than anything else, it’s meant to be symbolic. We are a band who came together because of a weird coincidence and decided to meld very different styles together. Compromise seems to be a dirty word when it comes to art but I think that’s bullshit. I wanted to call the band “Red Road” after the amazing Scottish film and Gar wanted to call the band “Fake Empire” after The National song. As a compromise Deco suggested Red Empire. It’s really that simple but I’m most happy about how it stands as an actual Illustration of our willingness to be open to each other’s ideas.

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CW: I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.  A long way from Dublin…  As such, it is a little hard to gauge your level of fame or popularity in Ireland.  It’s always weird asking musicians to talk about themselves in this way, and obviously fame and/or popularity don’t always equal quality, but how big of a band is Red Empire anyway, dammit?!

CC: Do you have the expression in America: “How long is a piece of string?” Haha! That’s kind of an impossible question for me, I’m sorry. We’ve been on Saturday Night TV, we’ve played the biggest festival in Ireland, we’ve picked up some awards…I’m sorry, I know I’m not making it easy!

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CW: Also a touchy subject with musicians, and those who write about them, are influences.  As a writer who listens to a lot of music, I am obligated to ask who you look to as the shoulders you now stand on.  Personally, I hear a sweeping, cinematic band with a lot of later-period Manic Street Preachers references, but who paved the path (or is still paving the path) for Red Empire according to you?

CC: Well, because of the melding of backgrounds and styles it’s a bit of a cocktail of odds and ends: The Pumpkins, Creedence, Morrissey, Deftones, Oasis, Sinead O’Connor, Tool…but you are right in what you’re saying about what you hear because we have such a tight and worthy relationship with our visual director Daragh Murphy and because of that it all has quite a cinematic feel.

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deliver-me

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CW: Talk a bit about “Deliver Me.”  What prompted the band to release a version in Japanese?

CC: It was an idea we had had for a long time. While we were recording the song in the studio we took a lot of visual inspiration from a Japanese group called World Order. Their dancing completely blew us away and so in a kind of natural way we were recording the song in English thinking “Wouldn’t it be great if they danced to this song?” Now, that original idea has yet to come to fruition, but we still have an amazing song expertly translated that we are all very proud of and our fans really love.

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CW: My favorite track thus far is “Small Mercies,” probably because it is the most rocking of the bunch.  The protagonist hopes for small mercies.  What is he going through, and can you give me some examples of these mercies?

CC: Small Mercies is about a man who knows what the right thing to do is but he never does it. The tragedy of a situation like that, particularly when it’s someone you love, can be overwhelming sometimes. The “Small Mercies” part in the chorus is kind of a joke because in Ireland we have a saying “Be grateful for small mercies” and when you’re dealing with people like that that’s all you can do really.

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CW: I read that “Like Ritual” is about someone with an addiction problem.  I’m not going to ask about who it might be about, but given the subject matter, it almost seems like, lyrically, the prequel or parallel of “Small Mercies” from the same perspective.  Off base?

CC: Not really. I mean the human dilemma of both situations is quite similar in that you’re essentially dealing with or attempting to interact with someone who is destroying themself whether that’s on a physical/mental level or a moral/ethical level…Humans are hard work, ha.

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CW: I am happy that you are exercising your Bowie option with “Life On Mars.”  How did you land on that song to cover & release officially?  Do you perform any other covers in concert?

CC: Bowie is a fairly big influence on the band overall but I count him as one of mine particularly. It’s just one of those songs. The whole history of it and its ties to “My Way” and all that. It’s a proper song written by a proper songwriter for the people. They are becoming increasingly rare as time goes on.

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CW: Are you on a music label, or are you DIY-ing it?

CC: I was going to touch on this subject during a previous question, but I’ll do so here. I could fill the entirety of this interview and several volumes of text with the complexity of the current situation in the music industry, not only in this country but all over. I won’t bore you with that, but suffice to say that we have had our experiences with the industry so far and at the moment we have elected to go it alone, but we are open to change on that if the conditions are right.

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CW: Sounds like you have an upcoming album.  Any date on that?

CC: Well, next up is our new single, which should be released by the end of the month. The album will follow quickly thereafter. No date is set yet but it will be this summer.

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CW: Do you have plans to tour outside of Ireland any time soon?

CC: Well, we have already toured in Germany but yes, we fully intend on getting our international boots on.

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CW: Will the new music have a similar feel to the current EPs, or are will you be playing with your “sound”?

CC: I like to think that every song on the album is trying to do a different thing in a different way. That’s what we always strive to do when we’re writing and recording.

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CW: Ireland had a pretty historic vote recently, and the results are first in the world if I am not mistaken.  What is it like at home, after the vote?  Has society fallen apart?  Kidding, but seriously, according to your Twitter feed, you have taken a stance on the issue of marriage equality.  Tell me about that.

CC: We voted as a people to make everyone equal on the issue of marriage. Personally, I think it’s a joke that we even had to do that. It’s such an insult to the gay community that that situation existed in the first place. The real historical significance of it for Ireland has to do with legacy. Since the foundation of the free state after British rule was gotten rid of successive Irish governments gave the Catholic Church absolute power. Fast forward 90 years when absolute power corrupted absolutely and all manner of crimes against a people have been committed and what do you have? One very enlightened population who have learned the hard way about the importance of personal freedom. The church’s hold on Irish life has almost completely disintegrated and Ireland is a much happier and blatantly freer place for that fact.

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CW: Besides new music, and touring (as if that isn’t enough), what is next for Red Empire?

CC: Our new single “The Chosen Few” will be out by the end of the month and so will our new video. We’re really looking forward to sharing these with everyone.

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CW: I have a phrase I like to toss around, “music is a choice.”  It means a lot to me.  Does it resonate with Red Empire at all?

CC: Well, by and large, our belief is that music is communication perfected. On an evolutionary level there are very few things that separate us from our nearest animal relative and music is an extension of one of those things at the junction between language and consciousness. Now, how you choose to use that thing is a choice. There are only good intentions and bad intentions and everyone must choose.

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Images Courtesy of Red Empire

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NewsWhistle music contributor Chad Werner is “ahead of the curve, behind the times.” You can contact this rock n’ roll sphinx at chad@newswhistle.com.