The story of Empires’ new album is the story of what a great producer can do for an already-promising band. For their sweeping new album Orphan (out Sept. 23), the Chicago group enlisted veteran rock producer John Congleton to explore untapped expansive potential. With bandleader Sean Van Vleet’s excursions to some of indie rock’s most inspiring touchstones, Empires truly shine on Orphan. Billboard presents an exclusive advance stream of the new album.
Looking to the 80s college rock glory days, Van Vleet found inspiration in the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Wire, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds when writing Orphan. He took the pop elements of those artists and used them as a template for Empires’ pounding, panoramic choruses, which bring to mind newer rockers like the War on Drugs and Future Islands. But it took an outside, expert opinion to smooth out Van Vleet’s work.
“Every record leading up to Orphan was self recorded/produced,’ he says. “It was exciting to have a producer who was direct and unapologetic with his opinions. Congleton would steer us toward our instincts rather than allowing too much time to yield too many ideas. At a certain point we’d have no choice but to trust the songs. In regards to the process of making this record, my favorite part was probably the freakiest. It was when we hit a groove and got out of our heads a bit so we were able to sit back and observe who we really are as artists. It’s enthralling as well as humbling up against some of our peers, but I find the discovery (to rip off a common Congleton phrase) ‘really lights my brain on fire…’”
The producer has perviously worked with artists ranging from St. Vincent to Explosions in the Sky, so a session with him is certainly going to test some comfort zones. Recording in Dallas, the band confessed to tossing out some ideas they first thought were golden in submitting to the Congleton process. The reward is that they now have a fantastic new record to show for it.